Alex Verdugo came to the Los Angeles Dodgers widely considered the best two-way prospect in the draft. He and the Dodgers both had a choice to make at the professional level, however: Would Verdugo become a pitcher with his 94-mile-per-hour cannon, or would he become an outfielder with a lightning-quick bat?
Based on the results thus far, they chose wisely.
Verdugo was selected 62nd in the second round of the 2014 MLB Draft and has been playing like a first-rounder ever since. Wanting to help his team every day instead of waiting every fifth day to contribute, Verdugo shifted to the outfield — primarily center field — to begin his professional career.
His debut season shattered expectations. Finishing second in the Arizona League with a .347 batting average, Verdugo put up solid numbers across two levels in 2014. He slashed .353/.421/.511 with 15 doubles, three triples, three home runs and a .932 OPS in 54 games. He was a perfect 11-for-11 in stolen bases and showed an advanced plate approach with an 18-20 strikeout-walk differential. All this came from an 18-year old who should have been preparing for college instead of hitting everything thrown at him.
In 2015, Verdugo again played at two levels, and like his freshman campaign, he surpassed the Dodgers’ greatest hopes. By season’s end, Verdugo captured the Dodgers’ Minor League Player of the Year honors. Considering some of the names that grace the Dodgers’ system, that is an impressive feat. He slashed .311/.340/.441 with nine home runs and 32 doubles while going 14-for-19 in stolen bases. His walk-to-strikeout rate slipped in differential — 21 walks, 65 strikeouts — but a 12.7-percent strikeout rate over 512 plate appearances is hardly worrisome.
Verdugo also came alive in the field. Equipped with a both an accurate and strong arm — clocked as high as 97 miles per hour as a high school pitcher — Verdugo became a sniper, gunning down 24 runners between right and center field in 2015.
Verdugo hadn’t even reached Double-A, yet he had answered many of the questions surrounding him. It seemed he was transitioning with ease to a full-time role in the field. He had few issues at the plate as he climbed the minor league ladder with continued success against advanced pitching. The only big question mark: Where would his power come from? It was a split decision. Several scouts saw 20- home run potential, and others felt they had seen the best Verdugo had to offer.
As he has done every year of his brief professional tenure, Verdugo found another gear and took his game to a new level.
Verdugo is having yet another strong season, now in Double-A, earning Texas League All-Star recognition for the Tulsa Drillers. He is the reigning Texas League Player of the Week after hitting .444 with three doubles and two home runs to start the second half of the season. He has found more pop in his bat, on pace for 20 home runs.
The 20-year old is slashing .294/.353/.456 heading into Thursday’s action, with a career-best 11 home runs and 17 doubles. He is still striking out only 12.9 percent of the time, and the walk rate is climbing up to where it was in his debut season, at eight percent. The only downside is that Verdugo has been unsuccessful on the base paths, converting just two of his eight attempts. Verdugo never had blazing speed, and his previous success was dictated by his natural instincts, so it’s curious to see if catchers are simply catching up to him.
For more on Verdugo, including video and big league projections, head on over to Today’s Knuckleball for my full article by clicking on the link below: