Opinion of Kingman's Performance

Monday, March 4, 2013

Handling Young Inexperienced Players with Kid Gloves

There has been quite a stir regarding the .421 hitting Yasiel Puig and calls for him to make the Dodger Opening Day Roster.    Don Mattingly is asked about it.  Writers and bloggers and forum posters are discussing it.  Everyone seems to be replaying video clips of his 3-run homer on Sunday. 

There really shouldn’t be any discussion on this yet.   Yasiel Puig has 95 minor league plate appearances to his credit.  This is Spring Training.  The pitching he’s facing isn’t up to par at the moment.  A lot of pitchers are experimenting with their stuff and not pitching to scouting reports.  They are pitching to sharpen their stuff and get in pitching shape.  That often results in getting tagged a bit.

Mike Kinkade with Todd Hundley at 2003 Spring Training at Vero Beach (photo by Jon SooHoo/L.A. Dodgers)

Such Dodger “flashes in the pan” as Jason Romano, Phil Hiatt, Matt Luke, Mike Kinkade and Bruce Aven have torn the cover off the ball in past Spring Training campaigns.  In no way do I believe that Yasiel Puig is like them.  He isn’t, but he is hitting against the same caliber of pitching that they raked against in previous exhibition seasons.  If he makes the opening day roster with the big club, he will have his struggles.

Puig is killing fastballs.  He’s sitting on them and crushing them.  He hasn’t faced the nasty splitters and cutters.  The breaking pitches haven’t come his way yet and there really hasn’t seen much off speed stuff either.  Those that have thrown pitches other than fastballs have found some of his weaknesses as a hitter.  The kid will need seasoning and on the Major League level it isn’t the place for him to get that much needed experience.

There is a lot of Spring Training left and we'll get to see a lot more of Puig.  It'll be interesting to see if he continues to hit as the pitchers near the beginning of the regular season and they start refining their repertoires.  If Yasiel continues to hit all the way up to opening day, the reality of the situation may be that we really have a special player on our hands.  Calling up young phenoms is always a risky business though.

Adrian Beltre at age 18, the year prior to his 1998 call up with the Dodgers.

Tommy Lasorda as Interim General Manager in 1998 was insistent on bringing up a young Adrian Beltre.  What resulted was a struggling kid that hit .215 in his first campaign.  It was unfair to him and would have served Beltre better had he had another year or two in the minors.  There are those that believe that Beltre would have developed much sooner had he not had his confidence crushed in that first year.

For that reason, it is vitally important that the Dodgers are careful with Puig in his development.  Many a player has had their confidence destroyed by early call ups.  Players get impatient, develop bad habits and sometimes don’t recover.  A natural ascension to the major leagues is the ideal way for Puig to get there.  It’s great that his tearing the cover off the ball this spring.  Maybe he is a baseball anomaly and he’ll naturally flow into the major leagues at this quick rate, but I doubt it.  I hope he proves me wrong.  Meanwhile, the kid sure is fun to watch.

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