Needing outfield help, Dodgers hope Puig is spark
Top Cuban prospect set for debut after impressive spring, stretch in Minors
DENVER -- Out of necessity, if not urgency, Dodgers management will reluctantly promote Cuban outfield sensation Yasiel Puig to the Major Leagues on Monday -- a move they announced after Sunday's 7-2 loss to the Rockies.
General manager Ned Colletti made the announcement. With Matt Kemp on the disabled list and Carl Crawford nursing a hamstring cramp, manager Don Mattingly was scrambling for a healthy outfielder. Matt Magill, Sunday's losing pitcher, will return to Triple-A Albuquerque to make room for Puig prior to Monday's opener against the Padres at Dodger Stadium.
There's no need to make room for Puig in the outfield. Followers of Minor League prospects have clamored for the 22-year-old's arrival, but with an All-Star outfield of Kemp, Crawford and Andre Ethier, the only way that would have happened this soon is if many things went wrong.
And many things have gone wrong for the last-place Dodgers this year. Puig will start immediately, probably in center field, although Mattingly said he wouldn't reveal that until he first talks to Puig, the organization's top prospect, according to MLB.com.
"It's not a bad thing from what we saw in Spring Training," Mattingly said of the promotion. "Before, how would we get him in the lineup? That's not a factor for me now. You don't want him to sit. The fact that we'll play him and he'll get at-bats makes it a lot easier for me."
Meanwhile, Puig has made like Superman this year, dominating Major League Spring Training in unprecedented fashion for a Dodgers position player, then continuing his stellar play at Double-A Chattanooga, where he hit .313 with eight homers, 12 doubles, three triples, 37 RBIs and 13 stolen bases in 40 games. He has 29 strikeouts and 15 walks.
In Spring Training, Puig didn't have any walks in 58 at-bats, but he hit .517 in 27 games. He hit five doubles, two triples and three home runs, driving in 11 runs.
"You don't want to build him up to where it's impossible for him to live up to all the hype," cautioned Mattingly. "In my mind, he's still a young player, obviously with huge potential.
"There's still so much baseball, and I don't say that in a flippant way that these games don't matter. But you saw with the Angels and Mike Trout last year, he came up and things completely turned around with what he brought to the table. It's unfair to say that happens here, but he could make a big impact."
Puig's only hiccup this year -- and one that was no surprise to those who have seen him drive -- was an arrest for driving 97 mph in a 50-mph zone.
He will wear the No. 66 he had in Spring Training.
Puig was signed last summer for a staggering $42 million Major League contract. The total financial package Puig received is spread over seven years and included a Major League roster spot. At the time, the Cubs were believed to be the Dodgers' most aggressive competition for Puig's autograph.
The $42 million was considered wildly excessive by most clubs, but the Dodgers needed impact hitters in their farm system and wanted to make a statement that the years of ignoring international talent because of economics were over.
With a body like Bo Jackson, Puig possesses power, running speed, ball-catching skills and a right fielder's arm. But with limited exposure as a young Cuban ballplayer, Puig's raw skills were relatively under wraps when he escaped his homeland for free agency.
He showed up four years ago on the radar of Dodgers scout Mike Brito, who shared the credit with Corito Verona for signing Fernando Valenzuela in 1979. Brito and current scouting vice president Logan White watched Puig bat in a controlled workout last summer in Mexico City, then White took the ball in a full-court pursuit that resulted in Puig's stunning signing.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.