CLEVELAND -- The prize for the Major League winner of Monday’s night’s T-Mobile Home Run Derby was $1 million. The award for being the top two in Sunday’s High School Home Run Derby was a chance to compete in the final round during Monday night’s home run party in front
CLEVELAND -- The prize for the Major League winner of Monday’s night’s T-Mobile Home Run Derby was $1 million. The award for being the top two in Sunday’s High School Home Run Derby was a chance to compete in the final round during Monday night’s home run party in front of a packed house at Progressive Field.
Blaze Jordan (Desoto Central, Southaven, Miss.) and AJ Vukovich (East Troy, Wis.) were the two prep sluggers who got that opportunity, and the duo certainly made the most of the 90-second rounds each was afforded. Vukovich led off by hitting six home runs, his last one coming right at the buzzer. But Jordan had just a little bit more in the tank, hitting his seventh with time running out in his round.
“It was crazy, with all the fans out there,” said Jordan, a 16-year-old Mississippi State recruit, who only recently reclassified to become eligible for the 2020 Draft. “Being able to experience that and being out in front of all those people, compete against AJ, that was great. He started off really well, it was tough to come back, but I was glad I could pull it off. It was just an amazing experience.”
“I had so much adrenaline going,” said Vukovich, who is committed to Louisville. “When I hit that first one and I heard the crowd going crazy, it felt so good. After that, it came a little bit easier. At first, it was definitely hard. Blaze did a good job at coming back and started heating up at the end there.”
Behind Vukovich, Jordan thought he was in trouble as he saw the clock winding down. Playing with a clock is not something baseball players are used to, even if Vukovich is a basketball player back at home as well.
“I think at one point I had three home runs with maybe 40 seconds left and I thought, ‘There’s no shot I’m going to catch him,’” Jordan said. “Luckily, I was able to get on a roll right there at the end. The clock does play a big factor in your head when you look at it on the scoreboard.”
“I wasn’t hitting some at first and seeing the time go down, I thought, ‘If I don’t start hitting them now, Blaze is going to blow me out of the water,’” Vukovich said. “It definitely played with my head a little bit. It’s definitely different for sure.”
With the score knotted at six and about five seconds left, Jordan uncorked what would be the round-winning home run. Whether it would leave the yard wasn’t in doubt. Whether it would win it was in question, at least initially for Jordan.
“I knew when I hit it,” Jordan said. “I really didn’t know how many homers I had. I thought I had five or six, then I looked up at the scoreboard, I knew that was the one to win it.”
Now the two high schoolers can go back to their summer schedules, which includes playing for travel teams and, for Vukovich, continuing on the path towards trying to make USA Baseball’s 18 and under national team, which began with his participation in the inaugural Prospect Development Pipeline League. But being in front of a capacity crowd in a big league stadium certainly left its mark.
“That’s the goal,” Vukovich said. “When I was out there, I really felt, ‘This is what I want to do.’ I got a taste of it right there.”
The High School Home Run Derby does have a strong predictive track record, at least in terms of participants turning into early Draft picks the following June. Last year’s winner, as the most recent example, was Bobby Witt Jr., who went on to be the No. 2 pick in the 2019 Draft.
“Looking at all the guys who did this and where they went in the Draft, it can mess with your head a little bit,” Vukovich said. “I’m just going to keep working hard and hopefully, I can be one of those guys. I’m going to keep working hard, having fun this summer and I’ll see where it takes me.”
“That would be really cool,” Jordan said. “That’s kind of like every kid’s dream. Whatever path I take, college or going to the Draft, whatever God has in plan for me. For now, I’m going to keep working and have fun this summer.”
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.