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Besides the Home Run Derby, what events should there be in a MLB skills competition?


In the next few days, I will try to avoid talking about the major league Blue Jays as much as possible. Their recent struggles have made me want to just step away from the team a little, especially during this brief mid-summer break.

The festivities surrounding the All-Star Game certainly help to distract from the games that matter. Tonight, Jose Bautista will be captaining the American League team in the Home Run Derby, which starts at 8 pm Eastern. Frankly, I am not a huge fan of the Derby--I love seeing sluggers hit dingers as much as the next guy, but after an hour or so I find it repetitive--so every year around this time I think of how much fun it would be if the day before the All-Star Game is turned into a skills competition event.

I imagine a lineup like this:

1. Target Bunting

Pretty much the complete opposite of the Home Run Derby. Inspired by the event held during the Midwest League and Korean Baseball Organization's All-Star breaks, each league sends out their three best bunters, who will be aiming to lay down a bunt down the baselines towards a target laid down half way up the line. Each bunter will get 10 strikes. Each "ring" of the target will be worth a certain number of points, and the bunter with the greatest cumulative points wins the competition. Pop-ups caught by the pitcher or catcher results in negative points and an immediate ejection from the competition

Why this will work: To some, bunting is a core fundamental in the game of baseball that major league hitters should be good at. The game is simple to understand and to run. Pitchers will soft-toss the ball to minimize injury risk.

Why this will fail spectacularly:  This event might actually be more boring than the third round of the Home Run Derby. Maybe a band can be playing at second base during the bunting. A player somehow still gets injured despite the soft tosses, breaks a finger and is not right for the rest of the season. Even worse, the competition leads to greater bunt usage in actual games.

2. Power Pitching

This competition takes the fireballers of baseball and see who can pitch the fastest while maintaining command. Three pitchers from each league gets to rear back and throw nine pitches each towards a 3 x 3 grid at home plate, with each square covered with paper (kind of like this). Only the speed of pitches that are thrown through an intact piece of paper count towards the final score; pitches that misses the grid or goes through a square that the pitcher had already hit don't count. The pitcher with the greatest cumulative speed score wins. That means there could be some strategy to throw more slowly towards the end in order to ensure command; to prevent pitches that are just tossed a 90 mph minimum could be set.

Why this will work: I love watching Aroldis Chapman pitch. Triple digit speeds are sexy. Throwing hard is the pitcher's equivalent of hitting home runs so yes, this could be exciting.

Why this will fail spectacularly: A $200-million pitcher blows out his arm when he throws too hard and is out for the rest of the season.

3. Base Race

There are two competitions within this sprint competition: the home-to-first race and the first-to-third race. For the home-to-first race, the batter-runner takes his place in the batter's box and is soft-tossed a ball. After making contact with the ball he darts down to first base (instead of an actual bag, it will be replaced by a chalk square to prevent twisted ankles). The time that will be recorded will be the time between contact and the time his foot hits any part of the chalk square. Naturally, for home-to-first there will be two separate categories: four runners (two runners from each league) will be left-handed hitters and another four will be right-handed hitters. The runner with the shortest time in each category will be crowned the two winners of the home-to-first race.

Then, all eight runners will, one at a time, run from first base to third base (of course they will need to also touch second). Each runner will start from the base (no taking leads) and will have to stop right at third base (no overrun). Slides are permitted but probably aren't helpful.

Why this will work: Speedsters are fun! Even though baserunning is a lot more than pure speed, the mental aspects of baserunning is hard to replicate in an exhibition setting, so this is the next best thing.

Why this will fail spectacularly: Someone gets hurt, probably a hamstring and is out for the rest of the season.

4. Cannon Practice

Six balls will be placed at predetermined places in the outfield. Each league sends out three outfielders (one at a time), and they pick up the ball and give it a heave towards a large bullseye target area around each base (including home plate). Each base must be hit at least once. The two other outfielders from the same league will be out on the field to act as cut-off men, who can help with three out of the six throws. Points from a successful throw that use a cut-off man counts towards both outfielder's final score.

Why this will work: Outfield assists from cannon arms are fun to watch. May just encourage outfielders to hit cut-off men during games.

Why this will fail spectacularly: Actually quite a complicated competition to assign points for. Do all outfielders throw from centre field? Someone gets hurt by stepping on one of the balls placed on the ground and is out for the rest of the season.

5. Home Run Derby

The classic competition will be kept as similar to its current format as much as possible; however there will be one fewer round. The first round will have each of the eight batters (four from each league) face seven outs. The top two from each league then advances to a five-out playoff.  Then finally, the winners of the playoff round faces each other for a seven-out round. Home runs do not carry over from round-to-round. And, to add one more extra bit of flair to the competition, each batter will be allowed to do a bat flip after one of their home runs in each round. A panel of judges will then decide the bat flip with overall the highest artistic merit of the entire Derby and to give that player an extra trophy.

Why this will work: Some may disagree but I think a good bat flip is the cheery on top of the homerun sundae. Because Yoenis Cespedes already perfected the art:


via Bill Hanstock

Why this will fail spectacularly: Brian McCann gets invited to sit on the panel. Brian McCann gets hurt by an errant bat.

What other skill competitions can you think of?

Other Matters

Pitch #5

Before the regular season resumes will be the fifth edition of Pitch Talks, on Thursday, July 17 at 7 pm. The event will be hosted by The Sports Brahs' Graham Kay and will feature Hall of Famer Bob Elliott from the Toronto Sun, Drew Fairservice of theScore, Arden Zwelling of Sportsnet Magazine, and Joanna Cornish of Hum and Chuck. Tickets are only $15 but if you use the discount code "minorleaguer" you will save five bucks on top of that! That's like a free beer (which you can gift me)!

Hope to see many of you there.

Around The Nest & MLB Futures Game

Last Friday's episode's topic ranged from Lane Thomas, Roberto Osuna, and Max Pentencost from the GCL Blue Jays all the way up to a discussion on Dalton Pompey and Daniel Norris of the Fisher Cats.

Shi Davidi was there and had a good piece where he talked with Pompey and Norris before the MLB Futures Game on Sunday. I saw most of the game and was very impressed with Dalton Pompey. He went 2-for-4 and scored on a Javier Baez home run. In addition to a patient approach at the plate, one of the two singles showed off his quick hands as he was able to turn on a 98-mph fastball. Norris struck out one in his inning of work, and also showed off some hustle on a ground out when he ran over to cover first base. Certainly a nice bounce back from his last start in double-A when he couldn't get out of the first inning.

Transaction Question

Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet reported Sunday that the Bobby Korecky had snuck through waivers (I was surprised, actually) and was outrighted to Buffalo. Instead of reporting to Buffalo, Korecky will head to Durham to participate in the 2014 Triple-A All-Star Game this Wednesday.

My question: Korecky is now off the 40-man roster, but if the Blue Jays select his contract to bring him up to the big leagues and later want to option him to the minors before August 1, would they have to place him through optional waivers again? Generally, waivers that are obtained are valid within the current waiver period (which ends at the end of July), but what happens in case of players who get removed off the 40-man? Does Korecky's first optional waiver get invalidated?