2014 Spring Training preview: Right field

puig_2014-02-26
Yasiel Puig. Yasiel Puig. Yasiel Puig. Yasiel Puig.
Name Age System BA OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR
Yasiel Puig
23 2013 .319 .391 .534 .398 160 4.0
’14 ZiPS .284 .354 .485 .359 n/a 3.8
’14 Steamer .288 .358 .498 .368 140 4.8
Andre Ethier
32 2013 .272 .360 .423 .340 120 2.9
’14 ZiPS .261 .340 .405 .319 n/a 1.5
’14 Steamer .272 .351 .433 .341 120 2.4
Scott Van Slyke 27 2013 .240 .342 .465 .353 129 0.9
’14 ZiPS .249 .325 .420 .325 n/a 1.6
’14 Steamer .245 .332 .408 .327 111 0.2
Joc Pederson 22 2013 (AA) .278 .381 .497 .398 155 n/a
Mike Baxter 29 2013 (Mets) .189 .303 .250 .262 65 -0.7

Yasiel Puig. I could probably leave the right field preview at that and everyone would be happy — even the likes of Scott Van Slyke and Mike Baxter. But, I like to write, so here are some words about the Dodgers’ right field situation heading into the 2014 season.

The Dodgers have employed a lot of quality right fielders in the last 10-15 years — Gary Sheffield, Shawn Green, J.D. Drew (he was good, no matter what anyone else says) and Andre Ethier. If you were to combine them all, you have one of the best right fielders to ever play baseball. Sheffield was an elite hitter, Green had the most power, Drew had a great eye and Ethier is clutch*.

*- Not an actual thing

Despite those resumes, Puig has a chance to have the biggest impact of any Dodger right fielder in recent memory.

Puig made his MLB debut on June 3, and he quickly established himself as a “must-watch” player. He had one of the best debut weeks in the franchise’s history — and maybe ever. He couldn’t keep up the blistering pace he was on, but he proved himself to be an impact bat and a big part of the Dodgers’ future.

He hit .319 in his debut and had a .391 on-base percentage. I don’t think either of those are sustainable for Puig’s second season. That would make him a “7” hitter, which he just isn’t. His .383 BABiP is due to regress closer to the mean (mean = ~ .300). But his power is there (.215 ISO), and it’s legit.

Despite Don Mattingly proclaiming Puig isn’t a “proven RBI guy,” Puig is best-suited to hit in the middle of the order (or in the No. 2 spot). But since the Dodgers lack a legitimate leadoff hitter (no, I don’t mean a fast, slappy guy), Puig might be thrust into that role — a role in which he thrived last season.

Puig hitting first in the order
.333/.409/.618, 8 HR in 115 plate appearances

Sure, it was a small sample size, but the Dodgers would be smart to get Puig as many plate appearances as possible.

His defense is inconsistent, but his arm isn’t. His baserunning is questionable at times, but his speed isn’t. Those are the two biggest things he needs to work on going forward. With his speed, he should be a 30-stolen base guy easy. With the tutelage of Davey Lopes and Maury Wills, he could become a much more efficient base-stealer as he matures.

Barring anything unforeseen (injury, really), Puig, 23, should play no fewer than 150 games in right field this season. Other than an injury to himself, the only other way he doesn’t play that many games in right field is if he proves himself to be a somewhat capable center fielder, and both Matt Kemp and Ethier are hurt. Even then, if both those guys are hurt, Joc Pederson could get the call from (presumably) Triple-A.

Puig’s backups in right should play sparsely this season. Ethier, whom I think should be the Dodgers’ primary left fielder, is more than capable of spelling Puig, but he’s a much better fit in left field. He was profiled in Daniel’s left field preview. Ethier destroys right-handed pitching (.309/.388/.518 for his career) and could give Puig a blow if there’s a tough righty on the mound.

Van Slyke is like Ethier, as he’s slated for backup duty in the corner outfield spots. He’s a better defender than folks give him credit for, but he’ll probably spend most of his 2014 season giving Ethier and Carl Crawford days off in left field, along with Adrian Gonzalez at first base.

I included Baxter here because he has yet to be included in any of the previews. He was claimed off waivers from the Mets in October (Alex Castellanos was designated for assignment), and at least gives the Dodgers a warm body to put in right field. But if Baxter is playing meaningful games for the Dodgers, something has gone horrifically wrong in LA. Pederson could see some time in right, but he’s more likely to fill in at center field.

Right field is Puig’s territory, and will be for a long, long time.

Next up: Starting pitchers

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler
Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.