Wednesday night the eight-man roster was announced for the 2015 Home Run Derby that will take place July 13 in Cincinnati.
Albert Pujols returns to the contest he has done well in but never won, competing for the first time since 2009.
Pujols, along with Baltimore’s Manny Machado, Toronto’s Josh Donaldson and Prince Fielder from the American League, will go against the Cubs’ Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, Joc Pederson of the Dodgers and Todd Frazier from the National League.
The Derby format has changed for the second year in a row, as Major League Baseball is attempting to both speed up the event, while maintaining the time and ability for the players on the field to create the drama that draws fans to watch it: the home run.
The eight players have been set up in a seeded bracket and will compete head-to-head. Seeding was determined by the number of home runs the sluggers had hit entering competition on Wednesday.
Pujols is the No. 1 seed with his 26 home runs, followed by Frazier (25), Donaldson (21), and Pederson (20). Nineteen long balls by Machado places him as the fifth seed with Rizzo (16), Fielder (13) and Bryant (12) seeded below him.
Those seedings present the following first-round matchups:
(1) Pujols vs. (8) Bryant; (2) Frazier vs. (7) Fielder ; (3) Donaldson vs. (6) Rizzo; and (4) Peterson vs. (5)Machado.
Here are my initial reactions to this year’s Derby:
1. I’m glad to see Pujols not only doing well this season, but I’m also glad to see him competing in the event. The former Cardinals, current Angels, slugger is finally healthy again, and his bounce-back season is putting him back on the fast track to joining the 600 home run club.
The Derby remains one of the few things missing from Pujols’ impressive Hall of Fame résumé, so if he were able to win it this year you could officially begin etching his plaque in Cooperstown.
2. As an Orioles fan, it’s rewarding to see an Oriole in the Home Run Derby for the third-straight year. On the other hand, it’s nerve wracking to see an Oriole in the Home Run Derby again.
It is a general concern among baseball fans that, once a player who had a great start to the season competes in the Derby, one of three things will happen. Either the player will have an even better second half of the season – doesn’t happen a whole lot -, continue on his current pace – a little more regularly seen -, or, the far worse and more regularly seen of the three, have a terrible second half.
Think back just two years ago when Chris Davis belted 37 home runs prior to the Mid-Summer Classic. He hit just 16 long balls after the break, less than 50-percent of his first-half total.
The latter of the three options is obviously the more pressing and dangerous outcome, and to a team like the Orioles, a second-half down turn by Machado would be detrimental to the entire team.
3. The seeding has a few interesting sub plots in the first round, and gives possibility of very Chicago-fan-friendly finish.
Pujols, possibly the best hitter of his generation and owner of nearly 550 career home runs, squares off against the spry Kris Bryant, the Cubs rookie with just 12 career long balls.
The 4v5 pairing of Peterson and Machado pits two 23 year-olds, who are both quickly becoming part of the face of their respective franchises, against one another.
Donaldson and Rizzo are both very good players at their respective positions, yet many common fans may not be familiar with either player, despite both players’ abilities. This will be a good way for those fans to get a good look at two potential rising stars in the game.
It is also possible to see two members of the same team competing in the final round, as Rizzo and Bryant are set up on opposite sides of the bracket. That would certainly answer the question as to who is the best home run hitter in Chicago.
4. Part of the new format of this year’s Home Run Derby includes a 5 minute time limit for each player per round, with the ability to add time by hitting the designated “bonus balls” into the stands.
Major League Baseball seems to be fixated on adding time, and time limits, to a game that has never been truly defined by the length of time it takes to be completed.
In my opinion the Home Run Derby was fine before the MLB began messing with it a few seasons ago.
While the jury is still out on how this year’s format will sit with the fans, the question becomes did Major League Baseball need to mess with the format at all?
Only July 13 will tell.
5. The two-time defending champion Yoenis Cespedes is not participating in the Home Run Derby this year, despite having a modest 12 home runs. This momentarily ends his quest to become just the second player to with the Home Run Derby three times.
However, Fielder, who has also won the competition twice, is in this year’s contest, and is looking to join Ken Griffey Jr. as the only three-time long-ball hitting champ.
6. You can’t go without mentioning that Frazier will easily be the crowd favorite at Great American Ballpark. He will try to become the first player since Ryne Sandberg in 1990 to win the Home Run Derby at his home stadium.
Make sure to follow all of the MLB All-Star action, especially the Home Run Derby, if for no other reason to see both players young and old hit a baseball close to 500 feet.