Youth is served in this year’s Home Run Derby, as the average age of the eight participants is 26.39 years old, the youngest field ever. None of the eight players was born when the first Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game was held in 1985. The pressure is on Bryce Harper to win in front of the home fans, but don’t be shocked if one of the season’s two biggest surprises — Jesus Aguilar and Max Muncy — continue their dream seasons with a Home Run Derby title.
Here’s a snapshot of all eight guys:
Jesus Aguilar, Brewers
Why he’s here: He leads the National League with 24 home runs, and his home run rate of 7.6 percent leads the majors.
Why he can win: He is a big dude with a big uppercut swing. His fly ball rate is third highest in the majors, behind only Joey Gallo and Matt Carpenter, so he won’t have to alter his natural swing to get a little more loft on the ball.
What can stop him: His average home run distance of 408.2 feet ranks only 42nd in the majors. He also sprays the ball around, so he might end up with too many deep flies to the warning track.
One fact to impress your friends during the Home Run Derby: Amazingly, Aguilar didn’t start consecutive games until May 1 and May 2. Did we mention he still leads the NL in home runs?
Javier Baez, Cubs
Why he’s here: He is tied for seventh in the NL with 19 home runs and ranks fourth with a .571 slugging percentage, as he has had a breakout season at the plate, even though his strikeout-to-walk ratio remains low (91 strikeouts to 14 walks).
Why he can win: Many call him the most exciting player in the game, and it’s easy to see him rising to the occasion. Plus, with his bat speed and athleticism and ability to connect on marginal pitches, he might get more swings in during this timed event than the other players.
What can stop him: It’s also easy to see him being too pumped up, overswinging and popping up everything.
One fact to impress your friends during the Home Run Derby: Baez is the 14th second baseman to partake in the Home Run Derby. Eleven of the previous 13 were eliminated in the first round, but the other two won: Ryne Sandberg in 1990 and Robinson Cano in 2011.
Alex Bregman, Astros
Why he’s here: He has become one of the best all-around hitters in the game, ranking in the top 20 in the majors with 20 home runs and ranking fourth in extra-base hits. His 20 home runs already tops his 2017 total of 19.
Why he can win: Bregman is basically a dead-pull hitter, with 16 of his 20 home runs going to left field and just two to the opposite field. That kind of approach can pay dividends in the Home Run Derby, as you don’t have to hit 400-foot-plus blasts to clear the fence.
What can stop him: His long home run of the season is just 420 feet, so he might lack the raw power to sustain things over three rounds.
One fact to impress your friends during the Home Run Derby: Bregman is on pace for 86 extra-base hits. The only Astros with more in a season are Lance Berkman in 2001 (94) and Richard Hidalgo in 2000 (89).
Freddie Freeman, Braves
Why he’s here: Maybe the front-runner for NL MVP honors, Freeman has 16 home runs and ranks fourth in the NL in OPS.
Why he can win: He has a nice, easy swing that produces plenty of in-game power as is, but he’s a big guy who might be able to turn things up a notch, as he swings from his heels. While he sprays the ball around in games, he has pulled 12 of his 16 home runs, and Nationals Park is a little friendlier for lefty pull hitters.
What can stop him: Freeman is more of a line-drive guy, with a fly ball rate of 25.3 percent (63rd in the majors), so he might not produce enough fly balls to go all the way.
One fact to impress your friends during the Home Run Derby: Freeman is the first Braves player in the event since Andruw Jones in 2005. Also, every Braves player to participate has lost in the first round.
Bryce Harper, Nationals
Why he’s here: He’s Bryce Harper, the game is in Washington and he is tied for second in the NL with 23 home runs. Without defending champ Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton, Harper is the marquee name here — even if he is hitting just .214.
Why he can win: His average home run distance of 415.6 feet leads the eight participants, as does his longest homer of the season at 473 feet. The fans will be behind him to provide a little extra energy as he looks to pull a 2015 Todd Frazier and win at home.
What can stop him: He seems like the guy most likely to burn himself out in the first round, building up too much lactic acid and then collapsing in the second round.
One fact to impress your friends during the Home Run Derby: Harper lost to Yoenis Cespedes in the 2013 finals.
Rhys Hoskins, Phillies
Why he’s here: One of the game’s up-and-coming power hitters, Hoskins burst on to the scene as a rookie last August when he belted 11 home runs in his first 18 games. He hasn’t matched that onslaught in 2018, with 14 home runs so far.
Why he can win: Hoskins has the fourth-highest fly ball rate in the majors. He has pulled 10 of his home runs, and three have gone to center, so if you’re believing in my “pull hitters have a better chance” theory, he could be a surprise.
What can stop him: If regular-season home run totals are an indicator of success here, he has the fewest of the eight players.
One fact to impress your friends during the Home Run Derby: He has minus-16 defensive runs saved, tied for fourth worst among all fielders; luckily, there is no defense involved in the Home Run Derby.
Max Muncy, Dodgers
Why he’s here: One of the feel-good stories of the season, Muncy spent all of 2017 in Triple-A and started there again in 2018. Injuries opened up playing time, and his 22 home runs rank fourth in the NL. He doesn’t quite have enough plate appearances to qualify for the leaderboards, but he would lead the NL in OPS if he did.
Why he can win: With changes he has made to his swing, the power is legit, with a 450-foot home run his longest of the season. He also has a home run-to-fly ball rate of 18.3 percent that would rank sixth highest in MLB.
What can stop him: I don’t know if Muncy can be stopped. It just might be the Year of Max.
One fact to impress your friends during the Home Run Derby: Muncy hit 20 home runs over the past two seasons in Triple-A in over in 543 at-bats. His 22 home runs for the Dodgers have come in just 225 at-bats.
Kyle Schwarber, Cubs
Why he’s here: With 18 home runs, he’s on pace to his second straight 30-homer season, after missing most of the 2016 season (before his dramatic return in the World Series).
Why he can win: He has serious raw power, and his home run-to-fly ball rate of 19.1 percent ranks fourth in the majors.
What can stop him: Unknown forces of nature. Mushy baseballs. Bad pitches to hit.
One fact to impress your friends during the Home Run Derby: Schwarber’s max exit velocity this year of 117.1 mph is the highest of the eight players.