New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso, who won the last two editions of MLB's Home Run Derby, is the favorite for the event Monday in Los Angeles. File Photo by Bob Strong/UPI | License Photo
July 18 (UPI) -- Power is a given at MLB's annual Home Run Derby, but players say who is picked to pitch is an overlooked ingredient for success -- or failure. This year's pitchers include a dad, several coaches and a training partner nicknamed "Money."
New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso, the two-time defending champion, is the favorite to claim bragging rights and a $1 million first-place prize. The eight-participant slugfest will air on ESPN at 8 p.m. EDT Monday from Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
"It's a really fun event," Alonso told reporters recently. "It's going to be super exciting. I'm really looking forward to it. I have a really good plan to go into it."
Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Kyle Schwarber, Washington Nationals outfielder Juan Soto, Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. and St. Louis Cardinals designated hitter Albert Pujols are the other National League sluggers in the three-round competition.
Texas Rangers shortstop Corey Seager, Seattle Mariners outfielder Julio Rodriguez and Cleveland Guardians third baseman Jose Ramirez represent the American League.
Schwarber, Soto, Rodriguez and Acuna join Alonso as favorites. Pujols is the biggest longshot to win the Derby. The players revealed over the past several weeks who will throw their 50-to-60-mph pitches for the event.
Those slow speeds, compared to standard 90 mph to 100mph-plus MLB fastballs, make pitches much more likely to hit and often result in home runs that are far longer than fans see in regular-season games.
Alonso recently detailed his precise Derby plan for ESPN. His regimen includes hydration, moral support, not being fixated on opponents, knowing his sweet spot for pitches, not changing his swing, efficient timeout usage, letting emotions out, confidence, having fun and picking the right pitcher.
For that last item, he called on former Mets bench coach Dave Jauss, who works in player development for the Nationals. Jauss may be the most experienced Derby arm. He threw to Alonso last year in Denver and also threw to competitors in the 1999 Home Run Derby in Boston.
Dozens of former sluggers also discussed who they picked to throw batting-practice-speed pitches in past competitions, including brothers, dads and coaches from their past stops. The honor often is viewed as a reward to those who helped the stars ascend.
Seager is the only player in this year's field who plans to lean on family. His dad, Jeff Seager, will pitch to him. He also threw to his son at the 2016 Home Run Derby in San Diego.
Ramirez picked Junior Betances, a hitting coach for the Guardians' Double-A affiliate, to throw his fastballs.
"I just want to throw right in the middle," Betances told reporters on Friday. "He will put on a show. I'm just going to throw batting practice."
Mike Sanicola, who throws to Schwarber in off-season training, will team up Monday with the Phillies slugger. Sanicola, who players nicknamed "Money" because of his consistent batting practice pitches, also threw to Schwarber at the 2018 Home Run Derby in Philadelphia.
Cardinals bullpen catcher Kleininger Teran will pitch to Pujols in his final Home Run Derby. Pujols, 42, the oldest contestant in the history of the competition, plans to retire this off-season.
"This will be my fifth trip doing it," Pujols said, referring to the Derby. "It's awesome, and I'm blessed to be able to do it. ... Hopefully I can put on a good show for the fans."
Teran recently told The Athletic that he joked to Cardinals hitters earlier this year about participating in the Derby, before he drew the assignment from Pujols.
"This year, Albert would say to me almost every day that he would take me, without even knowing if he was going or not," Teran said. "When he found out he had an opportunity to do it, he asked me, and I was very happy."
Former Nationals minor league instructor Jorge Mejia will pitch to Soto. Mejia is Soto's off-season hitting coach in the Dominican Republic.
Braves batting practice pitcher Tomas Perez will throw to Acuna. Mariners batting practice pitcher Franmy Pena will toss to Rodriguez.
"Every swing, I'll try to have it leave the yard," Acuna told reporters. "I'm just going to try to win it."
Seeds for the event were determined by home run totals through July 13. Schwarber, the No. 1 seed, will face the eighth-seeded Pujols in the first round.
No. 4 Soto will face No. 5 Ramirez. No. 2 Alonso will match up with No. 7 Acuna. No. 3 Seager will slug it out with No. 6 Rodriguez.
Each contestant will receive a three-minute time allotment in the first- and second-round. The player with the most homers in each round will advance. The final two competitors will each get two minutes to hit as many homers as possible.
The contestants also will receive a 30-second bonus as the end of each round, which they can push to 60 seconds if they hit a home run at least 440 feet. The competitors will get one 45-second timeout for each round. Rounds that result in ties will be decided by a 60-second swing off.
MLB All-Star Week
All times in EDT
Home Run Derby at 8 p.m. on ESPN
All-Star Red Carpet Show at 2 p.m. on MLB Network
All-Star Game at 7:30 p.m. on Fox