Hot Rods' Hernandez is home run king

Rays No. 19 prospect wins Midwest League All-Star Derby

Ronaldo Hernandez ranks third in the Midwest League with 50 RBIs and a .530 slugging percentage. (Paul R. Gierhart/MiLB.com)

By John Wagner / Special to MiLB.com | June 19, 2018 9:45 PM

LANSING, Mich. - In an All-Star Home Run Derby that included four of the Midwest League's top sluggers, Bowling Green's Ronaldo Hernandez was crowned the king.

But the race to the crown was a tight one, as the Hot Rods catcher outslugged Lake County's Will Benson, 13-10, in the final round on Tuesday at Cooley Law School Stadium.

"This feels pretty good because it's the first time I've ever won a home run derby," Hernandez said through interpreter Kevin Vicuna of Lansing. "I just wanted to focus and enjoy the moment."

Hernandez, the Rays' 19th-ranked prospect, advanced to the final by slamming 14 homers in the first round, one more than Benson, the Indians' No. 8 prospect.

Benson's total was one better than both Hendrik Clementina of Dayton and Twins No. 5 prospect Alex Kirilloff of Cedar Rapids. Kane County's Jazz Chisholm had three homers, while Clinton's Ryan Costello did not go yard during his three minutes at the plate.

Kirilloff leads the Midwest League with long balls, one more than Costello. Benson is tied with Lansing's Brock Lundquist in third place with 11 and Hernandez is part of a four-way tie for fifth with 10.

The secret to success in hitting home runs during the derby was to get on a roll. Hernandez took a timeout at the 1:46 mark of the opening round and, after the break, hammered four homers on his next five swings, then added three on his last five cuts.


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"I just tried to focus on the ball, not focus on the fence," Hernandez said. "I just tried to put a good swing on the ball. I tried to keep my hands close to my body and keep taking good swings."

In the final round, Hernandez had five homers when he took a break at the 1:26 mark, and he pounded homers with his first three swings coming out of it. The Colombia native had homers on five of his last eight swings.

Benson got on a late roll, hitting a ball off the high wall in the right-field corner before homering on four of five cuts. But it wasn't enough to catch Hernandez.

"The key was to get on a roll, 100 percent," Benson said. "He caught a really good roll at the end. As long as I was hitting the ball hard and having a good time, that was the important thing."

By the numbers: Since Bowling Green's 47-22 mark is the best in the league, it's no surprise that the Hot Rods have the most players in the midseason classic. The Eastern Division roster included seven Bowling Green players, including two starters in shortstop Taylor Walls and left fielder Moises Gomez.

Quad Cities, which leads the Western Division with a 40-30 record, has six All-Stars, including starting pitcher Patrick Sandoval and four other hurlers.

Spanning the globe: Nine countries were represented in this contest as players from the U.S., Mexico, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Venezuela, the Bahamas, Panama and Curacao took part.

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The most interesting route to the contest was taken by Wisconsin's Demi Orimoloye, who was born in Nigeria but grew up in Ontario, Canada.

Big numbers: This is the fourth time Lansing has hosted the Midwest League All-Star Game at Cooley Law School Stadium since it was first played in 1964. 

The most recent contest played here came in 2002 when 10,334 fans jammed into what was known as Oldsmobile Park to watch Edwin Encarnacion and the East Division beat Joe Mauer's West Division team, 6-3.

The other games played in Lansing saw 10,060 fans attend in 1997 as the Lugnuts' Steve Medrano tripled and scored the winning run in a 6-5 walk-off victory, and in 1999 when the Western Division threw a one-hitter to claim a 4-0 win before a crowd of 10,234.

Those are the three largest crowds in Midwest League All-Star Game history. The attendance at this year's game was 9,396.

John Wagner 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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