CHICAGO — Calling 2023 a “big year” for him, new Cubs center fielder Cody Bellinger is hopeful his struggles of recent seasons are behind him after signing a one-year, $17.5 million contract earlier this month.
“It’s definitely important,” Bellinger said Tuesday afternoon. “Not going to say it’s not, but I think that where I’m at right now, and how I feel mentally and physically, I’m in a pretty good spot.”
Bellinger, 27, won the National League MVP in 2019 with the Los Angeles Dodgers after posting a 1.035 OPS, but he hasn’t come close to that number in subsequent years. Last season, he batted just .210 with 150 strikeouts while hitting 19 home runs. He had only 10 homers in 315 at-bats in 2021.
“There were definitely injuries involved and my body wasn’t moving how it was used to,” Bellinger said. “I could go on and on … but I’m feeling really good and confident and strong and looking forward to [next season].”
Bellinger dislocated his shoulder while celebrating a home run during the 2020 NL Championship Series. His agent, Scott Boras, said at the general managers meetings in November that the injury contributed to Bellinger’s struggles in 2021 and 2022 and that the pandemic, as well as the lockout, hampered his recovery.
Bellinger on Tuesday said that’s all in the past.
“I’m feeling really good right now,” Bellinger said. “I’m focused on workouts that benefit me as opposed to just doing workouts that make people stronger. I’m doing more body-specific workouts and overall I’m feeling really good and really strong.”
Bellinger joins shortstop Dansby Swanson and pitcher Jameson Taillon as the Cubs’ bigger offseason acquisitions. He’ll play mostly in center but could also see time at first base.
“I have played first base in the past,” Bellinger said. “I played there my whole minors career, throughout high school and obviously my first year or two in … the major leagues, and so I’m very confident over there as well.”
Bellinger got a good scouting report on Chicago from former Dodgers teammate Joc Pederson, who played for the Cubs in 2021 before being traded midseason.
“As an opposing player, I’ve always loved playing [at Wrigley Field] and just loved the atmosphere and what the history has about the field,” Bellinger said. “It just kind felt like a really, really good fit for me.”
The Cubs are trying to improve on a 74-win season. If things go well for Bellinger, but the team isn’t competing for the playoffs come late July, he’ll be a candidate to be traded. The organization has an up-and-coming center-field prospect in Pete Crow-Armstrong, who is about a year away from breaking into the majors.
Until then, it’s Bellinger’s job as he attempts to find his MVP form again.
“It’s definitely a big year, but I feel really good and excited about it,” Bellinger said.
Cody Bellinger in ‘pretty good spot’ after signing with Cubs