After including Yasiel Puig in an offseason trade with the Cincinnati Reds, the Los Angeles Dodgers faced an obvious need in right field. Free agency speculation connected them to Bryce Harper, but he didn’t have interest in a short-term contract, even if it would’ve been record setting.
The Dodgers ultimately signed A.J. Pollock to a five-year deal and planned to have Cody Bellinger fill the void left by Puig’s departure. Although Bellinger had proven to be capable of playing the outfield, it nonetheless represented a change for the natural first baseman.
He quickly proved to be comfortable in the corner spot, making jaw-dropping plays both with his speed and athleticism and arm. And it was Bellinger’s throwing ability that impressed teammate Alex Verdugo.
The rookie became an everyday starter in center field when Pollock missed time after undergoing elbow surgery, and Verdugo admitted to not being fully aware of how strong and accurate of an arm Bellinger possessed, as seen on SportsNet LA:
“Belli, I played with him a lot in the Minors, so he’s seen all the throws I’ve made. Now I’m starting to get a taste of seeing his throws. He played a lot of first down there. Coming out to the outfield, you get to finally see him show off that arm. I’m not going to lie, it caught me by surprise. I was like, ‘Bell, you’ve got a good arm, bro. Like, that’s smooth.’ It’s fun to watch.”
At the end of April, Bellinger threw a 92 mph strike to prevent San Francisco Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford from going first to third base. Though impressive, it paled in comparison to another highlight-reel throw.
Two weeks later, Bellinger charged a ball hit into right field and threw out Stephen Strasburg to preserve Hyun-Jin Ryu’s no-hitter. Ryu would later allow a hit and it prompted him to apologize to Bellinger for failing to uphold his terrific play in the long run.
Bellinger finished the season with 10 assists in right field, and his overall defense at every position he played has been part of Dodgers manager Dave Roberts campaigning for the young All-Star to be voted National League MVP.