1st-time HR Derby sluggers we want to see

July 3rd, 2022

There are certain sluggers we can’t get enough of in the T-Mobile Home Run Derby, which is set for July 18 at Dodger Stadium. Take two-time defending champion Pete Alonso of the Mets, who has proven beyond a doubt that he is built for this particular competition.

Yet it’s always good to have fresh faces, too. Last year, for example, saw Shohei Ohtani and Juan Soto join in on the fun, and while neither knocked off Polar Bear Pete, both provided some serious thrills at Coors Field.

So as we did last year, MLB.com convened a group of writers to pick the first-time Derby competitors they most want to see in 2022. Here is a look at the eight selections. (All stats were entering Saturday’s games.):

Luis Robert, White Sox

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 haven’t been many players who hit the ball as far and as hard as Luis Robert. His 416-foot average home run distance is the fifth highest in MLB in that span, with 17 of his 32 career homers traveling at least 415 feet and 15 of those 32 home runs having been hit 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 making spectacular catches. Why not let Robert showcase why he is going to be one of the most electric players for years to come?

-- Nick Aguilera

Paul Goldschmidt, Cardinals

Key stat: 103 hard-hit balls this season

It’s hard to believe that Paul Goldschmidt has never participated in a Home Run Derby. Goldschmidt has been one of the very best hitters in baseball for over a decade now – his next home run will be the 300th of his 12-year career. And this season might just be his best one yet. The Cardinals' first baseman is hitting .344 and is tied for third in the National League with 19 home runs.

This year’s Derby is at Dodger Stadium – the home of a team Goldschmidt has tormented for years with the D-backs and Cardinals. Goldschmidt isn’t getting any younger – at 34 years old, there might not be another shot for the right-handed masher to make his mark on the Derby. Why not this year?

-- Dylan Svoboda

Mike Trout, Angels

Key stat: HR every 11.6 at-bats since 2017 (highest rate in MLB among qualified batters)

If Trout had been able to stay healthy the past few years, he could very well be nearing the 400-homer milestone already, in his age-30 season. But alas, injuries. Still, how incredible would it be to see the greatest position player of our time participate in the Home Run Derby?

Although it may be mildly surprising to some because of how much time he’s missed since 2017, Trout has launched 165 homers since the beginning of the ’17 season. Only five players have hit more over that span.

While he’s always declined to be a part of the Home Run Derby in the past, Trout reportedly hasn’t ruled it out this year, giving us hope that the most elite offensive player of our generation might finally take center stage in one of baseball’s jewel events.

-- Manny Randhawa

Austin Riley, Braves

Key stat: 12 no-doubt HR in 2022 (T-2nd in MLB)

At the risk of oversimplifying things, this guy can hit.

Riley offers a lot to a lineup, but admittedly, any player with a balanced approach is usually going to be an underdog in a competition designed for sluggers. This is about raw power, not sustainable production. But when Riley gets a hold of a pitch, he does not miss.

His average home run distance in 2022 is 419 feet, third-highest in baseball (min. 10 HR) behind Jesús Sánchez of the Marlins and C.J. Cron of the Rockies -- just the owners of the two longest home runs of the year to date. And of his 19 home runs, 12 would have left all 30 ballparks. 12 no-doubters, the 2nd-most in baseball, has Riley in relevant company -- he shares second place with Giancarlo Stanton and trails only Aaron Judge (16).

-- Shanthi Sepe-Chepuru

Yordan Alvarez, Astros

Key stat: 84 homers in first 300 career games (4th all time)

The scary collision Alvarez had with shortstop Jeremy Peña on Wednesday at Citi Field put a temporary stop to the 25-year-old’s June rampage but hopefully won’t keep him out long-term -- nor jeopardize a potential Derby appearance. Alvarez slugged .835 for the month, and yes, you read that correctly. But he’s not on this list because of a hot streak, even one for the ages. He’s on this list because he has crushed the ball ever since arriving in the Majors as a fully operational slugger in June 2019.

While Alvarez is far more than an all-or-nothing masher, he sure can mash with the best of them. At the time of his injury Wednesday, he had gone deep 48 times in his past 162 games going back to last June, including 18 struck at 110-plus mph and 19 launched 420-plus feet. Simply put, Alvarez boasts easy power, to all fields, and watching him on the Derby stage would be a scintillating spectacle.

-- Andrew Simon

Julio Rodríguez, Mariners

Key stat: 12 homers in past 46 games (through Saturday)

The Ken Griffey Jr. parallels are already there, with Rodríguez patrolling center field for the Mariners and announcing himself as a superstar in the making 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 Junior won three times?

The 21-year-old’s power took some time to catch up to his speed, but since it arrived, the homers have come in bunches. After going deep once in his first 33 games, Rodríguez has socked 12 dingers in his past 45 games. He’s hit some majestic blasts, too, including a 450-footer off 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-center field at T-Mobile Park against the Orioles on Wednesday.

-- Thomas Harrigan

Alejandro Kirk, Blue Jays

Key stat: 20.4% of swings produce 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 a cult hero to a potential All-Star starter, and the power and plate discipline has carried him there. More than 20% of his swings have produced hard contact this season, which ranks in the top 10 in MLB – a list led by the aforementioned Alvarez.

The Home Run Derby is about homers, and Kirk has 10 of them so far this year – check. But it’s also about fun and love for the game. This Blue Jays squad exudes tons of both, and Kirk encapsulates all of that. No catcher has ever won the Derby. Why not Kirk, for the first?

-- Sarah Langs

Oneil Cruz, Pirates

Key stat: When he hit a ball 118.2 MPH in his Major League debut

We need not overthink this. No, Cruz is not Stanton, Ohtani, or Judge; yes, through the end of June he’d played all of 13 Major League games with a league-average OPS. But a Home Run Derby is not about working the count and beating the shift. It’s about hitting the absolute tar out of a baseball. Since Statcast tracking came online in 2015, there have been more than 860,000 tracked batted balls. Only 0.01% of those were hit at 118 MPH or more. Cruz did that in the very first Major League game he ever played. Since he’s come back up in 2022, he’s continued to smoke absolute lasers all around the field. Another way to say this is “If you do not want to see a 6-foot-7 23-year-old shortstop hit the ball about as hard as any human being can, please make sure your heart is still beating.”

-- Mike Petriello