LOS ANGELES -- When a young ballplayer's talent, performance and recognition earn him top prospect status, one perk is an invitation to MLB/MLBPA's Rookie Career Development Program, held earlier this month in Leesburg, Va.The program gathers future stars from each organization for a four-day seminar to learn about life in
LOS ANGELES -- When a young ballplayer's talent, performance and recognition earn him top prospect status, one perk is an invitation to MLB/MLBPA's Rookie Career Development Program, held earlier this month in Leesburg, Va.
The program gathers future stars from each organization for a four-day seminar to learn about life in the big leagues, and this year's edition included Dodgers No. 1 prospect Cody Bellinger.
"It's awesome," said Bellinger, who was joined by Dodgers top pitching prospect Jose De Leon. "I didn't know what to expect coming in. They make it fun. It's interactive, and you've got the top guys in the Minor Leagues right now, so you build good friendships here."
Bellinger, the 21-year-old son of former Major Leaguer Clay Bellinger, was a fourth-round Draft pick in 2013 who hit only four home runs in his first 98 professional games through '14. His bat erupted the next year with 30 homers and 103 RBIs at Class A Rancho Cucamonga, and he has been a can't miss ever since as his 6-foot-4 frame has filled out to 210 pounds. MLBPipeline ranks Bellinger as the No. 32 overall prospect.
Promoted to Double-A Tulsa in 2016, he hit 23 homers with 65 RBIs and in a three-game callup to Triple-A Oklahoma City went an eye-popping 6-for-11 with three homers. He continued to impress in the Arizona Fall League that followed.
"I was always told growing up, learn how to hit first, the power will come," he said of his dramatic improvement. "Also, [after] three years in pro ball, the game starts to slow down a little bit. You start seeing everything you haven't seen before, and [last] offseason I hit with my hitting coach consistently, and there's some tweaks in my swing and putting on weight and it just kind of happens like that."
Bellinger's most obvious improvement from 2015-16 was cutting down on his strikeout ratio, despite missing a month with a sore hip.
"I really worked on my approach," he explained. "[In 2015] in the Cal League I was just kind of swinging, thinking I can hit everything out, trying to prove that I have power. This year  was more of to prove I'm a natural hitter, hit for power and average. Just knowing what I can hit and what I can't hit."
Despite the power surge, Bellinger doesn't consider himself a left-handed slugger just yet.
"I see myself as a line-drive hitter first," he said. "As I get bigger and stronger, the balls I hit in the gap are going to go over the fence. So like I said, you have to learn how to hit before power."
By comparison, defense has never been an issue. He has a Gold Glove-caliber fluidity at first base that draws comparisons to Wes Parker, J.T. Snow, Keith Hernandez and Don Mattingly. And he's naturally athletic enough to play any of the outfield positions, which might accelerate his arrival, as first base is currently blocked by consistent run producer Adrian Gonzalez.
"I always felt defense was a big part of my game," he said. "If I can't help the team offensively, I can help defensively. When you're playing first base, you help the infielders a lot. They appreciate you when you pick their ball. It's fun to help that. I've played outfield my whole life. It's kind of like riding a bike. I'm enjoying it. Just more opportunities to get to the big leagues faster and I'm all for it."
Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.