It’s a good time to be Cody Bellinger right now. The Dodgers minor league first baseman has rocketed up various prospect lists, and is very much a part of the club’s future. Whether that future comes sooner or later, we can still expect to see a lot of Bellinger this spring training.
Bellinger will be one of 22 non-roster invitees in Dodgers big league camp at Camelback Ranch, with position players reporting on Feb. 20. It’s the second straight year in big league camp for the club’s 2013 fourth-round draft choice.
I’m not trying to say Bellinger will compete for the first base job in camp. After all, Adrian Gonzalez has been an iron man of sorts at the position, leading baseball in games played over the last 11 seasons, with an average of 157 games and 150 starts in his four full seasons with the Dodgers.
And Gonzalez is signed through 2018.
But Gonzalez was just as entrenched at first base last year, too, and Bellinger saw plenty of playing time during the spring. He played in 18 games and made a good impression, hitting .393/.541/.679.
There is also the matter of Bellinger’s versatility, which could ultimately be a large factor of he is able to hit his way into the majors at some point in 2017.
“Bellinger is also an elite defensive first baseman, providing a big target for fielding throws, moving exceptionally well around the bag, grading out as a 70 defender who might be even better,” wrote Keith Law at ESPN, ranking Bellinger the sixth-best prospect in baseball, “and he gives his team the flexibility to put him in any outfield spot, including center, if the need arises.”
Last spring, Bellinger played almost exclusively at first base, with 75 innings at the position, most on the team, and played just two innings in center field.
During the season, Bellinger started 81 games at first base, and saw time at all three outfield positions with Double-A Tulsa — he started 11 games at center field, 10 games in left field, and five games in right field.
Bellinger mixed in time in the outfield in the Arizona Fall League as well. Of his 19 starts for the Glendale Desert Dogs in October and November, six were in center field, plus 11 starts at first base and two at designated hitter.
In other words, Bellinger is more than just a first baseman, and that will likely be on display in the Cactus League. On a team that values versatility, Bellinger may find himself with a leg up as he climbs toward the majors.