The first-round matchup between the New York Mets‘ first baseman, a two-time champion, and the Mariners‘ center fielder highlights the slate for the 38th Derby, which will air Monday on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET from Seattle’s T-Mobile Park. The winner will receive a $1 million prize.
After winning the previous two Derbies, Alonso was ousted last year in the semifinals at Dodger Stadium by Rodriguez, then a 21-year-old rookie. The winner of No. 2-seeded Alonso and No. 7-seeded Rodriguez will face the winner of third-seeded Mookie Betts, making his Derby debut, and sixth-seeded Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who set the single-round (40) and whole-Derby (91) records in 2019 but lost to Alonso in the finals.
Chicago White Sox center fielder Luis Robert, who announced his participation Wednesday, will be the No. 1 seed on account of his 25 home runs. He’ll face Baltimore catcher Adley Rutschman, whose 11 homers are the fewest among the competitors.
Joining Betts, Robert and Rutschman as first-timers are the final participants, fourth-seeded Texas Rangers outfielder Adolis Garcia and fifth-seeded Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena, who are close friends.
Among those not in the Derby: defending champion Juan Soto, megastar Shohei Ohtani — who has competed once, in 2021 — and Cincinnati Reds rookie Elly De La Cruz, who said he turned down an invitation.
The Alonso-Rodriguez matchup should provide compelling theater for a Derby that has been reinvigorated by a new format in which the league introduced a bracket format, gave each player 4 minutes a round to hit as many home runs as possible (with one timeout) and awards 30 seconds of bonus time for players who hit two home runs at least 440 feet.
Rodriguez, the sixth seed last year, hit a first-round-best 32 home runs and followed by beating Alonso, 31-23 in the semifinals. He stumbled in the finals, hitting 18 home runs and losing by one to Soto. Rodriguez’s 81 home runs were the second-highest total in Derby history. Alonso’s prodigious power has him tied with Robert among Derby participants with 25 this season. He beat Guerrero and Trey Mancini in back-to-back contests by the same score, 23-22.
Betts, who at 30 is the oldest participant, said he agreed to partake in the even because his wife, Brianna, asked him to. With 23 home runs through 82 games, Betts is on pace to smash his personal single-season record of 35 set last year. The 24-year-old Guerrero’s power stroke lagged through the first two-plus months of the season, but with four homers in his last 10 games, he is up to 13 on the season.
The 25-year-old Rutschman, better known for his on-base prowess and defensive excellence than his power stroke, made his major league just weeks before last year’s Derby. His opponent, the 25-year-old Robert, has already nearly doubled his career high in home runs and ranks second in the American League, six behind Ohtani.
One month after the St. Louis Cardinals cut Garcia in December 2019, they traded Arozarena to the Rays. Both from Cuba, Garcia and Arozarena roomed together during spring training in 2017 and were teammates that year and the following season at Double-A and Triple-A. Garcia, 30, is one of six Rangers All-Stars, and Arozarena, 28, is lone AL outfielder voted by fans to start who will play in the game, as Yankees star Aaron Judge and Angels star Mike Trout are out with injuries.
Robert said Arozarena and Garcia convinced him to partake in the Derby.
“I talked with a couple of my countrymen who said they are going to participate in the Derby and then they convinced me. Randy and Adolis. We all said, ‘let’s do it,'” Robert said through an interpreter. “I’m pretty sure I’m going to feel very happy during those two days. It’s going to be very special for me.”
Pete Alonso-Julio Rodriguez rematch highlights Home Run Derby