Yasiel Puig Should Stay in Center Field
This may be a very unpopular opinion, but I think that Yasiel Puig should stay in center field. Last season I heavily advocated for the Dodgers to play Puig in center field after Matt Kemp was shifted over to right field. Many felt that Puig needed Spring Training in order to work on the transition, but I felt that the Cuban dynamo’s talents should be used in center field right away since the Dodgers lacked a true center fielder at the time. After the Dodgers did decide to play Puig in center, the naysayers quieted down a bit as he showed off some center field skills including incredible range, athleticism and of course that cannon arm.
Now with Matt Kemp moving on to San Diego and right field open, the overall consensus is that Joc Pederson will be manning center field and Yasiel Puig will be back in right field for 2015. While I do think that Joc Pederson will be great in center field, I still feel that Yasiel Puig is the best outfielder the Dodgers have and he should be the captain out in the great expansive pasture of center field.
First of all, how great was Puig in center field last year? Yasiel Puig led the National League with 15 outfield assists during the regular season in 2014. He trailed
Aug 7, 2014; Anaheim, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Yasiel Puig (66) makes a leaping catch at the center field wall off a ball hit by Los Angeles Angels left fielder Josh Hamilton (not pictured) in the sixth inning of the game at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
fellow Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes by just one assist who had 16. Even though many thought that Puig in center field would mean even more errant throws and missed cut-off men, the energetic Wild Horse only committed 3 errors in the outfield over 144 games played and made only 2 errors from center field in 53 games at center.
It’s hard to compare Joc Pederson’s defensive stats to Yasiel Puig’s since Pederson only was up briefly with the Dodgers last season. Even so, Joc is not going to be throwing out as many base runners from center field. Joc has collected a total of 38 outfield assists over 5 seasons in the minor leagues. Last season with Albuquerque, Joc had 5 outfield assists from center field over 99 games. He also committed 6 errors from the position. Not to say that Joc is not a solid outfielder, but I have no problem proclaiming that Puig is better.
Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times wrote about Joc Pederson’s future in the Dodger outfield. Dilbeck questioned whether the Dodgers should hand over the starting center field position to Joc or if they should hang on to Andre Ethier just in case. I definitely do not buy into the idea that the Dodgers should hang on to Ethier just to back up center field. While Ethier filled in at center admirably in 2013 and part of 2014, I think that the Dodgers have much better options in Puig or even the newly acquired Chris Heisey. There’s no way the Dodgers revert back to Ethier in center field even as a backup.
It was a bit confusing when the Dodgers picked up another outfielder in Heisey this offseason, but it just reflects the importance of center field defense to Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi. Obviously Matt Kemp’s declined outfield defense was a major factor for his trade, and the lack of a true center fielder on the 40-man roster was a hole which the new front office addressed right away this winter. Can you imagine the discussion they had when Skip Schumaker in center field came up?
I have no qualms about Joc Pederson’s defensive abilities in the outfield or even in center field for that matter. The biggest question mark for Joc is his ability to transition into the Major League level and be successful at the plate. Joc has the talent, and I really do think he will have a long and successful Dodger career. There just might be some growing pains. That’s okay. Not everyone is Yasiel Puig right out of the gate.
Even if Joc Pederson’s bat succeeds next season at Dodger Stadium (which it will), I still think that Yasiel Puig should stick in center field with Joc Pederson in right field, and Carl Crawford/Scott Van Slyke in left field, and Andre Ethier (if he’s still around) able to fill in when needed in any of the three outfield spots off the bench. Heisey could also be used as a outfield option, but I’m not exactly on board with a center field platoon with Joc Pederson.
If the Dodgers are looking at Joc as their starting center fielder, then let the kid play every day. Platooning with Chris Heisey would be counterproductive in my opinion unless of course Joc absolutely implodes and doesn’t hit at all.
Yasiel Puig is able to make adjustments both offensively and defensively. Sure, he had some slumps, but they all do. Sure, he has made some wild throws from the outfield. It got better. Sure, he didn’t hit the cut-off man most of the time during his first season. That improved as well. I salivate thinking about the incredible plays Yasiel Puig could make in center field if given the opportunity.
Even Vin Scully feels Puig should play in center field.
"“That’s the ideal position for him anyway.” -Vin Scully"
After Puig was shifted to center field last season, I heralded the move. Puig did not disappoint. Vin and I were waiting for Puig to show off his arm in center field and throw out a runner at home plate. The gloriousness of Puig throwing out Brandon Belt at home in the 11th inning in September was on the best plays of the year by a Dodger.
The Dodgers should continue to go with Puig in center field, because he has already made some spectacular plays out there and he can only get better and more refined. While Joc’s path has been cleared after the Matt Kemp trade, the Dodgers should not abandon the idea of Puig in center field. Pederson will be a good outfielder, but Puig could be spectacular.
Cannon throws from center and bat flips at the plate sound like the perfect recipe for Dodger success in 2015 and beyond.