From the offseason to the start of spring training, the word on Yasiel Puig was that he was a raw talent who needed plenty of baseball experience before even talking about him in the major leagues. But as camp rolls on, Puig continues to impress and might be forcing his way into a decision the Dodgers didn't even think they would have to make.
"He really is (surprising me). I can't really say he's not," said manager Don Mattingly after Monday's 3-2 loss to the Brewers in Maryvale. "He needs to play. The more games he plays, the more experience he's going to have. He's rough. He's a wild horse. He plays wild, but it's fun to watch."
Puig was 2-for-2 with a run scored on Monday, and one of his singles nearly beheaded Brewers starter Mike Fiers as it was rocketed back up the middle. Puig on the spring is batting .452/.438/.645 (14-for-31 with three doubles and a home run), and that doesn't count the single he had against the Giants in his one at-bat in Friday's rain out in Scottsdale.
"When I took him out today, he said to Trey (Hillman, bench coach), 'Why?'," Mattingly said, laughing. "I'm trying to protect his average."
Puig played a total of 23 minor league games in 2012, and that was after not playing organized baseball for over 18 months. He played 20 games in the Puerto Rican Winter League during the offseason, so it's understandable that the Dodgers want him to gain experience before asking him to play in the majors.
"He struggled in Puerto Rico and he didn't play a lot of games last year, so it was hard to have any expectations. But I was excited to see him in camp because I knew I was going to see him over some at-bats," Mattingly said. "He's been really good. He's smart, and he's made adjustments."
Mattingly was asked if there was anything Puig couldn't do.
"I don't know. There are times he it looks like he can't hit a cutoff man," he said, laughing.
Puig hasn't yet walked and he does have eight strikeouts in 31 spring plate appearances. But it has been hard not to be impressed by the whole package so far.
"For a big power guy, if the ball's in the strike zone you don't see him swing and miss very often," Mattingly said.
Keep in mind that opening day is still three whole weeks away, but with Carl Crawford probably starting the year on the disabled list and Puig continuing to hit, the question had to be asked. But Mattingly said it's still too early to consider Puig for the opening day roster.
"He can play, that's for sure. It's just not one of those things you're willing to make a decision on at this point or really talk about," Mattingly said. "But again, he's looked really good. There really hasn't been a negative about him."