Dodgers Rookie Cody Bellinger Already 1 of MLB’s Most Lethal Sluggers – Bleacher Report

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 11:  Cody Bellinger #35 of the Los Angeles Dodgers hits a solo home run in the eighth inning of the game against the Cincinnati Reds at Dodger Stadium on June 11, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

In a short-lived major league career that lasted from 1999 to 2002, Clay Bellinger played in 183 games, logged 344 plate appearances, and hit a grand total of 12 home runs.

His son, Cody, has played in 132 fewer games and logged 129 fewer plate appearances. Yet he already has his old man’s career home run count beat by nine.

And counting.

The Los Angeles Dodgers‘ win over the New York Mets on Monday night was only Bellinger’s 51st career game. He started his evening with a three-run shot in the first inning that tied the record for fastest ever to 20 homers. He then broke it with a solo shot in the second.

Oh, and he also now leads the National League in home runs. This despite playing in 14 fewer games than the next guy (Eric Thames).

If all this doesn’t say enough about how much power Bellinger is packing, consider where he ranks among his peers in isolated power (extra bases per at-bat) for the season:

  1. Mike Trout: .405 ISO
  2. Cody Bellinger: .389 ISO
  3. Aaron Judge: .364 ISO

Yup. Right there in between the best player in Major League Baseball today and the largest slugger in Major League Baseball history.

“[He's] exceeded all of our expectations,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said last week, per MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian. “It’s easy to say he’s only going to get better, and he keeps getting better.”

The obligatory reality check here is that there isn’t much room for the 21-year-old first baseman/outfielder to get better. In fact, there’s probably none. And even if there was, the earth probably couldn’t even contain hotness of that magnitude.

Even if he only stays the same, though, Bellinger can make history

The NL rookie home run record is 38. He’s already just 17 short of that with three and a half months left in the season. He has a good shot at 40 home runs and an outside shot at 50 home runs.

But, really, the Dodgers would probably be just dandy with any number over 30.

CINCINNATI, OH - JUNE 17: Cody Bellinger #35 of the Los Angeles Dodgers watches his two-run home run to right field in the third inning of a game against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on June 17, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe R

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Such sluggers have been rare in Chavez Ravine in recent years. The Dodgers haven’t had a 30-homer hitter since Matt Kemp in 2011. And he’s one of only two to top the mark for the club since 2005.

It’s not that the Dodgers haven’t had hitters with good power. Lower the bar to 20-homer hitters, and the list expands dramatically. Heck, they had four hitters—Cory Seager, Justin Turner, Yasmani Grandal and Joc Pederson—top that mark just last year.

However, Dodger Stadium doesn’t make things easy for Dodgers hitters to boost their power.

It’s middle of the road in terms of fair territory, and plays like a bigger ballpark. Part of that is a lack of natural advantages for either left- or right-handed hitters. Another part of that is the marine layer that rolls in from the Pacific Ocean.

Even in a year in which balls are flying over fences at record rates, the ball still isn’t traveling all that well at Dodger Stadium. Per Baseball Savant, the average distance of fly balls there ranks toward the lower end of the spectrum:

Data courtesy of BaseballSavant.MLB.com.

With a natural disadvantage like this, it doesn’t make much sense for the Dodgers to target sluggers for development. Hence, their current output of homegrown stars. Seager is a hitter first and a slugger second. Pederson is a great athlete. Ditto Yasiel Puig.

So, nobody should be too surprised to hear that Bellinger wasn’t targeted for his slugging ability.

When the Dodgers drafted him as a first baseman in the fourth round of the 2013 draft, the book on him said that he could hit but maybe wasn’t going to have the power typically associated with first base. The Dodgers didn’t disagree.

“We certainly liked him, but I didn’t think he would run into this kind of power,” Logan White, formerly the Dodgers’ vice president and now the San Diego Padres‘ pro scouting director, told Bob Nightengale of USA Today. ”He was just a skinny dude, maybe 6-2, 175 pounds, but he had a beautiful swing.”

In hitting only four homers, Bellinger didn’t force a rewrite of the book on him in his first two minor league seasons. After 2014, Baseball America scouted his power potential like so:

Bellinger’s swing is geared more for line drives than loft, and power is the biggest question mark. He’s mostly a gap-to-gap guy right now, with some scouts projecting 10-15 home runs, which would be light for a first baseman.

Then, everything changed in 2015. 

The story, as told by Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times, goes that Bellinger grew into his frame and adjusted his stance to allow for more torque when he swung. A fly-ball rate that had been hovering in the 30s jumped up to 48.6 percent, and he slugged .538 with 30 home runs. A .507 slugging percentage and 26 home runs followed in 2016.

This is how Bellinger came to be counted as one of the best prospects in baseball coming into 2017. And according to Jim Callis of MLB.com, the one with the best power tool, to boot.

Now, the wreckage he can do with his swing is on display for all to see.

Even at a time when home run swings are a dime a dozen, there’s something undeniably compelling about the one Bellinger has. He uncoils like a trebuchet and lets loose with a hack that’s long and loopy yet also quick. Ball hits bat. Ball goes far.

Modern measurements don’t leave any secrets as to why the ball goes far. Even before his two most recent homers, Bellinger’s average launch angle was 18.6 degrees, much higher than the MLB norm of 10.9. He was also averaging 98.4 miles per hour in exit velocity on fly balls and line drives, placing him among the league leaders.

This isn’t just Bellinger’s exceptional swing at work, mind you.

He’s also been patient, swinging at 44.5 percent of all pitches, and selective, swinging at only 27.9 percent of the pitches he sees outside the strike zone. And when the ball is in the zone, he knows precisely what he wants.

“We’ve talked about swinging at strikes and taking balls and that’s what he’s doing,” Roberts said, according to MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick. “When he gets the ball into his nitro zone, good things happen.”

Bellinger likes the ball out over the plate, where he can get his arms extended. That’s also where his slugging happens. Thus, his .729 slugging percentage against in-zone pitches.

Of course, this is not to mischaracterize Bellinger as being only a slugger.

With Adrian Gonzalez on the disabled list, now’s his big chance to show off his Gold Glove-caliber defense at first base. Beforehand, he was helping the Dodgers in left field, where he has more than enough athleticism to make the grade. Meanwhile, he’s even one of the Dodgers’ best baserunners.

Bellinger’s power, though, certainly deserves to be front and center in the spotlight. It’s a rare treat for the Dodgers and an even rarer treat for fans of slugging rookies.

And isn’t that all of us?

Data courtesy of Baseball ReferenceFanGraphs and Baseball Savant.

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Dodgers Rookie Cody Bellinger Already 1 of MLB’s Most Lethal Sluggers – Bleacher Report

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