There are certain racquets we can’t get enough of in the T-Mobile Home Run Derby, slated for July 18th at Dodger Stadium. Take two-time defending champion Pete Alonso of the Mets, who has proven beyond a doubt that he’s built for this particular competition.
But it’s always good to have fresh faces. Last year, for example, Shohei Ohtani and Juan Soto watched the fun join in, and while neither of them knocked out polar bear Pete, both provided some serious thrills at Coors Field.
As we did last year, MLB.com convened a panel of writers to select the first-time Derby entrants they would most like to see in 2022. Here’s a look at the eight choices. (All stats went into Saturday’s games.):
Key stat: 416-foot average home run distance since 2020
When it comes to the derby, fans want to see two things: baseballs hit very, very far and baseballs hit very, very hard. Since his debut in 2020, there have not been many players who have hit the ball as far and as hard as Luis Robert. His 416-foot average home run distance is the fifth-highest in MLB during that time span, with 17 of his 32 career home runs spanning at least 415 feet and 15 of those 32 home runs hit at 110 mph or harder.
The 24-year-old is also one of the best young players to watch in today’s game. “La Pantera” can do everything on the diamond, from launching homers to spectacular catches. Why not let Robert show why he will be one of the most electrifying players for years to come?
Paul Goldschmidt, Cardinals
Key stat: 103 balls hit hard this season
Hard to believe that Paul Goldschmidt has never participated in a home run derby. Goldschmidt has been one of baseball’s top hitters for over a decade – his next home run will be the 300th of his 12-year career. And this season could be his best yet. The Cardinals first baseman bats .344 and is third in the National League with 19 home runs.
This year’s derby is taking place at Dodger Stadium – home of a team that has tormented Goldschmidt for years with the D-Backs and Cardinals. Goldschmidt is not getting any younger – at the age of 34, the right-hander may not have a chance to make his mark on the derby. Why not this year?
Key stat: HR every 11.6 at-bat since 2017 (highest rate in MLB among qualified batsmen)
If Trout had stayed healthy in recent years, he could already be nearing the 400 homer milestone in his 30-year season. But unfortunately injuries. Still, how incredible would it be to see the greatest positional player of our time playing the Home Run Derby?
While it may come as a bit of a surprise to some just how much time he’s missed since 2017, Trout has hit 165 homers since the start of the ’17 season. Only five players have scored more in that span.
While he has always declined to be a part of the Home Run Derby in the past, Trout has reportedly not ruled it out this year, giving us hope that the most elite offensive player of our generation could finally be the focus of one of baseball’s jewel events .
Key Stat: 12 uncontested HR in 2022 (T-2nd in MLB)
At the risk of oversimplifying things, this guy packs a punch.
Riley offers a lot to a lineup, but admittedly any player with a balanced approach will usually be an underdog in a competition designed for sluggers. This is about raw power, not about sustainable production. But when Riley snags a pitch, he doesn’t miss.
His average home run distance in 2022 is 419 feet, the third-highest in baseball (min. 10 HR) behind Jesús Sánchez of the Marlins and CJ Cron of the Rockies — just the owners of the two longest home runs of the year so far. And of his 19 home runs, 12 would have left all 30 stadiums. 12 No-Doubters, second best in baseball, has Riley in relevant company – sharing second place with Giancarlo Stanton and trailing only Aaron Judge (16).
Key Stat: 84 homers in first 300 career games (4th all-time)
The scary collision Alvarez had with shortstop Jeremy Peña at Citi Field on Wednesday put a temporary end to the 25-year-old’s rampage in June, but hopefully won’t keep him away in the long-term – nor jeopardize a potential Derby appearance. Alvarez hit .835 for the month, and yes, you read that right. But he’s not on this list for a hot streak, not even one for eternity. He’s on this list for crushing the ball since arriving at the majors as a fully functional bat in June 2019.
While Alvarez is far more than an all-or-nothing stomp, he sure can mash with the best of ’em. At the time of his injury on Wednesday, he had gone deep 48 times in his last 162 games since last June, including 18 times starting over 110mph and 19 starting over 420ft. Put simply, Alvarez boasts of simple power on all fields and it would be dazzling spectacle to see him on the derby stage.
Julio Rodríguez, seafarers
Key stat: 12 homers in last 46 games (through Saturday)
The parallels to Ken Griffey Jr. are already there, with Rodríguez patrolling midfield for the Mariners and heralding himself as a rising superstar at a young age, nearly 35 years after The Kid did the same. Why not take it a step further and throw J-Rod into the competition, which Junior has won three times?
It took the 21-year-old’s power some time to catch up with his pace, but home runs have come in heaps since it arrived. After going deep once in his first 33 games, Rodríguez has hit 12 things in his last 45 games. He’s also scored some majestic blasts, including a 450-foot shot from Marlins ace Sandy Alcantara for his first career round tripper on May 1, and a 431-foot shot deep into the second deck in left midfield in T- Mobile Park the Orioles on Wednesday.
Alejandro Kirk, Blue Jays
Key Stat: 20.4% of swings make hard contact
Kirk has found himself on lists with some elite hitters this year and continues to show that he belongs there. He’s gone from cult hero to potential all-star starter, and strength and plate discipline got him there. More than 20% of his swings this season have resulted in hard contact that ranks in the MLB top 10 — a list spearheaded by the aforementioned Alvarez.
The Home Run Derby is all about home runs and Kirk has 10 of them so far this year – check. But it’s also about fun and love of the game. This Blue Jays squad exudes a lot of both, and Kirk embodies it all. No catcher has ever won the derby. Why not Kirk first?
Key stat: When he hit a ball at 118.2 MPH on his major league debut
We don’t need to think about that. No, Cruz isn’t Stanton, Ohtani, or Judge; Yes, by the end of June he had played all 13 major league games with a league-average OPS. But a home run derby isn’t about working the count and beating the shift. It’s about hitting the absolute tar out of a baseball. Since Statcast tracking went online in 2015, more than 860,000 balls hit have been tracked. Only 0.01% of these were hit at 118 MPH or more. Cruz did that in the very first major league game he ever played. Since coming back in 2022, he’s continued to smoke absolute lasers across the field. Another way of saying this is, “If you don’t want a 23-year-old 23-year-old shortstop hitting the ball as hard as a human can, please make sure your heart is still beating.”