Joc Pederson went down on Sunday in a game against the Diamondbacks with a leg injury. Pederson will only be out a short time, but his DL stint allows the Dodgers a chance to see what their top prospect has in store for them. After rising through the system in 2015 and 2016, Cody Bellinger gets his first shot at the big leagues now in his fifth year in pro ball. He packs a punch with his bat and provides a rare mix of versatility. Joc Pederson will be coming back soon, so Bellinger will have to make the most of his time in Los Angeles to stick around. Still, he brings a lot to get excited about.
Bellinger created this opportunity for himself by developing the versatility to play in the outfield. Ever since acquiring Adrian Gonzalez in 2012, the Dodgers have enjoyed outstanding stability and quality from the first base position. Gonzalez is only locked up through 2018, but it’s safe to say the 35-year-old slugger will continue to man the position for the duration of his contract. This obviously presented an issue for Bellinger, who had always been a first baseman. The Dodgers, who aren’t shy to oddly versatile players, had him begin playing the outfield in addition to first base in 2015.
Bellinger was drafted in the fourth round of the 2013 Rule IV Draft. The Arizona high schooler signed quickly after the draft on June 13th for $700,000. He was then assigned to the Arizona League and made his debut before his 18th birthday.
The young prospect has hit his way through every level. In his first year in full season ball, Bellinger made light of what is supposed to be a tough jump for players. He flashed his light-tower power constantly as he belted 30 home runs, which was second in the California League behind Tyler O’Neil and his 32 dingers. Bellinger trotted his way to a 130 wRC+ in the notoriously hitter-friendly league, despite having a K rate above 27 percent. On top of that, he flashed a good eye with a 9.6 percent walk rate and displayed quality athleticism with ten steals. All of this offensive ability at the plate was displayed as he also began the aforementioned outfield experiment, as he played 26 games in center field for the Quakes in 2015.
The next year he really got everyone believing. Hitting in the Cal League isn’t exactly a rare feat, so when Bellinger got promoted to AA it presented an opportunity to really validate what he did in Rancho Cucamonga. And that’s exactly what he did. His 23 home runs were good for another top-five finish in the league in that category. Along with that came positive movement in both his strikeout and walk rates, and some more meaningful value on the basepaths. He continued the outfield development as well; Bellinger played a share of his games in all three outfield spots, though he was still primarily a first baseman. All in all, by mid season, he was popping up on top 100 prospect lists and getting some much-deserved attention.
The scouting reports back up Bellinger’s success. In Baseball Prospectus’ top ten write ups, he was touted as a 60 OFP guy, which was good for sliding in just behind Yadier Alvarez for second in the Dodgers’ organization and 26th overall. He’s described as a “three-true-outcome slugger” who boasts potential plus-plus power. They do have concerns about the swing and miss in his profile, but they believe he can make up for that with the quality of contact he gets. In addition to that, he received a glowing review of his defense with it being referred to as “gold glove caliber” at first and even carrying the ability to snag some time in center. It’s clear that Bellinger’s athleticism, which is a bit out of place for a first baseman, will be huge for him going forward as it really helps him to supplement his hulking offensive profile with a more varied, complete skillset.
Unfortunately, all of us will have to enjoy Bellinger while we can, because he may not be here for long. Craig Goldstein theorized that he’ll likely be sent down to avoid Super Two status. That said, it wouldn’t be the first time a player made it entirely unacceptable to get sent back down. A great example is Nomar Mazara. Mazara was recalled last season to fill in for an injured Shin-Soo Choo and absolutely mashed. Mazara posted a .345/.415/.906 line for the Rangers in his first 15 games. With the disabled list being truncated from 15 to 10 days this year, it may be a bit harder for Bellinger to do that, especially given that his first three games weren’t exactly eye-popping.
Cody Bellinger will likely be a mainstay in the Dodgers lineup in the near future, but this promotion is looking like not much more than a cup of coffee. Still, the versatile, young slugger is worthy of being excited about regardless.
Anthony Rescan is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @AnthonyRescan.