The Chosen 1: Yelich top seed in HR Derby

Reigning NL MVP has MLB-best 31 homers this season

July 4th, 2019

MILWAUKEE -- A Brewers fan found out the hard way Saturday night what happens when one challenges Christian Yelich.

Yelich was rewarded with the No. 1 seed in Monday's T-Mobile Home Run Derby, an event that has proven a blast for some Brewers players (2009 champ Prince Fielder) and, if you believe it played a part in the production drop that followed, a bust (Jesus Aguilar in '18). No matter how many examinations show otherwise, popular perception is that the Derby tends to mess with a player’s swing, which prompted one fan to declare on Twitter after news broke of Yelich’s plan to participate that the reigning National League MVP Award winner was “done.”

“From your extended experience?” Yelich responded to the since-deleted Tweet. “It will be fine, relax and have some fun.”

It was peak Yelich. There was edge, just like the way he responded over the winter to suggestions that he was primed for regression after riding a historic second half to the NL MVP Award. But then, he quickly smoothed out that edge.

“Early on, I said, ‘You better not underestimate the guy,’” said Brewers hitting coach Andy Haines, who managed Yelich in the Minor Leagues early on. “I think all the great ones that you study, regardless of the sport, they have that hard edge to them. He has that killer instinct. He has this hard edge to him that great competitors have. He’s so unassuming off the field. So humble. So thoughtful of other people’s feelings. But when you watch him compete, he’s got some cold-blooded competitor to him.”

When MLB asked Yelich to join the Derby field a few weeks ago, he consulted Haines about whether he believed it would have a negative impact. Together, they decided to swing for the fences.

So Yelich said yes, presuming he was picked for the NL All-Star team. Of course, he was. He was the leading vote-getter among all NL players, and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said that he plans to start Yelich in right field alongside center fielder Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers and left fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. of the Braves. Yelich was also picked as the top seed in the Derby bracket, and he'll face off against Blue Jays rookie Vlad Guerrero Jr. (the No. 8 seed) in the first round on Monday.

Yelich entered Thursday leading MLB with 31 home runs this season and 56 home runs since last year’s All-Star break.

On Thursday, Yelich announced that former Marlins coach Pat Shine will be his pitcher at Progressive Field.

It will be Shine’s third time pitching in the Home Run Derby, having previously thrown to Giancarlo Stanton when he won the title in 2016 at Petco Park and the following season when he was eliminated in the first round at Marlins Park. Shine, who is right-handed, was the Marlins' administrative coach and video replay coordinator for three of Yelich’s five seasons in Miami.

Yelich cited Shine's experience in the Derby as an advantage. The Brewers' right fielder also took a jab at those who believe participating in the Derby can have an adverse impact on a hitter’s swing.

Of the Derby, Yelich said, “I do basically the same thing during batting practice every day, so I think it will be fine. I don’t think that messes up your swing; I just think you get tired from it. It’s a lot of swings in a short amount of time. I think I hit for an hour straight with Andy earlier in the year, so I’ll be OK. I think the nerves will be [in play] more than anything.”

Yelich and Haines talked about that, too. The Home Run Derby takes players out of their element and drops them into a primetime, worldwide event. Even something as subtle as having no “turtle” -- the batting cage rolled behind home plate for BP -- makes a big difference, Yelich said.

Brewers manager Craig Counsell has no reservations about his All-Star right fielder taking his hacks on Monday. 

"Christian knows what he's doing," Counsell said on Thursday. "I'm not worried about that at all. It's a myth, it really is. Vladimir Guerrero's a special player in this game. It will be cool to watch it. Christian's excited about it. The more challenges Christian has in front of him, the better. He responds really well to that. I know he's fired up for it."

Haines believes Yelich has the right swing to be a threat.

“I think probably what he’s getting at is there’s never really an intent on his part to hit home runs in BP. It’s just kind of naturally how his BP plays out when he’s doing things correctly,” Haines said. “Like, when you watch his batting practice, he naturally gets the ball out in front and it leads to a lot of power in BP.

“When we had that discussion when they asked him [to participate in the Derby], I thought we both had similar thoughts on it, that he doesn’t have to change his swing, necessarily, to get to his home run power. If you have a guy who has to cheat a little bit or do some things differently with his body to get to his power in BP, that’s where I would have some big concerns. But with him, as far as his swing goes, there’s really no difference. That’s why we kind of felt like there’s not a lot of risk involved for him.

“And honestly, I wouldn’t think that’s super common. But Yelich doesn’t seem to do a lot of common things.”

Added Yelich on Thursday: "If I suck or not in the second half, it’s not going to be because of the Home Run Derby."