The 2014 Home Run Derby will have a very different look about it.
In an effort to speed up the pace and pique interest in the annual showcase, Major League Baseball has tweaked the rules of the derby significantly. There will be only seven outs per round, and after each of the 10 hitters steps to the plate for the first time, the contest will transition into a bracket format.
Not only that, but some of baseball's brightest and most powerful young stars—Yasiel Puig and Giancarlo Stanton, specifically—will participate for the first time.
Unfortunately, they won't be joined by MLB home run leader Nelson Cruz, or Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout, arguably the two best hitters in the majors.
“I don’t want to mess with my swing anymore,” Cabrera said, via The Detroit News' Tony Paul. “I’ve got enough issues.”
Still, even without Miggy and his delusion, Target Field won't be lacking excitement on Monday night. Let's take a look at the list of participants.
Note: The final participant for each league will be announced on Thursday, July 10
Date: Monday, July 14, 2014
Time: 8 p.m. ET
Troy Tulowitzki (Captain), Colorado Rockies, NL
The Rockies have struggled in the first half of the MLB season, but Troy Tulowitzki has been the National League's best individual player. He is first among all qualified hitters in batting average (.349), first in on-base percentage (.442) and second in slugging percentage (.602).
He has displayed quite a bit of pop, too. Tulo's 18 home runs lead all shortstops and rank 11th in the majors. That said, it will be intriguing to see if his real-game skills translate to the slugging exhibition, where fans typically just want to see players flex their muscles and hit it as far as possible. Tulowitzki is certainly capable of that, but he's more of a rounded hitter:
Still, there aren't many hitters on the planet who can get into a rhythm at the plate better or faster than the 29-year-old superstar. Tulo may not break any distance records, but don't be surprised if he gets into a groove and puts up some big numbers.
Jose Bautista (Captain), Toronto Blue Jays, AL
The American League's leading vote-getter has participated in the derby twice before. He hit just four dingers at Chase Field in 2011, but bounced back with a trip to the final in 2012 before eventually falling to Prince Fielder.
So he has the experience, and he certainly has the power. Joey Bats led the majors in home runs in both 2010 and 2011, and this year he has smashed another 17 to help the Jays to the most four-baggers in the majors.
Here's his longest shot of the season, according to ESPN's home run tracker:
Need a reason to root for him? He probably follows you on Twitter.
Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland Athletics, AL
It's only right that last year's champion is back to defend his title. Yoenis Cespedes put on one of the best derby shows of all time at Citi Field last year, blasting 17 home runs in the first round and needing just five outs to smash nine and beat fellow youngster Bryce Harper in the final.
CBS Sports' Matt Snyder put it simply: "Cespedes is the defending champ. We don't need to get into what he might do, because we saw his ability last year."
The 28-year-old's numbers this year aren't overwhelming. He has 14 home runs and is slugging .467, but his powerful skill set is tailor-made for this kind of competition. He will bring his A-game once again, and considering the AL field, there's a good chance he makes it to the finals.
Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers, NL
Yasiel Puig only has 12 homers on the year, but there is very little question he has the raw power to excel in this kind of setting:
We can only hope he flashes his immense bat-flipping talent after every shot:
No matter how Puig fares, though, one thing is clear: He has a flair for the dramatic, and he is easily one of the most polarizing, captivating players in the sport. There weren't many who didn't want to see his name on the participant list. ESPN radio's Beto Duran was one of many celebrating his inclusion:
Puig can hit zero homers, or he can smash a handful of 500-foot home runs. Either way, his participation will undoubtedly help the contest's popularity.
Predicted Winner: Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins, NL
Giancarlo Stanton has 21 home runs, which is tied for fourth most in the league. He's young enough (24 years old) not to let the pressure get to him in his first derby. And he's arguably the strongest player in the league. ESPN Stats & Info provided one particular jaw-dropping stat:
According to ESPN's home run tracker, Stanton has four of the major's 20 longest bombs this season. His farthest traveled a ridiculous 484 feet:
This is an absolutely stacked field, but Stanton is primed to thrive in this type of environment. He'll send "oohs" and "ahhs" ringing throughout Target Field all night, and he'll take home the trophy.
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