Baker holds own among stars, claims Junior Derby title

Texas prep slugger belts seven home runs to outlast Naylor of Ontario

Baker holds own among stars, claims Junior Derby title

MINNEAPOLIS -- For one night, Luken Baker forgot the fundamentals.

The high school senior-to-be at Oak Ridge (Conroe, Texas) is better known as a pitcher and line-drive hitter, but he put on a home run show in the Junior Home Run Derby for the sellout crowd at Target Field on Monday night.

"I've always been focused on hitting line drives and keeping a good swing," Baker said. "I just sort of tweaked my swing for this, but it was worth it."

The powerful Texan hit seven home runs over two rounds to best Josh Naylor of St. Joan of Arc Catholic Secondary School (Mississauga, Ontario), who knocked out four homers of his own.

Once Baker got his first home run out of the way, the slugfest began. In the first round, the righty put Minneapolis on its feet with three straight dingers to the left-field stands.

"The nerves went away after the first one," Baker said. "Just going out there in front of all the people, it was a little nerve-wracking. But once you get the first one out of the way, it's any other BP in front of 55,000 people."

Naylor was also impressive in a second-place effort. Among his four shots was a blast to right field that bounced off the tarp covering ESPN's broadcast desk.

"The first few swings, I couldn't really feel my legs," Naylor said. "Then I got with it a little bit."

Both hitters were adamant that they belonged on the field with the big leaguers. Four players in the Major League's Derby -- Justin Morneau, Brian Dozier, Yasiel Puig and Josh Donaldson -- finished with fewer than four homers.

"I can do what they can do," Naylor said. "Even with a wood bat, I can do it. I don't need a metal bat to hit it that far.

"You don't want to get judged the wrong way, but you want to show off a little bit. It was fun."

The two high school stars earned their places in Monday's event by finishing in the top two of Sunday morning's preliminary round. Both had six home runs, and then Baker added three more in the tiebreaker.

But the champion nearly wasn't invited at all. While playing with USA Baseball, he wasn't given an opportunity at the plate until Texas Christian assistant coach Bill Mosiello called to ask how the prospect looked at the plate.

"He's not hitting," the staff said.

Mosiello was baffled.

"Well, he hits," he said.

That day, Baker was called upon to take batting practice and then knocked the first pitch he saw off the left-field wall en route to a 2-for-4 performance.

"The best BP of my life," he said

Monday night proved that the barrage wasn't a fluke.

"It was more than I thought it was ever going to be," he said.

But as good as the performance was, it didn't quite match the performance of Jacob Gatewood, last year's winner at Citi Field. The shortstop from Clovis (Calif.) High outperformed five of the eight big leaguers with 13 home runs during commercial breaks, including three blasts into the third deck.

This June, the Brewers made Gatewood their second-round pick in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, a slot that came with a signing bonus of $1.83 million.

Can we expect the same from Baker?

"I'm thinking I might be more of a pitcher going into the Draft," he said. "But anything works."

Alex M. Smith is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.