With Adrian Gonzalez now gone after having first base to himself for more than four years, Cody Bellinger represents a big part of the Dodgers‘ future. The unanimous 2017 NL Rookie of the Year will certainly garner enough playing time next season to conceivably better his freshman campaign offensively, but can he continue to improve and adjust to the strategies opposing pitchers use to attack his weaknesses?
That particular question triggers us to recall Corey Seager‘s 2017 season, when he nearly duplicated his stat line from the previous year after capturing the 2016 NL R.O.Y. honors. The same feat will be tough for Bellinger, though, as a few potential vulnerabilities were discovered by opposing clubs during the stretch run of the season and into the playoffs.
Some believe that Bellinger ultimately became susceptible to the down-and-in slider from right-handers, especially from those with very high differentials in speeds between their breaking balls and heaters. Others feel that Bellinger was overthinking or guessing at the dish instead of being instinctive. Whatever the case may be, with a full season under his belt, the 22-year-old Scottsdale native now has a much better understanding of big league pitching. And if there were indeed a few holes in his swing, there’s a pretty good chance he’ll address any inherent flaws over the winter.
A few of the early season projections have Bellinger coming close to or bettering his 2017 numbers. After hitting .267/.352/.581 with 39 long balls over 548 PA last season, Bill James has him pegged for a .255/.345/.546 slash line with 45 home runs in 2018—an increase in power with a slight decrease in contact. According to Baseball Reference’s Marcels Projections, however, Bellinger will hit .271/.355/.564 with 31 homers next year, an opposite trend of James’ vision. Interestingly, the Marcels numbers have him collecting only 474 plate appearances next year, 74 less than he accumulated in 2017.
A strong Dodger lineup should continue to benefit Bellinger in 2018, especially if Los Angeles can find a consistent contributor to fill the No. 5 hole in the batting order and provide protection from behind. Yasiel Puig comes to mind to fill the void straightaway, after setting career highs in both home runs and RBI last season. Seager and Justin Turner, if healthy, are likely to stay entrenched in the No. 2 and No. 3 holes, offering plenty of protection in front of him.
The other interesting part of the Marcels Projections is they have his strikeout total decreasing next season, which is quite possible considering Bellinger’s hard-contact percentages. Based on these assumptions, there may not be a player in the National League better equipped mechanically to hit more than 50 long balls.
But perhaps the most impressive thing of all is Bellinger’s work ethic. Despite all the success in his freshman season, he’s determined to raise the bar even higher next year, which is an outstanding sign for the future of the Dodgers. In a recent interview with Sportsnet LA, he summarized his future goals in a few concise words:
“There’s a lot of things. Baseball is such a complex sport. There’s so many things to get better at. For me, I want to be consistent and that guy in the lineup to help contribute and produce every day.”
With a healthy Bellinger planted firmly in the middle of the Los Angeles lineup, and with all the other talented players placed strategically around him, offense should be the least of the club’s worries in 2018.
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