By Cliff Corcoran
The rejuvenation of the Home Run Derby has been an unqualified success. The new Derby rules implemented in 2015 and simplified out of necessity by a rain delay that year introduced timed rounds and a single-elimination bracket that added urgency and drama to the event while producing meaningful results faster and more frequently. That year's Derby was a revelation, and 2016's Derby -- which featured a bravura performance by eventual champion Giancarlo Stanton, who set a record with 61 home runs and shattered the previous mark of 41 set by Bobby Abreu in 2005 -- was truly memorable.
This year's T-Mobile Home Run Derby (Monday night at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN) holds the promise to top that, as Stanton will defend his crown in his home ballpark against seven first-time participants, including some of the game's most potent young bats. One of his competitors, Yankees rookie Aaron Judge, has arguably supplanted Stanton as the most powerful slugger in the game. If you are unfamiliar with the format, here is a Derby FAQ, with notes about the layout, rules and more. Now, let's break down the eight participants.
Gary Sanchez, Yankees
HR (2017/career): 13/33
HR/swing percentage (2017/career): 3.0/3.8 percent
2017 exit velocity (avg/high): 92.3/115.7 mph
2017 HR distance (avg/high): 427/450 feet
Logan Morrison, who hit a career-high 24 home runs in the first half, questioned the inclusion of Sanchez in this year's Derby, as Sanchez has by far the fewest home runs of any of this year's participants. Sanchez will enter the Derby with 13 home runs, while the other seven men each have at least 20. However, Sanchez's low total has far more to do with three-week disabled-list stay early in the season than with a lack of power in his bat. Indeed, Sanchez rose to stardom in the second half of last season on the back of a record home run pace, tying Wally Berger of the 1930 Boston Braves as the fastest player to 20 home runs, reaching that mark in his 51st Major League game.
Sanchez's homer pace has slowed a bit this season, per the HR/Swing percentages above, but the 427-foot average distance of his home runs this season leads all players with more than two home runs, and his average exit velocity of 92.3 mph ranks eighth in the Majors among batters with at least 30 batted ball events. Sanchez's season total has saddled him with the eighth seed in this contest, so he will go head-to-head with Stanton in the first round, which doesn't bode well for his chances overall.
Justin Bour, Marlins
HR (2017/career): 20/59
HR/swing percentage (2017/career): 3.7/2.9 percent
2017 exit velocity (avg/high): 89.9/114.8
2017 HR distance (avg/high): 400/437
Bour enters the break tied for eighth in the National League in home runs, and among the 14 NL players to reach 20 home runs, only fellow Derby participant Cody Bellinger has had fewer than Bour's 305 plate appearances. Indeed, Bour's 3.7 HR/swing percentage is the fourth highest among this year's Derby participants, which makes him a formidable first-round opponent for No. 2 seed Aaron Judge.
Charlie Blackmon, Rockies
HR (2017/career): 20/94
HR/swing percentage (2017/career): 2.5/1.8 percent
2017 exit velocity (avg/high): 86.3/110.8
2017 HR distance (avg/high): 411/477
By the numbers, Blackmon is the weakest entrant in this year's Derby. He ranks last among participants in HR/swing percentage both on the season and in his career (the latter at 1.77 percent to Mike Moustakas's 1.80 percent). Blackmon is also last among the eight contestants in both average and maximum exit velocity this season. Meanwhile, 13 of Blackmon's 20 home runs this season have come in the thin air of Coors Field. Blackmon, who turned 31 on July 1, is also the oldest of this year's participants by almost two years over 29-year-old Bour. The only encouraging note here is that Blackmon hit his longest home run thus far this season on Sunday, a 477-foot shot off the White Sox's Carlos Rodon.
Miguel Sano, Twins
HR (2017/career): 21/64
HR/swing percentage (2017/career): 3.1/3.0 percent
2017 exit velocity (avg/high): 94.0/114.6
2017 HR distance (avg/high): 413/461
In terms of raw power, Sano is rivaled only by top seeds Stanton and Judge in this Derby. Indeed, Sano's average exit velocity this season of 94 mph is second only to Judge among players with 20 or more batted ball events. Power has always been Sano's calling card. In his age-18 to age-20 seasons in the Minors, he averaged 41 long balls per 162 games. Sano then lost his age-21 season to Tommy John surgery, but as a rookie in 2015, he hit 18 homers in 80 games on top of 17 in 81 in the Minors. He suffered a sophomore slump last year, but thus far this season, he has 21 homers in 82 games, reconfirming that 40-homer power. If all goes according to plan, we could see Sano go head-to-head with Stanton in the second round.
Mike Moustakas, Royals
HR (2017/career): 25/106
HR/swing percentage (2017/career): 3.5/1.8 percent
2017 exit velocity (avg/high): 87.1/112.9
2017 HR distance (avg/high): 402/440
A seven-year veteran, Moustakas has already set a career high in home runs this season, hitting nearly a quarter of his career roundtrippers in the first half of the 2017 season while more than doubling his previous career HR/swing percentage. He also comes into this Derby with his home run stroke active, having homered in six of his past 11 games of the first half, an outburst that allowed him to slip past Sano in the seeding.
Cody Bellinger, Dodgers
HR (2017/career): 25/25
HR/swing percentage (2017/career): 4.7/4.7 percent
2017 exit velocity (avg/high): 90.1/112.8
2017 HR distance (avg/high): 402/438
No Major Leaguer has hit more home runs than Bellinger since he debuted in the Show on April 25, and his HR/swing percentage is tops among this year's Derby participants. He doesn't hit them especially far or especially hard compared to some of the bigger sluggers in this year's Derby, but his whip-like left-handed stroke peppers the right-field stands with line drives at a rate unmatched by anyone else. This year's youngest participant (he'll turn 22 on Thursday), Bellinger will have his dad Clay, a former utility man for the dynastic Joe Torre-era Yankees, pitching to him in this contest.
Aaron Judge, Yankees
HR (2017/career): 30/34
HR/swing percentage (2017/career): 4.4/4.0 percent
2017 exit velocity (avg/high): 96.1/121.1
2017 HR distance (avg/high): 413/495
Judge is the main attraction heading into this year's Derby. Not only is he the only man to reach 30 home runs in the first half this season, doing so by homering in three consecutive games from Tuesday to Friday, but he leads the Majors in average exit velocity and has already set a Statcast-era record this season with the hardest-hit home run of the past three seasons (121.1 mph off Chris Tillman on June 10). Judge also owns the longest home run of the season thus far, tying Kris Bryant for the second-longest home run of the Statcast™ era with a 495-foot shot off Logan Verrett on June 11. A 6-foot-7, 282-pound giant, Judge has come to Stanton's home park to take the title of baseball's most powerful slugger away from the defending Derby champion.
Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
HR (2017/career): 26/234
HR/swing percentage (2017/career): 3.9/3.4 percent
2017 exit velocity (avg/high): 90.8/118.7
2017 HR distance (avg/high): 412/468
The only man to hit a home run farther than Judge in the past three seasons is Stanton, who hit a 504-footer in Denver last August. Stanton is also the only one of this year's eight Derby contestants to have participated in a Home Run Derby before, and he can tell from experience that the first time isn't always easy. In his first Derby in 2014, at Minnesota's Target Field, Stanton hit six home runs to advance out of the first round, one of them nearly leaving the ballpark. However, after a long layoff, he put up a goose egg in his next round, failing to make the finals.
In his return to the Derby last year, Stanton had a better feel for the competition and delivered the performance many had been expecting the first time. He hit a whopping 24 home runs in the first round, which stands as the single-round record for the new format and tied Abreu for the second most in any round in the Derby's history (Josh Hamilton has the record at 28 in the first round at Yankee Stadium 2008). With the pace of the Derby quickened by the clock, Stanton then hit 17 in the second round to advance to the final, and another 20 to best defending champ Todd Frazier in the finals. His 61 total home runs last year are 45 percent more than anyone else has ever hit in a Derby, and this year, he gets to hit in his home ballpark.
Judge has his work cut out for him, but the only truly disappointing result in this Derby would be if we don't get Stanton against either Judge or Bellinger in the final.
Cliff Corcoran is a Sports on Earth contributor and a regular guest analyst on MLB Network. An editor or contributor to 13 books about baseball, including seven Baseball Prospectus annuals, he spent the last 10 seasons covering baseball for SI.com and has also written for USA Today and SB Nation, among others.