Early Signs Suggest Tempered Expectations Are Required With Dodgers Top Prospect Alex Verdugo
Alex Verdugo, Los Angeles Dodgers
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

With Brad Miller electing to exercise the opt-out clause in his Minor League contract and become a free agent, it locked Alex Verdugo into a spot on the Los Angeles Dodgers Opening Day roster.

The way the Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman handled this past offseason, it signaled that this year would be the season of Alex Verdugo. Friedman opened up roster spots by trading Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp to seemingly free up playing time for Verdugo.

Verdugo has been the Dodgers’ top prospect for the past two years, and rightfully so. He has a career slash line of .309/.367/.444 with 41 home runs and 44 stolen bases in five Minor League seasons. He’s also demonstrated to be sure-handed with the glove in the outfield.

At this point, Verdugo has nothing left to prove with Triple-A Oklahoma City, which stands to reason why the Dodgers would give him this season to prove what he can do in the Majors.

However, prospects are prospects for a reason, and the fanbase shouldn’t be quick to deem Verdugo an All-Star in his first season. Verdugo may be the most MLB-ready prospect the Dodgers have, but that doesn’t exactly make him one of baseball’s top outfielders.

After five seasons in the Minors, we know what Verdugo brings to the table. He has a very quick bat and is great at making contact with the ball; he could very well end the season hitting above .300.

Verdugo is also an excellent defender, with an above-average arm. His youth and speed give him the versatility to play all three outfield positions, and he could very well win a few Gold Glove Awards in his career.

The one knock in his game is that he’s doesn’t hit for very much power. The most home runs he’s hit in the Minors was back in 2016 when he hit 13. Not all players have five tools that have little holes in their game, which is fine.

Verdugo could very well settle into a role as the Dodgers’ leadoff hitter or hit at the bottom of the lineup.

So when you put all his tools together, you get a potential .300 batter, 15 home runs, 20 stolen bases, above average defender. That’s a solid MLB player.

However, here’s the thing, that’s reaching the ceilings of his potential (give or take .20 batting average points and five home runs or stolen bases). Essentially, Verdugo is a hybrid version of Alex Gordon (defense, speed, and power) with Nick Markakis (average).

Again, those are formidable Major League players, but are they franchise-changing talents? No.

The Dodgers front office reportedly was hesitant to include Verdugo in trade talks that could have landed them a premier pitcher or hitter. My question is, why? For a better version of Alex Gordon? That doesn’t seem like the most optimal strategy to “win now.”

To be clear, that isn’t to say Verdugo will be a bust. He’s going to be a solid big leaguer. But given his ceiling, it doesn’t make sense to treasure him as if he’s the next Mike Trout.

Granted, it’s been an extremely small sample size, but Verdugo’s MLB career isn’t off to a great start. In 100 at-bats, he’s hit .240/.309/.360 with a pair of home runs, five RBI and 18 strikeouts.

Again, small sample size, but after his first 100 at-bats, he’s not close to the ceiling the Dodgers had hoped he’d live up to. Even this spring, Verdugo has looked less-than-spectacular hitting, .240/.286/.365 with six doubles and seven RBI in 52 at-bats.

Perhaps the biggest thing that’s holding Verdugo back from reaching his ceiling is that he hasn’t had an opportunity to have consistent playing time at the Major League level.

Perhaps that changes this season, but manager Dave Roberts is still dealing with the platoon question between Verdugo and Joc Pederson, which doesn’t exactly answer itself since they are both lefties.

And for now, indications are Pederson will platoon with Chris Taylor in left field. Considering that, how does it allow Verdugo to reach the fullest of his potential?

Again, this isn’t to say Verdugo isn’t a talented player. He is. And some of the struggles don’t mean Verdugo won’t be successful in the Majors.

But, he may not be worth missing out on bringing in establish, game-changing players like Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer. So, it should be noted to fans to temper expectations.