Puig could develop into true complete player
Dodgers prospect boasts package of power, speed but needs seasoning
It's one thing to hear about Los Angeles Dodgers No. 1 prospect Yasiel Puig. It's another to see him play.
I was fortunate to scout Puig (pronounced Pweeg) this past Spring Training when he was the rage of the Cactus League. He hit .517, stole bases, hit mammoth home runs and had fans eagerly calling for him to be included on the Opening Day roster.
Puig is from Cuba, where he played for the Cuban national team and took part in numerous tournaments. It was following the 2011 World Port Tournament that Puig got caught trying to defect from Cuba. As punishment, he was banned from playing the following season.
In 2012, determined to play professional baseball in the United States, Puig defected successfully. He arrived in Mexico to await his eligibility for free agency. The Los Angeles Dodgers signed Puig to a seven-year contract on June 28. He was placed on the team's 40-man roster.
Puig hit .400 with four homers and 11 RBIs in the Arizona Rookie League and .327 in the Class A Advanced California League. He was scheduled to play in the Arizona Fall League, but a staph infection on his elbow required surgery and kept him from playing. Puig did, however, play winter ball in Puerto Rico.
The right-handed-hitting Puig's spring in the desert was beyond memorable. Word of his hitting prowess quickly spread, and fans came to Camelback Ranch to get a personal glimpse of the 6-foot-3, 245-pound power hitter with thunder in his bat. People stayed in their seats when he came to the plate. The excitement was real.
It wasn't only Puig's power and strength that impressed. It was his speed and agility on the bases that had the baseball world buzzing. He stole four bases in five attempts during Spring Training. While hitting an incredible .517 with three homers, two triples and five doubles among his 30 hits in 58 at-bats, Puig served notice that he was a formidable offensive player with a bright future. He came to the plate to hit. In fact, he didn't walk at all, but he struck out only 11 times.
At age 22, Puig has a well-defined body with large calves, large thighs and legs that are a bit on the short side. He has very strong forearms and wrists. Working together, Puig's strong arms and trunk help power the mechanics of a fairly compact swing.
It is unlikely Puig will add additional weight, but he may gain more strength through his workout regimen.
Puig is an aggressive free swinger who doesn't get cheated at the plate. It's almost as if he hasn't seen a pitch he doesn't like. Puig's vicious cuts at the ball generate a hefty share of swings and misses. His maximum-force approach leads to creating plenty of offensive damage to the opposition.
Extremely good eye-hand coordination and fast hands that pass through the ball quickly are among Puig's many offensive strengths. His slight uppercut swing results in sufficient loft to carry the ball over the fence.
In the games I scouted, Puig centered the ball well and had numerous drives to both the left-center and right-center-field gaps. He isn't just a prototypical pull hitter.
Improved plate discipline and pitch recognition are among the components of Puig's offense that need more seasoning. Like many young players, breaking balls are a bit challenging for him to recognize and handle. He needs to allow the ball to travel a bit deeper before he starts his swing. If Puig does gain more patience and better pitch recognition, he will be an even greater threat.
For such a big man, Puig is nimble. While he gets a slow start moving out of the batter's box, he makes up for it by gaining momentum along the way to first base. Puig's agility and first-step quickness allow him to steal bases or chase down drives in the outfield.
Defensively, Puig has enough arm strength to play right field. He has enough power to play either corner outfield position. Puig has enough speed to play center. He has to continue to work on recognizing the flight of the ball off the bat more quickly. Puig also has to continue to gain accuracy on his throws. His basic skills project Puig to be an average outfielder.
Overall, Puig is still a raw prospect. The Dodgers determined an assignment to Double-A Chattanooga would be a positive development opportunity in Puig's first full year of play.
In late April, a sprained left thumb that required time on the disabled list interrupted a sizzling beginning to this season. After a great start to the year, Puig has been scuffling a bit since his return this month. Currently, he is hitting .286 with five home runs and 20 RBIs in 100 plate appearances. He has also walked seven times.
Younger than fellow Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, Puig has the same type of dynamic hitting skills. Cespedes has had more time to refine his game, but Puig is on a similar path of offensive prowess. Both have eye-popping strength and game-changing tools.
Part of Puig's development will be refinement of some maturity concerns and gaining an understanding of a new culture, new expectations and a totally new environment. Those are issues he must face in addition to becoming a complete player.
Comparisons of Puig to superstar Bo Jackson have been fairly common. For me, there is only one Bo Jackson. However, Puig does have a similar physique and, like Jackson, the gifts and abilities that can carry him to great accomplishments.
The Dodgers' full complement of veteran outfielders allows the club time to completely develop Puig. When they are comfortable with his progress, he will get his Major League opportunity.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoffon Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.