For today’s positional Preview we head over to first base. The 2017 season marked the end of the Adrian Gonzalez era in Los Angeles as the long time Dodger was traded to Atlanta in a salary dump after the postseason. Tall left handed slugger Cody Bellinger effectively pushed Gonzo out the door by having one of the greatest seasons by a Dodger rookie in franchise history.
Of course Gonzo did himself no favors when he landed on the disabled list with a bad back. He tried to make a come back and the Dodgers tried to accommodate him by giving Bellinger some time in left field but Gonzo’s back never healed. Sadly Gonzo played in only 71 games and came to the plate just 252 times. Even though he made a return late in the season he was not the same player he once was. Bellinger had already taken his job at first base. No player can escape father time.
It was obvious that Gonzo was not long for the boys in blue. Bellinger earned his position by having a phenomenal year. His 39 home runs and 97 runs batted in were not only a Dodger rookie record, but also a National League rookie record. The 22-year old is big and tall and his long swing covers most of the plate so it’s hard to throw him a pitch that he can’t reach. Bellinger slashed .267/.352/.581 with a .933 OPS and a 142 OPS + across 548 plate appearances. His historical campaign led to a well earned National League rookie of the year award.
Bellinger had pretty good plate discipline too. He also was still a big swing and miss guy. He drew 64 walks and posted an 11.7 walk percentage but also struck out 26.6% of the time while totaling 146 strikeouts. His .315 isolated power mark is pretty outstanding. Apparently Bellinger had some of the best exit velocities in baseball. Basically he hit the ball real far and real hard. He generated a lot of offense with massive home runs and lots of extra base-hits.
Bellinger like many rookies struggled through most of the postseason. He did have his moments though. He slashed .219/.254/.453 (14 for 64) over 67 plate appearances. His 29 strikeouts against 3 walks line was pretty brutal. He hit 3 home runs with 9 runs batted in. He was a poor 3 for 14 with one home run in the division series against Arizona. Then he had a great NLCS against the Cubs. During that series he was 7 for 22 with 1 home run, 2 doubles, 3 runs scored and a .318/.348/.545 line in 23 plate appearances. His bat disappeared when he reached the World Series. He batted just .143 (4 for 28) with one home run and five runs driven in during 29 fall classic plate trips. He struck out 17 times and walked once. If Bellinger hits like Cody Bellinger then the Dodgers probably win the World Series.
Bellinger played in 132 games spending most of his playing time (93 games) at first base. He ranked slightly above league average there, saving two runs and logging only 4 errors. He covered a lot of ground at first while making some great plays. He also played 46 games in the outfield, 39 of them in left field. He notched 5 games in right field and 4 in center. He saved about five runs above average in the outfield, but his zone ratings were well below average. He can be an adequate defensive outfielder but first base is his natural position.
The Dodgers have plenty of options to cover at first when Bellinger needs some time off. Several Dodgers can play there. Yasmani Grandal, Enrique Hernandez, Logan Forsythe and Justin Turner all can play the position without issue. Chase Utley can play there as well, although the silver fox and Forsythe have limited MLB experience at first base.
Can Cody Bellinger avoid the sophomore slump? It’s prudent to expect some kind of regression from the young slugger. But it won’t be much. You can expect the same amount of power and extra-base hits from a blossoming middle of the order bat. He’ll still strike out a lot, but the Dodgers have another 4 win caliber player. What a terrific farm system.