MLB All-Star Home Run Derby: Acuna, Pujols join the field –

Who’s ready for some MLB All-Star Home Run Derby excitement? The most anticipated event of the summer is heading to Hollywood, with some of the biggest names in the sport set to take aim at the Dodger Stadium bleachers on July 18 (8 p.m. ET on ESPN)

With the first participant in this summer’s eight-player field unveiled Monday, one thing is clear: Everyone will be trying to keep up with back-to-back derby champion Pete Alonso.

As the remaining contestants are announced heading into Thursday’s Home Run Derby bracket selection show (7 p.m. ET on ESPN), we’ll break down each player chosen — and his case for taking the belt from the Mets slugger known as “Polar Bear.”

Announced field: Pete Alonso, Ronald Acuna Jr., Albert Pujols, Juan Soto, Kyle Schwarber

Play: ESPN’s Derby Pick’em

Pete Alonso

2022 HR total: 23 | Longest: 447 feet

Why he’s the home run king: Alonso has participated in two All-Star Home Run Derbies during his MLB career and twice ended the night as champion — and twice won a $1 million prize for his efforts.

In 2019, Alonso took down Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in an epic derby battle by blasting a total of 57 long balls in Cleveland. When the event returned in 2021, Alonso outslugged the field at Coors Field in Denver, topping Trey Mancini in the final round and hitting 74 total home runs — including 20 that traveled at least 475 feet.

After his 2021 win, Alonso said: “I think I’m the best power hitter on the planet. Being able to showcase that and really put on a fun display for fans, it’s truly a dream come true for me. When I was younger, my parents actually let me stay up past my bedtime to watch this.”

Clearly, all those nights staying up watching paid off for the Mets slugger.

Derby fun fact: Alonso joined Ken Griffey Jr. (1998-99) and Yoenis Cespedes (2013-14) as the only back-to-back champions in derby history.

Ronald Acuna Jr.

2022 home runs: 8 | Longest: 464 feet

Why he could take down Alonso: There might not be another player in this year’s field who competes with as much flair as Acuna does — and that could go a long way in front of a star-studded crowd in Los Angeles. While Acuna is known for his all-around skills and Alonso more for his slugging alone, their career home run totals show that the difference in power between the two National League East stars isn’t as big as you might think:

Acuna — 113 HRs, 448 games

Alonso — 129 HRs, 455 games

Why he might not: After coming back earlier this season from an ACL injury suffered last July, Acuna’s power stroke has been the last part of his game to return. So far in 2022, he has hit just eight homers in 53 games, after blasting 24 long balls in 82 games before his season ended last summer.

Derby fun fact: Acuna appeared in the 2019 Home Run Derby, eliminating Josh Bell in the first round before falling to, you guessed it, Pete Alonso in the semifinals. Acuna hit 19 home runs in the round, before Alonso hit 20 to move to the finals.

Albert Pujols

2022 home runs: 5 | Longest: 426 feet

Why he could take down Alonso: Well, the guy does know a thing or two about hitting home runs, considering he has smacked 684 of them in the regular season in his career — not to mention 19 more in the postseason. Sure, it’s been a long time since peak Pujols, but he still has the raw power to do damage in this contest, and his swing late in his career has been more fly ball oriented anyway. He’ll be the sentimental favorite, and maybe the crowd will root him on to a few extra home runs.

Why he might not: Did we mention it’s been a long time since peak Pujols? If he remains at five home runs over the next week, he’ll have the fewest homers for a player entering the contest. (Ivan Rodriguez of the Tigers had six when he participated at his home park in 2005.) Pujols will be the oldest player ever to partake; the previous oldest participant was 39-year-old Barry Bonds in 2004. And it’s difficult to imagine Pujols having the stamina to win three rounds. Heck, we’ve seen young guys getting fatigued after a round or two — and Pujols is 42!

Derby fun fact: Pujols will be the seventh player to make at least five Home Run Derby appearances, joining Ken Griffey Jr., Mark McGwire, Prince Fielder, Bonds, Sammy Sosa and David Ortiz.

Juan Soto

2022 home runs: 17 | Longest: 451 feet

Why he could take down Alonso: Because he clearly wants to. A lot of young players are one-and-done in the Home Run Derby, but Soto is back for the second year in a row. You might remember that he ousted Shohei Ohtani 31-28 a year ago in an epic overtime match before losing 16-15 to Alonso in the semifinals. He wants his revenge.

Why he might not: That 16-15 loss to Alonso wasn’t actually as close it appears. Soto went first and tired out after his big first round. Alonso actually had about a minute left on the clock when he beat Soto, so he would have destroyed him if he had used his full time allotment. Alonso has proved he can go the distance all three rounds; Soto hasn’t.

Derby fun fact: Soto’s 520-foot home run in the Derby last year was the longest in the contest during the Statcast era.

Kyle Schwarber

2022 home runs: 28 | Longest: 468 feet

Why he could take down Alonso: Schwarber has big-time Home Run Derby experience, finishing as the runner-up to Bryce Harper in 2018. Harper was the clear fan favorite of the Washington, D.C., crowd, but Schwarber — a member of the Cubs at that time — got on a roll, blasting drive after drive into the right-field seats, impressing peers with his consistency in the event, in how he settled into a rhythm with his swing. That could be pivotal against Alonso.

Earlier this summer, a veteran slugger mused about the Home Run Derby this summer, about Alonso’s dominance, and suggested that it would take somebody with prior experience in the event to take down the two-time defending champion. “It’s a grueling event,” the slugger said. “You are exhausted. And nobody who is dealing with that for the first time is going to beat him.”

Why he might not: As of just a few days ago, Schwarber didn’t seem inclined to participate this year, citing the event as “a bucket list thing” that he had already crossed off and noting concerns about the effect on his body. If Schwarber backs off from his approach out of fear of injury — especially with his now teammates Harper and Jean Segura already on the IL for the Phillies — Alonso will be a tough hang. But if Schwarber is up to rise to the occasion, he could present a special challenge to Alonso.

Derby fun fact: Despite his loss to Harper in the finals at Nationals Park, Schwarber’s 55 total home runs was the most of any 2018 Derby participant.