Just a short year ago, Cody Bellinger was rotating between left and center field during spring training. Adrian Gonzalez was entrenched as the starting first baseman. The Dodgers were so high on Bellinger’s athleticism that some believed he could be the flagship outfielder at the major league level.
There are baseball people with the Dodgers who think Cody Bellinger is their best defensive center fielder
— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) July 13, 2017
Time and surrounding factors have a way of making their own plans in the game of baseball. If you had dreams of seeing Bellinger playing up the middle at Chavez Ravine, those hopes took a hard hit today. Manager Dave Roberts had the following to say about using Bellinger in the outfield in the immediate future:
The Dodgers have “no plans” to use Cody Bellinger in the outfield this spring, Dave Roberts said.
— Andy McCullough (@McCulloughTimes) February 19, 2018
A star player with the ability to play center field over first base has a degree of sexiness to it. Just take Mike Trout for one example. Chances are, the versatility that Bellinger offers will see him trade in his first base glove for an outfielder’s once again.
As good as Bellinger could be in the outfield, he grades out better long-term as a first baseman. His UZR (Zone Rating) graded out at 2.2 at the corner infield spot in 2017. In comparison, Gold Glove winner Paul Goldschmidt was a -0.8 UZR at the spot last season. Eric Hosmer won the award in the American League and was a -0.3 UZR in 2017, according to Fangraphs. What this means is the Dodgers have a Gold Glove caliber first baseman coming to a theatre near you.
Doing the math, it’s easy to see why Roberts dismissed the use of Bellinger in the outfield. Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, Andrew Toles, Matt Kemp, Kike Hernandez, Chris Taylor, and Alex Verdugo will all see time at various spots for the time being. If Bellinger isn’t playing first base, someone would be forced out of their natural position to play the spot in his absence. All of this adds up to Bellinger getting a full season of development at his original position.
So the idea of a player as athletic as Bellinger playing in the outfield will always be tantalizing to me. Being that 2018 will mark just his age-22 season, and things happen to change circumstance; this may not be his final resting spot on the diamond. This should also improve his durability for the immediate future. Those who remember the August sprained ankle he suffered in the outfield will be happy at the reduced chance of injury. Playing full-time at one solidified spot increases his chances of adding a Gold Glove next to his Rookie of the Year trophy. The Dodgers may always have one more athletic player in the lineup over the opposition, as Bellinger figures to be as spry as anyone in the game at first base.
If we’re alike, you’ll still have those machinations of Bellinger playing for a few months regularly in the outfield. With time, all possibilities remain in circulation. In regards to the possibilities out there with Bellinger in a Dodgers uniform, time is on our side.
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