There are plenty images of Dodgers’ top prospect Cody Bellinger hitting home runs for Double-A Tulsa, making diving plays at Triple-A Oklahoma City and shots from his debut this week with the big league club in San Francisco. Besides being a ridiculously cool photo, dodging a wild pitch doesn’t exactly show the tools Bellinger possesses. But it shows his athleticism, something that helped enable him to make his Major League debut in 2017.
Selected as a first baseman in the fourth round of the 2013 Draft, the 6 foot 4 Arizonan played the position his first two years as a pro and the majority of his third season before the inevitable experimentation in the outfield.
Blocked at the top of the food chain by All-Star Adrian Gonzalez, Bellinger’s move to the outfield has been as successful as any position change in Minor League history. He played 56 Minor League games in left and centerfield without recording an error. 109 chances in 419.1 innings went by unscathed.
Last year I asked the 21-year old about his potential positioning in the Majors.
“My preference is first but I do enjoy outfield a lot. Whatever helps me get to the big leagues the fastest, that’s the main goal so I’m all for it.”
Well...Here he is.
Los Angeles’ league-high $245 million payroll allows them to decorate their MLB depth chart with free agents. The deep pockets of their ownership also similarly seems them annually dominate the international free agent market. In 2015, L.A. went over 20 times their budget en route to spending almost $46 million during the summer’s international signing period. The only team close to their robust total was Boston, who were later penalized for using the not-so-legalist of methods to acquire players.
Baseball’s biggest competitive barrier is the money that certain teams have to work with and the Dodgers do it more than anybody (after so many years paying for plumbing over players in Tampa Bay, you can hardly blame President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman).
At the end of the day, the Dodgers are still drafting at a more efficient rate than a large amount of their baseball brethren.
Bellinger was selected 124th overall in 2013 and is now not only the cream of the Dodgers’ impressive crop, he’s ranked 12th in all of baseball by our own John Sickels and MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo rates him slightly higher at number 10.
Beyond the now graduated Bellinger, outfielder Alex Verdugo has also climbed his way to 56th overall and third in the system (behind international signing Yadier Alvarez) according to Sickels.
Taken at the back end of the second round in 2014 (62nd overall), Verdugo has done the one thing that organizations ask for out of batting prospects more than any other thing: hit. And hit some more.
A career .304 average and .356 OBP in the minors, Verdugo is an on-base machine, mostly via singles and walks. Even with all the injuries, Carl Crawford’s and Yasiel Puig’s that have clogged up the big league outfield, the vast resources of the club still clog up his path to the bigs, although Verdugo has started out on fire at Triple-A and could debut this season.
Willie Calhoun, a 2015 fourth rounder picked 132nd overall, cracked the top 100 lists on Baseball America and MLB.com, coming in at 82nd on the latter. The sweet swinging lefty has manned the keystone his entire career but will likely soon venture to the outfield to build his portfolio, as the Dodgers acquired Logan Forsythe in the off-season for Jose De Leon, a 24th round pick in 2013 who had also developed from the bottom of the draft to the top of everyone’s prospect sheets.
A sixth rounder in 2014, pitcher Brock Stewart has proved to be another diamond in the rough. Drafted 189th overall, the Illinois State product quickly ascended to Chavez Ravine and made his Major League debut just over two years after hearing his name called in Secaucus. Although it took the form of the disabled list, Stewart technically made the Dodgers’ 2017 Opening Day Roster.
The international free agent pool is open to every team. But the teams with money dominate this sector of the baseball landscape for obvious reasons. Also open to every team is the draft. With some standout selections in the past few seasons, the Dodgers appear to be cornering both parts of the marketplace to successful results.