GLENDALE, Ariz. -- As part of MLBPipeline.com's visit to all 30 Spring Training facilities this month, we will be sitting down with prospects and getting to know them a little better. At Dodgers camp, it was No. 7 prospect Alex Verdugo. One of the best two-way prospects in the 2014
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- As part of MLBPipeline.com's visit to all 30 Spring Training facilities this month, we will be sitting down with prospects and getting to know them a little better. At Dodgers camp, it was No. 7 prospect Alex Verdugo.
One of the best two-way prospects in the 2014 Draft, Verdugo hit 94 mph as an Arizona high school left-hander but became a full-time outfielder once he signed for $914,600 as a second-round pick. He finished second in the Rookie-level Arizona League batting race (.347) in his pro debut, then hit .311/.340/.441 and reached Class A Advanced in 2015.
MLBPipeline.com: Did you have a strong preference as to whether you hit or pitched in pro ball? Do you miss pitching at all?
Verdugo: I wanted to be an outfielder, for sure. Center field is for me. I want to be in the lineup every day instead of pitching every five. A lot of teams said they saw me first as a pitcher, but I really emphasized that I wanted to hit and they understood. Here and there, I miss it, but I definitely made the right decision. Sometimes in blowout games I wish they'd let me come in.
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MLBPipeline.com: After your strong pro debut, you hit just .213/.254/.274 without a homer in the first two months of last season before going on a .356/.380/.520 tear with nine homers in the final three months. What adjustments did you make?
MLB Pipeline Spring Training reports
Verdugo: To start the year off, I wanted to get more power. I was doing a leg kick, not a big one, but it threw off my timing. After doing that for two months, I got with my hitting coach, Jay Gibbons, to find a stance that would work best for me. We went with a toe tap and I was seeing the ball better, recognizing pitches, and it all started to come together. I was immature, thinking leg kick equals more power. Now I realize it doesn't. Just hit the ball hard. Just stick with my approach, make solid contact, hit line drives and occasionally they'll go out.
MLBPipeline.com: You finished 2015 in high Class A, batting .385/.406/.659 in 23 regular-season games and then leading Rancho Cucamonga with seven RBIs in eight playoff games as the Quakes won the California League title. Did you ever think you'd be playing in high Class A as a 19-year-old in your first full pro season?
Verdugo: I definitely moved quicker than I thought. Now that I'm moving faster than I thought, I want to move even quicker and help the big league club win the World Series. I'm hoping for a September callup, or at least next year fighting for a spot.
MLBPipeline.com: How much do you think you have improved compared to when you signed not quite two years ago?
Verdugo: It's unreal. From the first day I signed to now, I think the most improved part of my game is the mental side. Last year was the first time in my life I had struggled and I didn't know how to deal with it. I had a lot of meetings and conversations and realized I've got to cool myself down. Baseball is a game of failure, it's about grinding and getting through it. Physically, I feel like I've always been there, but the ball is getting off my bat better, my speed and my defense are getting better.
MLBPipeline.com: You're known for your hitting, but how much does it matter to you to stay in center field rather than eventually shifting to an outfield corner? And how much fun is it to still have your arm be an asset on defense? You had 24 assists in 122 games last year.
Verdugo: I'm not the fastest guy, so I rely on jumps and routes and my first step to get to balls people don't think I can. I definitely take pride in my defensive work. Offensively, you're going to have your ups and downs. Defensively, you can go out every day and give it your all. When you throw a guy out at any base, pitchers love it. I take pride in that.
Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter.