Are the Los Angeles Dodgers Rushing Yasiel Puig's Development?For the Los Angeles Dodgers, desperate times are calling for desperate measures.
Following last Sunday's loss to the Colorado Rockies, the Dodgers called up top prospect Yasiel Puig in an attempt to reverse the team's fortunes. Los Angeles held a 23-32 record at the time of his promotion before winning two of their three games with Puig supplying plenty of heroics including a game-ending outfield assist followed by a multi-home run game the next day. Overall, Los Angeles has experienced a hugely disappointing first third of the season for a team with the highest payroll in baseball history.
Puig, 22, was very impressive in spring training, batting a gaudy .517 in nearly 30 Cactus League games. He didn't make the Opening Day roster as the Dodgers wanted to preach patience with their young stud. But two months later, sitting in the basement of the National League West while Puig continued to tear up the minor leagues to the tune of a .313 average with eight home runs and 37 runs batted in, the Dodgers have decided that the future is now.
Puig defected from Cuba in early 2012 and made his major league debut less than a year after the Dodgers signed him to a seven-year deal worth $42 million last June. While the outfielder is clearly proving he belongs so far, Puig's promotion can also be seen as a rash decision to inject life into a team that has barely registered a pulse this season. Matt Kemp has struggled so mightily as the face of the franchise that he was booed at Dodger Stadium last week after striking out four times in a rivalry game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Now he's on the disabled list with a strained hamstring but many in Los Angeles are speculating that the team is just giving him some time to clear his head and rediscover a power stroke that has evaded him ever since offseason shoulder surgery.
Calling up Puig to fill a void based on minor league success is a risky play so early into his career. The Dodgers have seen similar decisions backfire in recent years, most notably with shortstop Dee Gordon. Manager Don Mattingly even admitted Gordon was probably rushed up too soon and "in a sense it set him back." Moreover, the void is larger than just Kemp, as Hanley Ramirez has played less than 10 games this season due to various injuries. As much of a spark Puig appears to be at the moment, he won't be able to account for the missing productivity of Kemp and Ramirez.
It's doubly risky considering how much money the Dodgers have invested in Puig. Los Angeles would have been better served to call up a different prospect like Joc Pederson, who is not only hitting a solid .310 with eight home runs as Puig's now-former teammate in Double-A, but has also spent more time honing his game in the farm system.
The Dodgers made the right decision by taking Puig's scorching March in stride and sending him to the minors for continued development. The Dodgers made the wrong decision by promoting him this week. A player who represents the potential for long-term success should not be summoned as a savior for a team dealing with short-term failure.