(Photo Credit: Buck Davidson/MiLB.com)
With the 2016 Arizona Fall League having entered the history books last Sunday when the Mesa Solar Sox defeated the Surprise Saguaros 6-1 in the championship game, followers of the Dodgers‘ farm system learned quite a few things, including just how good some kid named Bellinger actually is.
It’s probably also worth mentioning that a guy called Tim Tebow drew most of the fans’ attention early, but hit a paltry .194/.296/.242 for the Scottsdale Scorpions over 62 at-bats, proving that superior athleticism alone wasn’t enough to succeed in the AFL. Instead, it was players like Ian Happ, the highest rated prospect in the Cubs’ organization, who stole the spotlight by hitting a long ball from each side of the dish in the swan song of the 2016 fall series.
As far as the Dodgers are concerned, the club sent a total of eight players to compete for the Glendale Desert Dogs, highlighted by a trio of close friends, Cody Bellinger, Willie Calhoun and Alex Verdugo. Infielder Timmy Locastro rounded out the position player representation, while Ralston Cash, Joe Broussard, Corey Copping and Chris Anderson all helped man the Glendale pitching staff.
Bellinger outshined everyone in the group, hitting .314/.424/.557 with three home runs over 20 games. After a slow start early, he admitted to making a few adjustments which brought to life his exceptional offensive skills at the plate.
“I went back and watched some video and saw what I was doing in the regular season and it was completely different,” Bellinger told Kelsie Heneghan of MiLB.com. “Here in the AFL, my shoulder was completely in towards the catcher, so I couldn’t read any pitches and I was missing everything. So I just preset my shoulder and everything took care of itself after that.”
At the midpoint of the AFL schedule, Bellinger represented the Desert Dogs in the Fall Stars Game along with Calhoun, who ultimately earned MVP honors in the All-Star affair. Bellinger connected on a mammoth two-run blast to right center for his lone hit, while Calhoun went 3-for-3 with a two-run shot of his own, in addition to two singles and three RBI.
Calhoun proceeded to slash .255/.300/.340 over 14 games for Glendale, yet despite the unimpressive showing, still remains very high on the prospect radar, as many fans believe the 5’8″ California native has a legitimate shot of being the Dodgers’ second baseman of the future.
Having admitted to fighting fatigue for most of the fall, Verdugo struggled as much as Tebow, hitting a meager .140/.213/.233, but rallied some adrenaline for a fine performance for his native Mexico in a WBC exhibition against Japan, instead of joining Bellinger and Calhoun in the Fall Stars contest.
The gritty Locastro hit .303 with 10 singles and two stolen bases in 13 games, and once again impressed scouts with his glove and his versatility to man multiple infield spots.
Broussard was indeed the most accomplished of the Dodger pitching contingent, recording a 1.59 ERA in 11-1/3 relief innings, including nine punch outs, no walks and five saves. He pitched across three levels of the farm during the 2016 regular season, and his mid-90s heater could conceivably play large for the big league club at some point next year.
Copping tallied a 3.48 ERA in nine relief appearances, with 11 strikeouts and five walks in 10-1/3 innings, while Cash posted a 4.32 ERA over eight appearances out of the pen, including four strikeouts and seven walks in 8-1/3 innings of work.
Anderson continued his nightmare of a year, notching a 11.88 ERA in six starts, surrendering three long balls and 12 walks in 16-2/3 innings. Once valued as one of the top arms in the organization, he may find it difficult to maintain his presence on the farm at the onset of spring training in 2017.
In the end, fans can certainly confirm what they’ve been thinking for a few years — Bellinger indeed has both the offensive prowess and defensive wizardry to inherit the big league first base spot when Adrian Gonzalez fades into the sunset. Calhoun continues to shine in big moments on the center stage, and probably controls his own destiny as far as progressing along an unblocked path to the majors.
There’s no reason to think that both Bellinger and Calhoun will not get a non-roster invite to camp when spring training begins at Camelback Ranch in February.