MLB announced the team captains for the 2014 Home Run Derby on Monday, giving the Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista the captain’s “C” for the AL and awarding NL honors to the Rockies’ Troy Tulowitzki. As our Bob Biscigliano detailed earlier, the rules and format for this year’s derby have changed, hopefully leading to a better pace and more exciting event.
But really, the Derby is all about the sluggers who participate. Baseball’s biggest bats should be a part of this event, not leaving it up to lesser knowns who show some power. The Home Run Derby is now a bigger deal than the NBA Slam Dunk Contest, and MLB should keep it that way by making sure one of its signature midsummer events has some big names.
Here are eight players, four for each side, that we’d like to see join Bautista and Tulowitzki at Target Field.
Edwin Encarnacion: Bautista doesn’t have to look far for his first pick. The Blue Jays first baseman leads MLB with 24 home runs, and hit a combined 78 long balls during the past two seasons. He also ranks second in baseball with a .324 ISO (Isolated Power). If you want the big sticks in this contest, the guy swinging the biggest needs to be in Minnesota for the Derby.
Mike Trout: This might be a controversial pick. Trout over defending Home Run Derby champ Yoenis Cespedes? What about Nelson Cruz, who’s second in the AL with 23 homers? But the Home Run Derby benefits from MLB’s best player participating in the contest. And it’s not like Trout isn’t a slugger. He’s tied for seventh in the league with 16 bombs and fourth among MLB hitters with a .287 ISO.
Jose Abreu: Perhaps no slugger has raised more eyebrows this season than the White Sox first baseman, launching baseballs out of stadiums throughout MLB in his rookie season. The Cuban slugger doesn’t get the attention of fellow countryman Yasiel Puig, but his 22 homers rank third in MLB and his .339 ISO is the best in baseball. Had he not gone on the DL with an ankle injury, Abreu might have the AL home run lead.
Brandon Moss: Though Target Field is not kind to left-handed sluggers, it feels only fair to have at least one southpaw on each team, if for no other reason than to give the fans in the right field seats a chance at some souvenirs too. David Ortiz would be the more fan-friendly pick, giving the Derby more star power. But how about a nod for the A’s first baseman, whose 17 homers are tied with Ortiz but has a higher ISO at .261?
Giancarlo Stanton: There cannot be a Home Run Derby without the Marlins right fielder in it. Or at least there shouldn’t be. So let’s take care of that. Stanton missed the 2012 Derby due to injury and was passed over last year. But he leads the NL with 20 home runs and no one in MLB puts on more of a show when he hits the ball out of the park.
Yasiel Puig: You want star power? How about the Dodgers sensation who fans love, but grumpy media seem to despise? No, Puig probably won’t do too many bat flips hitting in the Derby format, lest he delay the proceedings even further as he goes to retrieve his stick. But no one will have more fun participating in the event or put on a better show.
Paul Goldschmidt: The D-Backs first baseman deserves some more time in the spotlight, and maybe this is where he shows a national audience what he can do. Plus, he led the NL with 36 home runs last year (which may give him the nod over the Reds’ Todd Frazier). His 16 homers also rank fifth in the league this season. Since we keep citing Isolated Power among these sluggers, consider that Goldschmidt ranks third among NL hitters with a .244 ISO.
Anthony Rizzo: Here’s the obligatory (by me) left-handed slugger for the NL. Rizzo is tied for fourth in the league with 16 homers and could be one of the exciting young stars that leads a revival in Wrigleyville. After struggling to hit last year, the guess is that the Cubs might not want Rizzo to participate for fears that his swing and approach will be thrown off. But he could generate some excitement with some long bombs.