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Deivi Grullon Wins Eastern League Home Run Derby



TRENTON, N.J.—The last time the Eastern League held its All-Star Game in Trenton, the accompanying home run derby was an exercise in frustration. The entire eight-player field—which included a young Carlos Santana and a local high school hitter named Mark Zagunis—hit just 16 home runs all night.

No player hit more than three home runs in a round, and the finals, which pitted then-Blue Jays prospect Brian Dopirak against a second high school hitter named Mike Fassl, was won 1-0 by Fassl.

Nine years later, the home run derby was a whole new ballgame. The way balls flew out of Arm & Hammer Park, it would be easy to think the stadium had been transported to Lancaster or Reading or somewhere much more hitter-friendly than Trenton.

When it was all over, Phillies catching prospect Deivi Grullon was the winner, besting Rockies prospect Sam Hilliard in the final round. The 25 home runs Grullon hit during his two rounds—14 in the opener and 11 more in the final—were nine more than the entire field hit nine seasons ago.

For his efforts, Grullon received $500 in cash, a WWE-style championship belt and a ton of pork roll from Case’s, the derby’s title sponsor.

When asked afterward how he conjured the strength to hit so many home runs on a sweltering night in New Jersey, Grullon’s answer was simple.

“My energy is from my father (who died in 2012),” Grullon said, pointing toward the sky while he answered.

Grullon signed with the Phillies in 2012 out of the Dominican Republic and ranked among their Top 30 prospects for three straight seasons from 2013-2015 on the strength of a premium throwing arm and the potential for power in the future.

Opposing scouts note that Grullon’s approach has matured this year. In previous seasons, the 22-year-old appeared to sell out for power on nearly every swing. That has changed this year, and the benefits are clear.

This season, in his return to Double-A Reading, the power has begun to show itself much more frequently. He’s got 12 home runs this season, more than a quarter of his career total. 

And the power spike isn’t solely a product of Reading’s cozy dimensions. Of his dozen longballs, five have come away from FirstEnergy Stadium. His OPS is just 16 points higher at home than it is on the road.

On Tuesday, however, the mature approach went out the window as he barreled ball after ball over the elevated left-field wall in Trenton and into the parking lot just shy of Route 29.

The results were a championship belt for Grullon, and a whole lot of fun for the fans who’d packed the park.

“I was blessed with this moment,” the winner said. “I spent a lot of energy here with all our players. This is for my father. I’m tired, but I won.”

Ryan Mountcastle Joe Robbins Getty Images

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