This is how the rich get richer: Select a skinny high school first baseman with a sweet swing that only led to one home run his senior season in the fourth round of the 2013 draft. Then, less than four years later, watch that player explode onto the major league scene with nine home runs in his first 25 games.
That is exactly what has happened with Cody Bellinger in Los Angeles.
The Dodgers have a rich history of rookies, going back to their Brooklyn days. Jackie Robinson was named the first Rookie of the Year in 1947 and Dodgers players have won 17 of the awards, most of any team. Bellinger, hitting .295/.362/.653 in his red-hot first month in the majors, could be the second straight, following Corey Seager last season. That's nothing for this franchise: They won five in a row from 1992 to 1996 (Eric Karros, Mike Piazza, Raul Mondesi, Hideo Nomo, Todd Hollandsworth).
Bellinger -- check him out against the Cardinals on Tuesday (ESPN, 10 p.m. ET) -- broke out in his fifth game, against the Phillies on April 29. He homered off Zach Eflin in the seventh inning, belting an 0-2 slider out to right field. In the bottom of the ninth, he homered off a Hector Neris splitter. That was the second of three straight homers in the inning, as the Dodgers rallied with four runs to win 6-5.
Bellinger homered twice again on May 5, hit a grand slam off the Padres' Miguel Diaz on May 6, hit one off tough Rockies lefty Jake McGee on May 12. His most impressive home run may have been this one a few days ago off Marlins closer AJ Ramos, an opposite-field blast off a pitch on the outside corner:
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) May 20, 2017
The kid who hit one home run as a high school senior is now 21 and blasting 414-foot home runs to left-center.
The son of former Yankees infielder Clay Bellinger, Cody starred at Hamilton High School in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler. He was a gifted defensive first basemen with projection, but scouts wondered about his power potential. Andy MacCullough of the Los Angeles Times recently profiled what the Dodgers saw at the time -- when Ned Colletti was the general manager:
Bellinger was a difficult prospect to project. As a first baseman, his future depended on his slugging. During batting practice, Bellinger felt he could put on a show. But during games, opposing pitchers kept him contained inside the ballpark -- even if they could not keep him off the bases.
Scouts felt bearish on his future. "Some of the guys have admitted it to me, 'We didn’t project him to be a power guy. We didn't know how that body was going to fill out,'" [high school coach Mike] Woods said.
Bellinger slipped to the fourth round. Colletti does not cast his scouting department as a collection of soothsayers. He admitted he did not project Bellinger to transform into a power hitter. But the organization felt entranced by his smoothness at first base and his athleticism. The team offered him a $700,000 signing bonus, nearly $300,000 above the recommended amount for the 124th pick.
Colletti, much maligned during his tenure as GM, was the man in charge when the team drafted Seager and Bellinger. He and scouting director Logan White also drafted Joc Pederson -- another son of a major leaguer -- in the 11th round in 2010. Their first pick together in 2006 was a high school lefty from Dallas by the name of Clayton Kershaw. Julio Urias and Yasiel Puig were signed under their watch in 2012. Seems like Colletti and White should get rings if the Dodgers do win a title.
That Bellinger is here already and making such an impact is a bit of a surprise. He began the season at Triple-A with good reason. He'd spent all but three games of 2016 at Double-A Tulsa, hitting .263 with 23 home runs (he hit three more home runs in three games at Triple-A). While he'd cut way down on his strikeout rate from 2015, Adrian Gonzalez was entrenched at first base, and the Dodgers outfield -- where Bellinger had started playing some in 2015 to take advantage of his athleticism -- was crowded. A season, or at least a few months, at Oklahoma City made sense, with a September call-up, similar to Seager in 2015.
The Dodgers basically tried everything to avoid calling Bellinger up. Andrew Toles and Franklin Gutierrez started as the left-field platoon, with Andre Ethier on the DL. Gutierrez soon landed on the DL as well. The team called up Trayce Thompson and played him and Kike Hernandez in the outfield. Thompson went 0-for-8 and Rob Segedin was called up to replace him, with Scott Van Slyke drawing a start in left field that night. Segedin got hurt and Brett Eibner, who may soon be trying his hand at pitching, was recalled and made two starts in the outfield. On April 24, Pederson landed on the DL with a groin strain.
Finally, Bellinger got the call. He was hitting .343 with five home runs at Oklahoma City. Think of that chain of events before they put Bellinger in the lineup: Injuries to Ethier, Gutierrez, Segedin and Pederson, plus Thompson struggling and then Van Slyke struggling and Eibner, too. Even then, when Pederson was activated on May 5, Gonzalez was placed on the DL with elbow soreness, allowing Bellinger to play first base instead of perhaps being sent down. That was the night he had his second two-homer game, and it became clear he wasn't going back down.
When Gonzalez returned to the active roster, Toles tore up his knee, opening up left field again, and helping the Dodgers avoid the decision of whether to play Bellinger over the homerless Gonzalez (for now, at least).
No matter where he plays, he can hit. He has added muscle to his frame and changed his swing a couple of years ago to add more torque and backspin. He studies heat maps to see his weaknesses. Of course, we should calm down a bit here: Gary Sanchez had that monster first month for the Yankees in August before the league caught up to him in September. Still, it has been quite the 25-game start for Bellinger, the new young star in L.A.