For the second consecutive year, Major League Baseball will hold the Junior Select High School Home Run Derby during All-Star Game weekend, giving nine high school players the chance to advance to Monday’s Home Run Derby with the big leaguers.
The initial stage of the event began Sunday at 9 a.m. EST as the field of nine will be given two rounds each in Target Field, with the top two advancing to Monday. MLB.com will televise the event live from Minneapolis.
“It’s an exciting event and we’re trying to grow it,” said Chuck Fox, who oversees MLB’s baseball operations for the draft. “The kids are all excited about it. We have a very group of exciting players who have some skill in taking batting practice, and hitting with power. It’s a great venue and it’s just a fun event. It is neat to see amateur baseball being incorporated into the All-Star festivities during the week.”
The players who advance to Monday’s stage with the big leaguers will compete primarily during the commercial breaks on the broadcast, with one representing each league. All players will swing with aluminum bats during both phases of the event.
Last year, slugger Jacob Gatewood of Clovis (Calif.) High thrust himself onto the national scene by winning the inaugural event in Citi Field in New York. While Yoenis Cespedes won the Home Run Derby, it was Gatewood who elicited the biggest cheers from fans, drawing a standing ovation after hitting 13 home runs, including three into the upper deck. Gatewood was drafted in the supplemental first round by the Brewers and received an over-slot deal for $1.83 million.
Gatewood defeated Kel Johnson (Homeschool, Ga.), who received significant draft interest but had a strong commitment to Georgia Tech. Last year’s field of six included lefthanded sluggers Alex Verdugo (Dodgers second rounder) and Bobby Bradley (Indians third rounder).
This year’s field features some local and international flavor with corner infielder Ty Buck of Red Wing (Minn.) High, the same school that produced Nebraska outfielder Ryan Boldt. Lefthanded slugger Josh Naylor (St. Joan of Arc, Maple, Ontario, Canada) will represent Canada while Raul Hernandez (Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Gurabo) will represent Puerto Rico.
The field of nine is comprised of seven righthanded hitters and two lefthanded hitters (Chris Betts and Naylor). Since opening in 2010, Target Field’s home run power has favored righthanded hitters, with a home run park factor of 97 (tiered against 100, which is average) for righthanded hitters against 89 for lefthanded bats.
Only one player, catcher Betts (Wilson HS, Long Beach, Calif.) has an up-the-middle profile. All the other participants are players who fit best in the infield or outfield corners.
Six of the players were selected out of the 2014 Tournament of Stars.
Here are the nine participants.
Luken Baker, rhp/c, Oak Ridge HS, Conroe, Texas
The coaching staff at the Tournmanet of Stars did not know that Baker, who is a promising prospect on the mound with a fastball up to 93 that features power sink, could swing a potent stick until last day of the event. On the final day of TOS, Baker got his first chance to hit and blasted a ball off the left field fence before squaring up balls in his next two plate appearances. The Texan has a big, strong and durable build at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds. The Texas Christian commit has shown well on the mound at multiple events this summer, sitting in the low-90s with an improved breaking ball earlier this week at the 17U WWBA.
Chris Betts, c, Wilson HS, Long Beach, Calif.
Betts is one of the top prospects of this group and is the only player in the field with a chance to stay in the middle of the diamond. The strong, burly 6-foot-1, 215-pound Betts has two plus tools in his lefthanded power and arm behind the plate. The Tennessee commit comes from a powerhouse program at Wilson High, which has produced Aaron Hicks and Sean Burroughs. Betts displayed his power in hitting a grand slam to his pull side on the final day of TOS and in hitting a triple to dead center field at Perfect Game National that was the farthest hit batted ball of the event at 399 feet with an exit velocity of 99 mph, per TrackMan.
Ty Buck, 3b/rhp, Red Wing (Minn.) HS
The strong-bodied 6-foot-4, 220-pound Buck is the hometown player of the event. The uncommitted righthand hitter has above-average raw power to his pull side. He offers arm strength on the mound up to 89 mph. He has already played at Target Field, reaching the seats at a showcase last summer.
Devin Davis, 1b, Valencia HS, Santa Clarita, Calif.
Davis has put on some of the best batting practice displays in the 2015 high school class and is very strong at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds. The Loyola Marymount commit has added a hand pump to his hitting load over the last two weeks since TOS. He offers bat speed, natural strength and leverage.
Jason Heinrich, 1b, River Ridge HS, Port Richey, Fla.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Heinrich hit well at TOS, showing above-average power to his pull side. The Central Florida commit has an aggressive stroke from the right side and offers at least an average arm.
Raul Hernandez, 1b, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Gurabo, Puerto Rico
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Hernandez has a physical build as a righthanded bat who is uncommitted.
Josh Naylor, 1b/of, St. Joan of Arc, Maple, Ontario
Naylor is one of the more heralded prospects to come out of Canada in years after playing with the Junior National Team against older competition for years. Naylor has a strong, filled-out body at 6-foot-1, 225 pounds that has drawn physical comparisons to a young Prince Fielder from scouts. He has plus bat speed from the left side with natural leverage. He had the second farthest hit ball at Perfect Game National at 394 feet.
Daniel Reyes, of, Mater Academy, Hialeah Gardens, Fla.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Reyes is very strong and the ball jumps off his bat. The Florida commit was a focal point in the middle of the lineup for the Elite Squad 17U Prime team that advanced to the championship game of the 17U WWBA on Friday. He did not play in the championship game after hurting his right thumb in the semifinal game on Friday morning on a slide into second base following an authoritative double of the right field fence. He has long speed that plays in the 60.
Wesley Rodriguez, inf/rhp, George Washington HS, Springfield Gardens, N.Y.
Rodriguez offers versatility as a corner infielder with some time behind the plate and offers a fastball up to 93 with a curveball that flashes at least average potential. The uncommitted Rodriguez has a physical build at 5-foot-11, 205 pounds with a fully developed lower half. He has an above-average arm at third base and shows home run power to his pull side in batting practice, while offering baseball instincts.