There hasn’t been anything wrong with the Home Run Derby the past few years.
Watching Aaron Judge destroy a field of Gary Sanchez, Giancarlo Stanton and Cody Bellinger during the festivities in Miami two years ago was as beautiful as anyone could’ve asked for.
So was watching Bryce Harper give Nationals fans a signature moment when he defeated Kyle Schwarber during the final round in Washington D.C. last season.
With big name players like Alex Bregman, Javier Baez, Freddie Freeman and Mike Moustakas all having also participated in the Derby recently, it’s worth wondering where Major League Baseball can turn to drum up similar levels of excitement when the competition kicks off in Cleveland a month from now.
The answer is actually fairly obvious: put all the baseball-destroying rookies in the derby.
Give us a field of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Eloy Jimenez, Austin Riley, Pete Alonso, Yordan Alvarez, Brandon Lowe and Victor Robles.
All of them are worthy of getting into the competition on their own merits. Together they’ve accounted for 91 homers this season in 365 combined games. They’d likely have even more if each rookie had started the season on the Opening Day roster of their respective clubs. Riley has barely been up a month and is already a revelation for the Atlanta Braves. It took Alvarez 23 minor league homers and a few Houston Astros injuries to get called up to the big club and all he’s done is launch four absolute missiles in five games. Alonso, meanwhile, is the current clubhouse co-leader for National League Rookie of the Year with Atlanta pitcher Mike Soroka.
The visual evidence is even more compelling.
— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) June 12, 2019
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) June 15, 2019
— MLB (@MLB) April 26, 2019
This brings us to perhaps the most important reason MLB should field an all-rookie Home Run Derby: It’ll never be easier to market the next wave of baseball’s best talent. Of the players listed above, nearly all of them are expected to play cornerstone roles for their franchises. Jimenez, Alonso, Robles, Alvarez and Guerrero Jr. are all 22 years old or younger.
Whether or not the old guard wants to cede the stage, it belongs to the kids. Diehard baseball fans may be able to catch all their at-bats — if not their daily highlights — but the rest of the public likely isn’t too familiar with them. All-Star Weekend is a platform to turn the game’s best players into household names. Is there a baseball fan out there who doesn’t know who Judge and Stanton are? Or Baez and Schwarber? Or Harper and Manny Machado? What are we going to learn about them if they make another derby appearance?
Riley, Robles and Lowe, on the other hand, may not even be the most well-known stars in their own stadiums.
The derby is seeded based on home-run totals entering All-Star Weekend. Here’s how that would shake out currently in an all-rookie format (home run totals through Saturday in parentheses):
1 Pete Alonso (23) vs 8 Yordan Alvarez (4)
4 Michael Chavis (12) vs 6 Victor Robles (9)
3 Austin Riley (11) vs 5 Eloy Jimenez (11)
2 Brandon Lowe (14) vs 7 Vlad Jr (7)
A potential Vlad Jr-Alonso final should be reason enough to put this together.
The rookies’ respective managers may despise this idea for numerous reasons, but that shouldn’t distract baseball from the incredible opportunity it has in front of it. At a time when the league is on pace to shatter the home run record, the players who will be doing the most mashing over the next decade-plus should be the ones showcasing their ability to do so.
Please, MLB, let the kids rake.
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