Oklahoma City outfielder Alex Verdugo, considered one of the top prospects in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ farm system, hit only three homers his senior year at Sahuaro (Tucson, Ariz.), but suddenly he’s on a power surge.
Monday night, the 2014 American Family Insurance ALL-USA first-team selection homered for his third consecutive game for the OKC Dodgers, who play in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League.
“I just think it’s getting a little older and getting a little bigger,” Verdugo said. “I worked out a lot in the offseason, trying to get a little bit of extra power and I think it’s translating now.”
He was drafted in the second round by the Dodgers in 2014. In his first three seasons of professional baseball, he was a postseason all-star at each level. Last year, he was called up to the parent club on Sept. 1, but was sent down a month later when he struggled, hitting .174 in 23 at-bats.
“It was a learning process and it was just good to get up there and see how it worked out and see what I needed to work on,” Verdugo said. “It was more seeing how those guys handle their business and establish a routine.”
Through 41 at-bats this season, the center fielder is hitting .341 with three homers with eight RBI for Oklahoma City. All eight of his RBI have been clutch, either tying the game or putting his team in the lead, including a pinch-hit three-run walk-off homer in the 10th inning on Sunday.
“It was a day off and (manager Bill Haselman) told me I would get an at-bat to see how it goes,” Verdugo said. “It ended up being in a crucial situation and I was able to put a good swing on the ball and got a good result.”
Monday’s win was the team’s eighth in a row.
“It feels like everybody’s feeding off everybody,” he said. “We’ve had a couple guys get walk-off hits for us so everybody has been coming in clutch. It’s not just one guy. ”
At Sahuaro, he was a two-way player as a senior, leading his team to a state runner-up finish while hitting .532 with three homers and 32 RBI. On the mound, the left-hander was 4-3 with a 2.26 ERA and 93 strikeouts in 52.2 innings.
Verdugo could throw 94 mph and had three solid pitches in high school, but wanted to play every day at the next level. These days, he’s strictly an outfielder.
“Those days are gone,” Verdugo said. “I don’t plan on going to the mound.”
He spent a few weeks in Tucson in the offseason, getting in a few swings at Sabino High, where his former high school manager, Mark Chandler, now coaches. After that, he spent the rest of his offseason training in Las Vegas.
“I’ve always had a good understanding of my swing and what I need to do when it goes bad,” Verdugo said. “I credit a lot of it to Mike Gray, who was my hitting coach growing up.”
Gray helps run the Bat Cave batting facility in Tucson and has pitched batting practice for the Arizona Diamondbacks the past 18 years in spring training. He began working with Verdugo when the outfielder was an eighth grader.
“We spent a lot of years together,” Gray said. “Back then, I had a batting cage in my backyard. We worked really hard on line drive, line drive, line drive, but the power was there.”
As a senior at Sahuaro, Verdugo was listed as 6-0 and 190. Now he is listed at 205.
“The first thing I noticed when he came to me is his hands are incredibly quick,” Gray said. “I told him not to worry about homers, that the power would come and he’s probably 20 pounds heavier of mostly muscle since the time he’s graduated.”