On September 1st the Los Angeles Dodgers promoted outfield prospect Alex Verdugo to the major league roster. The Dodgers have had great luck with young hitters recently: Corey Seager (2016) and Cody Bellinger (2017) established themselves as franchise stalwarts immediately. Could Verdugo be the next in line, perhaps taking over for the disappointing Joc Pederson?
He certainly has the pedigree. Verdugo was a high school player in Tucson, Arizona, and was an early draft candidate in 2014 as both a hitter and pitcher. Most teams preferred him on the mound but the Dodgers were taken with his bat and picked him in the second round as an outfielder. This proved an immediate success when he hit .347 in rookie ball, then followed up with a .295/.325/.395 line in the Low-A Midwest League in 2015.
Bumped up to the Double-A Texas League for 2016, Verdugo hit .273/.336/.407 with 13 homers in 477 at-bats for the Tulsa Drillers, credible given the jump in competition. Verdugo ranked third on the pre-season Los Angeles Dodgers Top 20 prospects list for 2017 with the following commentary:
3) Alex Verdugo, OF, Grade B+/B: Age 20, second round pick in 2014; hit .273/.336/.407 with 44 walks, 67 strikeouts with 13 homers in 477 at-bats; young for the level but performed well; pure hitting skills with an improving eye and some of the best bat speed in the minor leagues; excellent throwing arm, range will work in right field; needs a year of Triple-A and ultimate home run power projection remains uncertain. ETA 2018.
The Dodgers gave him that year of Triple-A and he responded with a .314/.389/.436 line for Oklahoma City, with 27 doubles, six homers, 52 walks, and just 50 strikeouts in 433 at-bats at age 21.
Verdugo is a left-handed hitter and thrower, listed at 6-0, 205, born May 15th, 1996. Although he is physically strong enough to hit for substantial power, he’s very much a line drive hitter at this point, spraying the ball to all fields rather than mashing for home runs. That may change as he matures.
His approach to hitting has steadily improved, particularly his batting eye. He’s more than doubled his walk rate over the last two seasons without any increase in strikeouts or loss of productivity, and he’s done this while being one of the youngest regulars at his levels.
Verdugo’s background as a pitcher shows up on defense, where he has an ideal right field arm, a cannon with impressive accuracy. He’s spent a lot of time in center field the last two seasons but I don’t think he has the range to play there long-term, with right field a better fit.
The arm in action:
The pre-season question was home run power and even with a good year of Triple-A under his belt, that’s still the question. Observers who saw him frequently in the Pacific Coast League this year gave mixed opinions, some viewing him as a 15-20 home run candidate down the line, while others felt he would always be more of a batting average/OBP producer with limited isolated power.
I’ll go with the optimists on this one.