The Los Angeles Dodgers enter spring training at Camelback Ranch a determined team looking to put last year’s disappointing game seven loss to the Houston Astros behind, with a renewed focus and confidence on completing the task in 2018.
A key cog in last year’s team and a big reason why the Dodgers dominated the National League was Cody Bellinger, a former fourth-round selection who hit 31 home runs and drove in 79 runs in route to a unanimous selection for rookie of the year.
The Scottsdale, Arizona native led the Dodgers in home runs and slugging percentage while trailing only Justin Turner in OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage). Bellinger proved to be a deadly hitter with power to all fields, with a hard contact percentage of 43%, which was higher than both prolific home run hitters Giancarlo Stanton (41%) and Nolan Arenado (35%).
Bellinger proved to be every bit the top prospect, but he appeared to fatigue down the stretch of the season and finished the 2017 playoffs with disappointing .143 batting average in the World Series, with 17 strikeouts in 28 at-bats. The Astros appeared to find a hole in his swing with soft breaking balls inside, and the pressure of playing on the World’s grandest stage seemed to catch up with the 21-year-old.
To avoid the proverbial sophomore slump and avoid some of the pitfalls that can trip up even the best young players, Bellinger started his offseason workout early in hopes of putting on weight for the long season ahead. A lanky kid who can generate impressive power from a skinny frame, Bellinger is hoping the “man weight” that he added this winter would allow him to avoid fatigue in the playoff push.
Extensive work with hitting coach Turner Ward, with an emphasis on identifying and punishing slow inside breaking balls kept Bellinger busy this offseason. According to Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times, the slugger also spent a few weeks practicing with fellow big leaguers at agent Scott Boras’ training facility and bulking up with weight training.
Other fellow rookie of the year candidates from year’s past, like Mark McGuire, Mike Piazza, and Todd Hollandsworth all fell off in their second season after securing the Rookie of the Year award. Only time will tell if Bellinger’s work in the weight room and with his hitting coach will pay off and help Bellinger continue to emerge as one of the best power hitting first baseman in the league and avoid the sophomore slump.
The Dodgers kick off the 2018 regular season against the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium. Bellinger will face his first of many tests against left-handed pitching, with towering southpaw Madison Bumgarner likely earning the opening day start for the rival Giants.