For the last few years, the Dodgers have slowly been developing one of the best farm systems in baseball. Last week, we took a look at Walker Buehler, a young pitching sensation who is quickly making his way through the system. Next in line is Alex Verdugo, a versatile outfielder that is currently knocking on the door in Triple-A Oklahoma City.
Verdugo, currently ranked by mlb.com as the second best prospect in the system, was drafted by the Dodgers in the second round of the 2014 amateur draft as a two-way player out of Arizona. To the surprise of many, the Dodgers valued his bat more than his arm as a pitcher and since that day, all he has done is hit.
Throughout his brief minor league career, the 21 year old Verdugo has averaged a .791 OPS (On base Percentage plus Slugging Percentage), all the while handling all three outfield positions and displaying above average arm strength.
In 2015, he was the Dodgers Minor League Player of the Year. Today, we take a look at the pros and cons of calling up Verdugo to the big club before rosters expand September 1st. While the promotions of Corey Seager, Julio Urias and Cody Bellinger have worked out nicely, it’s important to remember that each player’s development is different and should be handled accordingly.
Pro – His Bat is Ready: Verdugo is a quality contact hitter that has not yet developed the amount of power that was expected. He has elite bat to ball skills and has shown the ability to limit strikeouts while still providing quality offensive numbers. Many publications have compared his game to current Major Leaguer, Nick Markakis.
On the year, Verdugo currently has struck out at an almost identical rate to the amount of times he has walked. In this age of baseball, where players are striking out at a record pace in an attempt to create as much damage as possible when they do put the ball in play, Verdugo is breaking the mold. He currently has an OPS of .800 and to put this in perspective, if he were in the Majors right now, that OPS would be in the top 75 in all of baseball. He has been a singles hitting machine this year and if he were called up, inserting him directly into the leadoff role would give the Dodgers a player who excels at getting on base while making consistent contact.
Con – Age and Service Clock Issues: Although he has progressed quickly through the system and gained quality experience playing for Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic this year, he only just recently turned 21. And although the Dodgers have found plenty of success recently bringing up young players, it’s hard to expect this kind of production from Verdugo right out of the gate.
It would definitely behoove him and the organization to stay in AAA and amass more at bats while tapping into the power that has been lacking this year. Staying in AAA for now would allow him to get the consistent at bats that are not promised in the major leagues. In addition to this, if the Dodgers limit the amount of games that Verdugo is on the active roster, they can push off his free agency down the road by an extra year. For a player of his status, this could be very beneficial for the organization.
Pro – Outfield Defense: Verdugo is extremely versatile and is able to man any of the three outfield positions. In 2015, while splitting time at Rancho Cucamonga and Tulsa, Verdugo threw out 21 runners on the basepaths. In 2016 in Tulsa, he collected 12 outfield assists. Because of this strong arm, it would appear that he is headed toward a career in right field. In addition to this, scouting reports have raved about his glove in the outfield. Although he does not possess elite speed, he makes up for this with his ability to read balls off the bat.
Con – 40-Man Roster Spot: Currently, Verdugo is not on the Dodgers 40-man roster, and currently the roster is maxed out at 40 players. For an organization like the Dodgers that values flexibility, this can be an easy fix by sending one of their injured players to the 60-day disabled list, or releasing a player through the DFA process. But it is unclear if they would they be willing to make a roster move to open a spot for another player to enter the outfield logjam.
Given his performance this year, Alex Verdugo is making it tough on the Dodgers to keep him down on the farm. The biggest question to ask with his current development is: Is there really a need for him on the Major League club right now? The team just finished the month of May with a 19-9 record and had been rolling offensively. The 25-man roster is also flooded with players that are versatile and playing well.
Cody Bellinger is entrenched in left field and has been electric since his callup. He has 11 home runs and 29 RBIs on the year. Love him or hate him, Yasiel Puig is the starting right fielder. He has been a little below league average offensively this year, but his outfield defense is what keeps him in the lineup on a daily basis. Longtime infielder Chris Taylor has been playing center field recently since Joc Pederson suffered a concussion. Recent reports have Pederson being out at least another week. A platoon situation with these two is logical when Pederson returns.
Whatever the Dodgers decide to do, Alex Verdugo is another budding star in the system that is pushing his way up to Los Angeles.