CLEVELAND -- Eagle Avenue, the short street running along Progressive Field’s northern exterior, is possibly in play, as when Jim Thome bounced a batted ball out of the building back in 1999. The gigantic scoreboard area above the bleachers, which Mark McGwire struck with a memorable blast back in '97, is also in reach. And the right-field mezzanine and the pedestrian bridge above the left-field home run porch might as well have targets attached to them.
Yes, the eight sluggers stepping to the plate in tonight's T-Mobile Home Run Derby at 8 ET on ESPN can survey the setting and identify some distant dinger destinations that they’d like to reach.
But their biggest ambition is to walk out of the building $1 million richer. (And BTW: You, the fan, can win $250K by playing the Home Run Derby Bracket Challenge.)
With the clock ticking and the dollars dangled, the bracket-style Derby competition is bound to be an entertaining appetizer ahead of Tuesday’s All-Star Game presented by Mastercard. And the boosted bonus that comes with winning the Derby ups the ante for A’s third baseman Matt Chapman (a late replacement for the Brewers’ Christian Yelich), the Blue Jays’ Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the Astros’ Alex Bregman, the Dodgers’ Joc Pederson, the Mets’ Pete Alonso, the Indians’ Carlos Santana, the Pirates’ Josh Bell and the Braves’ Ronald Acuña Jr..
Not only is the $1 million prize the richest, but the average age of the field (25.43) is the youngest in the 34-year history of this event (last year’s had previously been the youngest). The 33-year-old Santana, a happy host in his adopted Northeast Ohio hometown, is the only participant in his 30s, and four of the eight – Guerrero (20), Acuna (21), Alonso (24) and Bregman (25) – are 25 or younger. Guerrero is the youngest participant ever, and the inclusion of Guerrero and Acuna marks the first time multiple players under age 22 have taken part.
So we’ve got some bonus-hunting babies in this fascinating field. Here are the seedings:
Left side of bracket
- Matt Chapman, A’s vs. 8) Vlad Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays
- Alex Bregman, Astros vs. 5) Joc Pederson, Dodgers
Right side of bracket
- Pete Alonso, Mets vs. 7) Carlos Santana, Indians
- Josh Bell, Pirates vs. 6) Ronald Acuna Jr., Braves
That's the field, and the rules and format will be the same as they've been since 2015, which is to say the ticking clock and the importance of not just going deep but extra deep -- with the dinger distances measured by Statcast™ having an impact on extra time allotments -- are in full effect.
Guerrero and Pederson are competing in the Derby despite not being selected for their league’s All-Star squad, so their home runs will be ringer dingers.
The Derby field features some great stories.
Before his April 26 debut, Guerrero (eight homers at the break) was one of the most anticipated prospects in memory, and following in the footsteps of his Hall of Fame father means he’s well-acclimated to the pressure of a showcase like this. At 20 years and 114 days, he breaks the 1990 record by Ken Griffey Jr. (20 years, 230 days) for youngest participant in the Derby.
Guerrero was 8 years old in 2007, when the elder Guerrero won the Derby in San Francisco.
“It feels great to be a part of it,” Guerrero Jr. said through team interpreter Hector Lebron. “I’m just going to go out there and compete. I’m going to do my best and hopefully I’ll win it.”
The switch-hitting Santana is not only representing the host Indians in the Derby but also in his long-awaited first All-Star appearance Tuesday. The 2019 season has already been a happy homecoming for him after an offseason trade back to the Tribe, but a Derby win would take it to another level.
"I don't have any pressure,” Santana said. “I will try to enjoy it because it's a new experience for me."
Bregman (a 2018 participant) and Pederson (2015) get an opportunity to avenge past Derby defeats, while Chapman (21) gets an opportunity to show a wider audience that his power bat has caught up to his Platinum Glove-winning defense.
Chapman’s hoping to take advantage of an opportunity that presented itself at the last minute with Yelich pulling out with a back issue.
“Maybe it's better that way,” Chapman said. “Don't overthink it.”
With half a year to go, Alonso has already set a Mets rookie record for homers (30) in a season. Acuna has only built off his 2018 National League Rookie of the Year Award campaign. And Bell has been one of the breakout stars of this season, depositing multiple long balls into the Allegheny River flowing outside PNC Park.
Bell has been labeled a favorite in this event, in part because of the way his left-handed pull power plays well at Progressive Field. The 19-foot wall in left field could prove an issue for right-handed swingers Guerrero, Bregman, Acuna, Chapman and Alonso, though something tells us they’ll clear it a time or two.
Especially with a million bucks on the line.