Excitement continues to build for the second annual Don’t Blink Home Run Derby in Paradise, for which we had an exclusive preview last week [link]. A new feature of this year’s edition premiered today as best friends and rival team captains Todd Isaacs and Lucius Fox faced off for a player draft in setting their team rosters. The squads feature a big leaguer, Lewis Brinson, plus three Top 100 prospects, but it was 2018 Derby Champion Bo Bichette that was the No. 1 overall pick by Team Fox.
Bichette won the first home run derby with 23 home runs, including nine in the championship round, taking his swings against his father, long-time Colorado Rockies star Dante Bichette, Sr. When we first saw Bichette, he was an 18-year old playing for Brazil in the World Baseball Classic Qualifiers in Brooklyn, where his side was upset by Isaacs’ Great Britain, which also featured derby participants Jazz Chisholm, Chavez Young, and Reshard Munroe, plus fellow Bahamian Champ Stuart, who will be unable to attend.
Since then, Bichette has rapidly shot up the prospect charts after a massive 2017 that saw him slash .362/.423/.565 with 22 stolen bases in the Midwest and Florida State Leagues. Challenged with an assignment to Double-A New Hampshire this year, the 20-year old held his own against competition that was more than four years older than him on average. Bichette hit .286/.343/.453 with 32 swipes on a loaded team that included Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. and Cavan Biggio.
“The reigning champion is going to be here to defend his crown and I have great confidence in him,” explained Fox. “I feel very confident making him the first pick of this draft.”
Isaacs went outside the box for his team’s No. 1 draft pick, selecting teammate Will Benson. The towering outfielder is Cleveland’s No. 25 prospect (MLB.com) after ripping 22 home runs for Lake County. The 20-year old already has 38 dingers in his young career thanks to his 6-5 (1.96m), 225 (102kg) frame.
“This guy is a guy that I believe will put us over the edge,” noted Isaacs. “[Benson] hit 22 home runs this year so he will be out there to put on a show.”
The second round saw a pair of brothers pitted against each other, with Fox taking teammate Josh Lowe and Isaacs answering with Nathaniel Lowe. The former is a 20-year old centerfielder who played with Fox on the Charlotte Stone Crabs, hitting .238 with six home runs as the No. 15 prospect in the Tampa Bay system. The elder sibling, only 23, advanced all the way to Triple-A in a breakout campaign that saw him mash 27 homers and hit .330. The first sacker is ranked thirteenth among Rays minor leaguers.
A pair of fast-rising prospects went in the third round, with Team Fox putting the first Bahamian on the board in Kristian Robinson. Robinson only turned 18 a few weeks ago, but had a sensational debut in the Diamondbacks’ organisation, hitting .279 with seven home runs in 222 at bats against much older competition. The 6-3 (1.9m), 190-pound (86kg) outfielder is Arizona’s No. 12 prospect.
Meanwhile, Isaacs took teammate Nolan Jones, the No. 84 prospect in baseball and No. 2 among Cleveland minor leaguers. At 20, Jones excelled across two levels of A-ball, slashing .283/.405/.466 with 19 home runs.
In the fourth, Fox was fortunate to find Jazz Chisholm still on the board. We have touted Chisholm as a future big leaguer since seeing him play for Great Britain in Brooklyn at only 18. Slowed by injuries in 2017, the 20-year old shortstop had a breakout performance in 2018. Chisholm was a Midwest League All-Star after ripping 15 homers among 36 extra-base hits in only 76 games, turning things up in a promotion to the California League.
Arguably now the Bahamas’ brightest rising star, Chisholm smashed 10 roundtrippers in his final 36 games for Visalia, hitting .329 and running his season stolen base total to 17. The lefty-swinger concluded with one of the most memorable Arizona Fall League performances in recent memory, hitting .442 and flashing power (seven extra-base hits, including three homers) and speed (seven stolen bases) to finish with 25 home runs and a .287 average for the campaign.
Team Isaacs was then the beneficiary of a spot to draft Shed Long, Cincinnati’s No. 7 Prospect. The second-sacker played the year in Double-AA at 22, finishing up with a stint in Arizona as well. Long hit .259 overall, cranking 12 home runs for an even 50 in his career.
Two more high-ranking prospects were taken in the fifth, as Fox claimed Monte Harrison and Isaacs took Jonathan India. Harrison is the Marlins’ No. 2 minor leaguer after coming over from the Brewers in the Christian Yelich trade. A true five-tool player, Harrison smacked 19 homers in Double-A before teaming up with Chisholm in Arizona, where he showed much-improved plate discipline.
Meanwhile, India is already the No. 51 prospect in baseball, fourth among Reds’ farmhands, and had a solid debut after being taken fifth in 2018 MLB Draft. India slashed .240/.380/.433 across three levels of the Cincinnati system, playing with Munroe for a handful of games.
Two more big names were called in the sixth round as major leaguer Brinson fell to Fox, while Isaacs took countrymate Chavez Young. Brinson now has over 100 professional home runs (103), by far the most in the event. The Marlins’ centerfielder underwent trial by fire in the bigs this year, but hit 11 home runs in only 382 at bats.
Young was yet another Bahamian with a breakout 2018, shooting up from rookie ball to Single-A and finishing among the leaders for steals, hits, and extra base hits in the Blue Jays’ organisation. Young, another key cog in the ascendant Great Britain side, hit .285 with 44 steals and 50 extra-base hits, including eight bombs.
Team Fox rounds out with Munroe, Tyler Frank, Larry Alcime, D’Shawn Knowles, Dominique Collie, and Warren Saunders selected by Fox in rounds 7-13. The 12 total players hit 99 home runs in 2018, with 280 total professional home runs.
Frank was the Rays’ second-round pick in the 2018 draft, while Knowles, one of two Bahamian baseball twins, had a superb debut for the Angels, slashing .311/.391/.464 for to rookie league teams at only 17. He is ranked No. 24 in the system.
Fox has been consistently challenged after signing the largest contract ever for a Bahamian in 2015. The shortstop was a Futures Game selection in 2017 and this year was a Florida State League All-Star and Arizona Fall League Rising Star. Fox hit .285 with 36 stolen bases and superb defence between High-A, Double-A, and the AFL.
Isaacs was labelled as the ‘fastest player in college baseball’ in 2015, when he was selected by Cleveland. A New York-Penn League All-Star the following season, Isaacs played his second year in the Midwest League in 2018. The fleet-footed outfielder played all three positions on the grass and set career highs in doubles (20), runs (47), and stolen bases (30).
The rest of his squad features Bahamians Trent Deveaux, Courtney Smith, Anfernee Seymour, Keithron Moss, D’Vaughn Knowles, and Orveo Saint. All but Seymour just wrapped up their first professional seasons. In total, Team Isaacs hit 103 dingers this past season, with 194 over all players’ careers.
In total, 24 players were drafted, with 14 hailing from the Bahamas and the remaining born in the U.S. Amazingly, 10 of that number debuted in the minor leagues only last season, with Brinson the elder statesman at 24. Unfortunately, Nick Gordon, who advanced to the final round in 2018, Stuart, and Alexis Pantoja have had to withdraw.
However, in addition to Brinson, major leaguers Touki Toussaint and Tommy Pham are in attendance. Bahamian pitchers Tahnaj Thomas, Shameko Smith, and Chavez Fernander will assist, along with Triston McKenzie and Juan Hillman. They will be joined for the second year by four-time Gold Glove Award Winner and Marlins stalwart Charles Johnson for today’s children’s clinic and appearances around Nassau [link].
“After the first edition we got a lot of messages and calls from international guests that just wanted to come down to the Bahamas and participate, so we had way more [players to chose from] than last year and to do that we needed to come up with a new format” remarked Fox.
Five players in attendance rank among the Top 100 in baseball, including hitters Bichette (No. 11 in 2019 MLB.com rankings), Jonathan India (No. 51), and Nolan Jones (No. 84). Pitchers McKenzie and Toussaint also make the elite list, while an incredible 14 organisational Top 30 Prospects are participating in the derby or clinics. As the event continues to grow, 13 major league organisations are now represented.
The two teams will alternate players in the home run derby, each of whom will have two minutes or fifteen swings to hit as many homers off the Montagu Beach stage as possible. Kayakers will retrieve the balls for use in Bahamian youth leagues.
The winners of each group will face off for the overall crown, while the team with the most home runs will win 60 percent of the purse to donate to its charity. Team Isaacs is played for Sister Sister Breast Cancer Support Group, while Fox’s men represent the Cancer Society of the Bahamas.
“For us the energy was crazy and this year we wanted to change it up a bit but bring that same energy as last year and we promise we won’t disappoint,” concluded Todd Isaacs.
The event begins at noon on Saturday with live-streaming available [link]. Shirts for the two teams can be bought at the Don’t Blink Apparel website [link]. Live analysis will be available on our Twitter @ExtraInningsUK.
Rosters are below, listed by round, with a player’s 2018 home run total to the right, with career numbers in brackets.