Imagining Events, Ideal Participants for an MLB All-Star Skills Challenge
When the best and brightest stars in Major League Baseball ascend on Target Field in Minnesota next week, the sport will be showcased for current and future fans. While the All-Star Futures Game, Home Run Derby and All-Star Game are a tremendous yearly showcase, it's time for baseball to evolve and add to the yearly events.
Due to the way baseball markets the game, many casual fans likely don't realize the type of athletes currently donning major league uniforms. With the sheer athleticism of soccer, NFL and NBA players on display in every game of their seasons, baseball needs to show the best talents of its current crop of stars.
The following five event ideas could spruce up the All-Star Week festivities and give baseball a fresh look for new, impressionable eyes.
When reading, suspend the notion of reality for a few minutes. No, owners and general managers wouldn't want or allow their players to subject themselves to injury, especially for the running and throwing contests. If they did, however, baseball's midsummer event would be a better and more interesting product for fans.
Since the days of Walter Johnson and Bob Feller, baseball fans have been fascinated by overpowering velocity from pitchers. Despite soft-tossing stars like Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine ascending to dominance, there's something about watching triple digits light up a radar gun that gets fans buzzing.
For this competition, each pitcher will throw three pitches. The average velocity of the fastballs will be calculated, allowing fans to determine which arm is truly the strongest among pitchers in baseball.
When choosing the field, more context is needed than just average fastball velocity during the first half of 2014. Yes, relievers are usually above starters on velocity lists, but that may have to do with top-tier starting pitchers conserving velocity for a long start. In a three-pitch competition, that's unnecessary.
Kansas City's Yordano Ventura, known for topping his own velocity records (per CBS Sports), is the most intriguing non-reliever among the entries.
Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
Jake McGee, Tampa Bay Rays
Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis Cardinals
Yordano Ventura, Kansas City Royals
Garrett Richards, Los Angeles Angels
For some fans, there's nothing more exciting than watching a batter attempt to turn a double into a triple while sprinting around the bases. On that same note, watching any hitter—speed aside—attempt to turn a misplay into an inside-the-park home run is must-see television.
What if an event could replicate that excitement, with a stopwatch trumping the idea of actually scoring a run? Instead of debating which runners are fastest from home plate to first base or from first to third, this competition will place the fastest in baseball against each other in a race around the bases, one runner at a time.
By the end of this competition, the fastest man in baseball would be determined.
Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds
Dee Gordon, Los Angeles Dodgers
Jacoby Ellsbury, New York Yankees
Brett Gardner, New York Yankees
Jose Reyes, Toronto Blue Jays
Distance Home Run Derby
Over the years, the Home Run Derby has lost some luster. It's no longer just about the biggest sluggers in baseball, though that's probably a reflection of stricter drug testing in the game. Still, fans don't just want to see homers barely clear the fence. They want to see long, towering shots.
While the players of today may not be pumped up the way Mark McGwire, Juan Gonzalez and Co. were in the late '90s, enough big power exists to have a true distance derby. This isn't just about hitting the ball over the wall, but rather about how far the homers are hit.
At the end of each round, consisting of 10 outs for non-homers, the longest home run of the night will be recognized and a winner crowned.
Based on the power results in the early part of the 2014 season, the following participants will take a crack in the new competition.
Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins
David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox
George Springer, Houston Astros
Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays
Best Outfield Arm
This one might generate the most buzz. On a nightly basis, gifted outfielders make spectacular plays—specifically, throws to bases that nail runners attempting to advance or score. In the context of each play and throw, fans debate which outfield stars truly have the best arms.
Now, we can find out.
For this battle, real runners will take the bases and attempt to score on balls hit into the gap or down the line. The outfielder must retrieve the ball and fire home without the help of a cutoff man. The difficulty level here is intense, meaning one or two perfect throws might be necessary to generate outs and a winner.
Recently, Cody Derespina of Newsday imagined an outfield throwing event, citing Kansas City Royals outfield Alex Gordon's excellent arm. On that recommendation, Gordon leads our field here.
Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals
Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland Athletics
Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers
Nick Markakis, Baltimore Orioles
Juan Lagares, New York Mets
Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays
Years ago, the NHL had a competition in which the best snipers in the league would aim at targets within the net, proving which players had the most accurate shots. For this competition, some of the best hitters in baseball will show how to combat the rising shifts across baseball defense by placing hits in different parts of the field.
Although the art of dropping a single into the opposite field has been lost on some players of this generation, we can hearken back to the days of Wade Boggs and Tony Gwynn by asking some of the most skilled batsmen in the game to "hit" targets or serve the ball into different areas of the field.
Before each pitch, the batter will be told where to hit the ball. After 10 swings, the most accurate hitter will be determined.
Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
Daniel Murphy, New York Mets
Robinson Cano, Seattle Mariners
Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies
Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins