The Los Angeles Dodgers are less than a month away from starting their Spring Training games and the team’s Cuban sensation, Yasiel Puig, needs a strong showing.
The Boys in Blue have a clear logjam in the outfield as Puig will fight for playing time with three veterans: Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford. The one advantage Puig has over these three outfielders is his youthful health. Each of his teammates are substantially older, in terms of baseball age, and have proved to be more injury prone than Puig. If one of them gets hurt, even a ho-hum Spring Training will not be enough to keep Puig out of the lineup.
Nevertheless, no athlete wants to sit and wait for a teammate to get injured or need a rest. Puig will want to be in the game every day; hence, he needs a convincing performance before the Dodgers head “down under” for the MLB Opening Series in Australia.
Despite his thrilling defensive plays, his aggressive base running and his powerful bat, Puig is not guaranteed a starting job come Opening Day. His outfield counterparts are no slouches and, if healthy, will give Puig a run for his money.
As I wrote this weekend, I expect Kemp to be ready to go by the start of the season. If that is indeed the case, center field is a foregone conclusion for manager Don Mattingly. From there, if Puig can outperform Crawford, Mattingly can move the more versatile Ethier over to left field and let Puig take his place in right. Otherwise, Crawford can play left and Puig will need to outplay Ethier.
Although Crawford only managed to play 116 games last season due to injury and time off for rest, he was very effective while he played, batting .283 on the season with a .329 on-base percentage. Similarly, Ethier was consistent, batting .272 while reaching base 36% of the time. If Puig is not dedicated to bettering his game, Mattingly may have a hard time penciling him into the starting lineup. Puig will need a good spring to earn playing time in a veteran outfield.