In what might be the most anticipated Home Run Derby since 1999 -- when Mark McGwire cracked moonshots high over the Green Monster, across Lansdowne Street and on to the Mass Pike -- rookie sensations Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger hope to add an exclamation point to their explosive first halves.
The Yankees' Judge has been the biggest story in baseball -- competing for a Triple Crown, dominating the exit velocity leaderboard and denting doors with 450-foot line drives. Like McGwire in his prime, fans are heading early to the park just to watch Judge taking batting practice. After struggling in a 27-game call-up at the end of 2016 in which he hit .179 with 42 home runs, the best-case scenario for Judge was maybe that of a league-average right fielder. Instead, he has broken the projection systems; Baseball Prospectus' 90th percentile projection for Judge was a .294/.396/.553 line, which he has blown away so far. The most impressive thing has been a quick learning curve that has made him one of the league leaders in walks, helping him to the best OBP in the majors along with the most home runs. Of course, some of those walks are simply the result of fear -- he has already earned the respect of pitchers.
The Dodgers' Bellinger might not have Judge's raw power, but he has a swing tailor-made for a launching fly balls, and he's already closing in on his 2016 total of 26 home runs in the minors. His story is almost as remarkable as Judge's considering he was projected to spend at least half the season in Triple-A after spending most of 2016 at Double-A. A string of injuries in April led to his call-up on April 25, and nobody has hit more home runs since. He already has had five two-homer games.
It's a marketing dream for MLB: two telegenic rookies in big markets on historic franchises who play the game with a quiet confidence and very loud bats. -- David Shoenfield
Why you should watch Bellinger
He has burst onto the scene: The 21-year-old debuted on April 25; in the time since, he's hit more home runs than any other player in the majors. Each has hit 24 in that span. What's more, Bellinger's presence coincides with his team's resurgence. The Dodgers were 9-11 (.450) through the games of April 24. Since Bellinger's debut, they're a blistering 52-18 (.743), the best team in the majors over that period.
He hits home runs in bunches: Bellinger became the quickest in major league history to six career multihomer games ... in June. The only rookie in major league history with more multihomer games in a season is McGwire with seven in 1987. His six multihomer games before turning 22 are tied with Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews for most such games before turning 22 in major league history.
He's reaching all the milestones quickly: Bellinger has generated a number of lists lately: quickest to 10 home runs in Dodgers history, most home runs in his first 60 career games in major league history, you name it. Gary Sanchez took a crack at a number of these records last season, and Bellinger has come right back to push him down those lists.
He's unlike any National League rookie: Bellinger has the most first-half home runs of any NL rookie, and he's in the top five for the mark in either league among all players.
He isn't even 22: Bellinger will turn 22 on July 13, the Thursday of the All-Star break. -- Sarah Langs, ESPN Stats & Info
Why you should watch Judge
He has been the best Yankees rookie hitter, ever: Judge broke the Yankees record for home runs in a season by a rookie ... on July 7. That record was held by none other than Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio. He set it 81 years ago, back in 1936.
He's doing something rare: Elias Sports Bureau research notes that Judge is the first Yankees rookie in franchise history to hold sole possession of the American League in home runs for even a day. He's leading the majors, and has done so for many days this season.
Those home runs are hit hard: Judge has the four-hardest-hit batted balls in the majors this season, according to Statcast: two home runs, a double and a single. He has the highest average exit velocity overall -- on all batted balls -- by more than 1 mph more than any other qualified hitter. What does that mean? Those balls are going out of the ballpark hard, and in a hurry.
He's hovering around the Triple Crown: Judge is second in the AL in RBI, third in batting average and he is leading in homers. That puts him close to being in the lead for the Triple Crown, where he was at a few points earlier this season. Two Yankees players have won it -- Mickey Mantle in 1956 and Lou Gehrig in 1934. No player has ever won the batting Triple Crown in a rookie season. -- Langs