Previewing the Home Run Derby: Prince Fielder aims for third crown

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Prince Fielder can join Ken Griffey Jr. as the only three-time winners of the Home Run Derby on Monday night, but to do it, he’ll have to best Chris Davis, who is currently on pace to hit 60 bombs this year.

This year’s Home Run Derby field is unusual in that it features just three players currently among baseball’s top 20 home run hitters:

Davis – 37
Pedro Alvarez – 24
Robinson Cano – 21
Michael Cuddyer – 16
Fielder – 16
Yoenis Cespedes – 15
David Wright – 13
Bryce Harper – 13

Davis is the major league leader, of course, but the next three on the list are absent: Miguel Cabrera, Edwin Encarnacion and Carlos Gonzalez, who chose to pull out due to injury. Other All-Stars with 20 homers missing include Domonic Brown, Nelson Cruz, Paul Goldschmidt and Jose Bautista.

Besides Fielder, 2011 champ Robinson Cano is the only other former HR Derby winner in the field. David Ortiz no longer appears interested in competing after winning in 2010 and finishing tied for third in 2011.

Fielder and Cano are also the only holdovers from last year’s field. Fielder won with 28 homers, include 12 in the finals to beat Bautista. Cano, who hit 32 homers in winning in 2011, went homerless last year, the only player to do so the last three years. He should be pretty motivated tonight.

Alas, Cano is one of the biggest long shots, according to Bovada:

Davis: 11/4
Fielder: 3/1
Harper: 5/1
Alvarez: 6/1
Cespedes: 6/1
Cano: 13/2
Wright: 10/1
Cuddyer: 14/1

One other thing that should be noted here: since Citi Field altered the fences prior to 2012, it’s been a better home run park for right-handed hitters than left-handers. Before that, the opposite was true.

For that reason, I think Cespedes is the real sleeper pick tonight, though it wouldn’t surprise if expends a little too much energy in round one and doesn’t have enough left for the subsequent rounds. The last time a round one leader went on to win the Derby was Fielder in 2009.

But Fielder should be considered the favorite based on experience. My guess is that Davis disappoints. The Home Run Derby is typically about pulling the ball, and Davis hits his homers all over the place. As for Harper, while I think he’ll win one or two eventually, I doubt it’s his time just yet.

Jonny Venters is still pitching

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Lefty reliever Jonny Venters was among a handful of players the Rays signed to minor league contracts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Venters, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 and has logged just 27 2/3 innings in the minors in the meantime due to a continuous battle with his elbow. According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Venters has undergone four — four! — Tommy John surgeries.

When he was healthy, Venters was a fearsome late-game option for the Braves. He posted a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings in 2010, and a 1.84 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 88 innings in 2011. His first-half performance in 2011 earned him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

Venters has spent the last two years in the Rays’ system and he’ll try to make it a third.