Early arrivals in Arizona for Spring Training are always fun to note, though with the advent of stellar training facilities combined with year-round training, the line between “early reporting” and “just kinda always working out here” gets a little fuzzy.
For example, new Chicago Cubs center fielder Cody Bellinger lives in Arizona – or at least he did as of late last season – so do we really get to celebrate an early reporting if he’s now working out at the Cubs’ facilities in Mesa, Arizona?
I say yes! We do! Anyway, Bellinger is getting to work:
On a more substantive note, I was interested to learn more about what the Cubs had planned for Bellinger in January, February, and March, as he ramps up not only for his first season with the team and an important platform year, but also as he tries to get himself right for the first time in a few seasons.
It sounds like the plan is mostly to just try to help around the margins, and most like Bellinger – who has obviously had tremendous success earlier in his career – guide the work.
The Cubs are largely allowing Bellinger to run the show with his work this offseason. That doesn’t mean they’re not giving him any guidance. It’s just that they’re being careful not to inundate him with information. The first key, they believe, is his feeling fully confident in his health. He’s suffered significant injuries to his right shoulder and his left leg in the last three years.
If Bellinger trusts his body is right — which all indications are that he does — then he can move how he needs to. Though the Cubs don’t want to dwell on it too much, that movement has been an issue over the last few years. The Cubs are working on a few tiny adjustments with Bellinger to try to get him back to where he was when he was at his best. Primarily, the focus is on his back hip, his overall setup at the plate and his hand height. If it works, the changes won’t be dramatic, but perhaps noticeable to the keener eye.”
Bellinger has been working with new Cubs hitting coach Dustin Kelly, who was previously in the Dodgers’ organization when Bellinger was first breaking into the big leagues. Again, it sounds like Bellinger is leading the process, but Kelly is something of a sounding board.
I’m a fan of this approach for a guy like Bellinger, who has been great before, whose offensive game suffered primarily because of injuries and the resulting mechanical problems, and who you’re not really trying to “next level.” You’re just trying to be there to support him in his own process to get back to whatever the best version is that he can be now. It’s not really the same thing as working with a younger prospect who is still trying to find his best path toward handling big league pitching, or is trying to maximize his power production.
Notably, if Bellinger can simply keep moving forward as he did after the initial shoulder injury, he should see progress this season. Consider that, from 2021 to 2022, Bellinger’s numbers took a huge leap, as noted at FanGraphs:
Sure, a lot of the major leaping there is because he was starting from a place of “oh my sweet lord seriously what happened to you dude,” and no one should try to convince you that those 2022 numbers are good. They’re not. They’re bad. But, hey, I think we can dream on another step forward for the 27-year-old this year, further away from the shoulder and leg injuries, in a new organization, and with a lot to prove on a one-year pillow contract.
We’ve said it a dozen times, but I’ll say it again: thanks to his defense in center field (and at first base, when necessary), Cody Bellinger doesn’t HAVE TO be an above-average player at the plate to have value. Even if he can just get the overall production back to league average, he’s going to approach 3.0 WAR if he’s healthy and if the defense is as good as always. I don’t know that I would bet on it definitely happen, but it is certainly realistic.
Shift restrictions coming into play this year figure to help Bellinger at the margins, too, as a lefty slugger: