Bellinger opening Dodgers' eyes with play

Bellinger opening Dodgers' eyes with play

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Dodgers need Adrian Gonzalez's bat in the lineup more than anybody's this year, but when the day comes to replace the All-Star first baseman, it will probably be done by Cody Bellinger.

At 20 years old, Bellinger is younger than Corey Seager but he's batting almost 500 points higher this spring after getting three more hits off the bench in Wednesday's 13-13 tie with the Angels. Bellinger's average is an eye-popping .667 (6-for-9), and even in March that's hard to dismiss.

"The game doesn't speed up on him," said manager Dave Roberts. "He looks comfortable out there. The more you see, the more you like."

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Just as hard to dismiss is the improvement Bellinger made from 2014 to 2015. A fourth-round Draft pick in 2013, Bellinger hit three home runs in 2014. And 30 last year. How did that happen?

"I get that question a lot," said Bellinger, the son of former Major Leaguer Clay Bellinger, the assistant coach when Cody went to the Little League World Series and now a fireman in nearby Gilbert.

"The offseason after the 2014 season, I worked with hitting coach Damon Mashore," Bellinger said. "I always had power in batting practice but couldn't take it into a game consistently. We made a little adjustment with my hands, lowered them a bit to get a consistent path to the ball, a natural uppercut to elevate the ball and backspin some balls."

Bellinger's body also matured. He was a skinny 160 pounds on a 6-foot-4 frame when drafted, but played last year at 185 and reported this Spring at 210.

"Just consistently putting good food in my body," he said. "Five meals a day during the offseason."

The Dodgers aren't totally surprised by Bellinger's improvement. When he wasn't taken by the third round, he decided to take a scholarship offer from Oregon, but the Dodgers "came through" with third-round money ($700,000 compared to $409,000 slot allotment) and he signed. Now he's the sixth-best prospect in the system.

He carries himself with the confidence of one that has Major League bloodlines, even though his father played only 183 games in the big leagues. Bellinger said he still sends his father a video of each game's at-bats, and he's sure the time he spent hanging around his father's clubhouses is paying off now.

"I think it's a big advantage," he said. "I've been around clubhouses a long time, I know how to maneuver around the clubhouse. I respect the game, on and off the field. I think mentally, I feel I do belong here. All the veterans have been awesome to me, they treat me like I should be here, too."

Bellinger is smooth like James Loney at first base and he's played some outfield in the Minor Leagues, and he said he expects to play more there in hopes of increasing his versatility.

"I'm all for that," he said. "Whatever gets me up there, I'm up for it."

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.