The Situation: Joc Pederson is on the DL with a groin strain and the Dodgers could use a left-handed center field bat to pair with Enrique Hernandez. So they called up…a first baseman? Yes, but this first baseman also plays center (and left) field. And mashes dingers.
The Background: Bellinger was the fourth-round pick of the Dodgers in 2013 as an Arizona prep and signed for $700,000. He was drafted as a first baseman, where he played exclusively for the first two season of his pro career. The Dodgers aggressively assigned Bellinger to Advanced-A in 2015 and started playing him occasionally in center field as well. Bellinger broke out in a big way, socking 30 home runs. He proved it was no Cal League mirage last season, mashing his way through Double-A while spending time at all three outfield spots in addition to first. He got off to a hot start in Oklahoma City this year, batting .343/.429/.627 at the time of his call up.
Scouting Report: Bellinger profiles as your classic three-true-outcome slugger, but he’s no hulking Thome or Dunn. He’s tall and lean, but an excellent athlete who profiles as a gold glove caliber defender at first and also has enough arm to play right field. A center field assignment might be ambitious at the major league level, but as a once a week guy, he won’t kill you there. The bat will carry even a first base assignment though as Bellinger has plus-plus raw that comes from a leveraged swing with premium bat speed.
Swing-and-miss has always come with this profile, and Bellinger is no exception. He’s made enough hard contact to make up for an approach that isn’t advanced as his minor league walk rate might imply, but major league arms might be able to find holes and exploit them. Better not miss your spot though. Bellinger is only 21, and could still add strength in coming years. That’s a scary thought, but there’s a reason he was comfortably on the top half of our 101 despite being a first base prospect. And no one will care if the hit tool his below-average if he is dumping thirty over the fence a season.
Immediate Big League Future: Bellinger is headed straight into the Dodgers lineup as an outfielder. This is likely just a stopgap move until Pederson is healthy again, and Bellinger’s first pass at major league pitching could be very boom or bust. The booms will be all over your At Bat highlights though. —Jeffrey Paternostro
Fantasy Impact:Since he profiles as a first baseman or maybe a corner outfielder defensively, Cody Bellinger wasn’t expected to make his major league debut with the Dodgers this early since their roster didn’t have any openings at those spots. The injury that landed Joc Pederson on the DL opened a spot in the outfield for the 21-year-old. It’s not clear how long Pederson will be sidelined or how much playing time the big lefty will get, but the fact that he’s in the lineup against a lefty starter for his debut is a good sign that he’ll be in the lineup as long as he’s on the 25-man roster.
Coming into the season, Bellinger was ranked number 26 on the Baseball Prospectus Top 101 Prospects list and ranked number 20 by my colleague Bret Sayre in the Baseball Prospectus Top 101 Dynasty League Prospects list. Last season in Double-A, he hit .263/.359/.484 in 114 games with 23 home runs, 65 RBI, 61 runs and eight stolen bases. That impressive line came on the heels of a 30-homer season in High-A at hitter-friendly Rancho Cucamonga in 2015, so expectations were high despite the fact that defensively, he’s limited to first base or a corner outfield spot, putting a lot of pressure on his bat.
From a categorical perspective, Bellinger offers power, on-base skills and a little more speed than you’d expect from a player his size who has mostly played first base throughout his professional career. As I mentioned earlier, he’s starting against a lefty in his first game, which bodes well for his playing time while he’s up. The fact that the Dodgers have struggled offensively so far this season is also a good sign for the young slugger—if he can put up numbers, it’ll be hard for the Dodgers to keep him on the bench or in the minors.
Bellinger is a player worth a healthy-sized bid in keeper leagues if he’s available. In redraft leagues, bid a little more conservatively since his playing time and roster spot aren’t guaranteed for the rest of the season. Add a buck or two to your bid in OBP leagues since Bellinger has demonstrated a decent walk rate throughout his minor league career. —Scooter Hotz