July 13, 2017
Cheese in the Kitchen
Cody Bellinger is Beating Expectations
Fire up the sad-face emojis and pour another glass of warm beer for a-cryin’ into: I was wrong. Well, at least so far, it looks like I was wrong. Cody Bellinger, you see, is some of the hottest hot butter on anyone’s breakfast toast these days. The already-two-time National League Player of the Week is currently sitting on a .332 career TAv through his first 70 big-league games, a figure that rates as the seventh-best compiled in this season’s first half (minimum 200 plate appearances).
Not two years ago, I had him as a 45-hit/50-power guy headed for a nifty career as a versatile bench piece with regular potential. Whoops? Maybe?
I liked what I saw of Bellinger as a prospect in the California League. There was undoubtedly some immaturity in my evaluation, no question about it. A kid—emphasis kid, as he was just 19 and more than holding his own in High-A at the time—with his raw power and unique set of secondary skills very probably deserved a bit more benefit of the doubt. Even with my concerns about his hit tool development, the game power probably should’ve checked in at a 55. The likely role probably deserved to be nominally better as well, by half-grades to both the OFP and Realistic assessments, given the diversity of the skill set.
Caveating again that we’re really early into the returns of his big-league career; on balance I actually (kinda) hit pretty well on him. His borderline-plus present run tool at the time and athletic frame allowed you to see, without squinting, a path to decent value added on the bases, and he’s provided just that. He showed as a guy who’d be able to slide effortlessly between very good glovework at first base and passable track-and-close efforts on the corners of the grass, and so far that’s indeed been the case.
The pop was evident, even with his relatively immature body, thanks to leverage, extension, and good bat speed. But that hit tool ... mmph. That would be the roadblock to notoriety, the very thing that would keep him relegated to utility value far, far shy of superstardom. And first base/corner outfield profiles, even ones with the kind of quality secondary skills Bellinger showed, have a thin path to value when they’re hit-tool limited.
There are few things harder in player evaluation than trying to project a player’s hit tool, and that truth has been well-covered in myriad places over the years. But trying to project just how much a suspect hit tool will affect the utility of a player’s raw power, and how much it will or will not constrain his ability to bring that power into games, can be just as difficult a task. It’s not a direct or uniform correlation: Chris Carter actualized 80-grade power output in the majors. Brandon Wood and Aderlin Rodriguez did not.