Circumstances are conspiring this year for us to perhaps have the most compelling Home Run Derby in a decade. Major League Baseball is on pace for the most home runs in its history. The two leading home run hitters in the game are both rookies, brand-new fresh names thrilling fans every night. (And one of them is roughly nine feet tall and 450 pounds.) The defending champion, who has a tendency to hit 500-foot homers in his sleep, is playing in his home park. And the rule changes in the Derby two years ago have given the event an extra pep in its step … and buzzer-beaters. This could be another Josh Hamilton year.
But who's going to be in it? There are already two reported competitors, defending champ Giancarlo Stanton and Minnesota's Miguel Sano. Cincinnati's Joey Votto, who, strangely, has never been in a Derby before, said he'd like to be invited. There are only eight spots, so someone's going to get nudged out. But before the lineup is officially announced next week, I thought we'd look at a top candidate for each team. If everyone's hitting these home runs at such a crazy rate, everyone should have at least one guy to showcase in Miami. Here's the best bet for every team. At the end, we'll make our official predictions/wish list for the actual event.
American League East
New York Yankees: Aaron Judge. This one is a no-brainer, and he absolutely has to be invited. We've watched Stanton for years and thought no one could hit a ball as hard or as far as him. Then this monster came along. I hope Statcast™ still works after Judge has its way with it in Miami.
Boston Red Sox: Mookie Betts. There are no obvious candidates, but it'd be fun to see Betts, who is almost a foot shorter than Judge, standing next to Judge while waiting to hit.
Tampa Bay Rays: Corey Dickerson. Logan Morrison has more homers, but Dickerson has as much raw power and feels a little fresher. (It feels like forever ago since Morrison was the crazy tweeter, doesn't it?). He's having a fantastic season. He'll never be called a Coors Field creation again.
Baltimore Orioles: Mark Trumbo. He hasn't had the first half the Orioles had hoped -- he's likely going to head into the All-Star Game with half as many homers as he did last year -- but he has clearly shown he can put on a show in the Home Run Derby. It feels like he should win one of these at some point, right?
Toronto Blue Jays: Justin Smoak. Can you believe that with his 21st home run on Wednesday night, Smoak reached his career high? Five years ago it looked like this guy was going to hit 40 every year. It does look like this is the year it happens.
Cleveland Indians: Edwin Encarnacion. Somehow, E-5 has never been in a Home Run Derby. He's worth it just for the parrot alone. He better do one now before it's too late.
Minnesota Twins: Miguel Sano. He's reportedly going to be in it, and we're all luckier for it. This guy is scary.
Kansas City Royals: Mike Moustakas. Quiet 2017 subplot alert: Moustakas, assuming he stays a Royal all season, has a legitimate shot to break the Royals' single-season home run record, which remains, insanely, Steve Balboni's 36 in 1985. He's got 19 already, more than halfway there.
Detroit Tigers: Miguel Cabrera. I don't care if he only has nine homers this year, is there really someone you'd rather watch in a Home Run Derby than him? (Sorry, J.D. Martinez.)
Chicago White Sox: Matt Davidson. Who, right? Well, Davidson is a 26-year-old rookie who the White Sox have just thrown out there this year, and he has responded with a team-leading 17 homers. It probably won't last, but he's on a tear right now, and what a great story he'd be.
Houston Astros: George Springer. Lots of guys to choose from here, so I'll go with the guy with all the leadoff homers. Though it would be fun to watch Jose Altuve launch a bunch, too.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Albert Pujols. Obviously you'd want Trout if he were back in time -- he's still never been in one of these, and he's certainly not going to do his first one fresh back from injury -- so let's go with the future Hall of Famer who has the most homers on the active Angels roster.
Texas Rangers: Joey Gallo. With this guy, Judge and Stanton, they better close the roof at Marlins Stadium so none of those cars on the freeway outside get their windshields shattered.
Seattle Mariners: Nelson Cruz. Cruz hasn't been in one of these since 2009, which seems strange.
Oakland A's: Khris Davis. He's top 10 in average exit velocity and now is officially the best power-hitting guy named Khris (or Chris) Davis.
National League East
Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper. Harper has only been in one of these, at Citi Field in 2013, and it would be quite the way to add to his legend by beating all these upstart youngster sluggers who have popped up. (Some of which are actually older than Harper, but no matter.)
Atlanta Braves: Matt Adams. Considering Adams might just be one of the hot bats on the market at the Trade Deadline, what better way to showcase him to potential suitors?
Miami Marlins: Giancarlo Stanton. He's already in. And that Marlins crowd may be the loudest it has ever been in that building when he's up.
New York Mets: Yoenis Cespedes. For what it's worth, Cespedes has entered this competition twice and won it both times.
Philadelphia Phillies: Aaron Altherr. All told, it's probably for the best that not every team has a representative.
Milwaukee Brewers: Eric Thames. The story of April has come back to earth a bit, but Thames still has monster power and a smile to match. You wouldn't be able to help yourself from cheering for him.
Chicago Cubs: Anthony Rizzo. With Kris Bryant injured and Kyle Schwarber in the Minors, maybe it's time for Rizzo to give it another try. (He competed in 2015.)
St. Louis Cardinals: Randal Grichuk. He still doesn't have much plate discipline, but if you make a mistake pitch -- and the Home Run Derby is nothing but mistake pitches! -- he will make you pay.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Andrew McCutchen. McCutchen's resurgence has been one of the nice stories of the 2017 season, and he hasn't been in one of these since 2012.
Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto. He's on pace to hit the most homers in his career, and if Votto wants to be in the Home Run Derby, you let him in.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Cody Bellinger. If you have a rookie who is hitting home runs at a Ruthian pace in one of the biggest media markets in the world, you should probably put him in the Home Run Derby.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Paul Goldschmidt. Goldschmidt has never been in one of these, so the best offensive season of his career, for a team that looks postseason-bound, seems like as good a time as any.
Colorado Rockies: Nolan Arenado. Arenado's game is so well-rounded it's almost coarse to ask him to compete in a Home Run Derby … but anything that promotes this guy is good for baseball.
San Diego Padres: Wil Myers. He didn't set the world on fire in his own stadium last year, and suffice it to say .. it may be a while until a Padres player is in the Home Run Derby again. (Before last season, they hadn't had one since 2009.)
San Francisco Giants: Brandon Belt. At least Madison Bumgarner's injury saved us from everyone debating whether he should be in this.
So, what's the right final eight? Well, Stanton and Sano are in, and we'll go under the assumption that if Votto wants to be in, they'll let him in. (Votto has certainly earned the right.) That gives us three.
Miguel Sano, Twins
Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
Joey Votto, Reds
So you've got to have Aaron Judge, Yankees. For rookie symmetry, get Cody Bellinger, Dodgers, in there too. There's five. For pure aesthetics, let's earmark a spot for Joey Gallo, Rangers, though I won't argue with you if you prefer Mark Trumbo for the same reasons. Two more.
I think everything is better with a little Bryce Harper, Nationals, particularly with all those sudden young challengers to his Phenom Throne. (It's also possible he sits this year out because he's saving himself for when the game is in Washington next year.) For the last spot, I'd say it's between Arenado, Goldschmidt and Thames. With apologies to the guys out West, I think you embrace one of baseball's best stories and invite Eric Thames, Brewers. And if Harper begs out, put either Arenado or Goldschmidt in. You can't go wrong with any of them.
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