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Ranking the 2018 Home Run Derby contestants

Bryce Harper

During the All-Star Break, the All-Star Game gets some attention, but everyone’s attention tends to be focused on the Home Run Derby.

This year’s group of eight participants is headlined by Bryce Harper, who will be the hometown representative in Washington D.C. and a favorite of many to win.

While Harper is the headliner, this year’s seven other contestants offer plenty of young, intriguing players to get excited about. While none of them have previous experience in the derby, many of them could be in the derby for years to come.

Here are our rankings for the eight participants this year.

8. Freddie Freeman, first base, Atlanta Braves

Freeman is one of the game’s best players, and given Atlanta’s emergence this season he should be in heavy consideration for the MVP award. The 28-year-old is outstanding in nearly every aspect with a .313 batting average, 60 RBI and a .940 OPS.

He is a far greater all-around player than a power bat who smashes baseballs into the galaxy like its batting practice. Freeman is a balanced hitter, who mixes in a lot of ground balls, line drives and fly balls. To make matters worse, he is facing Harper in the first round. Freeman will compete and call it a night after the first round.

7. Max Muncy, first base, Los Angeles Dodgers

Muncy entered the 2018 season with a career-best 25 home runs in a season, which came in 2013 across 625 at-bats in High-A and Double-A ball. The 27-year-old struggled to find consistent power from 2014-’17, but has broken out for 21 home runs in 262 at-bats this season.

Even with the sudden power surge, he ranks 87th in average home run distance at 401-feet. On a positive note, he does have the highest average hard-hit rate (49 percent) among all participants. It could be a factor to watch, but the lack of a track record and a lower power profile than the competition puts him near the bottom of this group.

6. Alex Bregman, third base, Houston Astros

Bregman has quickly established himself as one of the game’s best, young players. He has tapped into more of his power over the past year and has become another star in Houston’s lineup.

What keeps Bregman down on this list is the type of home runs he has hit this year.  Of his 19 homers this season, Bregman’s 383-feet average distance ranks 194th among qualified hitters. Furthermore, he ranks 74th in hard-hit rate at 41.2 percent. There is no doubt he is a great player, but he just isn’t the type of player to trust in the derby.

5. Rhys Hoskins, outfielder, Philadelphia Phillies

Hoskins draws the lowest seed in the contest and a matchup against Jesus Aguilar as a result. It will be a sizable blow to Hoskins chances, though he does have some experience hitting balls out in this park.

He is a fly-ball hitter with plenty of raw power in his frame, so that should also go in his favor. Yet this season he ranks 103rd in average home run distance and ranks 78th in average exit velocity (89 mph), making him tougher to trust in his first-round matchup.

4. Javier Baez, second base, Chicago Cubs

MBL lineups, Javier Baez

The addition of Baez to the derby field will make a lot of people happy. Arguably one of the most hyped and loved players in baseball, it’s within reason to believe a lot of people will be pulling for him.

A first-round matchup against Max Muncy is in Baez’s favor and he should be able to advance to the second round. If he matches up against Bryce Harper, who has experience in the derby, the odds are in the hometown hero’s favor. That said, Baez still packs plenty of punch and could be a sleeper in this contest.

3. Kyle Schwarber, outfielder, Chicago Cubs

While Schwarber isn’t talked about as much as previous seasons, the 25-year-old is showing real signs of progress this season. Better yet, he finds himself on the right side of the bracket to potentially advance.

The biggest concern with Chicago’s outfielder is a career 40.7 percent groundball rate, which means he’ll have to make slight changes in the derby. If Schwarber can make a few adjustments to increase his launch angle for this contest and build on his line-drive and fly-ball rate, he could make it to the finals.

2. Jesus Aguilar, first base, Milwaukee Brewers

Milwaukee’s first baseman won the Final Vote to make it into the All-Star Game and received the No.1 seed in the derby. He has been a sensation this season with 23 home runs and 16 doubles in 82 games.

He packs plenty of strength in his frame and his 45.2 hard-hit percentage ranks 28th in the majors. The one drawback with Aguilar, he ranks 113th in average distance on home runs. While he is a favorite, there’s upset potential here that could see the No.1 seed knocked out.

1. Bryce Harper, outfielder, Washington Nationals

While Harper is the only one with experience in the derby, it came in 2013 when the contest was very different. As a result, the format used in recent years will be an adjustment for Harper as it is with everyone else.

He is the player everyone will be watching closely as he takes his hacks in his home stadium, though it should add more pressure on him than be a beneficial factor. So it’s reasonable for some to bet against him, especially given his struggles this season.

All of that said, he has the highest average home run distance in the contest at 410-feet and the second-highest hard-hit rate among competitors. Harper was made for this contest and it could be just what he needs to flip the script on his 2018 season.