Dodgers rumors: Yasiel Puig could bat leadoff this season

USA TODAY Sports

The 23-year-old Cuban phenom could hit at the top of the Dodgers order in 2014

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said that he might use 2013 breakout star Yasiel Puig as the team's leadoff hitter in 2014 instead of Carl Crawfordaccording to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.

Mattingly told Gurnick that he felt using the right-handed hitting Puig at the top of the order gave the lineup a better balance between left-handed and right-handed hitters in the one-through-four slots. Mattingly prefers to use shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who hit .345/.402/.638 last year, as his in the third spot and Adrian Gonzalez in the cleanup spot, so by placing Puig first and pushing Crawford to second, he steps up a righty-lefty pattern through the first four batters.

The 32-two-year-old Crawford missed a quarter of the 2013 season with injury, but when healthy he served as the primary Dodgers leadoff hitter. Crawford hit leadoff 85 times last season. Puig was Mattingly's second choice with 27 appearances in the number-one slot and he received the majority of the leadoff assignments during the final weeks of the season.

Several factors other than platoon considerations might explain Mattingly's preference for Puig as his leadoff man. Puig's .391 on-base percentage last year was more 60 points higher than Crawford's. Puig also has excellent speed, though his baserunning ability is still raw. He stole 11 bases last season, but he was also caught eight times. Though Crawford has always been viewed as a proto-typical leadoff man, he has more plate appearances as a number-two hitter and he has hit better there as well, with a .300/.342/.458 batting line from the second slot against a .288/.325/.418 line as a leadoff man. Crawford also might not be the same elite base thief he was earlier in his career. After leading the league in stolen bases four times in his first five full seasons, Crawford has stolen fewer stolen bases per opportunity every season since 2010. However, even with leg injuries limiting his playing time and reducing his activity on the bases, Crawford still leads the Dodgers with 15 stolen bases last season and he was caught just four times.

One argument against using Puig as the first batter in the order is his superior power. His .534 slugging is higher than any rate Crawford has posted in his twelve-year career and it was the second-highest mark on the team, trialing only Ramirez's .638. Managers typically prefer to put power hitters further down in the order to provide them with more RBI opportunities.

Gurnick believes Mattingly will continue the pattern righty-lefty pattern further down the order with third baseman Juan Uribe hitting fifth and lefty Andre Ethier batting sixth, at least until star center fielder Matt Kemp returns from offseason surgeries on his ankle and shoulder. Upon Kemp's return, he will compete with Ethier and Crawford for outfield playing time and he figures to replace Uribe in the number-five spot in the order.

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