Gartrell Squeaks Out Triple-A Home Run Derby Win

SALT LAKE CITY—The six sluggers who participated in the Triple-A home run derby at Spring Mobile Ballpark on Monday have combined for 112 longballs so far this season. So, naturally, a local high schooler stole the show.

Gwinnett Braves right fielder Stefan Gartrell won the derby with seven homers in the final round, but the night belonged to 17-year-old Kayden Porter from nearby Spanish Fork (Utah) High. Using a metal bat, Porter hit 18 homers in three rounds, including five in the final round, to steal the crowd and the post-derby attention from Gartrell.

Porter hit four homers in the first round and then exploded for a single-round high nine in the second before coming up just short in the final.

"It was crazy," Porter said afterward. "It was the most fans I've ever (played in front of). I don't know how many people were here tonight, but in my head it felt like there was a million people in the stands screaming at me the whole time."

Several of Porter's homers were crowd-pleasing, majestic shots, including one in the first round that flew clean over the left-field barbecue shack, which is marked 474 feet from home plate. A third-round blast cleared the center-field batter's eye, 420 feet away and similar in height to Fenway Park's Green Monster.

Spring Mobile Ballpark is nestled in Salt Lake City's high elevation, but pre-derby rain and uncommon humidity somewhat tempered the elevation's effect, making Porter's showing that much more remarkable.

In fact, Porter was so impressive that at one point in the second round, Iowa Cubs veteran Bryan LaHair approached Porter at the plate and took his metal bat—which the two participating high schoolers were allowed to use—replacing it with a wooden one, an ultimate sign of respect for the young slugger.

The other participants seemed to enjoy Porter's show as much as the crowd, none more so than Gartrell, who afterward lauded his 17-year-old opponent.

"I was just trying to give him as much confidence as he deserved," Gartrell said. "That was impressive. I've heard stories about his last home run derby here, and I can see it. He's got a lot of pop. He's going to be a great college player and probably a great professional."

A draft prospect for 2012, Porter is one of the top prep players in the country. It's not only his bat, however, that earns him that distinction. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound righthander has been clocked at 96 mph off the mound and figures to be one of the best two-way players in next year's draft. He's committed to North Carolina.

Porter and another local high schooler—Bonneville High's Sam Hall—qualified for the event by besting 16 other local prep players for the right to participate in tonight's derby.

Gartrell hit three homers in the first round, barely qualifying for the second, before hitting six in the second and seven in the final. The 27-year-old has 18 homers on the season between Charlotte (White Sox) and Gwinnett.

The righthanded-hitting outfielder entered the competition simply wanting to have fun, but his competitive instincts eventually took over and led him to the title.

"As soon as it became a possibility for me to win, that's when it kicked in," Gartrell said. "At first I was like, 'All right, let's just have fun and enjoy this.' And then I thought, 'I could win this thing.'

"Every single time (Porter) swung the bat, I thought it was going to be a home run. I don't know if there was any drama out in the stands, but I felt it."

In addition to Gartrell, the other two International League participants were Gwinnett first baseman Mauro Gomez and Charlotte corner outfielder/first baseman Dayan Viciedo. Competing for the Pacific Coast League, in addition to LaHair: Albuquerque center fielder Trayvon Robinson and Salt Lake third baseman Jeff Baisley.