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June 3, 2013

The Call-Up

Yasiel Puig

by Jason Parks and Bret Sayre

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The Situation: With an outfield on the injury shelf, the Dodgers called up their finest minor league treasure in Yasiel Puig. After a monstrous spring training during which the Cuban defector stomped all over the Cactus League landscape destroying buildings and exhaling fire and fury, it was only a matter of time and opportunity before he arrived on the major league scene.

Background: The 22-year-old Cuban has quite the attractive narrative, with escape attempts and house arrest preceding his first-world fame. It’s a romantic story—one that deserves to be told in more depth—but the genesis of his tale as it relates to his career in the majors was the outrageous contract he received from the Dodgers after establishing post-defection residency in Mexico. A complete unknown to most fans, Puig was given a lucrative financial package, complete with a $12M signing bonus as the bow on a seven-year, $42M deal. Based on the scarcity of scouting intel available at the time, the signing seemed irresponsible and casual, even considering the deep pockets of the new Los Angeles ownership. Most reactions fell along the lines of, “The Dodgers gave $42M to a Cuban player based on an impressive batting practice session? What am I missing?”

The Scouting Report: The Bo Jackson comps are unfair and sensational, but the physical gifts imparted by Puig’s robust physical frame allow for such hyperbole. Puig is an athletic beast, with inside linebacker size and wide receiver speed. In spring training, Jason Cole clocked the 250-pound outfielder at 4.04 home-to-first from the right side of the plate, which is plus-plus territory for those scoring at home. Humans Puig’s size aren’t supposed to run sub-4.1 times from the right side. It throws off the balance of the world.

In addition to his thick, muscular frame, Puig has legit baseball tools and some feel for his craft. Despite an upper body that suggests he bench-presses small automobiles, Puig has a fluid swing at the plate that is conducive to both contact and power, a rare combination indeed. He has a vigorous appetite for fastballs and will look to drive the ball with authority early in counts, showing a short path to the ball and ideal length at the point of extension. With good lift and leverage built into the swing, Puig has over-the-fence power, and some scouts haven’t been shy about putting an elite grade on his raw pop.

Puig could be a monster offensive force, but the major league book on him has yet to be written, and high-end arms may find ways to exploit him. As the fastballs over the plate turn into exploding secondary stuff wearing a convincing disguise, can Puig adjust? The raw bat-to-ball ability is there, but you can’t simulate the quality of talent found in the majors at the minor league level, so the report on Puig is still abstract.

With easy plus speed and major league quality coordination, Puig can handle the demands of center field, although his reads and routes still need refinement. The arm will play in either corner and can be a weapon once he learns to harness his strength and improve his carry and accuracy. The glory will come from the offensive attack, as the potential cocktail could reach lethal levels intoxication; contact, power, and speed all coming from an intimidating physical package and presence. If he hits his mark—which isn’t a given, as there are still many unknowns about his game—Puig could be an all-star at the major league level, a middle-of-the-order monster with a cathedral ceiling. —Jason Parks

Fantasy Impact: Every year, there's no shortage of future rookies who get fantasy owners intensely excited. A few of this year’s (Jurickson Profar, Kevin Gausman) are already in the majors, but the next big name from that group will be in the lineup for the Dodgers on Monday night. Yasiel Puig was a beast in spring training, and fantasy owners have long memories, so the expectations for the young Cuban outfielder will be sky high.

The 40 games Puig has played in Double-A have only amplified the excitement about him in the baseball community. The "knock" on him during spring training was that he was sitting dead red on fastballs that pitchers were throwing to get their work in as they prepared for the games that counted. Of course, it's a stretch to knock a guy who hit .517 with 10 extra-base hits in 58 at-bats for anything, as it's not like there were a hundred other players putting up those kinds of numbers. If Puig is who we think he might be, he is fantasy gold. He can hit for power, steal bases, potentially hit for a decent average and may slot in to the Los Angeles lineup in a prime run-producing position. And they need the help: the Dodgers hit Scott Van Slyke cleanup on Sunday.

The biggest question here is how long he'll be around. Matt Kemp is on the DL, but that decision has yet to be made on Carl Crawford, who is also sidelined with a hamstring injury. At worst, it looks like Puig should be around until Kemp comes back, but his stay could be extended depending on Crawford's diagnosis.

There aren't too many players we say this about in this space, but Puig needs to be owned in all leagues. His upside is that great in the near term. In dynasty/keeper formats, Puig is worth a high waiver priority—though not a top one, if you're waiting on Oscar Taveras, Wil Myers, or Zack Wheeler. In NL-only leagues, where he's unowned, Puig is worth a bid of around $15. The hype suggests that he'll go for more than that, but there is just nowhere for him to play when everyone's healthy. On top of that, with his high upside comes high risk, and there is a fair chance that he'll fall on his face. If you were able to grab him in a redraft league upon the news breaking, and you don't need much OF help, now might be the perfect time to start putting out feelers to your leaguemates and cashing in before he even has a chance to fail. —Bret Sayre

Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here
Bret Sayre is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bret's other articles. You can contact Bret by clicking here

Related Content:  Prospects,  Dodgers,  Yasiel Puig,  Call Up

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