By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Ken Griffey Jr. will not be partaking in this year’s Home Run Derby. Nor will Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, David Ortiz, Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi — and if you expect them to step up to the plate, they’re going to be gray and old. But forget the old guys; even the best active home run hitters will be skipping out on this year’s Derby, leaving a field of participants that may leave the casual fan a bit confused when they flip on the TV on Monday night.
They’ll likely know Bryce Harper, but Max Muncy? Perhaps not.
For some help in this department, here’s a brief look at each of the eight participants in the Derby.
2018 Home Runs: 24
MLB Rank: T-6th
Career HRs: 40
The 28-year-old earned his spot on the NL All-Star Team by winning the Final Vote. The Venezuelan emerged last year, his first real full season in the big leagues, by showing some power. But he’s taken it to a new level this year, with his National League-leading 24 homers thus far in 2018. The first baseman also leads the NL in slugging percentage and OPS.
2018 Home Runs: 23
MLB Rank: T-8th
Career HRs: 173
Hitting in front of his home crowd in D.C., Harper is the most recognizable name and face in this competition. He’s also the odds-on favorite, with his 11-to-4 odds to win the Derby. Harper is the only one of the eight participants to have partaken in a Home Run Derby before, as he was the runner-up to Yoenis Cespedes in 2013 at Citi Field in New York.
Harper’s home run totals look good this year, but in his final season under contract before hitting free agency, he’s struggling everywhere else. He’s hitting just .214 and he’s already stuck out 102 times. (He struck out 99 times all of last season.)
Los Angeles Dodgers
2018 Home Runs: 22
MLB Rank: T-12th
Career HRs: 27
There probably weren’t too many people back in spring training who would have expected Muncy to be participating in this year’s Home Run Derby. To that point in his career, the 27-year-old had hit a grand total of five home runs in his 96 big league games, all played with the Oakland A’s. He also didn’t play in the majors in 2017 after getting released by the A’s, and he didn’t even tear the cover off the ball in Triple-A, where he hit 12 home runs last season. But the corner infielder/utility man has had quite the season for the Dodgers, belting 22 homers in his 225 at-bats. That’s good for an NL-best at-bat-per-home run rate of 10.2.
Muncy was a candidate for the NL’s Final Vote, but finished in third. So he’ll be heading to D.C. specifically for the Derby.
2018 Home Runs: 20
MLB Rank: T-18th
Career HRs: 47
As a No. 2 overall draft pick and a member of the defending champs, Bregman is certainly well known at this point in his young career. He’s following up his breakout season rather nicely, making improvements thus far in average, OBP, and slugging, and jumping from an .827 OPS last year to a .928 OPS thus far in 2018. He’s also already surpassed his 2017 home run total of 19, and he’s already walked one more time in 2018 in 192 fewer plate appearances.
He showed a flair for the dramatic when it came to the long ball in last year’s postseason. He took Chris Sale deep in the first inning of Game 1 of the ALDS, and then homered off Sale again in Game 4 to tie the game in the eighth inning. Perhaps he’ll put on a similar show under the bright lights on Monday night.
2018 Home Runs: 19
MLB Rank: T-21st
Career HRs: 66
One of baseball’s best personalities, the Cubs’ middle infielder has steadily increased his home run-hitting ability in recent years. He hit 14 dingers in the fateful 2016 season, upped it to 23 homers last year, and he’s already hit 19 thus far in 2018. He also leads the NL with 72 RBIs at the break, and he’s surpassed last year’s doubles total. The MVP of the 2016 NLCS made a national name for himself with his defense, but he’s clearly been making steady improvements when it comes to driving the ball out of the yard.
2018 Home Runs: 18
MLB Rank: T-32nd
Career HRs: 64
Schwarber certainly became a bit of a household name for the way he came through with a number of clutch hits for the Cubs, as they ended a 108-year World Series drought in the fall of 2016. Schwarber, who missed all but two games that year due to an early-season injury, returned for the World Series and batted .412 with three walks and a double, driving in two runs and scoring twice himself.
He followed up that unique 2016 season by hitting 30 homers last year, and he’s on pace to set a new career high. Still just 25 years old, this likely won’t be Schwarber’s final Derby appearance. The fact that he was invited to participate despite not making the All-Star roster is a good sign of that.
2018 Home Runs: 16
MLB Rank: T-41st
Career HRs: 182
Often overlooked, Freeman has been one of baseball’s best hitters for the past five years. He’s the career home run leader of this year’s group, and at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, he may have the necessary strength to win this Derby. Freeman’s never hit more than 34 homers in any single season, though, so it will be interesting to see how he handles things in such a setting.
2018 Home Runs: 14
MLB Rank: T-64th
Career HRs: 32
It’s probably not a great thing for MLB when somebody who’s tied for 64th in home runs has to participate in the Derby. Nevertheless, you can bet the 25-year-old outfielder will be putting his best foot forward when he steps to the plate on Monday. At 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, Hoskins certainly seems big enough to put on a bit of a show. He also hit 38 home runs in 135 games at Double-A in 2016, so he definitely has some pop. But he hasn’t homered since June 29, so he’s going to have to figure something out if he hopes to compete.
The real question, though, is whether or not he’ll rock the double-ear-flap helmet for all the world to see. That thing is a work of art.