Ever since he won the starting shortstop job to open the 2016 season, Corey Seager has been the young, left-handed hitting infielder that Los Angeles Dodgers fans consider the franchise’s future. He has become the darling of the National League and continues to rake in 2017, though his numbers are slightly down through the first 40 or so games.
The reigning Rookie of the Year plays a competent shortstop and is an absolute menace at the plate. But he’s not the only former No. 1 prospect making an impact in the Dodgers lineup. Cody Bellinger has come up and etched his name in Dodgers history the last few weeks.
His hot start has led to speculation that veteran first baseman Adrian Gonzalez or a slew of left fielders could soon be out of a regular job, as long as Bellinger continues to rake. Bellinger’s .297/.373/1.022, seven-homer debut in his first 20 games is Kemp-ian and Puig-ian, which are the rookie standards for Dodgers hitters now. In fact, his numbers trump Seager’s current .280/.370/.845 (six homers) line in nearly twice as many games to open 2017.
With that in mind, some have started to wonder: Is Bellinger actually a better long-term option for the Dodgers than Seager?
Before we discuss our take on it, let us be clear: this is not an either/or. The Dodgers are smart enough and fortunate enough to have both lefty sluggers for the foreseeable future, as Seager and Bellinger don’t go to free agency until 2022 and 2023, respectively. If they continue to hit like they have in their short careers, the Scott Boras clients will become expensive, but the Dodgers are the richest team in the league anyway. Long story short, both players are sticking around for a long time.
Now, back to the question at hand. Is Bellinger, in his three weeks of big league service, already looking like a better long-term bet than Seager?
Though some in the industry may be starting to question if that’s true, the answer is simply no. That’s not a knock on Bellinger — he was a top prospect for a reason and his success isn’t all that surprising given his success over the last two years in the minors. He’s a fantastic defensive first baseman, has held his own in the outfield and obviously possesses skills at the plate.
But Seager has “future MVP” written all over him. He plays a more demanding position, and he will likely always be less of a strikeout threat than Bellinger. Though he may never be as powerful as his counterpart, Seager is a hitting machine who can conceivably hit over .300 for years on end. If he challenged for a league batting title in the next few seasons, nobody would be surprised.
Bellinger, on the other hand, may develop 30-homer power and could become a big-time RBI threat from the middle of the order. He will likely have a high average, but he isn’t quite the pure hitter that Seager is. With the power will come strikeouts, which the Dodgers will probably be happy to trade as long as he’s hitting gaps and hitting seats.
In four minor league seasons, Seager hit .307 with an .891 OPS. He excelled at every level and moved up the ladder quickly. Then, when he made the jump to the majors in a full-time capacity, he took the league by storm and won the Rookie of the Year award. Bellinger hit .271 with an .853 OPS in five minor league seasons, though he did pop 56 of his 65 homers over the last two years. Seager hit 62 homers in the minors.
Anyway, here’s the real point: Bellinger is tearing it up in his first stint in the big leagues. That’s awesome, and it’s impressive. But he has also been in the league for 20 games. Pitchers haven’t found his weaknesses yet, and as they start to reveal themselves, the numbers will stumble. It happens to every player eventually. If Bellinger is going to be a Seager-level player, he will make adjustments when that happens and find a way to keep producing.
Until that opportunity presents itself and we get a real chance to see how Bellinger handles a slump (or a full season of grueling major league competition, for that matter), we won’t have a great comparison point. Even when that does occur, chances are that the better pure player — Seager — will still reign supreme.
If the Dodgers had their way, we’d be debating this topic for the next five years or so. And if Bellinger really does become as good or better than Seager, the team is the real winner. By most measures, though, Seager is the better bet to be the better long-term option in L.A. It’s going to take a lot more than 20 superb games by Bellinger to dethrone the reigning Rookie of the Year.
By Jeremy Dorn