Cubs manager Joe Maddon hasn’t been too enthusiastic about his players participating in the Home Run Derby in the past, but he’s not wringing his hands over Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant entering the annual competition Monday at Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark.
The Cubs’ two All-Stars — and Nos. 2 and 3 hitters — on Thursday accepted invites to the Home Run Derby, with Bryant facing Los Angeles’ Albert Pujols and Rizzo facing Toronto’s Josh Donaldson in the first round of an eight-player, head-to-head bracket. Major League Baseball made a few tweaks to the derby that should shorten the event, which helped allay some of Maddon’s concerns about the centerpieces of his lineup participating in it.
In short, each batter gets five minutes per round, with bonuses being awarded for hitting a certain number of home runs or hitting long home runs (more details here). The upshot likely will be players swinging less and not getting worn out as easily.
“It’s been governed to the point now where it should be not as lengthy and that’s maybe not as much going on, which I think is a good idea,” Maddon said. “So I knew their (Bryant and Rizzo’s) preference. I think that they’ll handle it properly, and if there’s ever been a tie for the winner, I’d like it to be this year.”
Maddon didn’t require the 23-year-old Bryant and the 25-year-old Rizzo to come to him for approval on their respective decisions to join the Home Run Derby. Bryant entered Thursday night with 12 home runs, tied for 44th-most in baseball, while Rizzo’s 16 home runs rank 20th.
“It’s their decision,” Maddon said. “We could talk as much as we want, part of it’s for the betterment of Major League Baseball. Also the fact that this has been a big part of generating interest, and we have two kids that really generate a lot of interest.”
This year’s Home Run Derby will draw plenty of interest in Chicago but is sorely lacking in star power. Giancarlo Stanton is hurt, while Bryce Harper declined an invitation with his dad — who threw to him in the 2013 Home Run Derby — unable to participate following rotator cuff surgery.
But Bryant will have his father, Mike, throwing to him on Monday, while Rizzo can continue to grow his national profile with a strong round of glorified batting practice in Cincinnati.
“I think I decided to do it more for (my dad) so he could experience it with me and share that with me,” Bryant said. “We’ve always talked about it growing up.”
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Bryant still has fewer than 300 at-bats as a major leaguer but feels he’s suited for the Derby. Forty-eight percent of his balls put in play have been fly balls, and FanGraphs characterized about 37 percent of the contact he’s made as “hard,” so he doesn’t anticipate changing his swing to compete with the rest of the field (Todd Frazier, Joc Pederson, Pujols, Donaldson, Prince Fielder, Manny Machado and Rizzo) on Monday.
So Bryant and the Cubs aren’t concerned a second-half slump could be in the offing following next week’s All-Star festivities.
“I think if you talk to any baseball player, they’ll tell you they try to hit homers in BP,” Bryant said. “It’s no different.”