Since the moment the Dodgers made A.J. Pollock a part of their everyday outfield picture, there has been plenty of speculation regarding exactly how the club plans to set up the outfield for the 2019 season.
We’ve already found out from skipper Dave Roberts that Cody Bellinger will be seeing action in both right field and at first base. Consequently, based on his recent turnaround, it’s tough to see Joc Pederson being bumped out of left field, especially against right-handed pitching.
So where does that leave Alex Verdugo?
Recently, Bill Plunkett of the OC Register put together an excellent story about the youngster, emphasizing some of Verdugo’s frustrations over the past few seasons. Plunkett indicated that while former minor league teammates like Bellinger, Corey Seager and Walker Buehler are beginning to thrive in the majors, Verdugo has yet to be afforded a legitimate opportunity.
When he spoke, Verdugo wasn’t afraid to express himself candidly.
“I’ve always been ready,” Verdugo said. “I hit .330 for two years. At a certain point, numbers don’t lie. I’ve hit in the minor leagues. I think I’m a career over .300 hitter. I hit over .300 against lefties in my career. I hit righties and lefties very well in my career. I’m very confident against both. I think I can go up there and perform at the highest level and succeed against both righties and lefties.”
Indeed, 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. While he doesn’t compare to many of his big league teammates in the power department, Verdugo almost never strikes out, and has become known as an on-base machine. 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.
There have always been rumblings about his preparation and attitude, but there have not been many documented incidents, aside from him oversleeping and showing up late during the stretch run of the regular season in 2018.
Regardless, 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 envisions 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 deadlines.
In spite of that, Andrew Friedman told Plunkett that he feels Verdugo will get plenty of looks during the upcoming season.
“We expect Alex to log a lot of plate appearances this year,” Friedman said. “Because of our versatility, there are so many different things that can happen for him too. He’s earned the right to be on our major-league team and help us win games. We feel he has a very high floor as a player. He’s got a very advanced approach at the plate, tremendous bat-to-ball skills which complement our lineup. He’s very good defensively and checks a lot of boxes for what we look for in a player.”
Maybe 2019 will finally be the year the Dodgers find out exactly what they have in Alex Verdugo.