The 2019 Home Run Derby belongs to the next generation

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This is the fifth year of the revamped Home Run Derby format, with a bracketed field and timed rounds to reduce eight sluggers into one champion. So far the revised rules have spurred excitement, with players racing the clock to either put up a big number or catch one, and the increased competition of one-on-one battles in each round.

The field

  • Ronald Acuña Jr.
  • Pete Alonso
  • Josh Bell
  • Alex Bregman
  • Matt Chapman
  • Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
  • Joc Pederson
  • Carlos Santana

Who’s not here

Not to denigrate the field, which features some of the brightest young stars in the sport, but only three players in baseball have 30 home runs this season, and two of them aren’t participating in the derby. Dodgers outfielder Cody Bellinger took part in the event as a rookie in 2017, and said though he is skipping the derby this season he would consider hitting bombs when the All-Star Game is at Dodger Stadium in 2020.

The other absent power leader is Christian Yelich, though he was originally in the field and rightfully one of the favorites. But sadly a back injury means the Brewers star outfielder and reigning National League MVP will stick to Tuesday’s All-Star Game only and take Monday off. It’s a shame since his 31 home runs lead MLB, as do his 56 home runs since last year’s All-Star break.

Let the kids play

But Mets first baseman Pete Alonso is here, with the slugger leading all rookies with 30 home runs this season. Alonso is one of four derby participants — half the field — 25 or younger. The veteran Carlos Santana at 33 is the only hitter in the field older than 27.

More loot to shoot for

The relative youth of this field means the prize money is more significant for these players than in most years. The winner on Monday night gets $1 million, a figure topped in 2019 salary by only two hitters in this field (hat tip to Cot’s Contracts):

  • Santana: $17 million
  • Pederson: $5 million
  • Acuña: $1 million
  • Bregman: $640,000
  • Bell: $587,000
  • Chapman: $580,000
  • Guerrero: $555,000
  • Alonso: $555,000

Bregman will start making big money soon, when his five-year, $100 million contract extension kicks in next season. Acuña is in the first year of his own $100 million deal, though spread over seven years plus options that make his one of the most team-friendly contracts in baseball.

But for 2019 money, $1 million is a big deal to the bulk of this field, an increase over the $125,000 awarded last year’s winner, Bryce Harper. The total purse for this Home Run Derby is $2.5 million, up from $525,000 in 2018.

Rookies of the year

Ronald Acuña Jr. was the consensus top prospect in baseball before 2018, and won the NL Rookie of the Year while leading the Braves to their first playoff berth in five seasons. He’s a sleeper in this field at 10/1 odds, almost too good to pass up.

Alonso is the favorite to follow him for NL Rookie of the Year honors, especially after his torrid start for New York in his first season.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is this year’s phenom, at 20 years old the only hitter in the field that can make the 21-year-old Acuña feel old. Guerrero was at or near the top of most prospect lists before this season, and so far is holding his own with the Blue Jays, hitting .249/.328/.413, a 100 OPS+.

Guerrero only has eight home runs so far this season, but the power is definitely there, evident to anyone who has seen him take batting practice.

Connections

There is a strong father-son vibe with Guerrero, whose father was a Hall of Fame outfielder. But relevant to this event, Vladimir Guerrero Sr. was the 2007 Home Run Derby champion as a member of the Angels. His pitcher that night was from his coaching staff, Dino Ebel, who is now the third base coach with the Dodgers and pitching to Joc Pederson.

Pederson, who made it to the final round as a rookie in 2015, is one of only two players in this field with previous Home Run Derby experience, and he’s facing the other in the first round. Alex Bregman, the excellent Astros third baseman, took part last year in Washington D.C. but bowed out in the first round.

But the coolest connection might be Josh Bell, who with Carlos Santana is one of two switch hitters in the field. Bell, who leads the majors in doubles (30) and RBI (84), is on pace for 55 doubles and 49 home runs, within striking distance of joining Albert Belle (1995) as the only members of the 50-homer, 50-double club.

Bell was drafted by the Pirates in the second round in 2011 out of high school. A mere 39 rounds later, Pittsburgh drafted catcher Jonathan Schwind out of Marist College. The two became friends, even lived together in the minors at one point, and remain close to this day. Schwind, now a third base coach in Triple-A in the Pirates system, is in Cleveland to pitch to his buddy Bell on Monday night.

How to watch

  • Location: Progressive Field, Cleveland, Ohio
  • Time: 8 p.m. ET
  • TV: ESPN, plus a stats and data-driven broadcast concurrently on ESPN2

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