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Yasiel Puig probably will start season in minor leagues for Dodgers

The 22-year-old Cuban defector has had a strong spring, batting .412, but Manager Don Mattingly says it's unlikely he will be on the opening-day roster.

March 14, 2013|By Dylan Hernandez

PHOENIX — If Carl Crawford isn't ready to play in left field when the Dodgers start their season, top prospect Yasiel Puig won't be taking his place.

Asked whether Puig was under consideration for the Dodgers' opening-day roster, Manager Don Mattingly replied, "Not really, in my mind. If we're going to be realistic about it, it's probably not best for him."

Even though the 22-year-old Cuban defector is batting .412 this spring, Mattingly thinks he would benefit from playing in the minor leagues. The Dodgers are expected to assign Puig to double-A Chattanooga (Tenn.) or triple-A Albuquerque.

Matt Kemp, who made his major league debut at 21, doesn't think Puig will be there for long. "He's going to be in the big leagues this year at some point, I'm pretty positive," Kemp said.

Relayed Kemp's words, Puig smiled and said, "Hopefully."

Multiple Dodgers executives have said Puig is the best athlete the organization has had in its farm system since Kemp.

"I think he's way stronger than me," Kemp said. "He might have more power than me."

The heavily muscled Puig has also been clocked running from the batter's box to first base in as little as 3.9 seconds.

"He's a monster, man," Kemp said. "He's big. When everybody sees him, they think about Bo Jackson. Puig is a five-tool athlete that can do a lot in the big leagues and help our team one of these days."

Kemp understands why the Dodgers want to be patient with Puig. Pointing to how they have Andre Ethier in right field and Crawford in left, Kemp said of Puig, "A guy like him, even if he is ready, you don't want him to be sitting on the bench and not playing."

Puig signed a seven-year, $42-million contract last June, but his performance this spring has come as a pleasant surprise. When he signed with the Dodgers, he hadn't played organized baseball in more than a year. Recovering from a minor elbow operation to treat an infection, Puig batted only .232 in the Puerto Rican winter league.

Puig said he wouldn't have any problems starting the season in the minor leagues.

Mattingly said Puig's play would dictate when he's called up.

"We'll kind of see over the course of the summer," Mattingly said. "He'll let us know. If he's ready, then he's going to dominate down there."

Jansen to the WBC

Reliever Kenley Jansen was added to the Netherlands' World Baseball Classic roster.

Jansen is from the Caribbean island of Curacao, a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. He didn't play in the opening rounds of the tournament because he was recovering from off-season heart surgery.

Jansen will remain with the Dodgers through their workout Sunday and fly to San Francisco that night. Jansen is expected to pitch in a WBC semifinal on Monday. He could also appear in the final on Tuesday, provided the Netherlands advances and he throws 20 or fewer pitches in the semifinal.

Short hops

Zack Greinke is scheduled to play catch Friday, but Mattingly acknowledged the Dodgers are exploring their options in case the right-hander can't start in the opening week of the season. Greinke was scratched from his most recent start because of discomfort in his elbow. … Crawford had six at-bats in a minor league game against Meiji University of Japan. Batting for both teams in what was essentially a scrimmage, Crawford collected two hits and a walk. Later, he threw a baseball for the first time since he was shut down two weeks ago because of arm problems.

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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