The Situation: Alex Verdugo was a popular trade target for teams negotiating deals with the Dodgers, but he stayed put and the 21-year-old outfielder is now getting his first chance in the majors while Joc Pederson remains at Triple-A.
Background: The Dodgers chose Verdugo in with the 62nd overall pick in the 2014 draft. The two-way star from Sahuaro High School in Tuscon, Arizona signed for a $914,600 bonus and was assigned to the rookie-level Arizona League. He got his first taste of full-season ball in the Midwest League a year later while still an 18-year-old. Verdugo has earned a promotion in every subsequent season, spending 2016 in Double-A Tulsa, and the 2017 season in Triple-A Oklahoma City. His bat has been strong every step of the way, with a .305 batting average as a pro. He earned a spot in the Arizona Fall League in 2016, and you may have seen him in Miami during the All-Star break at this year's Futures Game. He has been young for his league at every stop, but has impressed nonetheless.
Scouting: Verdugo's biggest strength is also a potential hang-up. The hit tool will be what carries him at the next level, but his incredible bat-to-ball skills also lead to more bad contact than we see from most players. He seems to make contact with every swing he takes and has struck out only 200 times in four seasons (11.2 percent of plate appearances). Even if he does make more than his share of bad contact, you can expect a high batting average annually. Verdugo has an incredibly advanced approach for his age, shows solid pitch recognition, and is short and quick to the ball. While we should expect a lot of contact, he will also draw a fair share of walks due to his command of the strike zone and patience at the plate.
Verdugo has played center field for the majority of his minor-league career, but he's only an average defender there with average speed. His 7 arm strength is obvious, which should make him a good fit in right field at the next level. He will pick good spots to be aggressive in the field and on the basepaths, and is an exciting player to watch on both sides of the ball. He should hit his share of doubles, but the over-the-fence power is his only true shortcoming at present. Given his young age and bat-to-ball skills, Verdugo may yet develop into a 20-homer player.
Immediate Big-League Future: It's difficult to imagine a muddier outfield picture, but Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has indicated that the club intends to give Verdugo playing time. He has plenty of professional innings in center field, but Verdugo is better suited for a corner spot. With all the names Roberts needs to work into the lineup, you can expect Verdugo to move around the outfield a bit. —Keith Radar
Fantasy Impact: Contact-oriented hitters tend to be among the most divisive prospects in fantasy baseball. Verdugo is no exception. There are zero questions regarding his hit tool. It’s legit. The 21-year-old outfielder posted a robust .314/.389/.436 line with 37 extra-base hits (six home runs), and nine steals, while walking more times (52) than he struck out (50) in 495 plate appearances at Triple-A Oklahoma City this season. He’s a lifetime .305/.362/.438 hitter over 421 minor-league contests. Forecasting just how much of his preternatural hitting ability will translate to the big-league level, juxtaposed by legitimate concerns about his realistic power upside, are the main factors that make Verdugo such a polarizing fantasy prospect.
It’s not unrealistic to speculate that a few years in the Dodgers “Launch Angle University” under the tutelage of professor Justin Turner, in tandem with the current power environment league-wide (seriously, thank you Rawlings manufacturers), could help the precocious center fielder develop double-digit home run pop. However, his present lack of over-the-fence power puts a damper on his immediate fantasy value. He’s talented enough to warrant an investment for the stretch run in deeper mixed leagues right now. —George Bissell