Yerzy, Washington advance in High School HR Derby
CINCINNATI -- For the second straight year, a Canadian and a Texas high school hitter will get the chance to swing for the fences as part of the Gillette Home Run Derby presented by Head & Shoulders on Monday night.
Andrew Yerzy from Toronto and Ron Washington Jr. from Missouri City, Texas, emerged from the preliminary portion of the 2015 High School Select Home Run Derby held at Great American Ball Park on Sunday morning, earning the chance to be a part of the Major League festivities on Monday. The duo bested a total of eight high school sluggers. A year ago, it was Josh Naylor from Canada and Luken Baker from Texas who competed, with Baker taking home the high school title.
Yerzy won Sunday's competition with 10 home runs, while Washington finished second in the two-round event with nine long balls. Yerzy, a catcher who plays on the Canadian Junior National Team, got off to a hot start, hitting seven home runs in the first round, when each of the participants got 10 outs. The left-handed hitter hit three more in the five-out second round to land in first place -- relying on some words of wisdom from his fellow Canadian.
"[Naylor] gave me some advice," Yerzy said. "He said, 'Believe in yourself, have some fun and soak it all in. Try to do the best you can.' I had a lot of support back home, so that was great. I was just swinging hard and hoped for the best."
Yerzy was tied with Joey Wentz, from Kansas, for the lead after the first round. But Wentz only left the yard once more to finish in third place with eight total homers. Las Vegas infielder Nick Quintana landed in fourth, with seven balls that found the seats.
"I added a little bit of a leg kick, but mostly it was just finding the right pitch," Yerzy said. "My coach, he used to play in the Minors, he told me just to be patient and look for the right pitch to put out. So I was patient. I was swinging at low, inside pitches most of the time."
While Yerzy sat atop the leaderboard, Washington had to stage a comeback. The only underclassman in the group -- the other seven will be 2016 graduates, while Washington will finish his career at Dulles High School in '17 -- Washington started very slowly in Round 1. The outfielder didn't hit his first homer until he had nine outs, finishing the first round in last place with two home runs. At that point, Washington wasn't thinking about advancing; he simply wanted to put on a better showing in his second trip to the plate.
"I was hoping, but I just wanted to get in the box again, get in there and hit some home runs," Washington said.
While he did hit only a pair out in the opening round, it did look like Washington found his home run stroke late in his turn. He was able to carry those adjustments over into the second round.
"I found I needed to transfer my weight to the ball better," Washington said. "I was pulling off the ball in the first round. I went back to my mechanics in the second round, and it worked for me."
As a result, he'll join Yerzy on the field during the big league Home Run Derby, get to interact with all of this year's All-Stars and then get to take some hacks in front of a packed house to determine this year's High School Select Home Run Derby champion. Yerzy will go first, by virtue of his Sunday win, getting three minutes to hit as many home runs as he can after the fourth batter of the Major League Derby has finished his round. Washington will get the same amount of time after the sixth Major League hitter is finished.
Both Yerzy and Washington will get 15 pitches to pad their totals in the second round of their competition, coming right after the eighth big leaguer has taken his hacks. The high schooler with the highest combined total will be the winner. They both have guys from their home regions to use as role models as they prepare for Monday's competition. Especially as an underclassman, Washington never expected to follow in Baker's footsteps.
"I saw Luken Baker win it," Washington said. "It didn't even come to me that I'd even get a chance to do what he did. It's wonderful and crazy. I can't even put it into words, I'm so excited."
Yerzy said he plans on touching base with Naylor again to get an idea of what it will be like to perform in front of so many fans. He knew he wanted to do his fellow countryman proud when he was invited to participate.
"It made me want to do as well as Naylor," Yerzy said. "Obviously, I made it to the finals. Hopefully, I do a little better and win it."
Would that mean he could go home with some bragging rights? The way Yerzy sees it, Naylor still has those -- given that he was drafted in June and is currently making his pro debut with the Marlins in the Gulf Coast League.
"No," said Yerzy, "because he went in the first round, 12th overall."