Richardson, Morlando set to face off in Finals of HS HR Derby

July 8th, 2023

SEATTLE -- Mike Cameron and Gary Sheffield sat behind home plate at T-Mobile Park on Saturday morning and marveled at the rare air that teenage sluggers were putting on display in the High School Home Run Derby.

Here were two elite power hitters of their era, with a combined 787 career homers between them, amazed at some of the epic distances they were seeing.

PJ Morlando crushing multiple blasts into the third deck beyond right field -- a feat that only Shohei Ohtani has done in recent memory -- and Samuel Richardson pacing the field with a Statcast-projected 481-foot blast were among the days’ biggest moments. Those two advanced beyond the second round and into the finals, which will take place on Monday ahead of the main event featuring the Major Leaguers.

Immediately after the results went final, Morlando hugged Richardson in an embrace of validation and support of each other. They were both teammates at the Prospect Development Pipeline that recently wrapped in Cary, N.C., and were among nearly 100 players that took part in the two-week league that’s overseen by MLB and USA Baseball.

“You have no idea -- like me and him, we said this even earlier, like, 'It's going to be us,’” Morlando said of Richardson. “I mean, we just prepared ourselves and we had really, really good juice.”

Now, they’re here on the grandest stage and will have the chance to meet some of their idols when they return to T-Mobile Park on Monday.

For Morlando, a self-professed “die-hard Rays fan,” he’s eager to meet Derby contender Randy Arozarena.

“Just getting that experience to hit in front of this many fans,” Morlando said. “There's a chance that they're all going to be cheering our names and getting hyped up after every home run. I can't wait. And being around these big leaguers, that’s going to be beneficial for our learning process.”

For Richardson, a right fielder, he can’t wait to talk shop with Mookie Betts, his favorite player, and Julio Rodríguez, who he admires for such a quick ascent to superstardom.

“I always watched the Home Run Derby when I was younger and always dreamed of it,” Richardson said.

Morlando and Richardson ousted the rest of the group by sheer stamina. Saturday’s format featured a two-minute, 30-second first round that drew some laborious cuts as time pressed on, and a 90-second second round in which many made adjustments.

Specifically, Richardson said he focused more on his breathing between hacks, easing his pace and trusting that his sheer power would take over.

“Once I realized, 'OK, it's going to be a long time,' I had to really adjust and just really take more deep breaths,” Richardson said. “Because most of the time, I usually try to breathe through my swing, take deep breaths during my swing. Just doing that even more, so that really helped out.”

And Morlando had a much more let-it-eat approach.

“When I was going into that last round, I looked at my family and I was like, 'Well, I'm down three. I need four to win this,’” Morlando said. “I really wanted to put on kind of like a show for the boys right here. So I was like, 'Let me just try to get this ball elevated and see how far I can put it up on the third deck.'"

Here are the rest of Saturday’s totals:
Samuel Richardson (Olive Branch, Miss.) -- 25
PJ Morlando (Summerville, S.C.) -- 24
Jaydon Kea (Kapolei, HI) -- 18
Andre Modugno (Bradenton, Fla.) -- 17
Konnor Griffin (Florence, Miss.) -- 16
Dante Nori (Northville, Mich.) -- 16
Nick Montgomery (Cypress, Calif.) -- 15
Noah Sheffield (Tampa, Fla.) -- 13

Richardson and Morlando will look to join past winners, which include...
2022: Aidan Miller
2021: Jared Jones and Sal Stewart (tie)
2019: Blaze Jordan
2018: Bobby Witt Jr.
2017: Nolan Gorman
2016: Nick Brueser
2015: Andrew Yerzy and Ron Washington Jr. (tie)
2014: Luken Baker
2013: Jake Gatewood

Established a decade ago, the High School Home Run Derby has become another premier pathway for players to The Show, as a handful of big leaguers put on the first of their biggest cuts in this event, including Witt, Jarred Kelenic, Nolan Gorman, Triston Casas, Jo Adell, Royce Lewis and Josh Naylor. It’s also featured eventual pitchers, like Hunter Greene and Joey Wentz.