After Alex Verdugo made his MLB debut in 2017 and spent a portion last season up with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team felt comfortable enough to trade Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig over the winter in effort to clear room for the young outfielder to receive more playing time.
There was a stretch where it seemed plausible Verdugo nonetheless would begin the 2019 season with Triple-A Oklahoma City because of Brad Miller’s production during Spring Training, but the utility player opted out of his Minor League deal.
So Verdugo was included on the Dodgers’ Opening Day roster, and he immediately rewarded the team’s faith in him. Verdugo started on the bench before playing his way into more starting opportunities, then became the primary center fielder after A.J. Pollock landed on the injured list after undergoing elbow surgery.
Verdugo’s energy and production endeared him to teammates and fans alike. While his on-field flair can seem reminiscent of Puig, who became a fan-favorite for that reason, those around him in the Dodgers clubhouse praised Verdugo’s energy, including Clayton Kershaw and Justin Turner.
Turner also raved about strides the 23-year-old made with his maturity, via AM 570 L.A. Sports:
“I think he’s matured a lot, just in one season. He definitely had some stuff going on last year, where I don’t know if he was just not used to the culture or what was happening. We try to be loose with these guys but there are a few rules you’ve got to follow. He’s been a completely different guy this year. He’s funny to be around, he’s exciting, he has a little Puig in him where he has that knack for sparking some electricity in the lineup and the fans. He’s been good for us.”
As Verdugo was putting together a rookie campaign, he figured to factor prominently into the Dodgers’ plans come the postseason. However, an oblique strain in August derailed that expectation.
Verdugo was slow to recover — and the Dodgers also took matters cautiously — but he did eventually begin a rehab assignment. But that was short-lived, as he began to experience back discomfort.
Verdugo returned to Camelback Ranch for more treatment and rehab and eyed a return in the National League Championship Series if the Dodgers advanced. However, manager Dave Roberts all but officially ruled out the possibility.
In addition to playing all three outfield positions, Verdugo produced at the plate to the tune of a .294/.342/.475 batting line with 22 doubles, 12 home runs and 44 RBI in 106 games.