Jackie Robinson was the first Rookie of the Year to don the Dodger Blue. The baseball gods have graced L.A. with myriad ROYs since, but they haven’t had back-to-back winners since the mid-90s. Spoiled might be the word that comes to mind for some baseball fans, but the Dodger faithful are salivating for another and Cody Bellinger might satiate their appetite.
There’s no question that the Los Angeles Dodgers have a history of talented young rookies both at the plate and on the mound, but let’s focus on the hitters. This is the team that introduced players such as Robinson, Frank Howard, Eric Karros, Mike Piazza, Raul Mondesi, Todd Hollandsworth and Corey Seager. They all took home Rookie of the Year honors, but none of them have been able to accomplish what Bellinger has in his first big-league season.
It only took the 21-year old 24 games to tally his ninth home run of the year, reaching that point faster than any other player in franchise history. Bellinger is on pace for 32 home runs despite spending the first part of this season in the minors. His presence in the lineup has helped make the Dodgers a strong team to back in our MLB Pick ‘Em Contests.
Bellinger already leads the Dodgers in home runs with just 25 games under his belt. When Puig put up similar numbers in his MLB debut, pundits pegged him as the next Tony Perez. This year, Seager and Puig have nearly 20 more games played and 50 more plate appearances than Bellinger, but they aren’t displaying his power propensity.
A preseason top 10 prospect according to Baseball America, Bellinger has raked throughout his professional career. He hit 30 home runs in High-A ball at Rancho Cucamonga in 2015 and added 26 last year when spending most of his time in Double-A Tulsa.
While splitting time between the Majors and Triple-A Oklahoma City in 2017, Bellinger has hit 14 home runs and driven in 39 runs. He’s posted a 1.015 OPS for the Dodgers, and he had a 1.055 OPS in 18 games in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League before getting the promotion.
The power stands out for the young star, but Bellinger is more than just a home-run hitter in the Joey Gallo mold. He’s able to hit for a respectable average and get on base. He’s got a career .271 average and .353 OBP at the minor-league level. Through his first 25 games, he’s been able to maintain similar numbers in The Show.
Bellinger was a good hitter in his first four seasons in the minor leagues, but he really started to click at the end of last year with a short promotion to Triple-A where he hit three dingers in three games. He carried that over to the Arizona Fall League where he hit .314 in 20 games. His home runs were down in Arizona, but his average and OBP really spiked.
In the end, it’s his swing that makes him special and it has taken work to get there, but he’s doing amazing things right now. Bellinger will need to work on his strikeouts. He’s fanning in 28.6-percent of his at-bats, but he’s also hitting the ball in the air more than half of the time at the plate. And with a .28 home run-to-fly ball ratio, that translates to a ton of trips around the bases.
The biggest question at hand right now is, can this continue? The short answer is yes, to some extent.
Bellinger ranks in the top 20 in baseball in both launch angle off the bat and fly ball exit velocity. He’s hitting the ball in the air a lot and he’s hitting it hard. That’s not exactly rocket science, but it’s difficult to maintain. If that wasn’t the case, everyone would do it.
What’s encouraging about Bellinger is his fly ball- and home run-to-fly ball ratios have been trending upward since he made his mark in professional baseball. Regardless of level, he’s been able to improve in his launch angle and exit velocity year after year. Those traits should remain even as pitching staffs begins to adjust. The strike out rate is concerning, but not as debilitating as it is for some other young sluggers. Meanwhile, his walk rate isn’t much lower than it was in the minors so he’s been selective. And that walk rate will likely increase as pitchers are less and less likely to give in to him when behind in the count.