After tearing through a nine-game stretch in the Arizona Rookie League, Dodgers Cuban phenom prospect Yasiel Puig made his debut at high-level Class-A Rancho Cucamonga on Tuesday night, going 1-for-4 with a single, a run scored and two stolen bases. The Quakes overcame a late-inning deficit and defeated the Stockton Ports, 9-8, at The Epicenter.
Puig (full name pronounced YAH-see-el PWEE) wore No. 8 and DH’d in the three spot for the Quakes, who play their ball in the Cal League. Here are a few things that were made clear in his four at-bats:
Puig has some serious wheels.
In his first at-bat, Puig grounded sharply to shortstop Yordy Cabrera for what would be a routine play for any competent shortstop. Puig raced down the line and narrowly missed beating out Cabrera’s throw to first. Mind you, Cabrera is the top-rated shortstop in Oakland’s farm system according to Baseball Prospectus, so it’s not like Puig almost beat out some noodle-armed throw.
In his final at-bat, Puig smashed a single up the middle and minutes later he was caught napping by Stockton reliever Jeff Urlaub, who had Puig picked off first base. Urlaub threw over to first baseman A.J. Kirby-Jones and Puig literally just stood there and watched the ball into his mitt before taking off to second. Puig never looked back and actually beat out Kirby-Jones’ throw to second for his first stolen base of the night. He stole third base just a few pitches later and was safe by a mile.
Puig is BIG.
This is the first thing you notice about the 21-year-old outfielder. He’s listed at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds in the Rancho Cucamonga game notes and he looks every bit of that. He has a very solid, muscular build and seems to already have a big league body type.
Puig definitely has a power stroke.
His presence at the plate is very natural and he oozes confidence (sometimes too much, but we’ll get to that in a bit.) Granted it’s High-A baseball, but Puig had good plate discipline and recognition of off-speed pitches — he didn’t swing and miss once. He swung at first pitch fastballs twice (in his first and last at-bats), but made solid contact on both, singling to center on the second one.
Puig’s bat gets through the middle of the zone incredibly fast, which allowed him to rip lawn-burners in each of his at-bats. His third at-bat resulted in him getting aboard via an error by Stockton’s Cabrera. Puig smacked a hard grounder to Cabrera — again, Oakland’s top shortstop prospect — and it absolutely ate him up. The misplay was scored as an error, but it just as easily could have been a second hit for Puig.
Tuesday was Puig’s first look at Cal League pitching and he’ll have plenty more at-bats to adjust, not that he needs a whole lot of adjusting. In his nine Rookie League games, he hit .400/.500/1.000 and smacked four home runs and three triples while driving in 11 runs, so you can expect him to square up some Cal League pitches eventually.
The $42 million man has a slight case of “Superstar Syndrome”.
This is the one negative aspect of Puig’s game that was evident to anyone simply watching the game from the stands. In his first three at-bats, he raced down the line, but then sort of sauntered off after reaching first base. He took his time getting back to the dugout after his first two ground-outs and slowly walked back to first base after reaching on an error in his third at-bat. His trip back down the first base line was so slow, it seemed as if first base umpire John Bostwick was going to have to call time just so Puig could get back to the base.
Puig definitely big-leagued his seventh-inning single, taking a wide turn around the base before taking a lazy lead off the bag during the subsequent at-bat. This is why he was picked off so easily. Lucky for Puig, his speed bailed him out.
To be clear, this isn’t all that surprising considering his big contract and his quick promotion. I’m sure he’s feeling pretty good about himself right now. He is only 21 years old, meaning there is plenty of time for grooming and plenty of opportunities for coaches to instill good habits.
Final word: There are definitely reasons to be excited about one of the Dodgers’ newest toys. The organization is grooming him to be the power-hitting left fielder they want him to be and Puig appears to have the tools to be just that.
Regarding other notable players:
Dodgers starter Ted Lilly made a rehab start, throwing 12 pitches in his one inning of work. Lilly, who is recovering from inflammation in his throwing shoulder, struck out two Stockton batters and topped out at 87 on the gun.
No. 8 prospect Joc Pederson was very impressive on Tuesday, going 3-for-3 with a walk and a pair of solo home runs while patrolling centerfield for the Quakes. Pederson, who is considered a three-star prospect in the Dodgers’ farm system, put the Quakes on the board in the first inning, absolutely pummeling Nate Long’s offering over the right field wall. He then sparked the four-run seventh inning with his second solo shot to right. Pederson has 15 home runs and 51 runs batted in on the year; both totals lead the team.
No. 10 prospect Angel Sanchez was the game’s scheduled starter and took over in the second inning after Ted Lilly‘s rehab inning. Sanchez was promptly shelled, allowing seven hits and seven earned runs in one-plus inning of work. Sanchez has a 6.02 ERA on the year.