Triple-A Home Run Derby Preview

Are you excited? The Triple-A All-Star festivities begin tonight with the Home Run Derby at 7:00.

Gates open at 5, the program starts with a kid’s derby on the Whiffle Ball field at 6:40, and then the Home Run Derby contestants are introduced at 7.

Before coming to the park, stop and read this great story by Todd Milles of The News Tribune on five memorable home runs hit at Cheney Stadium. He spoke with witnesses of the homers, and even dug up my radio call of A.J. Zapp‘s center field wall-clearing homer in 2004 (how did he do that? I didn’t send it to him).

Seriously. Read the story. Then come right back here.

The Triple-A Home Run Derby starts at 7. We’ll be doing timed rounds, like in the major league derby. Four minutes each for the six contestants. Bottom two hitters drop out after round one. Another four minutes for the final four hitters, with the homers from the first round carrying over and added onto the second round total. Then the top two reset their total to zero, and go head-to-head in four minute rounds. Any tiebreakers will be settled with 90-second rounds.

There are six contestants – three from each league. Let’s get to ’em.

RENATO NUNEZ, Nashville Sounds (Oakland A’s)

The prohibitive favorite, because he leads all of Minor League Baseball with 24 home runs. He also plays half of his games in First Tennessee Park, which is one of the few pitcher’s parks in the PCL.

Despite this being Nunez’s second season in the PCL, this is his first trip to Cheney Stadium. Tacoma visited Nashville last year, and the Sounds return trip this season isn’t until August.

Nunez has hit 122 career minor league homers, with a high of 29 at Class-A Stockton in 2014. He did not homer in 15 major league at-bats during his first call-up last September.

At age 23, Nunez is the youngest player in the Derby.

CHRISTIAN WALKER, Reno Aces (Arizona Diamondbacks)

Walker ranks second in the PCL with 22 home runs, and he leads the league in RBI, extra base hits, and total bases.

The only contestant to hit homers in both Triple-A Leagues, Walker has belted 42 homers over parts of three seasons with Norfolk of the International League plus the 22 homers for Reno this year.

Walker has familiarity with Cheney Stadium, having lifted two homers on to the R Yard Deck during Reno’s four-game series at Tacoma in early June.

On September 20, 2014, Walker clubbed his first major league homer, against the Boston Red Sox.

DAN VOGELBACH, Tacoma Rainiers (Seattle Mariners)

The hometown favorite, Vogelbach hit his tenth dinger of the season for the Rainiers yesterday in Sacramento. He belted 23 homers in the PCL last season.

Vogelbach is one of two left-handed hitters in the Derby, which could be an advantage if the wind is blowing in from left field tonight.

While Vogelbach treats hitting as a craft and tries to work the count and use his patience at the plate, but the Home Run Derby is a completely different animal. It will be interesting to see if he can get into aggressive slugger mode.

Having the home crowd on his side will certainly help Vogelbach.

BRYCE BRENTZ, Pawtucket Red Sox (Boston Red Sox)

The oldest player in the Derby at age 28, Brentz and Richie Shaffer lead the International League contestants with 18 home runs this season.

Brentz has played in at least a couple of games for Pawtucket each of the last six seasons. He’s hit as many as 30 homers in a season, and belted his first major league home run last June for Boston.

When playing for Middle Tennessee State as a sophomore in 2009, Brentz led the entire NCAA with 28 homers. The Red Sox drafted him in the first round the following year.

DANNY HAYES, Charlotte Knights (Chicago White Sox)

The surprise contestant of the Derby, Hayes has already established a career high by hitting 15 homers for Charlotte where he is playing his second Triple-A season.

Hayes may secretly wish that he was playing in the PCL. He was born and raised in Sacramento, and spent four years playing for Oregon State University (2010-2013). He was college teammates with Rainiers players Tyler Smith, Sam Gaviglio, Andrew Moore, and even Stefen Romero for a season.

Like Vogelbach, Hayes is a left-handed batter and may be aided by the natural elements at Cheney Stadium. Hayes is the only player in the Derby who has not yet received a major league call-up.

RICHIE SHAFFER, Columbus Clippers (Cleveland Indians)

The man with the most major league homers in this contest is Shaffer, with five. He hit four in 74 at-bats for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2015, and added another during a brief call-up in 2016.

He’s belted 18 this season for the Indians Triple-A affiliate, but we briefly thought that Shaffer was going to be launching longballs for Tacoma this season.

The Mariners traded for Shaffer in November. He came with Taylor Motter in a deal that sent ex-Rainiers pitcher (and IL All-Star) Andrew Kittredge and two lower-level minor leaguers to Tampa. Seattle designated Shaffer for assignment later in the winter, and Cleveland claimed him.

Shaffer is a strong candidate today. He’s hit 48 homers over parts of three seasons in the IL.

This will be a fun, one-of-its-kind event at Cheney Stadium. Have a great time!

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