Yes, the money helps. The Los Angeles Dodgers have spent a lot of money on free agents and international players and re-signing their own stars.
On the other hand: They’ve drafted in the top 10 only once since 1993. They nailed that pick, selecting Clayton Kershaw with the seventh overall choice in 2006. The baseball draft, even when drafting high, is more unpredictable than the NBA and NFL drafts, and it becomes less predictable with each selection. Few players drafted outside the top 10 ever make a significant impact in the majors. Still, the Dodgers continue to churn out young talent courtesy of the organization’s player development system … and a key former executive.
Logan White ran the Dodgers’ drafts from 2002 until his departure in 2014, when he joined the San Diego Padres after the hiring of Andrew Friedman to run baseball operations in Los Angeles. White was the guy who drafted Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger, so as you watch the young dynamic duo on ESPN’s Wednesday Night Baseball against the Cardinals at 8 p.m. ET, give a tip of your cap to him.
In 2012, the Dodgers drafted 18th. Seager had shot up draft boards late that spring as a high school senior in North Carolina, as reports cited his simple swing, his power and how the game seemed to come easy to him. Sound familiar? Most scouts, however, believed Seager would have to move to third base. White usually preferred to prioritize pitching in the first round — his previous eight top selections had all been pitchers — but he believed Seager could stick at shortstop.
“A lot of people think he has to go to third,” White said at the time. “He has Cal Ripken size. I think it’s a mistake to move him off shortstop right away. Let him play and swing the bat. He’s definitely an offensive player. He has a very good swing with power, and he’s a good makeup guy.”
Seager soared through the minors and finished third in the MVP voting as a rookie in 2016. He’s off to a good start in 2017 — .285/.388/.468, seven home runs — and while he probably won’t win any Gold Glove Awards, he has proven to be at least average at shortstop, with solid enough range and a strong arm.
The following year, White tabbed Bellinger, a high school first baseman who had one home run his senior season at Hamilton High School in Chandler, Arizona. Like Seager, whose brother Kyle was in the majors with Seattle, Bellinger had big league bloodlines. His father, Clay, played briefly in the majors as a utility guy.
Bellinger hit four home runs his first two seasons in the minors but filled out, adding strength and tweaking his swing to generate more uphill plane and torque, resulting in a breakout 2015 season in Class A, during which he hit 30 home runs. A series of injuries led to his recall in late April after limited time at Triple-A, but he has been ripping home runs since, with 11 in his first 32 games in the majors. Since his call-up, only Mike Trout has hit as many home runs.
While one monster debut month doesn’t ensure future greatness for Bellinger — Dave Hostetler and Kevin Maas each hit 12 in their first 32 games — he has the look of a star, with a Ted Williams-esque swing and, like Seager, a calm, confident demeanor with a sound approach. There’s another reason he won’t be the next Hostetler or Maas: Bellinger is just 21 years old.
That’s what makes this pair so fun to watch. Seager is in his age-23 season. When is the last time a club came up with two position players so young with this kind of potential? It’s not actually that unusual, especially in recent seasons. Just last season, the Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers both had two players 23 or younger hit 20-plus home runs — Mookie Betts (23) and Xander Bogaerts (23) for Boston, Rougned Odor (22) and Nomar Mazara (21) for Texas.
The Atlanta Braves came up with Jason Heyward in 2010 and Freddie Freeman in 2011 and both reached 20 home runs in 2012, their age-22 seasons. The Miami Marlins had Logan Morrison and Giancarlo Stanton in 2011, and the 2007 Milwaukee Brewers teamed Rookie of the Year Ryan Braun with Prince Fielder, both 23. Going back further, the Oakland Athletics had Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco in 1987, and in 1975 the Red Sox had Fred Lynn and Jim Rice, who finished first and third, respectively, in the Rookie of the Year balloting.
There’s more to the game than just home runs, however, so let’s consider all-around play. If we limit our list to players 23 and younger who produced at least 4.0 WAR — perhaps an ambitious total for Bellinger, even given his hot start — we’ve had only seven pairs of teammates do it since 1980:
2015 Red Sox: Betts (6.0) and Bogaerts (4.6)
2013 Braves: Andrelton Simmons (7.0) and Freeman (5.7)
2005 Indians: Grady Sizemore (6.6) and Jhonny Peralta (5.1)
2000 Braves: Andruw Jones (8.2) and Rafael Furcal (4.0)
1991 White Sox: Frank Thomas (6.9) and Robin Ventura (5.3)
No matter the final numbers, this is how the rich get richer: find two studs in areas of the draft you usually don’t find them. I’m sure Friedman has sent his thanks to White.