Facing a glut of young outfielders and needing help behind the plate, the Twins have traded center fielder Aaron Hicks to the Yankees for catcher John Ryan Murphy.
Hicks turned his career around this year, hitting .256 with 11 homers and a .721 OPS in 97 games for the Twins to show some of the promise that made him a top-100 prospect before back-to-back rough seasons in 2013 and 2014. He’s a speedy center fielder with a very good arm and the potential to be an above-average hitter, although so far the switch-hitting Hicks has struggled against right-handed pitching enough to question if he should be playing every day. He could fill Chris Young’s old platoon role or make Brett Gardner expendable.
Murphy has served in a backup role for the Yankees, hitting .267 with four homers and a .685 OPS in 115 total games from 2013-2015. His numbers in the minors are similar, including a .259 batting average and .736 OPS at Triple-A, so the 24-year-old Murphy is unlikely to be a standout hitter. He’ll split playing time with veteran Kurt Suzuki, whose struggles this year convinced the Twins they needed to find outside help at catcher.
Bryce Harper, who said he was tired after taking his cuts in the first round, certainly appeared gassed in the final round. So, too, did his dad, who was throwing to him. But Harper caught fire, going on a tear and tying Kyle Schwarber with 18 home runs before time expired in the final round of the 2018 Home Run Derby. Harper unlocked 30 seconds of bonus time by hitting two home runs at least 440 feet. With his second swing in bonus time, Harper homered to straightaway center field for No. 19. He tossed his bat in celebration, grabbed his trophy, then gave it to his dad before he was mobbed on the field by his All-Star teammates.
Harper hit 13 home runs in the first round, eliminating Freddie Freeman and advancing to the semifinals. In the semis, Harper topped Max Muncy 13-12 to advance to the finals. On Schwarber’s side of the bracket, he bested Alex Bregman 16-15, then defeated Rhys Hoskins 21-20.
Harper is the first member of the Nationals (or Expos) to win the Home Run Derby. Harper participated in the 2013 Derby but finished in second place behind Yoenis Céspedes. Harper is also the first left-handed hitter to win the Derby since Prince Fielder in 2012. The only players to win the Derby in their home park are Todd Frazier in 2015 and Ryne Sandberg in 1990.
As a spectator, the 2018 Home Run Derby was tons of fun. The four-minute clock adds a lot of tension and intrigue even to the initial rounds. Seeing teammates cheer and get excited for their teammates in the Derby is really fun. Of course, watching dinger after dinger is cool, too. Can’t wait for next year.