Is It Time For Yasiel Puig Now? How About Now? (No.)

April 18, 2013 at 12:59 pm | Posted in Yasiel Puig | Leave a comment

yasiel_puig_firstbase_springOn Tuesday, it was “call up Dee Gordon!” Yesterday, it was “why is an expensive team playing poorly?” Today — and for the last two weeks, really — the cry from frustrated Dodger fans has been, “call up Yasiel Puig now!” No, really.

I get it, of course. Puig’s spring training performance was legendary and he’s hitting .341/.396/.591 with two homers through a dozen games with Double-A Chattanooga. We all can’t wait to see him in the bigs, and that’s fine.

But good lord, people. Let’s apply the brakes and remember these three truisms:

1) Puig, gawdy stats aside, isn’t ready. (More on that in a second.)
2) Carl Crawford & Andre Ethier are absolutely not the problems right now
3) Even if you did want to bench Matt Kemp — which, I’m floored we’re even discussing this — Puig is almost certainly a corner outfielder in the bigs, not a center fielder.

(Yes, people like to point out that keeping him down also limits service time, but I don’t believe that’s a factor here.)

It’s number one that’s the main issue, because people look at that gaudy stat line and the video we all saw of him destroying a baseball a few days ago, and it’s difficult to understand how he “isn’t ready”. But we should really know by now that even if you could glean anything useful from 12 Double-A games — you can’t — that scouting off a stat line is an exercise in futility. You need more than that; you need a scout’s eye.

Fortunately for us, we have two recent reports doing just that, and the takeaways are the same — Puig is an immensely talented player with a bright future, but one who needs more seasoning.

At FanGraphs last week, Mike Newman took in a Lookouts game and filed a full report, with video, on both Puig and Zach Lee. It’s well worth a full look, but the high-level takeaways are there’s a lot of good…

In his next at bat, Puig fisted a broken bat single to center field off of another heater. Once again, what would have been a routine out off the bat of most hitters was a hit for the Cuban prospect. Other than Giancarlo Stanton and Bryce Harper, I’ve never scouted a stronger human being on a minor league baseball field.

…along with considerable rough edges.

Throughout the game, Puig flailed wildly at sliders which led to an early strikeout, as well as a two-strike count in his second plate appearance. Eventually, he gave up on the pitch and sat “dead red” fastball.

Defensively, Puig was relatively untested, although he did field a double in right-center field only to miss the cut off entirely. The throw was a rainbow which landed near the grass cut out behind shortstop, allowing runners to advance an extra base.

This morning, we have an even newer report from Chris Blessing of Bullpen Banter, and the results are the same. There’s a whole lot to like…

Only a handful of elite power hitters come to mind that have the ability to barrel a baseball with as much force as Yasiel Puig. Other than Giancarlo Stanton and Mike Piazza, I haven’t seen a minor league player with as much natural power as Puig.

…and some real concerns about plate discipline.

Puig is struggling with recognizing the spin on a breaking ball, causing him to either flail at pitches away or turn away from breaking pitches that start in. When a pitcher executes the latter, Puig usually has a word with the umpire about the validity of the strike call.

It’s that last part that concerns me, because we’ve already heard that Puig was removed from a game once due to a still unexplained “mental mistake”, and I’ve heard some reports that Dodger management is really less than thrilled about his over-the-top bat flips after each of his two homers, as you can see in the videos.

That’s nothing that’s too unexpected from a player who gets called “raw” even in the most favorable reports, but it’s also the kind of thing that requires time to smooth out. Most importantly, he needs to improve his pitch recognition, because big league arms will eat him alive as soon as they learn to stop throwing him fastballs.

If Puig came up right now, I’ll tell you how it would go. Pitchers would attempt to challenge him, and he’d make them pay in a hot early start. Eventually, he’ll get figured out and strike out on endless low-and-away breaking stuff, likely while making silly mental mistakes on the bases and outfield that overshadow his massive talent. After a few weeks of that, he’d end up in the minors.

If you think I’m just making up stories, then realize that what I’m actually describing is Kemp’s experience as a raw 21-year-old in 2006. The talent is there for Puig, no one doubts that. But the opportunity on the roster is not, and his readiness for the bigs is not. We should all have learned from Gordon’s experience in 2011 — and what we’re seeing with Aaron Hicks & Jackie Bradley this year — that rushing a player just because you want to see them almost invariably ends poorly.

Fortunately, I don’t really believe Dodger management has plans to rush him up, and that’s for the best. Patience is tough in these trying times, I understand. But we’ll all be happy it played out this way with Puig later.


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