Dodgers recently called up top hitting prospect Alex Verdugo and made his MLB debut Friday night in San Diego against the Padres. Verdugo, who is only 21 years old rose quickly through the Dodgers farm system. The lefty OF was drafted in the 2
The lefty OF was drafted in the 2nd round pick 62 overall by the Dodgers in the 2014 Amateur Draft out of Sahuaro High School in Tucson, Arizona. Baseball America had Verdugo ranked as the 58 best prospect in their spring training list and his performance this season rose him up to #35 on their midseason list in July. That was good enough to be the 9th best OF prospect, and the only Dodger player that was ranked higher was RHP Walker Buehler at #17, whose own debut might be right around the corner as well.
Verdugo is described as a very advanced contact hitter for his age. He hit .314 in 495 plate appearances at the highest level in the minors this year for the AAA Oklahoma City Dodgers. He is a .305 career hitter in 4 years in the minors and also hardly ever strikeouts having only 200 SO in 1780 PA.
Verdugo is basically the polar opposite of the player that looks like he is replacing in the outfield, Joc Pederson. Interestingly, the Dodgers have kept Pederson in the minors presumably to allow for more playing time for Verdugo. Pederson is an all or nothing hitter who strikes out a lot while Verdugo focuses on making contact at a high rate. Verdugo is also an improving fielder with a great arm and has 40 outfield assist in the minors.
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Verdugo is almost certain to be a very solid major league player. The only long term concern is if he will ever develop respectable enough power for an outfielder. Verdugo only had six homers in AAA this year and had only 31 in his minor league career. He only has average speed, so he is not going to make up a lack of power with wreaking havoc and the bases. In today’s analytical MLB game where homers are more valued and striking out is not looked as so frond upon anymore it may be a real concern for Verdugo.
He is still very young, so he could develop more power. The good thing is that Verdugo pretty much has the whole contact thing down already. However, I am not overly concerned about Verdugo not being able to develop more power. When you are already that advanced at recognizing pitches and hitting the ball, it makes it easier to learn to swing for power as well.
Verdugo likes to go the opposite way a lot; he will no doubt learn how to pick and choose his spots to pull more and swing for the fences. For now, though, Dodgers fans should expect him to come right in and be able to hit well.
With the lead the Dodgers have in the division I expect Verdugo to get a lot of playing time to see what he could do. If he performs well there is a chance he could end up on the postseason roster. The Dodgers have shown they are not afraid to play young players in pressure situations. Remember two years ago when the Dodgers called up their then top prospect Corey Seager in September. Seager ended up hitting .337 with 4 HR and 17 RBI in his one month and became the starting SS for the Dodgers over a struggling Jimmy Rollins in the playoffs.
The same thing could happen with Verdugo here. If Verdugo comes right in and tears it up, don’t be surprised if he is making some starts in the postseason, especially if the Dodgers decide to move Cody Bellinger back to 1B full time because that will open up another outfield spot.
Excluding Bellinger, the Dodgers still have the newly acquired Curtis Granderson, Yasiel Puig, and Chris Taylor getting most of the starts in the OF. They also have Kike Hernandez as a utility man, and that is still without mentioning longest tenured Dodger and fan favorite Andre Ethier, who is expected to return soon.
Verdugo wasn’t quite as touted of a prospect as Seager or Bellinger were so we shouldn’t expect him to perform at the level those guys did when they first got called up, but he is definitely ready to help the team out. Maybe Verdugo could provide a big boost.