Betts, the star of the Los Angeles Dodgers who is seeded third going into Monday's eight-player bracket-style event in Seattle, doesn't want to participate in the Derby. He doesn't hesitate to express this either. He is only participating because his wife, Brianna, suggested that it would look nice on his resume, which already features an MVP Award, two World Series championships, five Silver Sluggers, six Gold Gloves, and seven All-Star Game appearances.
Betts reported that the woman said, "You've done everything you've wanted in baseball." "'The Derby is the only thing you haven't done.'"
The only issue is that Betts claims he has little chance of winning.
Let's face it, I'm not a power guy, he said. Have I got any home runs? Sure."
On the afternoon of July 4, he is informed that Mookie leads the Dodgers in home runs. You already have 23 [there are now 26]. Before the month of August even begins, you might have your fourth 30-homer season.
"Yeah," he responded, "but they all go 382 feet."
Shortstop, a Gold Glove outfielder, learning on the job? Mookie Betts is happier than ever 56dGonzalez, Alden
Who is the Seattle slugger to beat in the 2023 MLB Home Run Derby?
Your 2023 MLB Home Run Derby champion is Vladdy Jr. Favorite Seattle 1st moments and analysisBetts is listed as being 5 feet 9 inches and 180 pounds on ESPN Baseball-Reference.com. Nobody who is 5-9 or shorter and 180 pounds or lighter has ever competed in the Derby, according to the site's unofficial measurements. Miguel Tejada, who won it in 2004, and Ivan Rodriguez, who advanced to the finals in 2005, were two prominent 5-9 players that competed, but they were heavier, stronger, better able to create power, and had the freedom to mishit balls that still carried.
Betts is unable to enjoy that pleasure. His season's average home run distance of 397 feet places him 168th out of 264 players. Five of his seven Derby opponents -- Julio Rodriguez, Pete Alonso, Adley Rutschman, Luis Robert Jr., and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., with whom he will square off in Round 1 -- are at least five inches and forty pounds taller than him. It appears almost unlikely to get additional time by hitting two home runs at least 440 feet, so Betts will likely have to outpower much bigger opponents in a power contest with 30 fewer seconds at his disposal.
Betts has repeatedly and loudly bemoaned the situation in recent days. He is known among his teammates for his harsh self-criticism, which some people believe helped him achieve greatness. J.D. Martinez, a fellow Dodger, quickly became tired of hearing it.
Early last week, Martinez informed him, "You have what others lack.
"What?" Betts gave me the side-eye in return.
Martinez, who assisted Betts in developing some of his power when the two first teamed up in Boston, believes that attempts to pulverize pitches will inevitably damage the other players. He wants Betts to concentrate just on using his barrel to grab baseballs in front of the left-field fence at T-Mobile Park, which is 331 feet down the line but can extend to 378 feet in the gap.
The phrase "Your adrenaline is going to take over" Martinez reported telling Betts. "Playing catch is all you have to do. Catch it, catch it, and keep doing it over and over. All you have to do is that. Do not attempt to hit the ball 700 feet because you will fail.'"
Betts, 30, last participated in a home run competition when he was 8 years old, more than two decades ago. Despite being the tiniest child, he constantly made excellent contact and placed second. He joined the Boston Red Sox's short-season Class A Lowell Spinners in 2012 at the age of 19, weighed 155 pounds with little muscle, and failed to hit a home run in 251 at-bats. This was eleven years later. He remembered doing the fence-hopping just once.
"One double," Betts remarked. "I can remember that."
In order to develop the strength necessary to drive pitches, Betts was inspired to seek out former football star Deon Giddens and adhere to a tough weight-training regimen. The following summer, Betts blasted 15 home runs in both Class A levels. After making his major league debut in 2014, he smashed 31 home runs in 2016, coming second in the voting for the American League MVP. The following year, his statistics declined, and his batting average fell from.318 to.264. After then, he met Martinez.
When Martinez signed with the Red Sox in 2018, he had already salvaged his career by using the launch-angle theories of Craig Wallenbrock and Robert Van Scoyoc, the current Dodgers hitting coach. The Red Sox wanted Martinez to mentor Betts as they made changes to their hitting approach. Betts was receptive to criticism. Martinez didn't hesitate to offer it.
"I want to say it was the first, or second day of spring [training]," Betts recalled. "J.D. arrived, we spoke, and one of the first things he said was, 'Bro, you've got really good hands. However, your swing is garbage.
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Plus, so far, their MVPs.
Betts' cross-body swing, which Martinez described as finishing low, prevented him from lifting off-speed pitches into the air and instead made him pound them into the ground. Martinez compared Betts gathering himself after finishing his backswing to someone galloping a horse. Along with former Red Sox hitting instructor Tim Hyers, he frequently reminded him of it and included drills to get Betts driving into pitches, dropping his hands before contact, and finishing high on his follow-through.
Betts eventually won the AL MVP Award in 2018 after hitting.346 with 32 home runs and a.438 slugging percentage. He quickly established himself as Mike Trout's main competition for the title of finest player in the game, displaying not just exceptional power but also lightning-quick speed, athletic defense, and bat-to-ball prowess.
At this rate, Betts will have hit more than 250 home runs in his career by the time he turns 30. Only Mel Ott (369) had more by that point among players recorded by Baseball-Reference who were 5-9 or shorter and 180 pounds or lighter. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Jose Altuve (133), Hank Thompson (144), and Jimmy Rollins (146) are the following players.
Martinez said, "It's physics," when asked how Betts produces power. "Where does he hit his home runs, if you look at them? Left field, right over the fence. He swings a 33-ounce bat at this rate of miles per hour and hits the ball on the barrel with excellent bat-to-ball technique. I'm done now. a challenge. Not everyone has the ability. Jose Altuve can do it for the same reason. Altuve, who uses his legs and can move wherever on the field, has a little bit more juice than him in my opinion. Mook can do that as well, but he needs to hit it exactly properly.
Clayton McCullough is determined to assist him in any way he can. Just as he has every day during batting practice this season, the first-base coach for the Dodgers will throw to Betts during the Home Run Derby, and he isn't taking any chances.
Since June 30, when Betts invited McCullough to throw during the Dodgers' third-to-last series of the first half in Kansas City, McCullough has been thinking about throwing in the Derby. With Betts, McCullough discussed tempo and velocity as he started to determine precisely where he should pitch from (Major League Baseball provides some wiggle room, so he chose 12 to 1212 paces from the front of the platform to the center of home plate). The following week, he set up the official Derby platform (which Dodger Stadium still had lying about from the previous year's competition) and had Pedro Montero, the video coordinator, dress as a catcher to practice throwing middle-in robotically.
Betts, though, had no intention of exercising. His 1.121 OPS since the beginning of June demonstrates that his swing is finally in what he considers to be a good place, and as a result, his recent batting practice sessions have followed a well-worn path -- spraying balls into the left- and right-center-field gaps and, as McCullough put it, "controlling the trajectory." He won't be altering his swing for the Derby.
Now, Betts continued, "If I thought I could win this, then yeah, of course I'd be practicing and all that stuff."
You really believe you can't win, then, huh?
Betts starts pointing to each finger on his right hand as he stares at it.
"How am I going to beat Julio Rodriguez, Vladdy, and Adl..."
Mookie Betts is you.
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They hit home runs, Betts said, his voice becoming louder. They are larger men.
But compared to most of them, you have more home runs.
"In the game," he responded. "In the activity. You saw my BP, so now start flipping balls outside.
Okay, do you have a plan for energy conservation? Because it is obvious that you will need to exert more of it than others.
"I guess you can see where I'm going with this now. I can't hit the ball 450 feet, so let's see how many home runs I can hit in the first three minutes.
The balls, however, are juiced.
"I concur. But you're telling me that my greatest game-winning pitch, a 95 mph fastball, traveled 420 [really 426] feet. Now that you're giving me 40 mph, how much further should I hit it—30 feet?
Fair points, all. Betts emphasized that he won't make a fool of himself and that he'll try his best to put up a decent show, but he's not sure if it will matter. At least, that is what he claims. People who are familiar with him well recall hearing him speak in a similar manner in the past and point out that Betts has always had just the appropriate amount of self-doubt to keep developing. It's what first established him as someone deserving of taking part in a competition like this.
They speculate that he might be bagging it.
Martinez remarked, "That's his way of lowering the expectations and being OK with it." "But I know he wants to win deep down," I said.