I thought it was a bit ironic when the Dodgers released their 2018 NLDS roster back in October and the third-best outfielder in the organization was nowhere to be found. Obviously, we all knew it was going to happen, but it’s still a shame to see so much talent being wasted in the hopper at Triple-A Oklahoma City.
Seemingly, Alex Verdugo has been lurking in the Los Angeles Top 5 prospects list for a handful of years now. In the most recent rankings by MLB Pipeline, the Tucson native is ranked first in the organization, undoubtedly being admired by every rival GM across baseball. In the majority of the biggest outlets, he’s ranked in the Top 40 prospects in the entire league.
At just 22 years of age, it’s hard to believe he’s been in the system for five full years. Some scouts across the majors believe Verdugo could be the best pure hitting prospect in the game, as he has an uncanny ability to recognize pitches and control the strike zone. Many folks on the Los Angeles farm feel that he may have the quickest bat in the whole organization. His innate ability to drive the ball to all fields is increasingly becoming a rarity among modern players and could be a valuable weapon on a Dodgers club which depends on the long ball to generate runs instead of situational hitting and small ball.
Verdugo hit an impressive .329/.391/.472 with 10 homers over 343 AB last year at Triple-A to lead OKC in hitting. Although he’s primarily a center fielder, he can capably handle all three outfield spots. Despite Joc Pederson, Chris Taylor and Cody Bellinger being very capable center fielders, many pundits view Verdugo as the Dodgers’ center fielder of the future. But while he doesn’t even compare any one of those guys in the power department, Verdugo almost never strikes out, and has become known as an on-base machine. Unlike the aforementioned trio, he knows how to shorten up his swing while hitting to all fields. 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. 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.
Of course, Verdugo hasn’t quite put up elite numbers during his short stints in the majors. In 2018, he hit .260/.329/.377 when he was on the big league roster, which is definitely serviceable by many standards, yet because of his lack of power, his .705 OPS and 93 OPS+ rank several ticks below the MLB norm. Still, scouts believe that things may begin to click for the left-handed hitter once he’s able to settle down with regular playing time.
Some fans wonder why Verdugo hasn’t been included in a trade package for perhaps say an elite bullpen arm or starting pitcher, but the truth is that the brain trust of the organization conceivably envision him as a potential star in the bigs, based on the fact that they have made him virtually untouchable during trade talks at the last few summer tdeadlines.
As it stands now, the 2019 roster, especially the prospective outfield crew, is entirely up in the air. Some players will return and some may not—but that’s a whole different subject we’ll address later in the winter. In the meantime, the Dodgers are still labelled as having “an incredible amount of depth with a ton of mediocre talent,” but Verdugo certainly has the opportunity to disprove that assumption, especially if he’s given the opportunity to play regularly heading into the 2019 campaign.