After impressive spring training performances, top Los Angeles Dodgers hitting prospects Cody Bellinger and Alex Verdugo received their first look at ONEOK Field as the Tulsa Drillers held their first workout Monday.
“It’s beautiful,” Verdugo said. “I didn’t think it was going to be this nice. It’s amazing. I look forward to seeing what it looks like when it’s filled up.”
That will be next week when the Double-A Drillers face the Corpus Christi Hooks in the home opener April 14. But first, the Drillers will open the Texas League season on the road with six games, starting Thursday at Corpus Christi with Chase DeJong as their starting pitcher.
Both Bellinger and Verdugo are left-handed hitters who should be able to take advantage of the short distance to the right-field foul pole, 307 feet, although both have plenty of power to clear the fence anywhere.
Bellinger, a first baseman who also will be used an outfielder, led the Single-A California League with 103 RBIs and was tied for second with 30 home runs as he batted .264. A mechanical adjustment at the plate enabled him to increase his power after hitting only four homers in his previous 98 pro games.
During major league spring training, Bellinger was fourth on the Dodgers with a .393 batting average in 18 games with two homers and four RBIs.
“It was a cool experience,” Bellinger said. “But I know it was just spring training.”
Drillers manager Ryan Garko is impressed by Bellinger’s maturity, even though he’s only 20.
Bellinger is the son of Clay Bellinger, who played in the Texas League with Shreveport in 1992, and was in the majors from 1999-2002, primarily with the New York Yankees.
“It’s had a big impact on me, offensively and defensively, being around the game my whole life, growing up and being in a major league clubhouse at a young age,” Cody Bellinger said.
Verdugo, 19, and Bellinger are Arizona natives although their paths didn’t cross before being drafted by the Dodgers — Bellinger in the fourth round in 2013 and Verdugo in the second round in 2014.
Last year, Verdugo batted .295 with five homers and 42 RBIs for low Single-A Great Lakes before moving up to Rancho Cucamonga, where he batted .385 with four homers and 19 RBIs in 23 games. In major league spring training, he had three hits in eight at-bats.
“My goal was to break with Tulsa.” Verdugo said. “I made a lot of improvements on and off the field. I feel like I have taken big strides in a positive direction, and breaking with Tulsa is a little reward. Now I have to keep going.”
Verdugo, an outfielder, also pitched in high school and used his strong arm to produce 24 assists last season. Pro scouts were divided whether his pro future should be as a position player or pitcher.
“I wanted to play every day,” Verdugo said. “I wanted to be in the lineup every day, contributing. I think I can be a game changer. If hitting doesn’t work out, although I think it will, I can always have a followup plan and go back on the mound. Its harder to be on the mound and go back to hitting.”
Verdugo also made some mechanical adjustments last year that had a big payoff late in the season.
“I tried to do a leg kick, it wasn’t that big, but I just couldn’t deal with it,” Verdugo said. “I was moving too much, my head was moving, I was just swinging at everything. I got rid of that and then started doing a toe-tap. My pitch recognition and plate discipline just went way up and I was able to put a lot better swing on the ball and drive it to all fields.”
Verdugo and Bellinger helped Rancho Cucamonga win the California League title, and they’re hoping to help the Drillers capture their first pennant in this century.
“It was awesome, it was my first ring,” said Bellinger, whose dad was on a pair of World Series championship teams.