Less than two weeks ago, I posted video of Yasiel Puig‘s first game in the Arizona league, noting that the fact that he went 0-4 in the game mattered far less than that after so long away from the field, he was getting playing time against live pitching. That 0-4, as it turned out, was the only time he would go hitless in his short stint in rookie ball; he would get at least one hit in each of his next eight games to sit at a .400/.500/1.000 line, including four homers and three triples.
Still, the competition there is clearly inferior and made up of guys you have never and most likely will never hear of, so I was hesitant to join in calls that the Dodgers were “foolish” to have him still playing there, given that it was only a week’s worth of games after such a long layoff, and none of us can pretend to know what it’s like for him to acclimate off the field from Cuba to America.
That said, Puig hadn’t played since last Thursday, fueling rumors of a promotion, and while nothing is yet official we may have found our answer last night:
— SL (@sp11ke) August 13, 2012
This isn’t just some fan in the crowd, by the way; this information is coming from Spike Lundberg, who pitched professionally for parts of twelve seasons, including 2006-07 in the Dodger organization. (At 29 in 2006, he went 15-2, 2.27 for a Jacksonville team that included past and present Dodgers like Matt Kemp, A.J. Ellis, Andy LaRoche, Blake DeWitt, Scott Elbert, & Joel Hanrahan.) Since last pitching in 2009, Lundberg has been working as an agent for Scott Boras, and so I’m inclined to believe this report even in the absence of an official confirmation.
If true, it’s a good sign for how the Dodgers view his development, and it also makes the Quakes a pretty interesting team to watch, given that they also have Joc Pederson, Angelo Songco, Bobby Coyle, Jonathan Garcia, Garrett Gould, and Brandon Martinez. If his time in Rancho goes well – and I hope I don’t need to tell you that the California League is nearly as pinball as the Pacific Coast League is – people are going to start wondering about his timeline to the bigs.
It should be noted that the season in the minors does not extend as long as the big-league year, so the regular season for the Quakes (along with the AAA Isotopes & AA Lookouts) runs only through September 3, three weeks from today. The Quakes are in last place and are unlikely to extend their season with a playoff run, but both Chattanooga & Albuquerque sit in first place as of today, meaning it’s likely that at least one of those teams continues playing in September. If Puig struggles in Rancho, then a promotion probably isn’t even an option; if he doesn’t, and the goal is simply to continue to get him plate appearances, then it’s not out of the question for him to see some time with either of those clubs even if playing at those levels at this point wasn’t part of the original plan.
And what of the bigs? I’m already getting questions on a regular basis about whether we’ll see Puig with the Dodgers this year, given their ongoing offensive difficulties, and while I understand the enthusiasm, I absolutely cannot see a scenario in which he goes from nine rookie league games to Rancho to getting at-bats in Los Angeles within a month, especially after his missed time. It just doesn’t happen, and though it’s fun to think about, it shouldn’t happen, at least not in terms of his development process. I suppose, given his position on the 40-man, that he could potentially join the team after the minor league year is done just to soak in the atmosphere and allow the big-league staff to get a closer look at him, but I just can’t see him in games in 2012.
Going forward, however, his performance over the next few weeks could play heavily into the Dodger plans this offseason. While I think it’s a bit optimistic to expect Puig to contend for a starting job on Opening Day of 2013, it’s not unrealistic to think we could see him later in the season and hope that he could be ready for 2014. That being the case, along with the fact that the Dodgers already have Kemp & Andre Ethier signed to long-term deals in the outfield, the team may prefer to look for short-term patches in left field rather than jump into the lengthy, expensive games of trying to sign Michael Bourn or Josh Hamilton, or the terrifying thought of giving Shane Victorino the long-term deal he so clearly wants. (A popular fan idea is to move Ethier to first base at some point, and while I’m not strictly against that, it’s also not something I’ve seen reported as a possibility anywhere else than on message boards, and so it shouldn’t be thought of as an option right now.)
Still, that’s all getting ahead of ourselves, because as I’ve said, nine rookie league games. For now, let’s be pleased that Puig has been so impressive so quickly, and look forward to seeing what he can do on a real team against real competition.