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Harper Digs the Long Ball
The Home Run Derby has become an event in which ESPN has profited immensely from players hitting softball lob pitches over a fence, a made-for-television special complete with Chris Berman voices. This year, Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper is making his derby debut and has the potential to make it into exactly what ESPN wants: a spectacle. His raw talent is the main reason I haven’t been this excited for a derby since Josh Hamilton’s first appearance in 2008. Harper’s presence in the All-Star event also has added weight because he not only represents the new generation and face of baseball, but a chance for the National League to show some muscle.
I’ve seen Harper play in person several times and his athletic ability is jaw dropping. In only his second year with the Nationals, he’s merely scratching the surface of his potential, a burgeoning highlight reel with his awe-inspiring catches, hand-cannon throws, and monster homers.
He might not hit 28 home runs in one round, as Hamilton did in ‘08, but I think he could put on a display worthy of comparison. The National League hasn’t won the derby since 2009 when Prince Fielder was a member of the Milwaukee Brewers. With Fielder now on the Detroit Tigers, the last NL champion that’s still in the league today is Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, who won in 2006. This year’s American League squad contains 2011 champion Robinson Cano from the Yankees, Yoenis Cespedes from Oakland, Chris Davis from Baltimore, and Fielder, the defending champ. With the announcement this past Friday that Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez will not participate, Harper is likely the NL’s best chance of taking back the crown. The Citi Field venue (home of the New York Mets) is notoriously a pitchers park, but shouldn’t be a huge thorn in Harpers side. According to ESPN Home Run Tracker (graph below), his home runs travel an estimated 406.5 feet. He’s also hit two home runs this season at Citi Field, one at 423 feet and the other 10 feet longer. Eight of Harper’s 13 dingers have traveled over 400 feet this season.
Harper has been extremely fun to watch in his first two seasons, a player with tremendous power and incredible athleticism who isn’t afraid to sacrifice his body. He’s also polarizing figure, with his bold haircut and brash style of play. A home run derby crown could be the next level of his ceiling-less major league potential.