The Los Angeles Dodgers optioned highly touted (and well payed) prospect Yasiel Puig to Double-A on Tuesday, effectively ending any speculation that the Cuban defector’s strong Spring could earn him an Opening Day roster spot.
Batting .526 in spring training, Puig was optioned to Chattanooga, one level above where he spent all of last season – Class A. He missed all of the 2011 season as punishment by the Cuban government for an unsuccessful first attempt at defecting.
After signing the outfielder to a seven-year, $42 million deal shortly after he defected from Cuba last June, the Dodgers have stuck to the plan of grooming Puig slowly, firmly understanding that rushing him to the Majors could have adverse effects. The Dodgers have maintained their opinion throughout the Spring – Puig needs more minor league seasoning, having just 95 professional plate appearances.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, in a quote posted by ESPN, explained his take on Puig and what he saw from the 22-year-old in Spring Training.
“He came into camp and the guy wasn’t even on the radar. We really didn’t know what to expect,” Mattingly told reporters in Arizona. “He put himself on the map, probably knocking on the door instead of a couple years away. We knew he was tooled up. We found out he was really smart, he learns quick. He needs a little work in certain areas, the details of the game.”
Puig’s chances of making the Opening Day roster were severely diminished once the Dodgers training staff determined projected starting left fielder Carl Crawford was in no immediate danger of aggravating his throwing elbow. Crawford has primarily seen action on the back fields against minor league pitching, but has been thrown into the big league lineup for the last week, faring well enough to gain Mattingly’s confidence.
However, Puig has options in the not-so-distant future. Should Crawford suffer a set back just a month into the season, Puig could be called up without the Dodgers sacrificing a year of free agency at the end of Puig’s lengthy deal. A rule in Major League Baseball says, in part, if a player spends more than 20 consecutive days in the minor leagues, he does not qualify for a full season’s service time. Essentially, Puig would have to go through the arbitration process for one year after his contract expires.
The Dodgers certainly see the Cuban prospect as an investment for the future, but if the youngster continues to impress in the minors, he provides other options should injuries hamper the Big League club. For example, if the Dodgers need bullpen or infield help, Puig provides a surplus of outfield talent, and has a cheaper contract than Andre Ethier or Carl Crawford. The Dodgers would then have the ability to absorb some of Crawford or Ethier’s contract by trading them to a team in need of outfield depth. Puig would then be slotted into an outfield position as a replacement, and the area depleted by injuries would be replenished.
Puig has the potential to be a 5-tool player, displaying speed in running out infield singles, arm strength while getting the ball hit in the outfield gap back into the infield, power and discipline at the plate, and speed around the bases. However, he never registered a walk during Spring Training, leading team officials to the conclusion that plate discipline could become a problem when those groundball singles through the hole become automatic double play outs.
However, Dodgers fans can agree that Puig is the most exciting prospect they’ve seen in years, and things are looking up in Tinsel Town for the re-tooled, deep-pocketed Boys in Blue. The 2013 season promises to be filled with exciting moments, and free of frequent divorce proceeding news.