O'Brien crowned champ at Bowman Hitting Challenge
Yankees' prospect wins inaugural event; Bucs' Dickerson earns top NL honors
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Driving out long home run balls to all parts of the park and spraying hard-hit balls across a diamond littered with targets like a moving human sphere, Yankees catching prospect Peter O'Brien and Pirates outfield farmhand Alex Dickerson topped a field of 30 highly touted prospects to win the Arizona Fall League's inaugural Bowman Hitting Challenge on Saturday night at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.
The competition, a home run derby-like event with a wacky twist, featured one slugger from each Major League club currently playing in the AFL.
"It was a good time; definitely never done anything like that," O'Brien said. "But any time you can do something like this where you're just enjoying playing baseball in front of your fans and teammates, it's a good opportunity."
Following four untimed bunts at designated objectives, every hitter received two minutes to bat against live pitching with the goal of striking as many targets dispersed around the infield, outfield and home run grass as possible. Point values varied from 100 for hitting oversized baseball cards, giant inflatable boxing rings and towers of ball buckets to 600 for depositing a ball into an enclosed trampoline in deep right-center field. Homers ranged in worth from 100-500 depending on where they were hit.
At the end of the two-minute period, each contestant got one final swing off a tee, and any target hit with the "Bowman Bonus Ball" resulted in double points. Any foul ball hit at any point during the derby resulted in a 50 point deduction from the player's tally.
Separated into two competition divisions, the highest three point totals from both National League and American League prospects were awarded cash prizes. O'Brien took the AL crown with 1,575 points, while the Mariners' Stefen Romero finished second at 1,250 and the Tigers' Tyler Collins took home third with 1,100. On the NL side, Dickerson won with 1,300 points, while the Dodgers' Corey Seager and the Padres' Tommy Medica finished second and third with 1,200 and 1,050 points, respectively.
O'Brien, the overall winner, accumulated his winning total on the back of five home runs, including one to the deepest part of the ballpark in straightaway center field on top of the batter's eye for 500 points.
"I pretty much tried to keep my same approach from [batting practice] -- stay to the middle of the field and drive the ball," O'Brien said. "It looks so easy at first, but all the targets are hard and I feel like you should try to hit the ball hard and if you hit anything, you're lucky."
Other notable contestants in the event included seven of MLB.com's Top 100 prospects. Minnesota's Byron Buxton (No. 1), Oakland's Addison Russell (No. 17), the Cubs' Albert Almora (No. 21), Seager (No. 47), Miami's Colin Moran (No. 71), Boston's Garin Cecchini (No. 82) and Kansas City's Jorge Bonifacio (No. 89) all competed.
None of those big names, however, came close to O'Brien, who was the Yankees' second-round pick of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Miami. He spent the 2013 season split between Class A Charleston and Class A Advanced Tampa, compiling a .291 average with 22 home runs and 96 RBIs. For his efforts Saturday, O'Brien received a golden bat to take home from the first-year event.
"It'll be a nice trophy to remember this by," O'Brien said. "It feels good, coming out here and having an opportunity to swing the bat. It's fun."
Tyler Emerick is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.