Pete Alonso screams after a home run at the home run derby.
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The Home Run Derby Field is Underwhelming, But a Marquee Matchup Could Save It

The 2023 MLB Home Run Derby is set, and while the participants are underwhelming, there's at least one marquee matchup.

The 2023 Major League Baseball Home Run Derby field is somewhat underwhelming. A combination of first-time participants and guys who barely have double-digit home run totals on the season, the annual bomb-off is lacking several star names.

Thirty-three players have hit more than 15 home runs this season, and 13 have 20 or more. But noticeably absent from this year's event are Shohei Ohtani (32) and Matt Olson (29), who lead their respective leagues in long balls. Also not participating are the likes of Ozzie Albies (22), Kyle Schwarber (22), Rafael Devers (20), J.D. Martinez (22) and Aaron Judge (19 - injured). 

There's no Mike Trout (18 and not participating even before his injury a few days ago), Francisco Lindor (19), Nolan Arenado (19) or either of the San Diego Padres bash brothers Fernando Tatis (16) or defending champion Juan Soto (15).

Instead, we get to watch five first-time derby participants and one big-time matchup on Monday night from T-Mobile Park in Seattle, Washington. Here's how the opening round matchups break down, and what I think will happen in this year's derby.

No. 1 Luis Robert Jr. vs. No. 8 Adley Rutschman

Adley Rutschman runs the bases during a game.

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Robert will try to become the first Chicago White Sox player to win the HR Derby since 1995, when Frank Thomas defeated Albert Belle. That was when you still had a certain number of outs to work with, and the finals round finished 3-2 in favor of Thomas. For comparison's sake, last year's final was won 19-18 by Juan Soto.

The Chicago White Sox outfielder will also be looking to shake off the No. 1 seed curse — no top seed has advanced out of the first round of the HR Derby since 2016. In that time, we've seen the first-round demise of sluggers including Schwarber, Ohtani, Matt Chapman (losing to now-current teammate Vlad Jr.), Jesus Aguilar and Giancarlo Stanton (losing to future and now-former teammate Gary Sanchez). 

The benefit for Robert is that he is going up against another first-timer in Rutschman, a second-year player who has only hit 11 home runs this year and 24 in the big leagues. That's the lowest total for a Home Run Derby participant. 

Rutschman also has this nugget of history working against him: No catcher has ever won the Home Run Derby.

My Pick: Luis Robert Jr. 

No. 4 Adolis Garcia vs. No. 5  Randy Arozarena

Randy Arozarena smiles after hitting a home run.

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Garcia has hit 80 home runs in just 381 games over the last 2½ seasons. Arozarena has hit 20 home runs in each of the past two years since breaking into the league and winning Rookie of the Year in 2021, but he has already almost equaled that number through the first half of this season. 

This is truly a coin toss of a matchup — as it should be, given the seedings of the two competitors. Arozarena is two years younger and likely to be a feature at home run derbies for the next decade, so I think he has a breakout performance this year. For what it's worth, I hope Garcia bows out in the first round and doesn't ruin his swing for the second half of my fantasy baseball season.

My Pick: Randy Arozarena

No. 3 Mookie Betts vs. No. 6 Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

Vlad Guerrero Jr. looks on from the on-deck circle.

Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Guerrero whose father, Vlad Sr., won the Home Run Derby in 2007 — set the record for most home runs in a single round, when he beat Joc Pederson 40-39 in the 2019 semifinals. He also set the record for most total home runs, hitting 90 over the course of the night, but he fell to Pete Alonso by one homer in the final. Guerrero hit 48 home runs in his MVP Runner-Up season in 2021, but that number dipped to 32 despite having 34 more at-bats last year. As the All-Star break approaches, the Blue Jays slugger has just 13 homers.

After making a run to the finals as a No. 8 seed in 2019, Guerrero will look to upset third-seeded Betts, and I would bet on him to do it. Betts has never been in the HR Derby before, and Guerrero is the kind of free-swinging whirling dervish of a personality that you expect to see in at least the semifinals. 

Betts seems like an unconventional Derby participant, although he has averaged 32 long balls per 162 games over his career. But he is more string bean than bulk, and I can't see him generating the kind of consistent power needed to beat Guerrero.

My Pick: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

No. 2 Pete Alonso vs. No. 7 Julio Rodríguez

Pete Alonso screams after a home run at the home run derby.

Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

This is the marquee matchup, a rematch of last year's semifinals when Rodríguez ended Alonso's attempt at a three-peat by smashing 31 homers in the semifinals against the Polar Bear. Oh, and this time, the Seattle Mariners' young phenom gets to take batting practice in his home stadium.

This time around, the two-time defending champ was relegated to the No. 2 seed by virtue of a tiebreaker with Robert (more home runs since June 15), so we get this tasty matchup in the opening round. 

On paper, this should be a slam dunk for Alonso, who has already crushed 25 home runs this year and has the most experience of any derby participant. But given the stakes after last year's dramatic showdown and the overwhelming support that Rodríguez will have from his hometown crowd, it will be anything but a walk in the park for Pete. 

Still, Alonso's swing is picture perfect for a home run derby. And despite being the first player to commit to the event, I think Rodríguez will bow out to a spectacular show that even the Seattle crowd will have to appreciate.

My Pick: Pete Alonso


No. 1 Luis Robert Jr. vs. No. 5 Randy Arozarena

I think this one is a battle to see who will be cannon fodder for the winner of the other semifinal. There's not a ton of juice with Robert, and I could see Arozarena continuing his breakout performance by getting to the finals this year. 

My Pick: Randy Arozarena

No. 6 Vladimir Guerrero Jr. vs. No. 2 Pete Alonso

This has the potential to be a really good matchup, and I think Guerrero could put up a big number for Alonso to go after. But I think Guerrero will have to expend a lot of energy to get past Betts, and Alonso has the benefit of going second in both of these matchups. So Alonso will know what he needs to do and can end either or both early to conserve himself for a run at the finals.

My Pick: Pete Alonso


No. 5 Randy Arozarena vs. No. 2 Pete Alonso

I just don't think there's anyone in this field who can take down Alonso, who has shown multiple times that his smooth, easy and repeatable swing is just built to win home run derbies. Once he gets past Rodríguez in the opening round, a locked-in Alonso will cruise to his third victory, cementing his status as one of the best derby participants in MLB history.

My Pick: Pete Alonso

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