Yasiel Puig is coming! Sound the alarms, buy the Dodgers tickets, get overly excited, and start figuring out just how much better than Mike Trout plus Bryce Harper multiplied by the unholy lovechild of Mickey Mantle & Bo Jackson — not real-life Bo, Tecmo Bo — he’s going to be!
Or as one of my Twitter followers put it with tongue firmly planted in cheek: “if he doesn’t hit a grand slam on the FIRST pitch, whether or not the bases are loaded, he’s dead to me.”
As you can imagine, Puig’s impending debut tonight has Dodger fans more than a little frenzied, and the way this season has gone so far, I really can’t blame them.
Yet… it’s times like these where I’m not really sure how to feel about this. I’m obviously a Dodger fan, but I’m also a baseball writer at various well-known outlets, and so I tend to look at team decisions with minimal emotion, preferring instead to focus on the facts. That side of me is more than a little apprehensive about what’s to come here, despite the fact that Puig’s .313/.383/.599 Double-A stat line is glorious and that’s it’s difficult to envision a scenario where he isn’t at least as useful as Skip Schumaker and a struggling Andre Ethier in center field.
So I certainly get the reasoning behind calling him up, and I do imagine that two months in the minors has made him a lot more ready than he might have been if he’d broken camp with the team right out of Arizona like so many wanted. He’s exciting in a way that we haven’t seen from a Dodger call-up in quite a long time, if ever.
But there really is a lot more at play here. He isn’t, for instance, really being called up because it’s so obvious that he’s ready; he’s being called up now because Matt Kemp is out, Carl Crawford is aching, and the overall center field depth in the organization is lacking. Were those items not all true, it’s almost certain that Puig would not be in Los Angeles. He’s still a 22-year-old with barely more than 200 professional plate appearances under his belt and much less overall experience than most American players his age. On top of all that, he’s now being asked (most likely) to play center field after just two recent starts there, and that might scare me most of all. (Don Mattingly did say he might get Puig time at multiple outfield positions, though that just opens up the “who plays center” can of worms again.)
Besides, I’ve long said that you can’t just simply scout the stat lines in the minors, and so in-person reports are the most valuable resource. The most recent one I’ve seen is from Mike Newman at FanGraphs on May 24th, and Newman makes it clear that in his opinion, Puig’s maturity and baseball IQ are not quite ready for the bigs.
I know that no one likes hearing about Puig’s emotional style of play, because “bat flips” & “arrests” aren’t numbers that show up on the stat line next to “homers”. But there are real-world consequences to those actions, and they’ll only be magnified in the big leagues. If you show up an umpire on a questionable strike call, you can be all but assured you’re not getting the next one, either. If you show up a pitcher after a homer, you can expect that either you or one of your teammates is going to get a heater in the ribs.
All of that is less than great, and as I said, I think this is about more than Puig. It’s about the injury situation, and it’s about a dreadful season that is quickly spiraling into the toilet. I don’t think it’s a total coincidence that Puig’s debut is at the beginning of a long homestand — the immediacy of several ticket-buying tweets the official Dodger account sent out was hard to miss — and I don’t really think this decision was made without the input of upper management, anxious to inject some excitement in a way that Joc Pederson, arguably an equal or better choice because of his additional experience in center, simply wouldn’t. It’s often rare that ownership input in baseball decisions — to be clear, I’m not saying this is exactly what’s happened, but I do believe there was some pushing there — ends in winning baseball games.
Now all of that being said… I am a Dodger fan, obviously, and that part of me is beyond excited. Tonight’s game was going to be an otherwise unremarkable matchup between
Chris Capuano Stephen Fife & Eric Stults, something that would ordinarily barely register a blip on the baseball radar. Now? It’s beyond must-watch, and I’m just as stoked as all of the rest of you to hear what the stadium sounds like the first time he steps to the plate.
So what do I think is going to happen? I think Puig is going to wow everyone quickly with his mammoth physical gifts, and shock everyone with some silly plays or unfortunate outbursts. I think he’s going to crush some unlucky fastballs about 9,000 feet, and I think he’s going to whiff badly on good outside breaking pitches. I think he’s going to get to some balls in the outfield that absolutely no one has any business getting to, and I think he’s going to make us cringe by taking some, uh, “unique” routes to the ball. (That last part, by the way, will almost certainly end in some highlight reel catches that will end up on “SportsCenter” but which might have been simply routine plays by a more experienced player.)
Frankly, as long as he adds some power and doesn’t fly out of his defensive zone to absolutely steamroll Crawford or Ethier or Scott Van Slyke in the outfield and turn them into pancakes, I’ll probably be happy. Someone asked me on Twitter last night what my guess at a stat line would be, and I went with .250/.310/.490. I think he’s going to run into some issues getting on base against advanced pitching, but I think his immense power will help him get a hold of some balls that no one really should.
To be honest, my opinion hasn’t really changed all that much from when we talked about this in April:
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.
I imagine he’s learned a lot since April 18, when I wrote that, but I also don’t think it’s a given that he’s up for good. Kemp will be back later this month, and he will (and should) play every day. Crawford, when healthy, will (and should) play every day. Ethier’s the sticking point here, because he’s been awful and occupies what is likely Puig’s best position in right field. But even if the Dodgers are willing to trade him, as I fully believe they are, stashing him on the bench certainly doesn’t do much for his trade value just one year into a five-year extension.
But that’s all getting ahead of ourselves, really. For tonight, Puig is here. PUIG! Like all of you, I just can’t wait.