The Home Run Derby returns once again, and (surprisingly) Orioles fans have a reason to tune in. Beyond a general appreciation for long fly balls, we will also get to enjoy the appearance of franchise cornerstone Adley Rutschman, the eight seed in this year’s field.
Rutschman’s inclusion is something of a surprise. For starters, he’s a catcher. That is not a popular position for derby contestants and none have ever won the competition. And it’s not like he is a noteworthy exception there. Rutschman has been out-homered on his own team by two other players (Anthony Santander and Gunnar Henderson) this season and is tied for 34th in the AL for home runs hit.
But he is also a young up-and-coming talent that the league likely expects to a star for them the next 10 years. On top of that, he’s a Pacific Northwest native, having been born and raised in Portland, Oregon, less than a three-hour drive away from Seattle. He’s likely to have a healthy hometown fan base behind him.
Similar to Trey Mancini a few seasons ago, there will be no expectations of Rutschman coming in. He isn’t a favorite, and no one would bat an eye if he’s eliminated in the first round. That’s kinda what’s supposed to happen. But as long as he doesn’t give a Jason Bay-esque performance, everything else is gravy.
How to watch
The derby starts at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN, where we will be treated to the melodic tones of Karl Ravech, Eduardo Pérez, Buster Olney, and Alden Gonzalez on commentary.
There will also be a Statcast-focused program on ESPN2 at the same time hosted by MASN’s own Kevin Brown. He will be joined by Jessica Mendoza and Mike Petriello.
This is a single-elimination, bracket style tournament. There are eight total contestants that will go one-on-one in each round. Seeding is determined by in-season home run total.
In rounds one and two, each contestants gets three minutes to hit as many home runs as possible. In round three (the final), it is two minutes apiece. Hitters can earn 30 seconds of additional time if they hit two or more home runs of 440 feet or more in regulation. They also get one timeout per round.
Ties are settled by a 60-second swing-off that will not allow any timeouts or stoppages. If a tie remains after that, each hitters gets three swings to crown a winner. That process continues until an outcome is determined.
There is money on the line here. $2.5 million is up for grabs. The winners gets $1 million, the runner-up earns $750,000, and everyone else splits the remainder.
The winner will also receive a Mariners-inspired chain that features a revolving nautical rose. Uh...cool?
(1) Luis Robert Jr. vs. (8) Adley Rutschman
Robert Jr. is having a great season for a terrible White Sox team. If it weren’t for the existence of Shohei Ohtani, he might actually have a shot at MVP despite his team’s poor record. Instead he may have to settle for another Gold Glove and possibly a Home Run Derby title. Tough break!
Our guy Rutschman is the long shot in this tournament. The betting markets have him as a big underdog, and it makes sense why. Rutschman is not the type of player that screams “home run hitter.” In fact, he doesn’t even lead the AL for home runs hit by a catcher (Salvador Perez).
But that’s his in-game performance. There is no doubt that Rutschman has big time pop, and he can switch things up in this glorified batting practice. Will it be enough to best the top-seeded Robert Jr.?
Something else that makes Rutschman stand out in this field is where he stands at the plate. Every other competitor is a full-time right-handed hitter. Rutschman is switch, and it’s unclear where he will hit here.
T-Mobile Park is rather tough on hitters of both handedness, but lefties do see a slight bump compared to those on the other side of the plate (96 park factor for LH vs. 93 for RH). Rutschman has three home runs as a right-handed hitter in 108 plate appearances (2.8% HR/PA) and nine homers in 275 plate appearances as a lefty (3.3% HR/PA) this year. Odds are he swings from the left side, which may give him a slight advantage over the field.
(2) Pete Alonso vs. (7) Julio Rodríguez
This is a rematch from last year’s Home Run Derby, where Rodríguez bested Alonso 31-23 in the semifinals. Although the then-rookie J-Rod ultimately finished second to Juan Soto last year, he undoubtedly stole the show by hitting a single-round best 32 in the opening round of the competition, and then beating Alonso, who has sort of molded his professional identity around this event.
Alonso won this thing in 2019 and then again in 2021. But if you believe in momentum at all, that is not in his favor here. He’s got just six home runs since the start of June after hitting 20 bombs in April and May, and he is slugging only .372 in his last 26 games.
Rodríguez is the home town favorite for the hosting Mariners. His sophomore season has not been as successful as his rookie campaign due largely to some negative regression on batted ball luck. But he has as much power as anyone here, and will surely put on a show.
(3) Mookie Betts vs. (6) Vlad Guerrero Jr.
Guerrero Jr. is made for the Derby. He last competed during his rookie season in 2019. That year he went all the way to the final, including an epic 40-39 win over Joc Pederson in the semis, before losing to Alonso. He seems destined to take home the trophy at some point in his career.
It seems impossible that Betts, in his age-30 season, is playing some of the best baseball of his career. The 26 home runs he has hit at the break this year puts him well on pace to break his career-high single-season home run total of 35, which he just reached a year ago. The diminutive slugger doesn’t look like someone with that sort of power, but his cabinet full of Silver Slugger awards doesn’t lie.
(4) Adolis García vs. (5) Randy Arozarena
The Rangers offense is the best in baseball, and García’s power is a large reason why. He’s never hit more than 31 long balls in a season, but he’s got 23 already at the year’s unofficial midway point.
Arozarena is something of a boogie man around these parts. He’s an Oriole killer, but you have to admit he’s also a lot of fun to watch. Like many others here, the outfielder has tapped into his power potential this season, sitting at 16 home runs, just four away from his career high for a single season.
Winner of Robert Jr./Rutschman vs. Winner of García/Arozarena
Winner or Alonso/Rodríguez vs. Winner of Betts/Guerrero Jr.
The only two guys left face each other. Duh!
That’s all there is to it! This format has been a big boost to the competition these last few years. It’s faster. It’s more exciting. And it makes sense. All good things!
Go get ‘em, Adley!