Yasiel Puig isn't just a prospect. He isn't just an interesting prospect on a team with no place to put him. He's the opening of a movie where we learned the robots have become sentient, or that the aliens aren't as friendly as they seemed. He's a warning that makes the protagonist drop his coffee mug and mutter, "Oh ... my ... god ..."
Let's start at the beginning. At first, the idea of signing Puig for the amount of money the Dodgers paid him seemed bonkers. Even if a team has unlimited money, shouldn't they spend it at least somewhat judiciously? Here were the pre-signing notes on Puig:
Reports from scouts on 21-year-old Cuban corner outfielder Yasiel Puig have been underwhelming. The Rangers have been the only team linked to Puig, though their senior-level decision makers were not in attendance at his recent workout in Mexico, where teams have reported that his conditioning appears to be an issue.
The post-signing notes:
Those who have seen Puig seem lukewarm on his talent. He has good bat speed and generates plus raw power, but scouts have expressed concerns about his hitting approach.
He is an interesting prospect with raw talent, but for several teams, he wouldn't have even been a first-round pick if he were in the draft.
And one post-signing tweet of supreme competing-front-office bitchiness:
Huge disparity of opinion around the game on LAD's $42m signing of Yasiel Puig. One team told me they pegged him as a $500,000 player.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) June 29, 2012
Now it's less than a year later, and there's more of a consensus on Puig. Jeff Passan talked to a scout who said, "If he's not a big leaguer now, I don't know what a big leaguer is." Eric Stephen has been doing a great job covering the story at True Blue LA. And, of course, there's Puig's gaudy spring line:
The world is agog over Puig. Puigog, then. Bo Jackson is mentioned as a comp, and not because Puig is a solid Tecmo Bowl option. Before we get into the Meaning of Yasiel Puig, there's an obvious disclaimer about spring stats to put right here:
Do you know what Jeff Keppinger is doing this spring? He's 16-for-31, good for a .516/.595/.677 line. He looks like a .500 hitter. Because when a player is hitting every other ball hard, it doesn't seem like luck has anything to do with it. If you're in the mood for a GIF, you can find a relevant one here of Marco Scutaro going 14 for 28 in the NLCS. He did it against a team good enough to reach the playoffs, and there are just a couple that make you think, "Lucky." He looked like the greatest hitter in the world. When a player is 14-for-28 or 25-for-50, they look like they have the game figured out.
This is kind of why we have stats, see. And I'm not talking about spring-training stats. This is why we ideally have hundreds and hundreds -- thousands, ideally -- of at-bats from a player before we use him to proclaim anything. Because in those hundreds or thousands of at-bats will be stretches where they might as well be Ted Williams in an American Legion game, and there will also be stretches where they look like Matt Garza holding a bowling pin instead of a bat. A sample of 50 at-bats is close to useless.
Okay, with that out of the way, we can venture into the realm of the hypothetical. Let's say that Puig is this good, or at least as good as Yoenis Cespedes was last year. Let's say Puig is ready to hit in the major leagues after a handful of minor-league and spring-training at-bats over the last year-and-a-half, and let's say he's going to force the Dodgers to send Carl Crawford off to the glue factory.
This would be that malevolent-alien bit from the opening. It would mean that not only are the Dodgers spraying a fire hose of liquid cash all over the free-agent markets, but that they're doing it wisely. If Puig really is this good, this quickly, and he does it without the kind of universal scouting consensus that followed, say, Bryce Harper, it would mean there was a person in the Dodgers' front office saying this:
Get this kid. Do not pass go. He's amazing. I don't care that there isn't a buzz on him. He is the painting on the dust jacket for the book, Five Tools. He will be in the majors right away, so give him a big-league contract. Get this kid.
And whomever this person was, he or she had the ear of someone who could approve a huge financial commitment. If Puig is everything he's shown so far, that person will be right -- so right -- and it would give way to every non-Dodger fan's biggest fears. We knew they had the money. We knew they had the will to spend it. We just hoped they were incompetent. There were years where the Mets and Orioles outspent the competition, and it didn't do anything good for either team. The hope was that the Dodgers would be more about the second big Alex Rodriguez contract than the first one.
If Puig is good, and the Dodgers sort of scooped the rest of the baseball world on him ...
As a Giants fan, I've trusted in Ned Colletti to do the right thing. Which is the wrong thing from the Dodgers' perspective. And just because a team has a lot of money, doesn't mean it's always going to be put to good use. Barry Zito's gotta get paid by someone, after all. But underneath the GM and the visible moves is a network of baseball lifers who also influence the direction of the team. If Puig is everything he seems to be this spring, it would seem like the Dodgers have some good people in place, and those people aren't just sending texts back and forth to each other, they're telling the Dodgers how to spend their money, too.
We'll see if Puig is just a spring flash or a new sensation. But if he's the latter, he'll mean something a little more than the typical prospect-made-good tale.