Had 2014 Dodgers second-round pick Alex Verdugo been sent to the mound to start his major league career, as many draft prognosticators suggested, it’s quite likely that his name would have already appeared on this list. That’s not to say it was so obvious at the time of his drafting that hitting was the right direction, but more that Verdugo gave a glimpse of his potential through his performance, confirming at least one of his two above average tools. While his ceiling is one of the higher ones in this system, Verdugo has one of the longest roads to climb to the major leagues on this list.
Verdugo’s standout tools at the plate are his bat speed and ability to hit for contact. Verdugo keeps his hands close to his body through the zone with a high finish, producing a smooth line drive swing that has loft potential. He maintains balance through the swing and doesn’t exhibit much wasted motion in his load, or an exaggerated timing mechanism to be ready to hit. With his bat speed and quick hands, Verdugo should have little trouble catching up to better fastballs as he moves through the system.
While his rookie level spray chart shows better distribution, Verdugo’s swing is geared more to pull balls to right field or drive them to center. Verdugo will occasionally hook the bat head at pitches away in an attempt to work around the ball rather than look to drive the pitch the otherway. Verdugo will also lose his balance on pitches away, creating weak contact to the left side or center.
Verdugo appears to have a solid approach at the plate. He rarely struck out as a pro, and his draft videos showed a player looking for the opportunity to drive a pitch in his zone. It’s still too early to assess his ability to read pitches at the pro level, but he has the bat speed and hands to adjust to off speed pitches, and a future grade of 60 on the hit tool isn’t out of the question.
Verdugo’s swing should produce the loft and leverage for at least average power. While only listed at 6’0, 200 pounds, Verdugo is already a well proportioned athlete with plenty of strength now and the body to add more as he matures. He’s not necessarily a high raw power prospect, and power won’t necessarily be his calling card, but the combination of bat speed, loft, strength, and plate approach could make him a 20-25 HR guy in his prime.
Verdugo has shown himself to be a well-rounded athlete just by being a top two round candidate on the mound and in the field, but he will have to work to maintain his athleticism. His stocky frame gives him the advantage of carrying another 10-15 pounds of muscle, he’s also of the body type that could go the wrong direction. Already a solid average runner, Verdugo will have to work to maintain his speed and quickness to be an asset in the field. Generally with players like this, the gains athletically they can make are only incremental, while the loss in speed and agility can be more significant.
Verdugo could run his fastball up to 93 mph as a pitcher, and he carries his that arm strength with him to the field, likely right field full time in his peak. I don’t see a tremendous amount of room for him to growth in arm strength, which is why I was a little skeptical of him as a pitcher. It’s nice that Verdugo has pitching as a fallback if hitting doesn’t work out, but that profile looks more like a back-end rotation arm with an average fastball but the chance for an above average curve. That type of left-hander I’d rather see attend college, where he can develop at a slower pace and learn to still trust in his average fastball and not risk getting gun shy at the pro level by hitters better versed in hitting underdeveloped 89-91 mph fastballs.
As I mentioned in the primer article, I try not to put too much stock in short season numbers, and that’s still true for Verdugo. From a positive standpoint, his performance suggests he outclassed that level and is ready for full season ball in his first full year in the minors. However, Verdugo’s numbers do bare some caution in the percentage of grounders he hit and his average on balls in play. Though it’s tough to say teenagers are in line for regression when their tools can grow rapidly in short time. Verdugo has the swing to hit line drives at a 20-22% rate (he wasn’t far off this year) and the loft to normalize his flyball rate.
It’s too early to give Verdugo a timetable on making the major leagues, but the goal should be to improve a level a season. He doesn’t have tools so loud that we could see a call up in two years, but he does have enough of a hit tool to potentially make quick work of the lower minors. I’d still try to keep the expectations low for the first full season and focus on improving his comfort level with pitches on the outer half while also trying to tap into more power pull side. If everything breaks right for the Dodgers, they could have a .300-hitting, 25-homer corner outfielder with a plus arm ready to plug into the middle of the order in four years.
Thanks to the Standard Examiner in Ogden for the photo of Verdugo.