Cody Bellinger is your 2019 NL MVP.
The foundation of his historic season traces back to his days as an undersized athlete.
Yes, Bellinger—who measures in at 6-foot-4 and who clobbered 47 home runs this year—was once small for his age. Now he’s one of the best all-around players in baseball. Looking back on his development, Bellinger’s glad he grew up undersized, as it forced him to master the finer details of his game.
“The biggest thing for me is—especially if you’re young, if you’re a smaller guy on the field—just keep going. Work on the small things so that when you get older and bigger, you can (quickly) catch up to those guys who’ve always been bigger than you. I think kids nowadays always want to be the biggest one and the most powerful, but it doesn’t really matter (at that age),” Bellinger told STACK in 2018.
It’s a wise sentiment, especially since many youth athletes simply need to mature before they can pack on size.
During his early playing days, Bellinger was shorter and skinnier than many of his teammates. “Cody wasn’t very big, but he had a beautiful swing,” Mike Woods, Bellinger’s coach at Hamilton High (Chandler, Arizona), told the Los Angeles Times. “And he was a baseball rat.”
He hit a growth spurt prior to his junior year, but that simply took his size from “small” to “beanpole skinny.” Bellinger was a phenomenal all-around player with a smooth swing and impressive athleticism, but he weighed just 170 pounds (very light for a kid who would grow to 6-foot-4) and hit only one home run his senior season. Considering Bellinger was also a first baseman—a position traditionally reserved for hulking home run hitters in the big leagues—his lack of size was a strike against him in the eyes of many pro scouts.
But the Los Angeles Dodgers saw something in Cody, the son of a former big leaguer, and selected him in the fourth round of the 2013 MLB Draft. “The analytics had it as a terrible pick,” former Dodgers scouting director Logan White told the NY Daily News. “You don’t take a first baseman that high when the power isn’t there.”
While Bellinger showed promise as a minor league prospect, his skin-and-bones frame still left many scouts skeptical of his ceiling. Entering the 2015 season, Bellinger was a rail thin 6-foot-4, 180 pounds. Around that time, former MLB scout Bernie Pleskoff wrote that Bellinger’s MLB future “may be dependent upon adding strength and muscle to get beyond being a good hitter for average to becoming a dangerous hitter with home run potential. His current weight and thin frame are a concern in long, hot, humid summers.”
Shortly thereafter, Bellinger found his matured body was finally primed to pack on some pounds. He hit the weight room hard and crushed thousands of calories a day. He also tweaked his swing in an effort to improve the average launch angle of his batted balls. The added muscle mass and re-worked swing worked wonders, as Bellinger launched 26 bombs in 2016. When he got the call-up to the big leagues in April of 2017, Bellinger tipped the scales at 210 pounds. He went on to mash 39 home runs and win the 2017 NL Rookie of the Year award.
While Bellinger had a rockstar rookie season, he did have trouble keeping on weight during the Dodgers’ marathon run to a World Series Game 7. His solution? Enter the next season even heavier—he reportedly gained 15 pounds between during the following offseason—and do a better job of keeping his weight up over the six-month grind of the MLB season.
“The biggest thing for me is maintaining my weight. I’ve always had trouble maintaining my weight. But I’m going to do what I did this offseason, eat the same kinds of food,” Bellinger told STACK in 2018.
“My rookie year was awesome, but I think I could’ve done a better job in the weight room. This year, I’m gonna look at what Chase Utley does. He’s 39 years old and he doesn’t look like it, so I’m going to try to do what he does throughout the season and copy him a little bit…He’s in there every single day, and when you see him doing that at his age and lifting more weight than you, it’s impressive.”
Bellinger’s off-season usually includes a heavy dose of strength training and a boatload of calories. He downs a MET-Rx Big 100 bar before every workout (his favorite flavor is Colossal Crispy Apple Pie) and has an affinity for grilled salmon. Paired with a vigorous mindset in the weight room, the results have been impressive.
“In batting practice, I’m kinda mishitting balls and they’re still going deep,” Bellinger says.
Not bad for a prospect once deemed too small to succeed in the big leagues.
Photo Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images