Stock Watch: Quakes' Bellinger powering up

Dodgers teenager shining with 12 homers, defensive versatility

Cody Bellinger entered Wednesday sixth in the California League with a .540 slugging percentage. (Steve Saenz)

By Jake Seiner / MiLB.com | June 11, 2015 10:23 AM

Work around Minor League Baseball long enough, and one learns to practice healthy skepticism when reviewing power numbers from the California League. Recent home run champs from the league include a smorgasbord of talents -- Jon Gaston, Michael Choice, Paul Goldschmidt, Adam Duvall, Zach Borenstein, Matt Olson. Sometimes, big power numbers out West mean something. Oftentimes they don't.

Through Wednesday night, Rancho Cucamonga first baseman Cody Bellinger has 12 home runs, three behind Lancaster's A.J. Reed for the league lead. Three of the four players ahead of him are 22 or older, and all of them play for either Lancaster, Bakersfield, Visalia or High Desert. As MiLB.com's Ashley Marshall wrote last year, that quartet plays in parks that might as well exist on the moon.

Bellinger is just 19 years old, and he plays for the Quakes, whose Rancho Cucamonga Epicenter suppresses homers compared to an average California League park. One may want to maintain skepticism about his .557 slugging percentage, but there's mounting evidence that Bellinger is more than a West Coast mirage.

"I think he can definitely be a home run and gap-to-gap guy," Rancho Cucamonga coach Bill Haselman said. "For his age, to hit [12] home runs in this league, that's a pretty awesome thing to do. They're pretty legit home runs, too."

At a listed 6-foot-4 and 180 pounds, the 2013 fourth-rounder might just be showing the tip of the iceburg for his potential power production.

"I think he still has pounds to put on and a lot of strength to gain," Haselman said. "He still doesn't have that mature body you see on a lot of big league players. I think, in the future, he has a lot more muscle to put on and develop his body more."

Bellinger has shown the makings of a successful big league hitter since high school. Around Draft time, outlets often compared his smooth, left-handed stroke to that of Adam LaRoche. Bellinger had some early success in the Minors, too, batting .328 with Rookie-level Ogden last summer.

The performance and skillset -- notably, good bat-to-ball skills and tremendous defense at first base -- landed Bellinger at 17th among the Dodgers' top prospects this offseason.

"Bellinger has the sweet left-handed swing and the mature approach to hit for average, though there's some question as to how much power he'll produce," MLB.com's Prospect Pipeline team wrote. "He has some bat speed but will need to add loft to his swing and strength to his lanky 6-foot-4 frame."

Despite skipping over the Class A Midwest League and remaining a bit of a string bean physically, Bellinger is hitting for power. MLB.com wrote about Bellinger's swing lacking loft, but that doesn't appear to be a problem anymore. You can see for yourself in the embedded MiLB.TV shot below.

MLB.com put a 55 grade on Bellinger's hit tool but just a 45 on his power. His performance this summer will likely move the needle on the latter, possibly by a whole grade. And as Haselman noted, Bellinger still has a teenager's body -- there's more strength to come.

An above-average hitter with above-average power at first base is a nice big league player -- think James Loney or Yonder Alonso. Loney might be the most apt comparison, actually, not just because he was also a Dodger, but because he's regarded as a well above-average defender at first.

But Bellinger might be more than that, because he's far more athletic than the average first base prospect. So much so that Los Angeles has also given him time in center field, which brings to mind former Angels' standout Darin Erstad.

"His primary position is first, but he's such a good athlete, you can put him in the outfield," Haselman said. "He makes the plays there. It just gives him more opportunities as a young kid. Hypothetically speaking, if he gets called up and you have a first baseman, a guy that's like a staple … he can play another position to help out, as well. His athletic abilities enable him to do that.

All that athleticism is bolstered by Bellinger's "high baseball IQ," according to Haselman. Bellinger's father is four-year MLB veteran Clay Bellinger, who suited up for the Yankees and Angels.

"He's pretty in tune with what's going on," Haselman said. "He's way ahead of his years. … For a 19-year-old kid in this league, he's done a really good job."

Two hot…

Blue Jays SS Richard Urena, Class A Lansing: The 19-year-old came into the year boasting an uncommon profile. He was generally listed among the 10 or so best prospects in Toronto's farm system, largely because he has the chops to shine defensively at short and he hit .318 with Rookie-level Bluefield in 2014, with scouting reports suggesting he should hit for average. Urena had a four-tool profile, with power never figuring into the 6-foot-1 Dominican's game.

That's changed this year. Urena has more than quadrupled his career high for home runs already, slugging his ninth round-tripper on Wednesday night. The switch-hitter has bashed eight of his nine round-trippers from the left side and he's on pace to hit more than 20 homers for the season, which would be a remarkable spike for a player with just three homers in 133 games entering 2015.

Reds RHP Robert Stephenson, Double-A Pensacola: It was only about a month ago that Stephenson found himself on the wrong end of this feature shortly after walking seven batters over 6 1/3 innings May 6. After appearing in the May 13 edition of Stock Watch, Stephenson walked 11 players over his next three starts but has since managed to adjust his delivery and find the strike zone with more regularity. His last three times out, Stephenson has a 25-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 22 innings, and he allowed just two earned runs in that time.

"There have been a couple things we've been working on, but the big problem was that I was nitpicking too much and being too fine with my pitches," Stephenson told MiLB.com after his June 4 gem at Mobile. "The other thing was that I was rushing it a little bit, and when I speed up my tempo, I wasn't able to repeat my motion and throw strikes. When I slow it down, I'm able to repeat my arm slot every time.

...And one not

Mets OF Champ Stuart, Class A Advanced St. Lucie: Stuart came into the season with a little bit of helium as a prospect and fueled that flame with multiple hits in five of his first eight games. The speedy center fielder has cooled considerably since, though, batting .297 with a .547 OPS on the year. Stuart had struck out in 37 percent of his plate appearances entering Wednesday with six extra-base hits. Stuart's carrying tool is his speed, and he's 14-of-15 on stolen base attempts, so it's not all bad. Still, the 2013 sixth-rounder will need to make more contact to remain on the prospect radar.

Jake Seiner is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Seiner. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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