Via AllinOne Sports
With the Los Angeles Dodgers rumored to be interested in almost all the big name players on the trade market, top prospect Cody Bellinger has come up as a name that could be dealt. Currently at AA, the 21-year-old first baseman has hit a solid .252/.349/.436 as a player well below the average age in the Texas League. Although his stat line is not as impressive as his .873 OPS with 30 home runs last season at high-A Rancho Cucamonga, Bellinger has made strides in his approach at the plate. With Adrian Gonzalez under contract for two more seasons after 2016, Bellinger has time to refine his game before taking over the starting first base job in Los Angeles.
Bellinger is a solid hitter that still has a lot of potential at the plate. At 6’4” 210 lbs. Bellinger has added about 30 pounds of muscle to his lanky frame over the past two years. It is no coincidence that his power increased from three home runs in 2014 to 30 in 2015 and another 12 this season. Bellinger still has room on his frame to fill out, adding even more power potential to his profile. Despite his decreased slugging percentage this season at AA, the Texas League is notoriously advantageous for pitchers. As a result, his weighted runs created plus that takes different environments into consideration is 129 compared to 130 last year (100 is average). Bellinger’s numbers might be down from his tremendous 2015 season, but the decline in effectiveness has primarily been a result of factors outside of his control.
Bellinger has made huge strides this season in his approach at the plate. Last season he struck out a whopping 27.6% of the time, but he has declined this mark to a far more reasonable 21.5% despite going up another level in the minors. Plus, he has increased his walk rate almost three percent from last season to 12.5%. Bellinger has hit for a slightly lower average this season at .252, but he has the ability to have a solid hit tool at the major league level. His BABIP is slightly below his career average this season at .296 (it was .314 last year) and as this, plus his weighted runs created plus illustrates, his statistical decline appears to be a result of the pitcher-friendly environment rather than his development hitting a stall.
Defensively, Bellinger has legitimate gold glove potential at first base. Bellinger has excellent hands and with his long frame, he has great range and a huge catch radius for the position. In addition, Bellinger has more than enough mobility to play first base as he has played 32 career games in center field over his minor league career. Bellinger’s past experience in the outfield could see him reach the major leagues in a corner outfield spot if he reaches the major leagues before the Dodgers are ready to move on from Gonzalez at first base. Bellinger would start the 2019 season at 23 years old, and being that he has already been successful in AA at 20, there is a possibility his debut in the major leagues occurs in the outfield.
The biggest reason for keeping Bellinger is how well his timeline matches up with openings in the major leagues. Bellinger has been successful at AA despite his youth, but he is still raw. The Dodgers front office has shown a propensity to be very conservative with young prospects, so they may decide to wait until Bellinger is completely ready and has the opportunity to earn regular playing time before promoting him to the majors. This timeline would likely line up perfectly with the 2019 season where Bellinger could step in and be the starting first baseman for the Dodgers on opening day. Gonzalez would be 37 years old entering the 2019 season and his OPS+ has fallen sharply to 108 this season from 130 in the previous two, suggesting that age is beginning to take its toll on the slugger. Bellinger could be the starting first baseman right from the start, rather than having to sit on the bench and see his development lose steam. This would be the perfect scenario for the Dodgers where they could transition from an established star to the next young star with tantalizing potential.
Bellinger may not have the upside of a hall of fame hitter, but the combination of his excellent defense and above average offense should see him become a borderline All-Star in the major leagues. He may only hit between .260-.270 thanks to the swing and miss that he has in his bat, but his good plate discipline could result in an OBP in the .360-.370 range. Combined with power of about 25 HR per season, an OPS above .800 is a reasonable expectation. First base may be a premium offensive position, but if Bellinger can reach these numbers, his gold glove caliber defense would see him become one of the better players at the position in the national league.
His excellent defense and above average bat compares favorably to former Angel and Giant J.T. Snow. Snow’s effectiveness was cut short due to injuries in his early 30’s, but in his prime he was a good hitter with a very similar profile to Bellinger. Snow won six gold gloves at first base and averaged .272/.350/.449 with 21 home runs per year in his age 27-32 seasons. Snow never made an All-Star appearance due to his bat not reaching the levels of other star first basemen in the late 90s, but he was a very solid player. The Dodgers would certainly be happy to see Bellinger become a player of Snow’s caliber in the major leagues, and if the youngster can continue his upward trajectory, Snow’s ceiling looks to be very attainable. In fact, if Bellinger can continue to fill out his frame, he may develop more power that generates offensive value than the former Giant.
At 21 years old and still two levels away from the major leagues, Bellinger carries inherent bust potential. However, the improvement of his peripheral numbers is very encouraging and should see his statistical output increase when he reaches AAA in the near future. Trading Bellinger may help the Dodgers fill a current need, but his upside and timeline fit very well for the future of the organization. Plus, the Dodgers do not necessarily need to include their young first baseman in trade talks due to their deep farm system. Hopefully, Bellinger stays a Dodger past the trade deadline and into the future where he can become the next great starting first baseman for the Dodgers.