Marrero mashes way to Triple-A Derby title

Pawtucket slugger puts on show at former home ballpark in Charlotte

Chris Marrero teed off 18 times in a three-minute span in the finals. (Brian Westerholt/Four Seam Images via AP Images)

By Bob Sutton / Special to MiLB.com | July 11, 2016 11:38 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Pawtucket Red Sox slugger Chris Marrero swung Monday night like he had unfinished business at BB&T Ballpark.

Released last summer while he was playing for the Triple-A Charlotte Knights, Marrero said last weekend he adored playing in Charlotte nonetheless.

Then he put on a show in the Triple-A Home Run Derby, swatting 18 homers in a three-minute span during the finals to defeat finalist Kyle Jensen of the Reno Aces.

"This place is one of the best places to play in the Minor Leagues," Marrero said. "I've had a long career and this is one of the best things."

The outfielder, who's tied for second place in the IL with 16 home runs this season, played in 39 games for Charlotte last season. Following his stint with the Knights, he ended up with the Pawtucket Red Sox.

Beginning with eight entrants -- including a pair of recent area high school seniors -- Marrero and Jensen reached the final round with 16-homer efforts in the semifinals.

"This was cool," the 28-year-old Miami native said. "The fans were really into it. They kept the adrenaline going."

Marrero had a stretch in the finals in which he clobbered the ball over the left-field fence on seven consecutive swings. Each round was four minutes, but he passed Jensen's total with almost one minute to spare with a span that delighted most of the crowd of 9,228.

"That was fun," said Jensen, who has 17 homers this season for the D-backs' top affiliate and clobbered at least 20 in each of the previous three seasons. "It couldn't have been any better than that. (My 17 in the final) was a good amount, but with this guy you never know."

Marrero was paired with celebrity captain Steve Smith Sr., an NFL receiver and former Carolina Panthers standout still adored in the Queen City.

"I had Steve Smith there, that was incredible," Marrero said. "This is a memory I'll have the rest of my life. … [Smith] was motivating me."

Jensen's celebrity captain was former professional wrestling champion Sgt. Slaughter. But at the end of the night, Marrero was carrying the Home Run Derby belt. He became the first Pawtucket player to win the Derby.

"My teammates wanted me to win," he said. "They said I had a chance."

Earlier in the day, Marrero was named International League Offensive Player of the Week.

Part of the Home Run Derby was contested in a light drizzle, but it didn't dampen the enthusiasm. Toledo's Chad Huffman (six homers) and Las Vegas' Travis Taijeron (four) were ousted in the first around along with Riley Zayicek (six) of Lake Norman High School and Trent Alley (two) of Charlotte Country Day School.

Rob Segedin of Oklahoma City led the first round with 12 long balls and Jesus Montero of Buffalo also advanced with seven. They hit 13 and five respectively in the semifinals.

Zayicek, a 19-year-old left-handed batter who'll be a UNC-Wilmington freshman in 2017, had the crowd pulling for him as he rallied late in his session.

"I didn't really get in a groove," he said. "I had an OK performance. You're all gassed up. You're swinging so hard, you tire yourself out."

Zayicek will head back to classes Tuesday. He relished the opportunity to slug it out among professional players after he and Alley qualified in a postgame Knights competition in May.

"Glad I got to be a part of it," Zayicek said. "I walked out and I got mobbed (by well-wishers) -- a whole lot of people wanted me to sign stuff."

A total of 143 dingers were smacked in the competition at a venue that has been a haven for homers since it opened in 2014.

Scranton-Wilkes Barre outfielder Aaron Judge -- the Yankees' No. 2 prospect -- was initially entered in the Home Run Derby, but he went on the disabled list late last week with a knee injury and isn't participating in All-Star activities.

Bob Sutton is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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