Yasiel Puig steals second base during the Dodgers-Athletics game in Glendale,… (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated…)
PHOENIX — Yasiel Puig won’t be on the Dodgers’ opening-day roster.
The 22-year-old Cuban defector, who leads the Cactus League with a .526 average, was optioned to double-A Chattanooga on Tuesday.
The move was bound to happen at some point.
The Dodgers want Puig to play every day, and that wasn’t going to happen in the major leagues with Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford in their outfield.
Perhaps more important, the move probably will delay Puig’s entry into the free-agent market by an entire year. If Puig spends 20 or more days in the minor leagues this year, the earliest he could become a free agent would be after the 2019 season.
Even though he failed to make the major league club, this will be remembered as the spring of Puig.
But Puig’s spring numbers – he also hit three home runs, drove in 11 runs and stole four bases – told only part of the story.
His body drew immediate comparisons to Bo Jackson’s. Matt Kemp said Puig was stronger than him. The raw strength translated well to the game, as balls flew off his bat faster than anyone else’s.
Puig’s blend of power and speed led Eric Stephen of the Dodgers blog TrueBlueLA to say that if Kemp was the baseball equivalent of the best standard-definition television, Puig was a high-definition TV.
There were some rough edges. Puig didn’t always run hard out of the batter’s box and he didn’t draw a single walk this spring.
Puig can round out those rough edges in the minor leagues while the Dodgers figure out exactly what they have in their outfield. Even though the Dodgers have $55.3 million committed to their three outfielders, there are questions, as Kemp and Crawford are recovering from major operations. Once the Dodgers have a sense of whether Kemp and Crawford can recapture their old forms, they can decide how to make room for their star prospect.
Puig’s demotion was one of two moves the Dodgers made on Tuesday. Shortstop Dee Gordon was sent to triple-A Albuquerque, a move that solidifies Luis Cruz’s place as the opening-day shortstop.
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