Texas notes: Verdugo blossoming in Tulsa

Dodgers No. 6 prospect thriving in third season as full-time outfielder

Alex Verdugo is slashing .299/.361/.464 in his first season at Double-A Tulsa. (Walter Barnard/MiLB.com)

By Troy Schulte / Special to MiLB.com | July 19, 2016 10:00 AM

Alex Verdugo was expecting a phone call in June 2014; he just wasn't necessarily expecting what he heard when the Dodgers made him a second-round pick that year.

"I was kind of taken [aback]," Verdugo said. "I was like 'What center fielder?' I thought I was going as a pitcher, but they said hitter and I said, 'Absolutely.'"

While a senior in high school in Tucson, Arizona, Verdugo said he spent pre-Draft talks telling teams he didn't care if they selected him as an outfielder or as a pitcher. But inside, he can say now, he wanted his professional career to start in the batter's box and not on the mound.

"I wanted to help the team every day rather than pitching once every five," he said.

The Dodgers gave Verdugo that chance, and he's spent the last three seasons proving the outfield is where he's best suited.

Verdugo is in his first season at Double-A Tulsa, where he was a Texas League All-Star as one of the league's youngest players at 20 years old. He entered Monday third in the league in hitting (.299) and had 11 homers while driving in 50 runs. That comes after he hit .311 at two different levels last year and .353 in two levels the year he was drafted.

Verdugo said how he prepares is the key.

"It's about coming to the field every day and having the same routine and sticking with it," he said. "Then, when the game comes, it's just about having a plan and executing it. If the pitcher makes a mistake, you just have to execute and take advantage."

He's been at his best recently, hitting .333 since the All-Star break with three home runs and 13 RBIs. He homered in both games of Saturday's doubleheader at Arkansas and had doubled four times in the last two weeks.

"Just being locked in and taking advantage of mistakes," he said.

That's not to say everything is perfect. Verdugo still has a list of improvements, such as becoming a better outfielder -- he's played mostly in center field, but also has seen time in right -- and to get better on the basepaths.

Verdugo had been caught stealing on six out of eight attempts this season after he stole 14 in 19 attempts with Class A Great Lakes and Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga last year.

"I've gotten thrown out a lot more than I've wanted to this year," he said. "Definitely it's something I want to improve, and it's a great tool to have."

Verdugo also likes the development of his power. His 11 homers are a career high. He hit three with the Rookie-level AZL Dodgers and Ogden Raptors in 2014 and nine with two teams last season.

"Power will come," he said. "For me, it's more about being a solid hitter at first and then the power will come; whether it's in a year or two or down the line. But I think it'll come."

Verdugo said he still has life in a left arm that topped out at 97 mph in high school, but he doesn't regret choosing the outfield route out of high school. How he's developed as a hitter since being drafted has proved his instincts right.

"I could've definitely pitched well," he said. "[The arm] is still there. I just use it in the outfield."

In brief

Back to the Missions: After a positive couple of days in his first stint at Triple-A El Paso, Nick Torres returned to Double-A San Antonio this week. The Padres' No. 19 prospect went 4-for-13 with a homer and three RBIs in three games with the Chihuahuas, his first time at that level since being drafted in the fourth round in 2014. Torres returned to the Missions this week, for whom he was hitting .281 with five homers and 35 RBIs through Monday.

Still streaking: Frisco first baseman Ronald Guzman had a triple and a homer in Sunday's victory over San Antonio to extend his hitting streak to 16 games, one short of the longest in the Texas League this season. Springfield's Harrison Bader and Frisco's Ryan Cordell each had 17-game hitting streaks. Guzman was hitting .365 (23-for-63) during the streak that began June 25 to raise his average to .303 through Monday.

Finding a groove: The Arkansas Travelers have struggled at the plate all season and were tied for last in the Texas League in runs scored through Sunday's games. But infielder Andrew Daniel has turned things around, raising his batting average 38 points since June 26. Daniel has hit safely in 14 of his last 17 games, a period during which he's hitting .440 while collecting 26 hits. He's now second on the team with a .290 average.

Up, then down: The Springfield Cardinals have had two pitchers from the 2014 Draft class helping them all season in Luke Weaver and Andrew Morales. They got the help of another for one start last week, too. Austin Gomber, picked in the fourth round out of Florida Atlantic that season, held San Antonio to one run on four hits and three walks while striking out five over six innings in a no-decision July 9. He was sent back to Class A Advanced Palm Beach this week, where he is 6-6 with a 3.05 ERA in 15 starts this season.

Troy Schulte is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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