The Dodgers have for the most part maintained that they would like to see Yasiel Puig play every day and gain experience before they call him up. But with less than a week before opening day rosters need to be submitted, Puig's name looms large as a possibility, even if not in an every day role.
"We've talked about Puig in all different scenarios," manager Don Mattingly said on Monday.
Mattingly and his coaching staff, along with general manager Ned Colletti met Monday to discuss their options for the opening day roster, and Puig's name has come up quite often, and with good reason. Nobody has hit the ball harder in camp than Puig, who is hitting a ridiculous .527/.509/.855 heading into play Monday night.
"Puig has had a tremendous camp," Mattingly said. "The excitement he has created is pretty powerful now and moving forward."
The bench was pretty much set with five players: Jerry Hairston Jr., Skip Schumaker, Nick Punto, Juan Uribe, and Tim Federowicz. But with Hanley Ramirez out until mid May after thumb surgery and Luis Cruz moving from third base to shortstop, one of those bench players will be starting at third. Mattingly would prefer an outfielder for that open spot, and preferably a right-handed batter.
That leaves Puig and Alex Castellanos, along with switch hitters Elian Herrera and Alfredo Amezaga, who each play the infield as well. Mattingly is particularly high on Amezaga but as someone not on the 40-man roster is at a disadvantage of making the opening day roster. Amezaga is likely headed for Triple-A Albuquerque, but could be used later in the year.
"We see Alfredo being healthy, and he'll be a part of this thing, either now or at some point," Mattingly said.
Puig does need some refinement to his game, but the loss of Ramirez and the lack of power on the bench necessitates a bold move. The needs of the major league team sometimes dictate moves, and Puig is likely the best man for the job.
"There are a lot of things you love and a lot of things you know that aren't quite polished," Mattingly said. "We've said all along the guy is raw. We think he's really smart and he learns quickly, but he's still on the verge of being out of control at all times. We'd like to say this 30 or 40 days have totally changed that, but he's on that verge. We see the way he plays. It's an exciting thing."
Puig will likely play in one of the games on Thursday, when the Dodgers play split squad games in Anaheim and Rancho Cucamonga, so fans in southern California will get to see him at least once. But Mattingly thus far hasn't committed to Puig playing beyond that.
Mattingly said in the early going of the season he would like to occasionally send in a defensive replacement for Carl Crawford in left field in the later innings of a tied game or one in which the Dodgers lead. Crawford is coming off surgery and Monday night is his third game in the field this spring. But that doesn't make Puig unique.
"He's going to have a better arm than Carl, so obviously he would fit that bill," Mattingly said. "But so would just about everyone for that role."
It's possible that Crawford, who by Monday night will have played all of seven spring games, including just three in the field, could be rested in the early going, especially against left-handers. The Dodgers will at least face Madison Bumgarner in the opening series with the Giants, but they might not face another left-handed pitcher until their third series, in San Diego against the Padres.
While developing Puig remains the ideal scenario, Mattingly said his rawness is a bit overstated.
"There are a lot of guys that mess stuff up, that miss stuff. It's not like he would miss a sign and nobody else does. A lot of those things happen all the time," Mattingly said. "Is this guy's inexperience outweighed by what's going on? Can you live with with both sides of that coin?"
It's a question that will be answered by Sunday.