This year's Home Run Derby field is the youngest ever for the event. The eight players involved have an average age of 26.39 years old. There should be no shortage of drama or flair on Monday night, as Chicago Cubs spark-plug Javier Baez, hometown slugger Bryce Harper, and NL MVP front-runner Freddie Freeman should be poised for big performances. While Harper likely is the favorite going into the contest (held at his home park), there is potential for all eight of the contestants to win.
So let's break it down:
No. 1 Jesus Aguilar (24 HR) vs. No. 8 Rhys Hoskins (14 HR)
— Milwaukee Brewers (@Brewers) July 13, 2018
Aguilar has come out of nowhere this season. After only hitting 16 homers in parts of four seasons (168 games), Aguilar has 24 through the first half of the season for the Brewers. Making his first All-Star team, Aguilar has overcome a slow start and has put the rest of the National League on notice. Through May 12, Aguilar only had two homers. In the 54 games since, he hit 22.
Aguilar's opponent, Hoskins, has proved that last season's torrid debut was no fluke. After hitting 18 homers in 50 games to end 2017, Hoskins sits at 14 homers heading into the derby. The Phillies' slugger is accustomed to Nationals Park already (four home runs in 10 career games). Hoskins should feel comfortable at the plate.
Expect this to be a very close contest. Aguilar has all the power requisite to win the round, while Hoskins has the familiarity advantage. In the end, Aguilar's current form should carry him past a stout challenge by Hoskins.
Aguilar advances, 14-12.
No. 4 Alex Bregman (20 HR) vs. No. 5 Kyle Schwarber (18 HR)
— Cubs Insider (@realcubsinsider) July 12, 2018
This matchup features two players who are polar opposites. Coming into this season, Bregman's career-high was 19 homers. He currently has 20. Bregman is a high-ball hitter who relies on pulling the ball to generate his power. While his numbers are already surpassing his previous career-high, Bregman's hitting ability doesn't necessarily play well for a contest of this nature.
His opponent on the other hand, Schwarber, was built for the derby. Although Schwarber is a liability in the field, the big man is one of the most powerful hitters in the game today. His longest homer of the season was 439 feet, and he also is one of seven players to hit a home run at least 117 mph this year. If Schwarber can consistently lift the ball (26.3 degree launch angle is the lowest in the field) over the taller wall in right, he should get past Bregman.
Schwarber advances, 12-11.
No. 2 Bryce Harper (23 HR) vs. No. 7 Freddie Freeman (16 HR)
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) July 13, 2018
The hometown hero squares off versus the NL MVP front-runner. Let's be honest...Harper has been absolutely terrible through the first half of the season. He is hitting a paltry .214 -- 60 points lower than his career average and a far cry from his .330 season in 2015. But there is one thing that Harper is doing well this year: He's hitting bombs.
Freeman enters the derby hoping to take one more shot at one of his divisional rivals. With the Braves already ahead of the Nationals, taking down Harper in his home park would add insult to injury. Freeman, one of the best hitters in baseball, likes to spray the ball around. If Freeman can utilize all parts of the park, he can have a chance of taking down Harper. However, Harper's home field advantage (and tremendous power) will be too much to overcome in the opening round.
Harper advances, 21-15.
No. 3 Max Muncy (22 HR) vs. No. 6 Javier Báez (19 HR)
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) July 14, 2018
In what I believe will be the most exciting matchup of the first round, Muncy will look to continue his emergence against the second Cub in the field. In two months Muncy has gone from an unknown player to the Dodgers' second-best position player thus far. After hitting five homers in 96 career games -- and not playing at all in 2017 -- Muncy enters the derby with 22 homers to his name.
Over the past three seasons, Báez has gradually added more power to his game. After hitting 14 homers in 2016, Báez hit 23 last season. The fiery second baseman could possibly be one of the most exciting contestants in years. Báez takes full hacks and doesn't leave anything to chance. This is a matchup that would be great in the latter parts of the derby, but we will have to settle for a great first round duel.
Muncy advances, 17-16.
No.1 Jesus Aguilar vs. No. 5 Kyle Schwarber
Two mashers. One right-handed, one left. Aguilar and Schwarber should get the people out of their seats during this showdown. Schwarber will look to drop bombs on the right field bleachers, and will do so with startling efficiency in the semis. Aguilar will put a 13 spot on the board -- putting all the pressure on Schwarber. One year ago, the highest total after the first round was 13 homers. Schwarber will be able to get the job done, however, by hitting 14 homers en route to the final.
Schwarber advances, 14-13.
No. 2 Bryce Harper vs. No. 3 Max Muncy
A battle between a former NL MVP and the most unlikely of stars. With the Nationals' season not going as planned and Harper struggling to do much of anything, this may be the superstar's last hurrah in D.C. Going into this round, Harper will start to feel the heat and weight of expectations. Muncy has nothing to lose in this matchup -- and his free-flowing swing will prove it. Harper and all D.C. fans will be bitterly disappointed by the outcome (they should be used to it by now). The finals will feature another Dodgers/Cubs meeting.
Muncy advances, 12-10.
No. 3 Max Muncy vs. No. 5 Kyle Schwarber
The official Batcast™ numbers are in on Max Muncy's bat flip. pic.twitter.com/JcKW1e6Fdx
— Cut4 (@Cut4) June 24, 2018
In the words of the legendary Phil Brickma, "Let the big dog eat!" While the hometown crowd will still be coping with Harper's ousting, Dodgers and Cubs fans will be loudly boasting how they are still the class of the NL. Schwarber and Muncy will both be physically drained by this point in the contest. However, one man will have enough left to take home the crown. Schwarber will open up the final by hitting five of the first six pitches he sees into deep right field. From that point on, he'll finish with only one more homer. Setting the bar low for Muncy, the Muncy Mash will commence. The Dodgers slugger will surpass Schwarber's total with ease, and finish the round with 11 dingers.
Max Muncy will win the 2018 Home Run Derby, 11-6.
Image Sources: Brewers/Twitter, Cubs Insider/Twitter, Nationals/Twitter, Dodgers/Twitter, Jake Roth/USA TODAY Sports, Cut4/Twitter