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Waiting in the Wings: Yasiel Puig

Craig Goldstein's first impressions after seeing the much-hyped prospect in person

First things first: Let's get the pronunciation of his name out there. As said by the stadium announcer, it is (phonetically) "yah-zeal pweeg".

I arrived in Arizona extremely skeptical of his Spring numbers. The logical side of me liked to point out that Juan Uribe was hitting in the .370s at the time, so Puig's .500+ average was nothing to go crazy about. In his first at-bat in my presence, Puig lined out solidly to second base. It was good contact, but nothing special. He then proceeded to garner base hits in his next four at-bats, which put him on a streak of 9-for-his-last-10. He proceeded to dazzle and amaze. He flew around the basepaths at break-neck speed and make diving catches in the outfield. It got to the point that I was more excited to see Puig come to the plate than I was Matt Kemp. Part of that was the anticipation of the unknown, but part of it is that the guy is a joy to watch.

Here are my first reactions on Puig after watching him over a three game sample:
Author's Note: Some of this reaction appeared in a March 26 article on The Dynasty Guru written by Bret Sayre

When talking about Puig, one is immediately drawn to 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. His power comes from both strength and batspeed.

I can't stop talking about how fast he is. He covers more ground than you would anticipate for a guy his size. 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 (but managed to keep a hand on) the bases he was sliding into.

Defensively he was only tested once during my time here, and he came through with a sprawling grab in left field.

Every hit he had in my presence was scalded. He turned a single into a double with his speed, and he also 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. 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 .527 (as of this writin.

He's an exhilarating player who is impossible not to notice. He appears to be going full bore at all times while still remaining relaxed and loose. It's questionable as to whether he's actually 22 as he says, but it hardly matters.

The Dodgers have optioned him to Double-A, and I think that's the right course of action here, despite his ungodly spring numbers. Puig is a toolshed of a man and while his raw tools could probably carry the day even at the major league level, the prospect of a refined Puig is downright scary. Because of his mature build, we shouldn't anticipate that Puig will make any physical developments that will change his outlook. The most we can hope for is a maturing of his approach, which might not happen until he struggles.

The logical part of me knows that his Spring Training numbers are just that: Spring Training numbers. That said, there's something real here. His talent is apparent. We can laugh about the Dodgers payroll and their willingness to spend on any available talent, but as Grant Brisbee noted - what if that spending isn't as freewheeling as it might seem? What if it is targeted and logical? Puig was one of the new ownership's first moves and set the tone for how we viewed their subsequent decisions. They spent $42 million on a virtual unknown, who wasn't in shape during his showcase events and hadn't played competitive baseball for a while. If Puig is even half of his Spring Training numbers, we might be wondering how they got away with such a steal.

Given that this is a fantasy site, the overriding question is...what does this all mean from a fantasy perspective? Puig was expected to open the season at Double-A and he remains on that track. Practically speaking then, nothing has change. But given his sublime performance against relatively advanced competition (Baseball Reference's opponent quality rating of 8.5 means he faced competition just above the Triple-A level), he might be the first bat summoned if a Dodgers outfielder suffers an injury, which was not the case before. It's far more reasonable to anticipate a major league call up in 2013 than it was before Spring Training began, even if that is Plan B for the Dodgers. Ignoring the numbers, Puig has shown us the tools that netted him $42 million and that will make owners who took a gamble on him early feel much better about their selection. I would go about selecting him in any redraft leagues just yet. In keeper leagues he's a late round option who has the potential to be a keeper. In dynasty leagues, he's a must own.

Source Material
Baseball Reference

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Read my other work at The Dynasty Guru and MLB Draft Insider