Yasiel Puig: The Man, The Myth
I know I shouldn’t. I really do. I have an analytical mind. I’m aware of what a small sample is. I know what Spring Training statistics are good for. There are a thousand things that I know which all should prevent me from joining the growing ranks of Puig-A-Mania, but my gut doth protest too much. Every time I see him destroy another ball, the synapses in my brain which control the most primal of urges start firing off like an Mcycle with a laser gun on a defenseless cyborg.
Of all players in professional baseball, I’ve gotten the most questions about Puig this spring, and for good reason. He clocked in at #62 on my Top 150 prospect list from mid-January, and he was my #74 outfielder, a couple of weeks later. Here was my blurb on him:
“Ranking a Cuban defector who’s only amassed 82 professional at-bats is really just guesswork, so I’m not going to pretend that this is much more than that. And he’s different from Cespedes or Chapman because he never played for the top Cuban national team (which more scouts have access to). However, rumors that he was out of shape quickly dissipated when he showed up in Arizona this summer. Puig’s game is strength first and everything else later. He could be a big-time power hitting OF, or he could not make enough contact for it to matter.”
I thought this was a relatively aggressive ranking at the time, but this was all BSE (Before Spring Explosion). He’s now not only become the center ring of the Dodgers’ Spring Training circus, but he’s become the talk of baseball, and it’s not difficult to see why. After Sunday’s games, Puig had amassed a .527/.509/.855 line with three homers and four steals in 55 at bats. And for those of you unfamiliar with seeing a slash line dip like that between AVG and OBP, it’s because Puig has two sacrifice flies and zero walks. He has a .617 BABIP, which is insanely unsustainable; however, when you watch how hard he hits the ball, it just feels like it could be. It’s irrational – everything about Puig at this point is irrational – and I’m not going to help with this next paragraph.
When I watch Yasiel Puig, what scares me most is that it feels like I’m watching Mike Trout if the part of Mike Trout’s brain which tells him not to swing was replaced by an exact duplicate of the part which screams “SWING NOW!” Let me be perfectly clear, I am NOT comping him to Mike Trout the baseball player, but there are significant ways that he reminds me of Mike Trout the man. Both Trout and Puig are big, strong players who run much faster than you’d expect. And while Puig can’t match Trout’s foot speed, he appears to have more physical strength. There may not be anyone else in baseball who looks more like a football player, physically, than either Trout or Puig.
So what do we do here at The Dynasty Guru? We sent our official Spring Training correspondent, Craig Goldstein, all the way out to Arizona to watch Puig play and report back. Here is Craig’s take after basking in the Puig glow for a couple of days:
“The first thing you notice about Puig is just how big he is. He’s thick, but not in a bad way. His upper half is like a wedge. He’s cut and his forearms are huge. He’s muscular throughout his body. He generates big bat speed. Power comes from both strength and bat speed.
I can’t stop talking about how fast he is. He covers more ground than you anticipate a guy his size doing. The only thing that would stop me talking from how big the guy is, is how fast he is. He runs all out, too. It’s like he’s in fifth gear by his second step. He repeatedly overslid the bases he was sliding into (but managed to keep a hand on). Defensively he was only tested once during my time here, and he came through with a sprawling grab in left field.
He had four hits while I was in attendance and each one was scalded. He turned a single into a double with his speed, and he stole bases with ease. He didn’t get under many balls, either squaring them up for line drives or hard groundballs. Not a ton of loft, though that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The obvious weakness in his game is a lack of patience. He saw one three-ball count – and that resulted in the second out I saw him make. He has yet to walk this spring, though it’s hard to fault someone for walking when they’re hitting over .500.
Overall, he’s an exhilarating player who is impossible not to notice. He appears to move at full speed at all times while still remaining relaxed and loose. It’s highly questionable as to whether he’s actually 22 as he says, but it hardly matters.”
He also snapped some pretty sweet pictures of him while he was there. Drink this guy in for a minute.
Now, getting back to the question at hand, how do we value Puig in a dynasty league right now? Based on the reports on his bat, he clearly has to be higher than he was ranked at the time of the list – it’s just a matter of how much. Part of what kept Puig outside the top-50 initially was the question of his time frame and the level of risk involved in his development, and this spring, he has answered questions about both. With him now likely to see the majors at some point this year, and having shown the ability to hit higher quality pitching (his 8.5 opponent quality at Baseball Reference, is somewhere between Triple-A and MLB), he needs to jump into appropriate territory.
Just measuring him against fellow outfielders, he certainly jumps over Jake Marisnick (59) to start. Then, because of proximity, I’d jump him over further away prospects with non-elite upside like Mason Williams (52) and David Dahl (48). Next up the #44-46 tier of Tyler Austin, Gregory Polanco and Bubba Starling. Starling is the one with more upside than Puig, but he’s at another level of risk. Polanco and Austin have a lot to prove themselves, but they are both potential five-category contributors, so it becomes a lot closer. This range is where my brain tells me he should be right now, but my gut wants him higher. My gut wants him in the top-30. My gut just keeps peeking further and further up the list. My gut is getting too excited.
There will be many eyes on what Puig does in the high minors in April, including mine. All hyperbole aside about his unwillingness to take a walk this spring, he did draw 12 walks in 95 minor league plate appearances in 2012. He’s going to need to show some of that at the upper levels, along with the strength/speed combo he’s put front and center in Arizona this spring, in order to take that next step forward as a prospect and a baseball player. If he does, there seems to be very little that Puig can’t do.
So if you’ve got Puig-A-Mania, don’t hide it. Wear it proudly. Just don’t do anything crazy. Or do. I mean, plenty of people warned us about going crazy about Yoenis Cespedes last year. It’s only an 11 hour drive for me to get to Chattanooga. That’s not crazy, right?
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