Can Cody Bellinger Carve Out a Spot with the Los Angeles Dodgers?

Nov 5, 2016; Surprise, AZ, USA; West infielder Cody Bellinger of the Los Angeles Dodgers during the Arizona Fall League Fall Stars game at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 5, 2016; Surprise, AZ, USA; West infielder Cody Bellinger of the Los Angeles Dodgers during the Arizona Fall League Fall Stars game at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

One of the biggest headlines heading into the 2017 season for the Los Angeles Dodgers is their crowded outfield. They have worthy players already competing for spots, but things have gotten even more interesting with the addition of top prospect Cody Bellinger.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are already tasked with sorting through an outfield that can have oh so many different potential looks. However, that number may increase with the addition of Cody Bellinger. He is the Los Angeles Dodgers’ top prospect and one of the top overall prospects in all of baseball. The 21-year-old is also the top first base prospect in MLB. He has hit 56 home runs in the past two seasons and is still growing, so he has the potential to be the next great power hitter.

He is also considered the heir apparent to incumbent first base starter Adrian Gonzalez, so it is easy to see why the franchise and fans are excited about him. Gonzalez is owed a lot of money through the 2018 season ($44,714,284 to be exact). So, it’s fair to ask, how does Bellinger fit into the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 2017 plans?

Unless something catastrophic happens, Bellinger will not be unseating Gonzalez at first base anytime soon. Gonzalez is dealing with an elbow injury but he isn’t expected to miss significant time. Other than talent, the biggest thing going for Bellinger is his positional versatility. He is a terrific defensive first baseman but also has the athleticism to play all three outfield spots. So yes, I believe he can carve out a roster spot, but via the outfield. Joc Pederson is set as the starting center fielder, but the corner outfield spots are still up for competition. The one thing he has working against him is that he is a left-handed hitter. This is because the Dodgers are left-handed heavy.

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I expect Trayce Thompson and Yasiel Puig to occupy the two corner outfield spots as halves of each (potential) platoon. His biggest competition seems to be Andre Ethier and Andrew Toles, who are also left-handed. Ethier, however, is still due a lot of money, so Toles is his best chance at a starting spot. Toles performed well last season but I expect him to regress, so that might give Bellinger an opening.

Bellinger may not hit for the high average this season that Toles did last year, but don’t expect Toles to repeat his .314 BA either. Bellinger offers much more in the power department and is much better on defense. He has higher upside and can make a potentially good offense significantly more dangerous than Toles can. A platoon of Thompson and Bellinger is more attractive than Toles and Thompson. I felt that Thompson should get majority of the reps in a platoon with Toles because he is right-handed. However, even though he is a lefty, if Bellinger makes the roster I feel the balance of reps should shift a little bit, especially if he can make improvements versus southpaws.

The next question is should he be on the Opening Day roster? If he outplays his competition then I don’t see why not. Realistically, I feel the ideal situation would be that he doesn’t outplay Toles and company (and hopefully that’s because they played well) and can return to Triple-A and get a little more seasoned before being called up later in the season. He’s only played three games at Triple-A and may need the experience. The Dodgers did not rush up Corey Seager, as they let him play his age-21 season at Oklahoma City in 2015. Then they called him up that September to give him experience and he ultimately “won” the job then.

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If the Los Angeles Dodgers can repeat this process, that would be perfect. But, as we know, not everything goes as planned. Injuries or struggling veterans may lead to a potential call-up during the season. I don’t expect him to make the Opening Day roster and that is more because L.A. wouldn’t want to rush him up. However, I expect him to get called up sometime during the season to get exposure. Whether that be via injuries, struggling veterans, or a September call-up.