Cody Bellinger had no chance -- zero, zip, zilch -- of making the Dodgers when he was invited to Spring Training for the first time in 2016. Rather, they wanted the then 20-year-old to begin to get a feel for things.
He’d gotten into five spring games in 2015, but that was nothing more than a taste. This time, the Dodgers wanted their No. 1 prospect to get a real sense of playing in the Major Leagues.
Four years later, virtually every member of the Dodgers organization remembers being blown away by the kid’s sweet swing and his sense of calm about the whole thing.
In 28 at-bats covering 18 games in the spring of 2016 -- yes, that’s mostly mop-up duty -- he batted .393 with two doubles, two homers and a blistering 1.219 OPS.
If the Dodgers didn’t already know what they had in Bellinger, that spring confirmed he had a chance to be a special player. In three Major League seasons since his 2017 debut, he’s second in the National League in home runs (111), sixth in OPS (.928) and fourth in slugging (.559).
Bellinger will tell you that first spring was important in confirming the glowing scouting reports he’d accumulated while sprinting through the Minor Leagues.
So this Spring Training is that kind of opportunity for every young player. That is, first impressions matter. Here are nine players making the most of their time. Some are top prospects who are on the verge of stardom, others are grinders just trying to make the team. None of them have had significant time in the Majors ... yet.
1. Andrew Vaughn, 1B, White Sox
Just what the White Sox need: another can’t-miss impact player. Vaughn, already the White Sox No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline, is just a year removed from finishing his career at Cal and is on the fastest of tracks to the Major Leagues. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft began the weekend with a .500 on-base percentage in his first big league camp.
2. Alec Bohm, 1B/3B, Phillies
Two years out of Wichita State, Bohm has confirmed his status as the Phils’ top prospect by showing off power to all fields and is on track to make his Major League debut at some point this season. First, he may play for Team USA in Olympics qualifying later this month.
3. Angel Perdomo, LHP, Brewers
The 25-year-old lefty turns heads immediately because of his sheer size (6-foot-8, 265 pounds, according to the Brewers' media guide). Only a lack of consistency has kept him out of the big leagues, but he has been overpowering this spring in striking out seven of the first 11 hitters he faced.
4. Ian Miller, CF, Cubs
How does a non-roster invitee hustle his way into the role of 26th man? Here’s a surefire formula: enter the weekend leading the Majors in stolen bases in spring, rolling up a .484 on-base percentage and making every play in the outfield.
5. Zach McKinstry, 2B/SS, Dodgers
He’s doing precisely what a 33rd-round Draft choice is supposed to do. That is, step in the batter’s box and show ‘em you belong. After finishing last season at Triple-A, McKinstry began the weekend hitting .364 and has been impressive enough for Dodgers manager Dave Roberts to predict he’ll contribute at some point this season.
6. Bret Boswell, UTIL, Rockies
He’s wearing No. 82 and about to begin his second full professional season. In a spring in which several Colorado prospects have looked good, Boswell is taking advantage of his opportunity by spraying line drives all over the field and turning heads after hitting .219 in Double-A last season.
7. Tarik Skubal, LHP, Tigers
He touched 98 mph in his only spring appearance and struck out three of the seven hitters he faced. In the end, that’s all the Tigers could have hoped for from the 23-year-old lefty who finished last season at Double-A and is on a very fast track to the Majors. The Tigers' No. 4 prospect looks like a future ace, and his teammates have taken notice.
8. Edward Olivares, CF, Padres
The 24-year-old began the weekend hitting .412 and making the most of a spring in which the Padres were hoping to see solid progress toward the Major Leagues.
9. Eli White, CF, Rangers
His speed prompted the Rangers to move him permanently from second base to center and they believe he could be an elite defender. He began the weekend hitting .438, which won’t hurt his path to the big leagues.