CHICAGO—In a 34-day stretch, Luken Baker has won two home run derbies in major league stadiums after winning the Under Armour All-America Game Home Run Derby in Wrigley Field on Saturday. Baker has followed in the footsteps of one of the premier sluggers in the 2014 draft, Jacob Gatewood, in winning the MLB Junior Select Home Run Derby during the All-Star Game and the UA Derby.
The Oak Ridge High (Conroe, Texas) product put on a show in Wrigley. The righthanded-hitting Baker hit seven home runs against eight outs in the opening round of the finals that included eight participants. It was how he reached that total, however, that impressed evaluators the most. Five of those seven were hit out of Wrigley Field and onto Waveland Avenue, including three consecutive shots. Another was hit to straight away center field. Arguably the most impressive shot clanged off the Toyota sign that is at least 50 feet above the sidewalk in deep left center field.
“I have been talking and thinking about hitting a ball off the Toyota sign since we came to the Cubs game 2 days ago,” Baker said. “I think it hit the A. It was awesome.”
The final round pitted Baker against Dominican dynamo Starling Heredia, who is a physical specimen with an incredibly powerful build at a listed 6-foot-1, 190 pounds and offers plus bat speed. Heredia opened the round with four. Baker customarily took the first pitch before popping up on his first swing. He was aggressive early and swung at three straight pitches, finding himself with five outs and one home run, needing four more to win.
“I knew that I was being a little bit impatient and being more aggressive than I needed to be for a home run derby,” Baker said. “So I calmed myself down and took a few pitches. Then the batting practice thrower put them in the right spot. I knew once I found a groove that I would be able to put them out and I just tried to find a groove. Once I hit one I find a zone where I don't want to stop.”
Home runs on his next three swings tied him with Heredia. He crushed a low trajectory line drive that his raw physical strength carried out of the ballpark to land on the UA sign in left field, which was followed by an enthusiastic bat flip with a hang time that was just under three seconds.
“I didn't know if it was going to get out,” Baker said. “I had a lot in batting practice that were line drives that top-spinned out, but that one stayed straight into it. That was why I held off on the bat flip.”
“Some of those balls were majestic,” said Steve Bernhardt, executive vice president of baseball at Baseball Factory. “It was an amazing display that he put on. I can’t remember seeing that type of raw power before. It was the combination of the distance and hang time with the majestic arcs they were taking out of the stadium. It wasn't like he ran into one of them, he was doing it over and over. With all of the majestic shots that he had earlier in the round he wanted another one to clinch the derby but he hit a line drive that was about 12 feet off the ground out the entire way out. That was a really impressive shot.”
The 6-foot-4, 255-pound Baker exudes his Texas roots with his extra-large frame and powerful build, including his enormous hands. He received a pinch-hit opportunity in the eighth inning and stayed back on a 72 mph first pitch curveball and drove a hard liner up the middle to the right of second base. Baker, who has well below-average speed, was removed for a pinch runner at first base, and the baserunner scored the tying run of the game in a 2-1 victory for the American squad.
Baker pitched a scoreless third inning and struck out two of the four hitters he faced, working 91-93 mph with his fastball that touched 94 three times. His fastball offers plane and some sink at the bottom of the zone, though he tended to miss up where his fastball flattened out.
His combination of arm strength on the mound and raw power at the plate makes the Texas Christian commit one of the top two-way players in the class, though he is limited to the bottom of the defensive spectrum.
“In college I will do both, but I think I will end up pitching,” Baker said. “But I am going to try to do both as long as I can because I enjoy doing it.”