Minor league home run derby

Was anyone’s good time really ruined in Milwaukee on July 9, 2002 when the All-Star Game ended in a tie? Sure, it was a slight buzzkill at the time, but the memories of the week’s festivities (if you’re into that sort of thing) were all still there, as was the memory of Torii Hunter robbing Barry Bonds of a home run, Sammy Sosa hitting balls into places the cameras couldn’t follow (he lost to Jason Giambi, by the way), and our collective ignorance of the fact that those sluggers were on steroids.

Since then, the game has had to count for something, yet more players than ever miss the game for injury-related reasons that not-so-surprisingly pop up the week before the game and heal themselves by the following weekend.

Even the Home Run Derby has seen better days. Once Josh Hamilton went all Jordan-from-the-foul-line on us in 2008, it feels like the derby has been unable to provide us with anything we’ve not yet seen. There are stars involved in the game, which makes it better than the NBA slam dunk contest that we get these days, but Michael Cuddyer being selected because he’s boys with David Wright doesn’t exactly qualify as must see TV.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very much looking forward to seeing Bryce Harper compete in this year’s version, but the event as a whole will be something that I have on in the background on Monday evening. Three hours of Chris Berman’s outdated puns are just too much for me.

But if the Futures Game had a home run derby of its own, well then you’d have my attention.

Individual minor leagues have their own home run derbies during their respective all-star breaks, which happen with little fanfare and coverage. Still, watching some of the game’s best young sluggers—the ones with the rare 80 power tool—take their hacks trying to get the ball out of Citi Field would be even more exciting to me than the major league version. You know, as long as Berman isn’t there.

Which, of course, got me thinking. Which eight contestants would I want to see in such an event?

Unlike the actual minor league home run derbies, this one would be prospect exclusive. No offense to Mike Hessman, but watching 30-year-old career Triple-A players doesn’t excite me. Watching prospects show off their tools does.

So I’ve selected eight of the best power hitting prospects in the game. There are others who have comparable or even better power, but I think these would make for the best show. You’re not going to see the game’s top prospects in my imaginary contest. Byron Buxton and Oscar Taveras are great, but they’re not built for events like this. This is for the true home run hitters, regardless of other abilities. I’ve broken my selections down into two teams: the all-around prospects who have plus power and the power-hitting prospects who can’t yet do much else. In this event, they’re on an even playing field.

Pure power

Dan Vogelbach—It’s a good thing Vogelbach can hit, because he can’t do much else, and that includes play defense. Choose your analogy when describing Vogelbach—anything from a slow pitch softball player to the villainous hitter from Rookie of the Year. But who doesn’t want to see this guy take his hacks?

Playing in full-season ball for the first time this year, Vogelbach is showing off both power and pure hitting ability, hitting .280/.349/.482. He has just 13 home runs this season and hit 17 last year, but he’s still figuring out how to use his ability in a game. In batting practice, it’s more than evident. The Cubs are taking it slow with Vogelbach as they figure out what to do with him in the field, but his bat is going to force their hand. The guy is built to be a DH, but at least he’s got the H part down.

Joey Gallo—When scouts are asked which prospect has the most raw power in the minor leagues, Gallo is one of the two answers typically given (the other is coming up). The Rangers third baseman fell to 39th overall in the 2012 draft because many scouts were worried about whether his power would play in games. It was a viable concern, as Gallo is hitting just .225 in his first full season with 135 strikeouts in 83 games, but he’s also got 26 home runs. The pure power is as good as anybody’s, and he’d be a favorite to win this competition.

Angel Villalona—After he missed all of 2010 and 2011, then played only in the Dominican Summer League in 2012, no one was quite sure how Villalona would adjust to regular minor league baseball this season after being allowed back in the country. The Giants prospect hasn’t had a smooth transition and the time away from the game may be too much for him to overcome as a prospect, but he still has light tower power and has hit 15 home runs this season in High-A and now Double-A. He struggles with off-speed pitches and expanding the strike zone, but neither of those should be an issue in a home run derby.

Courtney Hawkins— You might remember Hawkins oing a backflip in a suit on MLB Network’s draft coverage in 2012. The White Sox then pushed him through three levels after signing last season, and he had success at all of them. This year, in High-A ball, he’s struggled to make contact, striking out 91 times in 54 games, but he’s still run into 15 home runs while playing against much older competition. Hawkins is built like a linebacker and sometimes swings like one, but he generates tremendous raw power, and after his show at the draft, he could do very well in the spotlight.

Well-rounded prospects

Miguel Sano—Mentioned along with Gallo, the Twins’ Sano is the best power-hitting prospect in the minors because he knows how to use it. A true 80-power hitter on the 20-80 scouting scale, Sano has already surpassed 20 home runs for the third straight season and has also improved his plate discipline. There are questions about whether he will outgrow third base, but he has plenty of power for his bat to play at first. In a derby competition, he could hit for a long time.

C.J. Cron—A polished college hitter who was considered the best power bat in the 2011 draft, he came into professional baseball backing up his reputation. The Angels’ first base prospect hit 27 home runs last year in his first full season in the minors, and while he hasn’t had as much success this season, it’s more of a testament to the difficulty making the jump to Double-A than it is a knock on his power. At 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, Cron’s power comes easily and naturally, and he doesn’t have to over-swing to generate it, which would bode well in a derby setting.

Javier Baez—The second Cub on our list, Baez displayed his power this season by hitting four home runs in one Florida State League game. He hit 17 home runs before being recently promoted to Double-A, then added one in his first Double-A game. Baez has emerged as perhaps the top prospect in an increasingly deep Cubs farm system, and has a flair for the dramatic that could easily lead to a fictitious trophy.

George Springer—There have been issues about Springer’s ability to make contact since the Astros selected him in the first round out of the University of Connecticut in 2011, but he’s managed to work his way up to Triple-A and the strikeouts haven’t slowed him down yet. He swings and misses plenty, but he’s already hit 20 home runs for the third straight season. He won’t be eligible for this contest for much longer, however, as the Astros are desperate for his bat in their lineup.

References & Resources
http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20130708&content_id=53128398&vkey=news_nym&c_id=nym
http://bleacherreport.com/articles/703759-the-50-greatest-villains-in-baseball-history/page/2
http://www.bleachernation.com/2012/08/13/cubs-first-base-prospect-dan-vogelbach-is-destroying-the-low-minors/dan-vogelbach-cubs-2/
http://www.mlbprospectwatch.com/mlb_prospect_watch/2013/07/javier-baez-promoted.html

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