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Picking the ideal participants for the 2018 MLB Home Run Derby

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We know we aren’t going to get Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge again.

Milwaukee Brewers v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Let’s be honest from the very beginning: The 2018 MLB Home Run Derby should be Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Shohei Ohtani hitting home runs until they all collapse, pleading in front of a national audience to be released from their dinger prison. We would decline their pleas, but bring them a stool to sit on while more pitches are thrown.

Unfortunately, despite my frequent letters and phone calls, this is unlikely to happen. Judge and Stanton were gracious enough to fill our imaginations last year, but they’re not doing the Derby this year. Ohtani is active but unlikely to do anything that puts additional stress on his body, which, ugh, fine, I guess that makes sense. And because of this, it’s almost certain that the Home Run Derby won’t have the same gravitas and expectations it had last year.

Unless ...

Unless we come up with eight participants who can make the Home Run Derby as fun and eagerly anticipated as last year. It’s not going to be easy, considering the absence of Judge, Stanton, and Ohtani, but we can do our best. Here are my choices:

Bryce Harper

Not everything needs to be clever or overthought. The All-Star Game is in Washington. The most popular and successful player in the history of the franchise is Bryce Harper. He also happens to hit dingers with élan and tremendous zeal. He’s a hometown hero who happens to be good at hitting home runs, and those are a staple of the Home Run Derby.

The last time I checked, he was hitting .101, but still. Dingers. A stadium that’s cheering for him. He’ll be starting in the outfield. It’s the RSTLNE of derby contestants.

Michael Lorenzen

There should be at least one pitcher in every Home Run Derby. If this starts to embarrass the pitchers, we can revisit the idea. But we should allow pitchers to be embarrassed.

In previous seasons, this slot would have been reserved for Madison Bumgarner. But he doesn’t even have a hit this year, and he had just one homer after coming back from his dirt bike escapades last year. Lorenzen is the new hero, and we should respect this. He’s hit as many home runs in his last 7 at-bats as Chris Getz hit in his 1,409 at-bats. C’mon, Royals fans. Back me up on this.

A pitcher in the Derby would be a gimmick, something that’s included only for curiosity’s sake.

To which I reply: Yes. Yes, it is.

Like the Home Run Derby is an institution you need to protect, you idiot.

Jose Altuve

Tired: Big, beefy baseball boys hitting home runs at will.

Inspired: Short guys hitting home runs at will.

Wired: Why wouldn’t you use “inspired” instead of “wired?” It was right there. Nobody used wired in regular conversation until the meme. Maybe young people used it. Leave me alone, Cheers is on.

But you get the idea. The Derby doesn’t always need the dinger monster du jour. Sometimes it needs a Spud Webb.

Gimme those short-guy homers. They make me feel whole again. Who needs a beef monster when you have this guy right here. Look at this sucker fly:

We deserve to watch that over and over again.

Daniel Vogelbach

But, you know, one beef monster can’t hurt.

Put one camera on Vogelbach hitting dingers. Put another camera on Nelson Cruz making Robert DeNiro faces. It’s not a ratings bonanza, but it’s definitely charming as all heck, and now that Kyle Schwarber is skinny and turning into Alex Gordon, we have to audition new large lords.

I nominate Daniel Vogelbach, who looks the part and plays the part.

Just ignore the fact that the home run linked above was three months ago, and it was his last one in the majors. Or that he’s slugging .339 in limited action. I want a husky slugger, and Matt Adams would make for too many Nationals in the Derby.

Fine, if you have to, pick Adams, who is having a fine season in the majors and is also someone for the hometown fans to cheer. But if I have to choose between Vogelbach and Adams in a see-how-far-they-can-mash-it contest, I’ll go Vogelbach, every time.

(My real pick would be Alfredo Despaigne, one of my original obsessions and a current NPB slugger, but somehow I don’t think MLB would consider that. This is supposed to be a showcase of the best dinger-horkers in Major League Baseball, and I get that. Just know that there will be a spot for the international players when I’m commissioner. Wladimir Balentien, keep your phone on.)

Joey Gallo

He isn’t the same genre as Vogelbach because he’s built more like a tight end than a defensive end at a Texas high school, but he’s in the derby because I want to see him hit long, arcing home runs. I’ll use science to bolster my case.

The longest home run in 2018 was hit by Franchy Cordero, who would be on this list if he weren’t injured. Gallo has the 11th-longest home run, which isn’t the greatest selling point. But Gallo also hits the ball harder than anybody else, according to exit velocity, which is a plus. More importantly, his average launch angle is bananas, and the average ball that he puts in play is over 60 feet high, which is much higher than any of his peers.

If you read me often, you’ll know that this might be the first time I’ve mentioned launch angle in an article. That sort of technical dissection is beyond me, and, frankly, it scares me. I came of age in an era when we had to yell at GMs to pay attention to on-base percentage, and it was much easier. I don’t really know how to use launch angle to analyze baseball players.

But I’ll tell you what Gallo can do well: hit baseballs hard, and hit baseballs high. That’s the kind of crew we’re trying to build in the first act of this heist movie. There isn’t anyone else like him.

Ichiro

Is this pick cliché at this point? Perhaps. Like hell is it a bad idea, though. Ichiro is hanging around in the Mariners dugout because the front office doesn’t suit him, and his brain is completely, thoroughly, magically broken.

He was a story when he filled in as the bench coach for a recent doubleheader in Texas. He was in charge of the lineup cards that day, and he said he spent the whole time staring at the card to avoid mistakes, and missed much of the game action.

He is still swinging bats alone in his hotel room, just waiting for the chance to hit again. It’s not that he stopped being technically perfect; it’s that the new crop of 99-mph freaks don’t mix well with a 44-year-old’s fast-twitch reflexes. Not enough for him to succeed with the top one percent of baseball’s top one percent, at least.

But against some dude soft-tossing behind a screen? Oh, I believe he can still be tremendously entertaining, and anyone who doesn’t support this idea needs to go on a watchlist. We’ve heard for years that Ichiro could be a batting-practice legend if he wanted to focus on home runs. Here’s the perfect chance. He doesn’t have to worry about the myth that the Derby negatively affects a hitter’s swing. He can just let ‘er rip.

Baseball should let him.

Ozzie Albies

It’s understandable that we’re not going to get Stanton or Judge, really. Once a slugger has participated in the Derby, the mystique is gone. The attraction disappears. The only thing worse than the drudgery of batting practice is high-pressure batting practice that screws up a well-deserved off day. It’s not like it takes a curmudgeon of a veteran to avoid the Home Run Derby; the feeling is almost universal among the veterans who have participated. They are Captain Bern Hembrook. Ate an egg on the moon. Did a pushup on it. What more is there?

What you need is someone young and oblivious. Someone so innocent and fresh that he thinks the Derby might actually be fun. We’ve established that Albies is incredibly fun, both on the field and when the cameras catch him in the dugout. He already has 18 homers this season, and if you want a fun list, look at the hitters 21 or younger who have done that over a full season. It’s a 55-player list, and it’s roughly a bunch of players you would want to watch in a historical Home Run Derby. I’ll take Greg Luzinski vs. Bob Horner, much less Mickey Mantle vs. Mike Trout.

Speaking of Trout, he’s not on my list because I’m not really going to pretend that he would be interested. You need someone like Albies, a fresh face with a fresh take. Someone who hasn’t been ground into cynical veteran paste.

Or maybe someone with bees in his pants.

Yasiel Puig

Say, I know a guy with bees in his pants. This guy. And he happens to be a feller who a) seems to enjoy the spotlight and b) seems to enjoy being good at baseball. He also got shut out the only time he was invited to participate, so you know he has a chip on his shoulder.

Also, I want to see Puig win the Home Run Derby and then eat his own bat, piece by piece, in celebration. It’s not likely, but you absolutely know it’s possible.

Really, this is a wild-card slot. Should Gary Sanchez get a chance to defend his crown? Probably. Have a fascination for Khris Davis? I don’t blame you. Put him in there. Chris Davis, just to see if there’s such thing as a reverse Derby jinx? I’m into it. Billy Hamilton, but with some sort of temporary CIA-developed strength serum? Heck yeah. Or if you want to have special rules for him that makes it an inside-the-park home run derby, go for it.

All I care about, though, is a Jose Altuve/Ichiro finals. It wouldn’t be guaranteed, but we deserve the chance, at least.

Would settle for Joey Gallo/Bryce Harper.

Really would like Judge/Stanton, like we were promised.

We would have a chance for Altuve/Ichiro, or Vogelbach/Lorenzen, though. MLB could play it straight, but why would they bother? The Derby is supposed to be dumb fun. Let it be the dumbest and the funnest.