The Los Angeles Dodgers employ a truly unique and dynamic talent in 23-year-old outfielder Yasiel Puig. Now they have to work on constructing a plan that best utilizes his talent and maximizes his ability and productivity. It's not as easy as it sounds, especially when you have to factor in the strengths of the players around him. But it appears the Dodgers have an idea which direction they'd like to go.
According to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, manager Don Mattingly indicated over the weekend that the plan will likely include making Puig their new full-time leadoff hitter.
Mattingly said by switching Puig and last year's leadoff hitter, lefty-swinging Carl Crawford, in the order, it would provide better righty-lefty balance, with right-handed hitter Hanley Ramirez batting third and left-handed hitter Adrian Gonzalez batting fourth.
But it also would be a nod to the reality that the 23-year-old Puig is more dynamic offensively than the 32-year-old Crawford, whose baserunning was hampered by hamstring problems throughout the 2013 season.
It's an interesting idea on paper. Puig's .391 on-base percentage last year was 60 points higher than Crawford's, so he certainly appears to better fit the profile of a leadoff man at this stage in both of their careers. In fact, Crawford has always performed better as a No. 2 batter anyway, hitting .300/.342/.458 in 753 more plate appearance from that spot in the order.
Despite leg injuries sapping Crawford's speed — only 48 total steals over the past three seasons — he clearly belongs at the top of the order, so the idea of hitting him second makes a lot of sense. Whether or not Puig actually makes sense as a full-time leadoff man is another question, and it's a very difficult one to answer definitively.
If it's a spark the Dodgers want at the top or the order, Puig can definitely provide it with his aggressive style of play. On the flip side, he'll have to improve his judgment on the bases so he's not immediately negating his impact with a mistake. Last year he was only successful on 11-for-19 (59 percent) of stolen base attempts, which won't cut it. He also ran into several unnecessary outs attempting to take an extra 90 feet.
When it works, it's a great boost. When it doesn't, it can kill a rally quickly just as the Dodgers are getting into the heart of their order. They appear willing to play those odds.
Another consideration is the impact Puig can have at just about every spot in the order. Puig's .534 slugging percentage was second only to Hanley Ramirez on last year's club, and it only figures to rise as he as gets stronger and more comfortable. Would they be better off utilizing Puig's skills in a run producing position, or does he make sense as a table setter that could hit with the bases empty 2-3 times a game?
Healthy seasons from Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp would help supplement the middle of the order around Adrian Gonzalez, giving them flexibility with Puig. Of course, it would also bump Crawford from the lineup frequently.
If they're committed to going right-left-right through the order, they're probably looking at Juan Uribe hitting fifth on a daily basis. They could do a lot worse, but they could probably do better by rearranging their own furniture.
Those are all things Mattingly will have to consider and continuously evaluate over the next six weeks. Nothing should be considered as set in stone at this point, but at least they're not afraid to think outside the box to get the most out of their lineup.
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