Already one of the Dodgers’ top prospects in 2016 after being nabbed int he second round of the 2014 draft, Verdugo was one of the youngest players in the Arizona Fall League where he struggled for the first time in relatively short professional career. Verdugo had logged a full season at Double-A Tulsa, and he held his own with 36 extra-base hits, however was overmatched by the more advanced arms he faced in Arizona. Towards the end of the Fall League he started finding some more hard contact and carried that momentum over, first into the WBC for Team Mexico, and then again into the first half of the 2017 season in the PCL.
It’s been a busy 12 months for the now 21-year-old, but his struggles in the 2016 AFL have led to significant adjustments in his approach at the plate, resulting in a willingness to not only use the left side of the field more, but to do damage that way as well. Swing and miss has never been a big issue for Verdugo, but he has taken his comfort at the plate to the next level so far this season, with more walks than strikeouts (29:25 BB/SO rate). He is also sporting a lofty .364 BABIP, which to some may seem unsustainable, but when you couple it with the BB:SO rate it tells me that he is being selective, and then driving his pitch when he gets it. This is Verdugo’s first taste of Triple-A ball, so taking a step forward while climbing a level bodes well for his ability to handle a jump to the big leagues when the time comes. He is a very heady player and isn’t at all afraid, bringing a very aggressive and hard-nosed style of play that big league clubs crave down the stretch.
Defensively, Verdugo is a natural center fielder, and he should be able to stick at the position, something that adds significantly to his value in the big leagues. He has a good first step, his routes are efficient, and he has a 55-grade arm – but he lacks that plus run you look for in a center fielder, checking in with an average run tool at best. The athleticism definitely plays up his defense, but he isn’t the same plus-defensive profile we’ve seen from the likes of current Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson.
So while Verdugo is indeed in a very good place, he will have to show that he can continue to do extra-base hit damage as pitchers adjust to him going forward. He has six extra-base hits in his last eight games for Oklahoma City, but the .115 ISO he has on the season is only average for the offense-heavy Pacific Coast League. Verdugo is a plus athlete, and he should continue to get stronger as his body matures, however he doesn’t have a ton of physical projection like that of fellow Dodger first baseman/outfielder Cody Bellinger. Verdugo’s thicker frame likely still has some firming up to do, but at 205 pounds, there isn’t room for him to add a bunch of weight.
Ultimately, this is a kid who has several above-average tools with an approach and makeup that will allow him to get the most out of his ability. The Dodgers are in no hurry with Verdugo and given the immediate impact Bellinger has had on the club, Verdugo is likely a potential trade piece as the deadline approaches. That said, this kid will impact both sides of the ball as a regular for somebody at the big league level in the not-too-distant future. Here is some video of Verdugo from the 2016 AFL season, courtesy of Alec Dopp.