On Monday, Major League Baseball hosted the 2019 Home Run Derby at Progressive Field in Cleveland. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the finals. It was Guerrero and Joc Pederson, however, . Add in Alonso and Ronald Acuna Jr.’s evenings, and the Home Run Derby showed why baseball appears so well-positioned from a young talent perspective.topping
The night also made it clear that “let the kids play” should be more than a marketing slogan — it ought to be the guiding principle behind the Home Run Derby. Baseball, in a sense, should treat the Derby the way the National Basketball Association treats the Slam Dunk Contest: Sprinkle in a hometown favorite, and maybe a brand-name veteran or two — but, otherwise, load the field with up-and-comers, thereby treating the Derby as a literal and figurative launching pad. And if people get annoyed that some youngster seems to be out of place — well, just trust the talent to silence those complaints, the way Guerrero did Monday. (Remember, he has just eight regular season home runs, owed in part to service-time manipulation.)
To baseball’s credit, it may already have designs on doing just that. Monday’s final four included just one player (Pederson, 27 since April) older than 25 and/or player with more than one full season of big-league experience. Guerrero (20) and Alonso (24) are rookies; Acuna (21) is in his first full season in the Show.
As for the rest of the field, Josh Bell and Matt Chapman are 26 and Alex Bregman is 25. Carlos Santana, the hometown pick, is the clear outlier at 33 years old. Baseball favored the young here, and the formula produced another memorable Derby night.
Here’s hoping the Derby continues to prioritize youth heading forward. Angels two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani is a historic talent, and the more exposure he gets the better; Padres rookie shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. is already one of the most exciting players in baseball; White Sox outfielder Eloy Jimenez has big-time power and should get a chance to show it off the way Guerrero and Alonso did on Monday night; and so on.
To be clear: there should be room for established stars and hometown nods, too. If Mike Trout, Aaron Judge, or Joey Gallo want in, by all means. But for a sport that has struggled to promote its best young players — and that has struggled to permit them the space to show off their personalities without fear of retribution or hemming and hawing — the Home Run Derby might be the ideal event to lean into the fun of the game by leaning into the future of the game.
There’s a lot wrong with Major League Baseball. A lot of what is right about the league was on display on Monday night.