Will Top Prospect Yasiel Puig's Call-Up Spark a Much-Needed Dodgers Turnaround?

Jason MartinezContributor IJune 3, 2013

After weeks of speculation, the Dodgers will recall top prospect Yasiel Puig from Double-A Chattanooga on Monday. The 22-year-old, who should get a majority of his starts in center field while Matt Kemp (strained hamstring) is on the disabled list, hasn't stopped hitting since signing a seven-year, $42 million deal last June. 

In 23 games between the Arizona Rookie League and the High-A California League in 2012, the 6'3" and 215-pound Puig posted a 1.076 OPS with eight steals. He continued to do damage at the plate in spring training with 30 hits in 58 at-bats, including 10 extra-base hits and four stolen bases.

Most recently, he has hit .313 (46-for-147) with 23 extra-base hits (8 HR, 12 2B, 3 3B) and 13 stolen bases in 40 Double-A games this season.

With the struggles of Kemp (.640 OPS in 51 games) and Andre Ethier (.696 OPS in 53 games), Puig's big league ETA has been a popular point of discussion for fans and media alike. Considered a raw talent who is extremely aggressive at the plate, a promotion wasn't the slam dunk that most felt it was. 

The success of Pirates outfielder Starling Marte—he has a solid .761 OPS despite walking just 18 times while striking out 102 times in 101 MLB games—is more of an exception to the rule when it comes to free-swinging prospects. They often struggle, if not right away, as soon as the scouts and pitchers discover and exploit their weaknesses. Young players who lack plate discipline have a hard time making adjustments, and they end up being overmatched until they do. 

In the case of Yasiel Puig and the Dodgers, there are several reasons why the timing is right.

Aside from the clear lack of other center field talent in the system, Puig's tremendous power potential should give the offense a much-needed boost for the simple reason that he's bound to run into some pitches that end up leaving the park...even if he does look bad in the majority of his at-bats.

Puig, who looks more like a middle linebacker than a baseball player, also gives opposing pitchers another power threat to be weary of in the middle of the lineup. Since Kemp's been sidelined, the Dodgers have had Tim Federowicz, Jerry Hairston Jr., Ramon Hernandez and Scott Van Slyke hitting in the fourth and fifth spots in the lineup. Not exactly the kind of names that strike fear into opponents.

Even if Puig isn't a household name as of yet, it probably won't be long before everyone in the league is talking about him based on his physical attributes alone.

A more realistic comparison in talent might be fellow Cuban Yoenis Cespedes, who is five years older and was obviously big league ready when he signed with the A's before the 2012 season. How Puig's elite power potential will translate to the majors is anyone's guess, but Cespedes has 32 homers in his first 658 big league at-bats.   

Puig was the most dynamic player I saw in ST; reminded me of a cross between Bo Jackson & Yoenis Cespedes. Puig will electrify Dodger Stadium.

— JIM BOWDEN (@JimBowdenESPNxm) June 3, 2013

With Kemp expected to return to action when first eligible on June 14, it's no certainty that Puig's stay will even extend beyond that. I can almost guarantee you this, though: With the way the season is going in Los Angeles (23-32, 8.5 games and last place out in the NL West), there's no way Puig is going back to the minors if he can come up with a few big hits and doesn't look completely lost at the plate.

He's also earning a big league salary, and even the deep-pocketed Dodgers would rather see that kind of money at work on the major-league roster. 

Ethier, marred in a 6-for-38 slump with no home runs, will almost certainly be the outfielder who loses playing time if Puig stays. As bad as having a player making $13.5 million relegated to the bench would be, the Dodgers need a spark in their lineup. And Puig appears to be the only shot at giving them that right now if his success from spring training and the Southern League can carry over.

Here's a look at what the Dodgers lineup could look like by mid-June with Kemp, A.J. Ellis and Hanley Ramirez back from the disabled list: 

1. Carl Crawford, LF
2. Hanley Ramirez, SS
3. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
4. Matt Kemp, CF
5. Yasiel Puig, RF
6. A.J. Ellis, C
7. Mark Ellis, 2B
8. Juan Uribe/Jerry Hairston Jr./Nick Punto, 3B 

On paper, that's an impressive lineup. Of course, much of their success will depend on Kemp's effectiveness when he returns. And it wouldn't hurt if Zack Greinke (13.1 IP, 13 ER in last three starts) could turn things around real quick.

The reason that Yasiel's Puig's call-up is such big news is that his potential impact can be huge, even if the chances of it being realized in 2013 aren't great. At this point, the Dodgers don't have anything to lose.