Fans’ complaints about the way Major League Baseball markets their players are well-documented. Mike Trout, one of the best players in the game’s long history, is not seen very often outside of the west coast. On the opposite side of things, the NBA’s star players are known across the globe, and recognized by people who have never watched a game in their life. That’s baseball’s biggest problem. In 2019, baseball has seen an influx of young talent like never before, and many feared they would fail to market them well. If last night’s Home Run Derby was any indication, there is no need to worry. Last night was one of the best nights for the sport of baseball in recent memory. A group of young talent (and Carlos Santana) led to must watch TV. One man stole the show, and many didn’t even want him there. Toronto’s 250-pound third baseman, Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Vlad Jr. entered the league with high expectations. Between being hyped as one of the best hitting prospects in baseball history, and sharing a name with a Hall of Famer, it is hard not to feel the pressure. Through 61 games, the 20-year-old has struggled, slashing .248/.328/.413 with just eight homers and a .321 wOBA. Obviously those numbers weren’t enough to send him to the All-Star Game, but he did get an invite to Cleveland for a different reason: The Home Run Derby. Many protested Vlad’s participation in the Derby. 181 ballplayers have hit more homers than Vlad Jr. this season, and it seemed like there were numerous better options. But, as someone who had his heartbroken when Vlad Jr took a below the knees sinker by Zack Britton 434-feet earlier this year, I knew what he could bring to the event. Luckily for MLB, he proved me, and them, right.
After a solid first round that saw Joc Pederson defeat Alex Bregman, Vlad Jr. dug in with high expectations. It’s safe to say he exceeded them. Actually, a better word for it is demolish. In his first round, Vlad Jr. hit 29 HRs, setting the Derby record for a single round, before Matt Chapman could say “I’m eighth in baseball with a 3.6 fWAR”. With a flurry of “oooohs” and “aaahs”, Vlad Jr. easily bested Chapman 29-13. The fun was far from over, and it came off the bat of other hitters as well. After Vlad’s dominant performance, Ronald Acuña Jr. bested Josh Bell 25-18. Acuña showed off his unbelievable ability to spray the ball to all corners of the field for power. After Acuña, first basemen Pete Alonso and Carlos Santana competed in the most boring matchup of the competition, with Alonso fighting off subpar pitching from his cousin to walk it off 14-13 in easy fashion.
With Joc Pederson (27), Pete Alonso (24), Ronald Acuña Jr. (21), and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (20) advancing, that gave the second round an average age of just 23. The Derby gave MLB a chance to display it’s best young talent, and the second round did not disappoint. Pederson and Vlad Jr. started it off in what resulted in the best round in the history of the Derby. No one thought Vlad Jr. could top his previous round. He set the Derby record for God’s sake, it’s pretty hard to do better, plus, he was definitely tiring. So what did Vlad Jr do? He tied the record he set an hour ago, hitting 29 in the second round because he’s Vlad Jr. and of course he did. Then came Joc’s turn. He didn’t have a shot at reaching Vlad Jr, so just make it a competition. Get to like 24 to make it fun, Joc. Pederson didn’t hit 24 home runs though. He went up there, and hit 29. Minutes after Vlad Jr tied the Derby record, Pederson tied it. Juiced balls or not, this was freaking fun. But it didn’t stop there. Each batter got a one minute bonus round. Vlad Jr demolished eight in a single minute. That had to be it. No way Joc hits eight in a damn minute. Never mind. Joc hit eight in a damn minute, to send us to a three swing swing off. Vlad Jr went first, hitting just one of his three swings out. This was Joc’s chance to win it. BUT…he was tiring as well. Joc only got a hold of one of those three swings, bringing us to a SECOND swing off. In that swing off, Vlad Jr hit two out of the three swings, bringing his round total to 40. With the Derby on the line, three swings for Joc. With one homer in the books, and one swing left, Pederson lined one into the outfield grass, signaling the end of the best round ever, 40-39. Then Pete Alonso beat Acuña 20-19 which was solid but no one really paid any attention to because we all needed a breather after the Vlad Jr round.
In the final round, everyone was pumped. Vlad Jr again! The day of Vlad Jr would be capped off with a $1-million check. Wellllll, Pete Alonso had other ideas. A visibly exhausted Vlad Jr crushed 22 homers, bringing his grand total to 91, meaning he hit more home runs in one night than the Marlins (68), Tigers (77), Royals (87), and Giants (88) hit in the entire first half. After those 22, Pete Alonso had a tall task ahead of him. He fulfilled it, hitting 23 without the 30 second break. In all honesty, congrats to Pete, but every single non-Mets fan in the country was rooting for Vlad Jr. But, Alonso won, fair and square. This whole “Vlad Jr hit more total home runs than Alonso so he should win” narrative is ridiculous. Alonso didn’t need the extra time in any of the three rounds, since he was the higher seed and hit a “walk off” all three times. Also, he won the final round. If you win the final round, you win the competition. It’s simple. With all that being said, everyone was a winner tonight. Alonso got a cool million bucks, which is almost double his salary for the year, the fans were given a show, Vlad Jr burst onto the scene as the future face of baseball, and MLB was able to showcase their young talent while keeping people interested for hours. Finally, MLB’s future is on the big stage. The Home Run Derby is the most exciting part of baseball over and over again. If last night told us anything, it’s that the Derby can garner interest from all parts of the sports world. If they continue the success from the Derby, in addition to the $1M prize, they will give their young stars a platform. This can be huge for baseball’s future. In whole, Alonso won the Derby, but MLB and Vlad Jr won the night.