The Juan Soto Derby is on.
Soto, the Washington Nationals star slugger (and, ahem, my pick to win), took down Seattle Mariners rookie outfielder Julio Rodriguez Monday night at Dodger Stadium to win Major League Baseball’s Home Run Derby.
Rodriguez was the night’s big winner, crushing 32 homers in the first round and 31 in the second, and St. Louis Cardinals legend Albert Pujols had some nice – but maybe contrived – moments, but the player with the trophy and champion chain wore a Nationals jersey at the end.
But just how much longer will he have that jersey on?
Soto was already making headlines, having reportedly turned down a monster deal from the Nationals (15 years and $440 million) and looking for a trade. He’s 23. He has a sweet swing and he just won the Home Run Derby.
I’ll start the bidding at $35 million a year.
Soto dropped to his knees after belting the Derby winner. It was a long Home Run Derby that peaked early but had late drama. Here’s what stood out.
Me and Julio Down By the Bat Rack
By virtue of the seeds and match-ups, Rodriguez was the first batter to swing in a match-up against local favorite Corey Seager (now Rangers, former Dodger).
Maybe it was the early heat, but Rodriguez couldn’t miss. Boom, boom, boom.
The real MVP of the whole night was Rodriguez’s pitcher Franmy Pena. It took the ESPN broadcast all night to see it (more about that later) but Pena would just stand straight and throw inside fastballs. Yank. Homer. Repeat.
Everyone else’s pitcher would pause then pitch. Pena was like a machine. Pitch Pitch Pitch. It was like they solved the game – analytics came to the Home Run Derby – you can hit more homers if you get more pitches to hit.
By the time Seager got to bat, everyone in Dodger Stadium knew he had no shot and was quiet. Seager hit 24 homers in his round, which would have won every other round but one.
Pujols played for 10 years with the Los Angeles Angels (even played 85 games with the Dodgers), but he will always be associated with the Cardinals.
He was supposed to be the feel-good story of the night. Tabbed by the commissioner as a Legends participant, Pujols showed up in the Derby with a big family contingent, 685 career shots, but only six this season.
After his first swings against the Phillies Kyle Schwarber, both teams came out to greet him in what ESPN assured us was an “organic moment.”
Guys, you’re trying too hard.
Schwarber, the top seed, was supposed to crush Pujols and we could move on. Except Schwarber never got locked in. They finished tied at 13, then moved on to a one-minute overtime session. Pujols got hot and bashed seven more. Schwarber hit only six. Let’s do that whole organic hugging thing again.
A Polar Bear Plunge
New York Mets star slugger Pete Alonso was the favorite coming in, looking to become the first man to win three straight Home Run Derbies. Alonso won Twitter Monday night, with a widely-circulated picture of him doing deadlifts in between rounds.
You do you, Pete.
Pete’s bat read “Polar Power” on it. In fact, everyone seemed to have colorful, cool bats for the night. Alonso rolled into the semis but never had a shot against Rodriguez in the semis. Rodriguez hit 31 over the wall. Alonso had 18 and earned an extra minute to compete, but about halfway through that round, he waved in disgust. He knew he was beat. He finished with 23.
How Many is That?
It may be my old age, but there were times the ESPN broadcast was hard to follow. Pitches were thrown so quickly that sometimes the camera would start tracking a ball, then cut away to track another one. And you weren’t sure whether that first ball was out or not.
The graphics on the screen didn’t help. There was a counter on the top right showing how many homers had been hit, but it was slow. Lead commentator Karl Ravech got a couple of totals wrong, including Jose Ramirez’s total in the first round.
Even the finals between Soto and Rodriguez, it seemed like Soto got the Derby-winner and then kept on swinging. You couldn’t tell.
Where To Juan?
It may not have been the best thing for Major League Baseball that the winner of the HR Derby is now basically playing out the string for a bad team. But it is fun to speculate on where Soto will go and for how much?
He sure did seem to like Dodger Stadium, and the Dodgers are flush with talent and prospects they could fork over to the Nationals for Soto.
The other big market teams, the Mets, Red Sox and Yankees are always looking for a power hitter and are in contention for the World Series this year. Julio Rodriguez stole the show Monday night, but Juan Soto is the story and will be up until the trade deadline.