Home Run Derby: Picking the participants

These eight players could participate in this year’s Home Run Derby.

(Photo Credit: Arturo Pardavila III)

Every year, on the day before the All-Star Game, the Home Run Derby takes place. It’s always a blast to watch the best sluggers in the game face off against one another for a chance to be crowned the champion of the Derby but over the last few years, many of our game’s top power hitters have opted not to take part in the event for various reasons.

Last year’s champion, Aaron Judge, has decided to never do the contest again after suffering a shoulder injury that required surgery in the offseason. Mike Trout, who leads the league with 19 home runs, wants nothing to do with the contest. Boston Red Sox sluggers Mookie Betts and JD Martinez have also said they won’t take part in the contest, with Betts’ reason being he doesn’t go for home runs in batting practice and Martinez’s reason is he still has a grudge over not being selected in 2015 as a member of the Detroit Tigers, a year in which he hit 38 home runs.

With four of the game’s top sluggers declining to take part in the Derby, the list of candidates is small. Still, there are plenty of players who could take part in this summer’s contest at Nationals Park, so which eight players should we expect to see in the Home Run Derby this year?

  1. 1 Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals: 18 HR

    The Nationals' very own Bryce Harper may only be hitting .232 on the season, but he leads the NL in home runs with 18. Plus, with the All-Star events in Washington DC,  Harper is an obvious lock to take part in his second career Home Run Derby. The last time he participated, he lost in the final round to Oakland A’s slugger Yoenis Cespedes at Citi Field. Now, with the home crowd behind him, Harper can put on a show for the ages and become the third NL player in the last four years to win the Derby. 

    Harper hasn’t been opposed to doing the Derby the last few seasons but declined to take part because he wanted to do it this year, along with wanting his father to pitch to him during the event. This may be the last time he ever does it but at least it’s guaranteed, barring injury, that he’ll be the representative for the hometown club this year.

  2. 2 Travis Shaw, Milwaukee Brewers: 13 HR

    Shaw had a career year last season in his first year with the Brewers, hitting 31 home runs, driving in 101, and hitting .273. He should have been in the All-Star Game last season but got snubbed by the fans in the voting. Fast forward to today, and Shaw has shown the league what he’s capable of and it’s not out of the question he could be in this year’s Derby.

    There’s always the fear that a player’s swing will be messed up after doing the Derby and that could be something that holds Shaw back but with the upper decks in right field, Shaw could put on one of the best power shows the Home Run Derby has ever seen. Shaw’s average home run distance at this point in the year is 418.9 feet, second behind Texas Rangers outfielder Nomar Mazara, which shows his home runs aren’t cheap and his power is legitimate for a Home Run Derby contest.

  3. 3 Christian Villanueva, San Diego Padres: 15 HR

    Christian Villanueva has had a pleasant start to the season for the Padres, hitting 15 home runs through the first two months of the season. Three home runs came in one game back on April 3 against the Colorado Rockies, which also gave the club their first win of the year. As a rookie, it might be a lot to ask for a guy to compete in the Home Run Derby and keep his swing the same as it was before, but Villanueva has the power to compete in a competition like this.

    As the Padres' leader in home runs, it would be nice to see a player from a small market team like San Diego get the spotlight for one night, which will hopefully help the rest of the league know his name better than it is now. The early power from Villanueva has been a nice surprise and with the NL struggling to keep up with the power hitters in the AL, Villanueva would be a good choice to compete in the Derby this summer.

  4. 4 Scooter Gennett, Cincinnati Reds: 12 HR

    Scooter Gennett has had an incredible tenure with the Reds since arriving before Opening Day last season. He’s hit five grand slams in the calendar year dating back to June 6 and also became the 16th player ever to hit four home runs in a game, which also happened on June 6. Gennett is off and running again, hitting a career-best 27 long balls last year and has 12 dingers this year to go along with a .342 batting average. 

    It might be more unlikely for Gennett to be selected for the Derby and Gennett, out of these four NL players, might be more inclined to decline an invitation, but it would be fun seeing one of the best hitters over the last two years show off his underrated power in the Derby. 

  5. 5 Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers: 17 HR

    Joey Gallo is a pure home run hitter and nothing else. His 41 home runs in his first full season last year was third in the AL behind Aaron Judge and Khris Davis and Gallo has that kind of power that makes people awe in wonder at how majestic and far the baseball lands off his bat. Gallo hit two home runs that went 490 feet plus last season too, which is farther than any of the players in this list so far.

    Because Gallo is purely a home run hitter, there wouldn’t be a fear of Gallo’s swing getting messed up. It could mean less power in the second half, but having Gallo in the Derby will draw fans from all over the country to tune in and watch him hit. Like Shaw, the right field upper decks at Nationals Park are easy to hit if a player gets ahold of one, and Gallo can also smack the ball where no man has gone before.

  6. 6 Khris Davis, Oakland A’s: 15 HR

    Khris Davis recently returned from a groin injury and it appears he could still be a favorite to take part in the Derby. Davis has been one of the best power hitters in the game since joining Oakland, hitting 42 home runs in 2016 and 43 home runs last year. It wouldn’t be a surprise if his home run numbers went down a little because of the injury, but one good week could get him to 40 home runs for the third consecutive season if all goes well.

    Davis can occasionally hit a moonshot, but his average home run distance is 407.9 feet on the season. He might not wow the crowd with tape measure shots, but he could easily put up a fight with anyone taking part in the Derby this year if he were to get selected. He’d also bring attention to an A’s team that’s fighting in a competitive AL West, sitting at 32-31 to start the season which could steal a playoff spot from a potential contender if teams aren’t careful. As long as he stays healthy, Davis should be a strong candidate to take part, especially if Martinez, Judge, and Trout will not.

  7. 7 Nomar Mazara, Texas Rangers: 14 HR

    Another Rangers player in Mazara would be a great addition to the Home Run Derby this year. Mazara has the raw power that most players only wish they could have and being a left-handed hitter, Mazara and teammate Gallo could put on an incredible show overall in Washington on July 16.

    Mazara also leads the league in home run distance average at 421.3 feet, so it would make sense to ask the guy with the “most pop” to take part in the Derby, right? Seems like it would, but Mazara, like many players, could be concerned about messing up their swing. That said, with his hot start for a last-place club, he could decline an invitation. If Gallo participates, it could persuade Mazara to compete against his teammate for a chance at the Derby championship.

  8. 8 Giancarlo Stanton, New York Yankees: 14 HR

    Stanton has been in the Derby in three of the last four seasons and won it in 2016 at Petco Park. After failing to defend his title against Judge at Marlins Park last July, Stanton has a chance to become the second player to win the Derby in both leagues, with Prince Fielder being the first with the Brewers and Tigers, and he won’t have Judge to worry about.

    Out of all eight of these players, Stanton has the most power and is probably the most capable of winning the Derby, but it will be important for him to stay healthy like he did last year once again. He’s recently got his bat going for the Yankees once again too, so the fear of falling off the map after the All-Star Break could play a role in whether Stanton participates this year. But as long as Stanton is still open to doing the Derby, one should always invite him.

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