GLENDALE, Ariz. – Cody Bellinger, the Los Angeles Dodgers' can’t-miss first baseman of the future, is perhaps at his best when sensing the need for an adjustment.
Take his plan for his second major-league spring training camp with the Dodgers. Getting a look last year at the club’s pingpong culture, Bellinger worked on his table tennis game in the offseason, in addition to his attention toward baseball. He even has his own paddle now.
The great ones refuse to stay stagnant.
Bellinger, of course, will not be known for his ability to play pingpong. His fame will come playing baseball in Los Angeles, where he hopes he will remain productive for a very long time.
Ranked by ESPN.com’s Keith Law as the club’s top prospect and sixth best prospect in all of baseball, the 21-year old could arrive in Los Angeles as early as this year, thanks to another adjustment that is far more critical than whacking a matte plastic ball across a table.
Bellinger is Adrian Gonzalez's heir apparent at first base, but for now he is refining his skills in the outfield, a spot he played regularly until his junior year in high school and some in the minor leagues last year. It could help him get to Dodger Stadium sooner rather than later.
Bellinger gave ESPN.com some time recently to talk about expectations, being patient while waiting for his chance, and the role of his father, former major-leaguer Clay Bellinger, has played in his development.
How valuable has it been to be in big-league camp the last two years?
Cody Bellinger: It has been awesome. I didn’t really know what to expect last year coming in. I was kind of the young guy and still am. It’s not saying much, but all the veteran guys kind of took me under their wing and they have been nothing but awesome to me. They have made me feel like I have been a part of the team for a lot of years now, even though I haven’t. It has been an awesome experience learning from all these big-name guys in here.
We have seen your power in Cactus League games, and manager Dave Roberts called you a future Gold Glove winner. How important is it to get that kind of feedback?
CB: I take great pride in my defense because the bat is not always going to be there. I can control my glove; that’s always going to be there. So when I was growing up, I took great pride in defense. If I could help the pitcher as much as I can, or I could save three to five errors a year with my defense, then that’s just a big help for my teammates.
How much of your defense came naturally to you, and how hard have you worked at that aspect of your game?
CB: I grew up playing in the outfield and junior year of high school I went over to first base and got some tidbits from my dad, but it kind of came naturally to me. So I think just playing two years there, and just taking constant ground balls at our high school, it just ended up coming naturally and ended up being what it is now.
How important has your father been during this process?
CB: Yeah, I mean it was unbelievable growing up. He taught me everything I know, offensively and defensively. I still send him videos of my swings throughout the year and he tells me if he sees something different. If he does, I can go back to what I was doing. He has been a big help to this point of my career.
Is there one key piece of advice you have received from your father that you cherish above all others?
CB: The biggest thing he told me is to be respectful. Respect the game on and off the field and if you do that, you’re going to have the respect among your peers. That’s the biggest thing. Your manager will have respect for you and you will have respect for the manager and it kind of goes both ways.
How hard is it getting to remain patient as you wait for your chance?
CB: It’s out of my control. That is why I’m playing a lot of outfield and I’m taking pride in the outfield right now. I feel like I can play out there (in the major leagues) right now defensively. Whenever they think I am ready I will be ready. I’ve been preparing all offseason with my mind and my body. Like I said, I’m just waiting for the call and we’ll see from there.
As the hype grows and you keep rising up the top prospects lists, what is the key to blocking out all that outside noise?
CB: That says it, you kind of just have to block it out. It’s all over social media, but in the end you still have to perform and if you don’t perform then it’s all going to go away. You don’t try to pay too much attention to it. I just try to go out and try to do what I can do every day to help the team win.
You are among the next wave of this young core the Dodgers have developed, starting with Joc Pederson on down to Corey Seager and Julio Urias. Do you consider what it might be like to play with this group for a long time?
CB: Yeah, I think about it a lot actually. I think it has been a dream, and everyone’s dream in here, to be in the big leagues. It’s certainly one of mine and playing alongside those young guys, I think it would be really special.
Most people, including those in this room, will never hit mammoth drives as consistently as you can. What does it feel like to make perfect contact?
CB: You don’t feel it. You just kind of hit it and stare at it naturally. It’s probably the best feeling in sports.
Is that what happened on your mammoth blast against the Brewers?
CB: Yeah, I didn’t feel it. I heard the noise. I was like, "Oh, that’s going to go far." I didn’t know it went out that far until I watched video of it. You don’t want to show up anybody so I only watched it for a little bit and started running around the bases. You give yourself a little bit of pleasure, but that’s hard to do in baseball. It’s hard to square up a ball and if you do it, you look at it for a second, and then you go run the bases.