Yasiel Puig (OF – Los Angeles Dodgers)
Game: Chicago White Sox vs. Los Angeles Dodgers on March 23rd in Arizona
Results: Came in as a defensive replacement for Carl Crawford in the bottom of the fourth inning and later moved to right field. 3 for 3 with two singles and a double.
There isn’t a baseball trending report, similar to that found on Twitter, but if there were, 22-year-old Yasiel Puig would be fighting with Jackie Bradley Jr. for top honors. While I saw a number of prospects while in Arizona, at the top of my list was the young Cuban slugger and let me tell you…he didn’t disappoint.
Firstly, Puig is a physically imposing player. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, he’s all of that, if not more. To the eye, it’s a chiseled 245 pounds with broad shoulders and an athletic lower half.
My first exposure to Puig was during batting practice; where he was making hard contact to all fields but definitely showed plus power to right-center field. His swing was more compact than I was led to believe and with his obvious physical strength, it’s easy to project him to having future plus-plus power (30+).
During game action, Puig did not disappoint as his first at-bat against White Sox right-hander Jake Peavy, he roped a double to right-center and reached first base in 4.18 seconds. His first step is not quick, but once he gets moving, there is definitely plus-speed in the profile. His approach does need work as he’s definitely up there looking to swing first. However, the bat-speed is impressive as is his plate coverage. I saw him foul off numerous pitches, many out of the strike zone, but he was still able to put wood on the ball.
Puig had two additional hits throughout the game; again showing plus bat-speed and the ability get wood on the ball in each at-bat. He did react well to off-speed pitches but he also swung at everything. This is pretty much the definition of a “raw player”, but once he learns the fine-art of batting, it’s easy to put a 7 (all-star) future overall performance on Puig.
There is a lot to like with Yasiel Puig and my pre-season ranking of 70 appears to be well understated. While it’s hard to make too much of three at-bats and one batting practice, the plus bat-speed and athleticism are clearly evident. However, there is still much development left to be done.
Puig is anxious at the plate and wants to swing at everything. You typically see this profile in the lower minors but with proper development, batters learn to be more patient and look for balls in their zone that they can drive. If given the time, Puig should be able to develop this skill. Additionally, his routes to flyballs were not good. As with his at-bats, he was able to compensate with his athleticism to make all plays, but he clearly requires development in his fielding.
While Dodgers fans and fantasy owners will surely want Puig to break camp, he’s not ready. How much time will it take? From my discussions with the few people that saw Puig in the fall – not much. Apparently, he’s made tremendous stride and is quickly learning the game. My guess is that Puig will start 2013 in Double-A, Chattanooga and if he thrives, you could see him by mid-year in Los Angeles. However, since the Dodgers have established outfielders with significant contracts, the big question is if Puig is ready by mid-year, where will he play?
The obvious answer is an injury to Kemp, Ethier, or Crawford could force the issue. The other possibility involves Ethier. The first is his platoon splits are terrible (.322 vs. RHP and .222 vs LHP). This would put Puig on the wrong side of the split, but would give him meaningful big league at-bats. The second is the Dodgers could trade Ethier for pitching depth or a third baseman.
While it’s a limited sample size, I’ve seen enough now of Puig to be a believer. If I were to re-do my rankings, he would easily be a Top 50 prospects and would fall somewhere between 20 and 35.