Yoenis Cespedes and Jorge Soler were both rated as better players than Yasiel Puig, but they got a lot less money than the Dodgers are giving Puig. Is he worth it? Do the Dodgers know something others don’t? I certainly don’t know. There’s not a lot of information and scouting reports on him. Ben Badler of Baseball America was less than impressed with the signing:
The Dodgers appear to have made a statement with an expensive Cuban signing, but the message they sent across baseball has mostly elicited the same response:
What are the Dodgers thinking?
The question around baseball is how the Dodgers could justify awarding such a lavish contract to a player who scouts considered more of a solid than a spectacular prospect. Puig hasn’t played in a year, and aside from a light series of workouts last weekend that were more notable for a circus atmosphere than anything else, he hasn’t been seen (legally) by American scouts since June 2011.
The 21-year-old Puig is a corner outfielder with a thick frame around 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds when he’s been in game shape, but more recent reports from scouts in Mexico—where his agent, Jaime Torres, said last week that he has obtained permanent residency—are that he looked heavier and was out of baseball condition.
That’s understandable given Puig’s history. The righthanded hitter had been one of the better performers in Cuba’s top league Serie Nacional during his brief time on the field, but due to disciplinary action (some say it was due to Cuba’s assertion that he was attempting to defect; others say it was for different reasons), it has been nearly a year since he’s seen high-level competitive action.
One executive called the deal “crazy.” Several others were floored by the reported contract terms.
“I don’t know,” said one international director, echoing several of his colleagues. “I don’t know what’s going on in Dodger land. They must have seen something.”
Those who have seen Puig seem lukewarm on his talent. He has good bat speed and generates plus raw power, but scouts have expressed concerns about his hitting approach. Some scouts say they have gotten some good running times on him before and he’s shown more athleticism in the past, but others haven’t seen him run well. He projects as a corner outfielder and has drawn question marks from scouts about his defensive instincts. He is an interesting prospect with raw talent, but for several teams, he wouldn’t have even been a first-round pick if he were in the draft.
Due to disciplinary action, Puig did not play in Serie Nacional this past season. However, in his final season in Cuba playing for Cienfuegos in 2010-11, he hit .330/.430/.581 with 17 home runs, six triples and 19 doubles in 327 at-bats in a league with a supercharged offensive environment. He drew more walks (49) than strikeouts (39) and stole five bases in nine attempts. He ranked 31st in on-base percentage and 22nd in slugging in the league.
“Leslie Anderson’s numbers were good in Cuba—where’s he at?” said one Latin American director. “It means nothing. You don’t want their numbers to be bad, but just because they’re good doesn’t mean anything.”
Unlike Athletics outfielder Yoenis Cespedes or even younger Cubans like Rangers outfielder Leonys Martin or Reds lefthander Aroldis Chapman, Puig never played for the top Cuban national team. However, Puig did play for the Cuban national B team at the World Port Tournament in Rotterdam in June 2011, when he hit .333/.419/.481 with a homer, a double, three walks and five strikeouts in 31 trips to the plate as Cuba’s left fielder. Several teams couldn’t believe Puig could command a bigger contract than Cespedes, a well-known star in Cuba.
“You had many chances to see Cespedes play,” said a second Latin American director. “This guy’s kind of an unknown. I don’t know. That’s their flavor.”
When Cespedes left Cuba, the reaction was fairly widespread excitement from teams who viewed him as a potential all-star with immediate major league impact. Given Puig’s age and experience level, he could report to one of the Class A levels.
“Cespedes is a much better athlete, more of a complete package,” said a third Latin American director. “He’s a center fielder, good arm. (Puig has) got power and he runs OK, the bat stays through the zone quite a bit. He’s strong, not quite as strong as (Dayan) Viciedo, but he’s currently got plus power. I don’t know if they even had anyone close to beating them.”
Puig did play at the World Junior Championship in 2008 in Edmonton, where he was teammates with Red Sox shortstop Jose Iglesias and Royals lefthander Noel Arguelles before they defected at the tournament. Puig made the tournament all-star team, as did Toronto’s Brett Lawrie at catcher for Canada and Nationals lefthander Matt Purke for Team USA.
However, since June 2011, major league scouts have not had the ability to evaluate Puig in person or even on video since he missed the most recent season in Serie Nacional. And unlike even Jorge Soler, who signed a huge major league contract with almost zero experience in Cuba’s top league, Puig hasn’t had the time to work out for for teams outside of Cuba.
“For me, you have to have history in order to make that kind of investment,” said the third Latin American director, “and we certainly didn’t have that kind of history.”
When Dodgers president Stan Kasten held the same title in Washington, the Nationals proudly trumpeted their presence on the international market in 2006 by signing a 16-year-old Dominican shortstop named Esmailyn Gonzalez for $1.4 million. That deal embarrassed the Nationals and sent them back for years internationally when it was later revealed that Gonzalez was really 20-year-old Carlos Alvarez.
Puig is a much better prospect than Gonzalez/Alvarez, and there aren’t questions about his identity, but there is plenty of skepticism in the baseball world about the deal. Only this time, the money is exponentially higher.
I have no opinion on Puig. I don’t know enough about him. Only time will tell – Baseball America is not the Holy Grail – They are wrong as much as I am. His agent says he will play in the majors this year (I think that is hyperbole), others say it will be 2 or 3 years. Some says he’s a 4th outfielder at best. Time will tell… The signing does tell us that the Dodgers are no longer afraid to spend. I just hope it is wise spending, not spending just for spending’s sake. Stan Kasten went on record that the Dodgers are willing to take on payroll at the trade deadline. I like that, but if so, why didn’t you take a flyer on Youkilis? No I can’t let that go. Stan could have had him by just taking on salary. Tony Jackson of ESPN/LA reports this:
Los Angeles Dodgers president Stan Kasten said Thursday the team hopes to be active ahead of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, and that finances won’t be an impediment to improving.
As an organization, Kasten said, the Dodgers are thinking big and welcome expectations for aggressive action.
“As candid as I can be, we’re the Dodgers. We’re supposed to be big. We intend to be big. So will we look at big things? You bet. That’s as straight as I can be,” Kasten said. “We are The Dodgers. That’s all caps, alright? You should write that. All caps. We are ‘THE DODGERS’ all caps. And we should act that way.”
Short on high-end position players in their minor league system, Kasten acknowledged translating the desire for significant maneuvers into tangible results may not be easy. However, while avoiding conversation about specific players or contract-related hypotheticals, he indicated a willingness to explore any option available.
“I can’t think of anything I would rule out,” he said. “I don’t know that there’s ever a time you don’t want to improve your team. If you’re in a hunt, and we’re definitely in the hunt, you want to improve your chances as you go down the stretch. We know our competitors are going to be improving themselves, and so we expect to be doing the same thing.”
I am not so sure it was wise for Kasten to say that. Certainly other GM’s will want the Dodgers to pay a premium now. Some things are better left unsaid.
Dodger News and Notes:
- The Dodgers offense is worse than pathetic. Horrible. Dave Hansen is evidently not the answer. Move him out. Bring in Mickey Hatcher and see if it helps. If that doesn’t work, fire all the players.
- Ethan Martin pitched 7 innings last night and gave up 4 hits, NO RUNS and NO WALKS. If he keeps that up, he’ll be in LA before the season is over. His stuff is electric! He has proved a lot of us wrong (me included) who were decrying his signing! I love to eat crow like that!
- I remember when I suggested that The Dodgers should go after David Wright and many of you blasted me because “he wasn’t that good anymore.” How do you like him now? Can’t hit one out of Dodger Stadium? Yeah Right!
- Sounds like Andre Ethier will only miss a few games. Let’s hope. The Dodgers could sure use Youk now.
- Clayton Kershaw has 1.04 WHIP. 1.04!!!!! He’s fine other than his left foot. It’s not going to hurt his arm, so you leave him in there. You don’t take him out of the rotation or DL him. That would be silly.
- I’m going to see if Logan White can give me some info on Puig.
- Are James Loney (.240), Juan Uribe (.212) and Adam Kennedy (.223) still on the roster? What a waste!!
- Jared Massey’s Minor League Report – 6/28/12