Scouting agencies do an excellent job at ranking prospects, and giving young baseball players an idea of where they will be selected in the MLB draft. While many players get picked around their projected spot, there is always a few who slide down the board for a number of reasons.
This scenario is exactly what happened last June to Dodgers’ prospect Alex Verdugo. Known as an excellent all-around athlete at Sahuaro High School in Tucson, Arizona, the question entering the draft was whether, or not Verdugo was going to pursue a baseball career as a pitcher, or a center fielder?
“I always enjoyed doing both pitching and hitting,” explained Verdugo. “At the end of the day I always liked the feel of the ball being hit off the bat more. Plus playing centerfield gives me an opportunity to warm up every day and play, while pitchers only go every fifth day.”
Viewed by many scouts as a better pitcher, Verdugo chose to go with heart and pick centerfield as he feels it gives him a better opportunity to showcase his pure athletic ability. A potential 1st rounder on the mound, Verdugo felt he would be selected in the top round even in center. Although that didn’t happen, he wouldn’t have to wait long to hear his name, as he was taken in the 2nd round, a moment that the prospect describes as bittersweet.
“Being drafted by the Dodgers was a bittersweet moment for me,” said Verdugo. “I had no idea the Dodgers were interested. But it was bittersweet for me personally, because I felt like I could have gone higher. I felt I was talented enough to be taken within the first round. After it all set in I was happy to know I was drafted and It was great being in the Dodgers system. I feel it’s a perfect fit for me.”
Beginning his professional career in his home state of Arizona, Verdugo joined the AZL Dodgers for the majority of his first professional year. Registering 170 at-bats at the AZL level, Verdugo wasn’t fazed by the transitioned he made from playing high school baseball. Picking up 59 hits, which included: 14 doubles, three triples, and three home runs, the 18-year old outfielder silenced any critics who felt he made the wrong decision by driving in 33 runs, while scoring another 29, and maintaining an impressive .347/.423/.518 slash line.
Earning a promotion to the Dodgers advanced-rookie ball club, the Ogden Raptors in late August didn’t slow Verdugo down either. Picking up eight hits in 20 at-bats, the Arizona native added another double and eight RBIs to his already impressive season. Despite the small sample size in the Pioneer League, Verdugo’s .400/.400/.450 slash line was a great sign for a player who was just three months removed from high school.
“I loved playing in Ogden. It was a big upgrade from the AZL,” stated Verdugo. “In the AZL you just play and there are a couple of fans, but it’s mostly just competing against other teams. Once I got to Ogden there were crowds full of fans. People would ask you for your autograph, which was cool. When you’re at the plate people would cheer you on or if you’re on the road they would boo you. It was fun to experience something like that and I’m thankful for the opportunity.”
Also finding success on the base paths, Verdugo was a perfect 11-for-11 on steal attempts. While coaching plays a major component in this stat, the young prospect really prides himself on his ability to know when to go and when to stay back.
“When it comes to stealing it’s a mix of coaching and having the green light to go,” said Verdugo. “In the AZL it was more coaching related, as my coach was more on the conservative side when it came to stealing bases. He basically told me when he wanted me to go and not go.”
“Towards the end of the year I was called up to Ogden and the coach was more aggressive there,” he added. “He told me, if you have speed and you’re on base I want you to take it. I stole like three bases in my first three games with the Ogden Raptors. It was nice having more of a green light to go.”
Even though Verdugo found great success offensively in his first season, he’s equally as skilled defensively. Appearing in 48 games between the two clubs, Verdugo committed just three errors in 89 chances, while playing all three outfield positions.
Spending the majority of his time in centerfield, Verdugo understands the importance of communicating to the corner outfielders. Even though the young prospect jumped on the scene quickly, it didn’t take him long to earn the respect of his teammates.
“In the AZL there are a lot of Latin players. Obviously, there’s a language barrier there,” explained Verdugo. “I made sure I talked to all of them when I first got there. I felt it was important to get to know them and I became friends with most of them as well. Once we started playing games together they quickly noticed I could play and they respected me. Being the guy in center, I would let the corner guys know when a guy came to the plate with power. I would make sure everybody was lined up well.”
Currently ranked 9th amongst Dodgers prospects by MLB.com. Verdugo will be looking to improve his stock even more in 2015. The prospect is currently training five days a week to impress in his first spring training, which he understands won’t be easy. But he’s completely focused on earning a promotion to the Dodgers low-A affiliate, the Great Lakes Loons in April.
“I really have no expectations for spring training, except to get better,” explained Verdugo. “I’m ready to get back to work and compete hard. Hopefully I’ll make it to an affiliate in April. I would love to make it to low-A Great Lakes out of camp, but that’s out of my control. I’ll go where the coaching staff wants me to go. I feel if I’m mature and keep working the way I have been working I can get there. I’m just training hard to make that transition, as easy as possible.”
“I took a lot more of the off-season off than I probably should have,” he added. “I went through a little fatigue in my first year. But now I’m back up in Phoenix training five days a week with some excellent trainers that’s focused on me getting in great shape. I’m basically in overdrive to make sure I’m prepared for spring.”
Be sure to keep your eye on Alex Verdugo as he continues to be an excellent all-around player for one of the Los Angeles Dodgers minor league affiliates in 2015.