When Cody Bellinger was called up, it seemed as if he was not going to be around for long. I wrote about him and essentially stated that he’d need to force the Dodgers to abandon their service time-related plans with him if he wanted to stay in the majors. Bellinger accepted the challenge and has exceeded all expectations. He is providing a fantastic example of what it takes for a young slugger to force a team to overlook service time concerns.
Bellinger was called up originally to spell an injured Joc Pederson. Pederson went down early and, despite his struggles this year, left a big hole in the Dodger lineup. Bellinger’s versatility and impact bat made him an ideal candidate to fill in for Pederson for as long as necessary. It also helped that he had been knocking on the door to the big leagues to begin with.
The expectation was that Bellinger would only be up for a limited time. At such a young age, he carried some perceived benefit from marinating more in the minor leagues. He still had issues with strikeouts, so the swing and miss was a major concern for many going forward Also, with Super Two status potentially looming if he stayed up, the Dodgers had ample motivation to send him back down and control service time.
Bellinger, however, gave them no choice but to keep him up. He’s been terrorizing pitchers. His triple slash of .293/.370/.634 has been nothing short of spectacular. His 162 wRC+ and .416 wOBA would rank fifteenth and thirteenth among qualified batters. Despite the remaining strikeout issues, they haven’t gotten worse as he’s progressed up in competition. The same can be said for his walk rate as well, which still sits north of ten percent. Though his .340 BABIP hints at a bit of incoming regression, it’s hard not to be entirely impressed by the 21-year-old’s success.
The Dodgers are benefiting in multiple ways from Bellinger’s success. With the Dodgers posturing to contend once again, the emergence of the young slugger goes a long way to solidify their place as the team to beat in the NL West, especially after losing Andrew Toles to an ACL tear. Adding such a talented slugger, who can also moonlight as Adrian Gonzalez’s backup, without giving up anything more than a roster spot (and perhaps a year of Bellinger’s services in 2023) is a huge boon for a contending team. The Dodgers, of course, are well versed in what injuries can do to a ball club if replacements aren’t handy, after what happened to them last year. After Toles’s injury, Bellinger gives them the peace of mind to not have to look for outside-the-organization options to replace him.
Service time issues can be controversial. People still talk about the few weeks Kris Bryant spent in Iowa in advance of his rookie year. In this case, an injury forced the issue and brought Bellinger up early, and he’s destroyed the possibility of him getting sent back down with his stellar play. It will no doubt cost the Dodgers some money in the long run, but I don’t think either side is complaining about how this has materialized.
Anthony Rescan is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @AnthonyRescan.