September marks the time in the season when MLB teams can first expand their major-league squad from 25-man rosters to 40-man rosters. It’s the time of year when dugouts get a little more crowded, locker room space becomes a premium, and fans look at their home team’s bullpen and ask, “who the heck is number 83?” September is not just a time for resting relievers, though; it’s also when many young phenoms get their first shot at the big leagues.
Although the Dodgers are on a five-game slide (their worst and only real losing streak of the season) they still maintain an insurmountable lead ahead of the Diamondbacks in the NL West. The Dodgers have the ability to ensure their pitchers are healthy for the playoffs (*cough* fake DL stints *cough*), giving them the flexibility to give 21-year-old prospect Alex Verdugo his first taste of “the Show.”
With an outfield that has been somewhat in flux this year, the addition and audition of Verdugo will be met with open arms. LA has rotated 11 different players across their outfield, including Joc Pederson, who received a demotion after posting a .215 batting average across 87 games. The Dodgers traded for Curtis Granderson to shore up that shifting outfield, but having given games earlier in the season to Trayce Thompson (-0.5 fWAR in 19 games), Scott Van Slyke (-0.3 fWAR in 29 games), and Franklin Gutierrez (-0.1 fWAR in 35 games), there is little risk in asking Verdugo to man center field once in a while. In a damning non-promotion, Pederson was not added to the MLB team, despite being a league-average hitter in the big leagues. His season will end in early September with the triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers.
Verdugo was the Dodgers second-round pick in 2014 and has successfully earned promotions through the minors, each year moving up in the organization. He spent 2014 in rookie ball, split his time between low-A and high-A in 2015, and last year spent his entire season in double-A. This season in Oklahoma City, he played in 117 games, posting a healthy slash line of .314/.389/.436, with a wRC+ 18 percent better than league average. (And the Spanish word “verdugo” translates to “executioner” in English, giving the 21-year-old an extremely badass nickname to go with his nine outfield assists this season.)
Verdugo has been a highly-touted prospect and earned a position in July’s Future’s Game in Miami. He ranks as the Dodgers second-best prospect, and the Dodgers are eager to get him some time against Major League pitching. He is not a power hitter (he only mustered six home runs in the homer-happy Pacific Coast League) but has a line-drive stroke which allows him to regularly hit the ball to the opposite field. In a remarkable bucking of recent trends, Verdugo managed to walk more in the minors than he struck out this season.
The Dodgers are calling up Verdugo with the expectation that he splits time with Granderson and Chris Taylor. With their lead in the NL West and the ability to throw young players right into a lineup that is still playing against teams that are in the playoff hunt, Verdugo will get his feet wet in the best way possible.