As several of the biggest baseball outlets have already released their annual Top 100 prospects rankings this week, the Dodgers have once again proven that they possess a wealth of talent by having four players listed in both Baseball America‘s and Keith Law‘s ranking packages.
One of those players, outfielder Alex Verdugo, was rated as the 36th best prospect in baseball by Law, and the 37th best by Baseball America. On any other club, Verdugo would probably be a mainstay in the big league outfield, yet because of the Dodgers’ extraordinary abundance of depth, the Tucson native may be forced to begin his second consecutive season at Triple-A Oklahoma City.
That’s not to say that he won’t be given a shot at making the Opening Day 25-man roster, as he’ll be present with the major league squad at spring training next month. The problem is that the Dodgers have a couple of left-handed hitting hitters ahead of Verdugo on the depth chart, most specifically Andrew Toles and Joc Pederson.
Toles is returning from an ACL tear sustained early last year, but is said to be in fine shape and ready to go. To a degree, he has already shown that he has talent to succeed in the big leagues, albeit his sample size being a small one. If he shows the propensity to produce offensively during 2018 Cactus League play, and all signs point to his right wheel being 100%, there shouldn’t be an issue with him finding a spot on the 25-man to open the season.
The same goes for Pederson, despite him having shown signs of dropping off the past few years. In 273 ABs during his 2017 campaign, Pederson hit .212/.331/.407, which is a few ticks below his career slash line of .222/.345/.435. Heading into spring training each year, there are discussions about how Joc has made new adjustments in his batting mechanics which would conceivably elevate his production. And although 2018 will be only his third full year, the final numbers are eerily similar by the end of each campaign. If it weren’t for his solid range and glove work on defense—which is also believed to be suffering lately—the management team may have considered dealing him away a few seasons ago. Still, after coming back with a vengeance from a demotion to Triple-A, and after providing a bit of a spark in last year’s postseason, Pederson will definitely be given every opportunity in the world to make the big league roster.
As far as Verdugo goes, he hit an impressive .314/.389/.436 over 433 AB last year at OKC, and although he’s primarily a center fielder, he can capably handle all three outfield spots. Looking past Pederson, many pundits view Verdugo as the Dodgers’ center fielder of the future, even though he doesn’t have much of an MLB track record aside from 15 games after rosters expanded last year. But while he doesn’t even compare to Joc in the power department, Verdugo almost never strikes out, and has become known as an on-base machine—something that Los Angeles could certainly utilize at the top of the batting order both at the present juncture and when looking towards the future. He’s capable of stealing bases in the double-digits, and despite his lack of long balls, Verdugo has the strength to muscle a ball to the deep part of the yard, as made evident by his 27 doubles, four triples and six home runs for OKC last year. In addition to all his other minor league accolades, he was tabbed as having the best outfield arm in the PCL by Baseball America for the 2017 season.
The big league outfield depth for the Dodgers is incredible. As it stands now, Yasiel Puig is solidified in right field, with Chris Taylor believed to be a pillar in center. Many pundits think that the left field spot will be decided in a battle between Toles and Pederson, and that’s not even taking into consideration utility guys like Enrique Hernandez, Rob Segedin, Tim Locastro and Trayce Thompson. Additionally, the more Matt Kemp hangs around, many people feel his slim chances of remaining in Los Angeles will gradually improve.
Some fans wonder why Verdugo hasn’t been included in a trade package for perhaps say another quality starting pitcher, but the truth is that he could be an injury away from a big league spot regardless of the depth on the 25-man. With many of the outfielders hitting from the right side, there aren’t really any left-handed hitters in sight outside of Toles and Pederson. Should the need arise for a lefty hitter in the big league outfield, there’s no question that the 21-year-old Verdugo will get the first call.
In the meantime, Verdugo is likely to begin his 2018 campaign at Oklahoma City, and whichever way the season plays out, it should be his last. After this year, he’ll probably have matured enough to outgrow Triple-A, so it will probably be the big leagues for him in 2019.
And if it isn’t with the Dodgers, it will almost certainly be with someone else.
(Photo Credit: Jeremy Davis)