Cody Bellinger: 2019’s Perfect MVP Darkhorse

Cody Bellinger has had a two-year stint to begin his Major League career that few can claim.

Bellinger was drafted in the fourth round by the Los Angeles Dodgers out of high school in the 2013 MLB Draft and played his first year of professional baseball at just 17 years of age.

The Chandler, Ariz. native struggled to hit for much power his first two minor league seasons; hitting a combined two home runs across those two campaigns. In 2015, he was moved up to Class-A Rancho Cucamonga where something clicked. The teenager, playing in the California League, where the average age of a hitter is 23, busted out producing 30 home runs and 33 doubles. Nobody projected the 6’4, tall, lanky, left-handed bat to hit for much power, but there he was, establishing himself as LA’s new prized possession.

Fast forward to 2017. The Dodgers were 9-11 in their first 20 ballgames, dealing with a plethora of injuries, desperately needing a shot in the arm. Then came Bellinger. He was called up for a game against the rival San Francisco Giants on April 25 and the rest is history. Bellinger helped lead the boys in blue to the best record in the MLB at 104-58, was named an NL All-Star, NL Rookie of the Year, and finished 9th in the NL MVP voting, cementing him among the brightest up and coming stars in the game.

2018 was somewhat disappointing for Bellinger. After hitting 39 home runs in 548 plate appearances his rookie year, he hit just 25 home runs the following year and his OPS dropped over .100 points. He developed troubles against left-handed pitching, hitting just .226 against southpaws compared to .271 the previous season. Cody just never seemed to find his groove and became a platoon player despite appearing in all 162 games.

A sophomore slump? Perhaps. All the sudden, it seemed like Bellinger was a forgotten star in Hollywood.

Despite the ‘sophomore slump’ of 2018, a season that many in the Major Leagues would have called a major success, the now 23-year old has amassed 64 home runs and 173 RBI, while hitting .264 in his first two seasons and compiling an 8.4 WAR.

To put this in perspective, Nolan Arenado (top-5 in MVP voting last 3 seasons) accumulated a 7.9 WAR and Christian Yelich (2018 NL MVP) posted a 7.6 WAR across each of their first two full seasons in the Major Leagues. He’s hit more home runs and driven in more runs in his first two seasons than Bryce Harper and Giancarlo Stanton did in theirs.

Bellinger let it be known prior to the 2019 season that he wanted to be in the starting lineup every day, “I should be in the lineup every single day,” Bellinger told The Athletic back in February. “I don’t think there’s a question about that. Even when I’m not good, I’m still really good.” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts heard those demands loud and clear, “I think right now and going forward he’s got to be our guy” he said in an interview conducted by Jorge Castillo of the Los Angeles Times.

So, can Bellinger reassert himself as a superstar and make a run at the MVP in 2019? It’s early (very early), but indications say absolutely. He has made a couple of slight adjustments such as lowering his hands and shortening his stride alongside his new hitting coach Robert Van Scoyoc. The adjustments have allowed Bellinger to be shorter to and stay behind the ball which in return has the former fourth-round pick off to a red-hot start to the 2019 season, hitting .438 with 5 home runs and 13 RBI along with 9 runs and 29 total bases. Aside from the .438 batting average, he leads the league in each of those categories.

In a game against the San Francisco Giants on April 2, Bellinger stepped into the box against left-handed pitcher Madison Bumgarner with the bases loaded. A season ago, Cody probably wouldn’t have been in the lineup against the left-handed ace but Roberts stuck with his guy. That guy (Bellinger) took a 1-0 slider and blasted it over the center field fence. As he was rounding first base, Bellinger appeared to give a little flex of his right arm as if he was saying, “Hey guys, remember me? Yeah, I never left, I’m just better.” The grand slam turned out to be huge as the Dodgers went onto defeat the Giants 6-5. It appears as though Cody has made the adjustment against left-handers, hitting .385 (5-12) in the early going, putting those doubts to rest.

(Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

Offense isn’t the only part of Bellinger’s game. He is a great athlete who, at 6’4, 200 lbs, can play Gold Glove caliber first base and man all three outfield positions. The league average in fielding percentage across the 2017-2018 seasons was .984, and Cody Bellinger flashes a .994 fielding percentage across all four positions.

His fastest sprint speed in 2018 according to Statcast was 28.8 feet per second. Mike Trout, who is widely regarded as the best athlete in baseball, recorded a sprint speed of 29.4, only slightly ahead of Bellinger. Cody’s speed and athleticism also makes him a threat on the bases. During his first two seasons he stole a combined 24 bags in his first two seasons and has only been caught 4 times. Through 7 games in 2019, he appears to be staying aggressive, stealing 1 bag on 2 attempts thus far.

Once again, is it early for MVP talk? Yes. Is it only 7 games? Yes, but the bottom line is that Cody Bellinger has the make-up and possesses all of the tools to not only be a Hollywood MVP, but a National League MVP.

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