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Triple-A All-Star Game Preview: the Home Run Derby

Who is in it, how to watch, how to defeat Zack Hample for a ball

haha jk we don’t actually get to see this

You know how sometimes you have a craving for a specific kind of junk food, but it’s either ten states or three miles away and you don’t feel like putting on real pants so you just kind of make do with what you have at home? Well, the MLB All-Star Game is our Del Taco, and the Triple-A All-Star Game is our “put some bagged cheese on a tortilla and microwave it.” It might not have quite the dramatic flair of Giancarlo Stanton literally breaking the dinger machine—because that’s going to happen, right?—but it’s right here in our backyard. And it might not have the chicken chasing or milking contest the Cal League All-Star Game had, or the mascot races of the Texas League (you will be pleased to know Otey the Nightmare Possum did not place), but it is right here in our backyard. Later tonight will be the home run derby, and then the actual game is on Wednesday. I’ll highlight some of the more interesting prospects playing in the actual game later, but for now, here’s who is participating in the home run derby later tonight:

From the IL:

Danny Hayes, Charlotte (White Sox)

A fun fact about Danny Hayes is that never in his pro career has he had a BB% below 12.5%, and he technically put that up in his rookie season, 2013. He’s also never struck out at a higher rate than he has this season (26.5%), putting up largely identical but slightly worse numbers than his last tour in Triple-A, last year. This year he has hit a career-high 15 home runs before the break, and that is why he is here.

Bryce Brentz, Pawtucket (Red Sox)

Brentz, 28, is a former supplemental first-rounder (pick 36 overall in 2010) who has spent his whole career as a member of the Boston Red Sox organization. He was awarded a 26-PA cup of coffee in 2014, where he slashed .308/.308/.385 with a 34.6% K rate and a 0% BB rate, and another in 2016, where his slash line didn’t look quite as good but his K-BB certainly improved. Blessings to you, Bryce Brentz. I hope you win this thing.

Richie Shaffer, Columbus (Indians)

Richie Shaffer was a Mariner for a whole ten minutes this off-season before going on one of those bizarre claim-and-DFA carousels second only to that of former Rainier David Rollins. He eventually settled in with Cleveland’s system, but his 30+% K-rate hasn’t gotten any better. He’s been thwacking the ball pretty good this year, though; his 18 home runs are the best in the International League, which doesn’t get the same power bump as the hitter-friendly PCL parks. Also you should root for Richie Shaffer because of this:

From the PCL:

Christian Walker, Reno (Diamondbacks)

Christian Walker has been a nightmare for Tacoma pitchers to face this year. In his first year in the Diamondbacks system, the 26-year-old is putting up career-high numbers, with a staggering .297 ISO thanks to playing the majority of his games in a very hitter-friendly park. But that shouldn’t detract from what Walker has been able to do at the plate: he has excellent plate discipline (15.8% K rate, 8.3% BB rate) and a strong understanding of the zone, thanks to an excellent work ethic. He’s extremely picky at the plate and reminds me of Mitch Haniger in a lot of ways, all they way down to his 6’0/220 build (Mitch is 6’2”/215). It’s surprising to me Walker, claimed by Arizona after being DFA’d by Baltimore, hasn’t gotten more than a handful of plate appearances at the MLB level; he’s put up consistently solid numbers over his entire minors career, but was blocked at the big league level by Chris Davis and his pornstache. Arizona is using him as an outfielder, giving him more positional flexibility, and as they have a pretty injury-riddled outfield, it seems like Walker should get an extended look at the MLB level sometime in this second half.

Here he is blasting a home run, and it’s no wind-aided cheapie:

Renato Nuñez, Nashville (Athletics)

Despite being the youngest player in the derby, Nuñez has the most career home runs of all participants, in addition to having the most in 2017. If you recognize Nuñez’s name, it might be because he had all of 15 plate appearances with the Athletics last year. After being rushed through the A’s system despite putting up incredibly Zunino-ish numbers at every stop, Nuñez seems to have figured something out on his second trip through Triple-A, putting up a bananapants .302 ISO. The problem is Nuñez, a third baseman, is blocked in the A’s system, where they have a real Gift of the Magi scenario with the offensively gifted but defensively impaired Ryon Healy and the defensively gifted but offensively impaired Matt Chapman battling it out for playing time. He’s probably one of their better trade pieces because the A’s need pitching almost as badly as we do, so take this time to enjoy Renato Nuñez, and then be glad to be well shod of him and his ability to hit a ball to space:

Daniel Vogelbach, Tacoma (Mariners)

Oh man. So this is kind of awkward. See, the thing is, there has to be a local representative, because #ticketsales, and the most natural choice for this would be Tyler O’Neill, right? You scream, I scream, we all scream for Tyler O’Neill making baseballs wish they’d never been born. But the thing is, to participate in the HRD, you have to be a member of the All-Star Team, and our young Master O’Neill got off to a bit of a slow start, and Vogelbach really does have better overall season numbers, even if he’s not hitting for power much. So, Vogelbach is the only participant in the HRD who has only hit single digit home runs for the season. It’s a little embarrassing. BUT. I have seen Vogelbach take batting practice, and it’s not an issue of him not having the power to park the ball over the fence. He can lay a hurting on a ball just like any of these other guys. I would not be surprised if he shows quite well in the derby. The thing is, whatever it is, he just doesn’t do it in games, which is why he’s in Tacoma still and Boog Powell got to be the Boogstick for a while there. Maybe this will be the breakthrough, teen movie moment where Vogey discovers he’s been a power hitter all along, and he gets the shiny championship belt like the crown at homecoming. Maybe that’s how this story goes. You don’t know.

If you’ve read this far and this is something you want to see, I think they’re pretty close to sold out but you can always call the Rainiers box office and see if there’s any standing room only spots. Other options, if you want to go the cheap way: there’s a hill that Foss HS is built on where you can kind of perch and get a general view of the proceedings, which would be okay for the home run derby since it’s not exactly a game of finesse you’re watching, and more an ancient sacrifice to the god of dingers. You could also park on the street in the residential area closer to the Fred Meyer (do not park at the Fred Meyer, there are signs) and walk about a mile to stand near the outfield fence, where there are some peekaboo views, and you might be able to collect a ball that sails over the fence, depending on how you feel about knocking over children. (Although if you see Zack Hample feel free to throw an elbow.) If you aren’t local or you just don’t feel like making the drive, the event will be streaming free on The derby starts at 7:05 PM PST.