Yasiel Puig has now started five consecutive games in center field, and he hasn’t even killed one teammate out there yet. The Dodgers are riding a season-high four game winning streak, and Puig is now second in the National League in batting average (.317), third in OBP (.402), and third in slugging (.544). Since taking over in center field during the San Francisco series, Yasiel has collected 9 hits and has scored 6 runs. The Dodgers have yet to lose a game with Puig in center, and the feisty outfielder has been flawless with the glove in his new position.
Even the legendary Vin Scully is heralding center field as Puig’s pasture:
“That’s the ideal position for him anyway.” -Vin Scully
What took so long? It seems like the Dodgers have been mulling the move from right field to center for awhile according to General Manager Ned Colletti:
“We had been talking about it for a while. We sat down with Yasiel — Donnie [Mattingly] and myself and [coaches] Lo Bundy and Davey Lopes — and explained the differences between the corners and the middle. We talked about his concentration. How long he’ll be out there, I don’t know.”
With everything going swimmingly well for the Dodgers and having their optimum outfield configuration out there the past two series (Carl Crawford in left field, Puig in center, and Matt Kemp in right field), it looks like Puig’s stay in center field is looking more permanent than merely an experiment.
Andre Ethier filled in admirably in center in 2013 when Matt Kemp was dealing with multiple injuries, but Ethier in center field
was never the long-term solution. The Dodgers also started Scott Van Slyke in center field 16 times, but that was not exactly the answer to the Dodgers’ need for a true center fielder either. With Matt Kemp demoted to left field, and eventually taking over duties in right field where he feels much more comfortable, it was only a matter of time before the Dodgers placed their best outfielder in the most important outfield position. This new set up gives them the best possible configuration defensively.
The Dodgers don’t seem to be close to trading any of their star outfielders, but they can still utilize Andre Ethier in any three of the outfield positions when needed and start Scott Van Slyke against left-handers to bolster the lineup. Even though Carl Crawford’s arm is weaker than Andre Ethier’s, it looks as if Crawford will be getting the majority of the starts in left field with Ethier pushed to the bench.
I was anxiously waiting for Yasiel Puig to show off his cannon arm in center field, and I got my wish during the series opener against the Braves on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium. Even though B.J. Upton was called safe at home on a sacrifice fly, Puig’s throw was not disappointing and gave us a sneak peak to what is to come as he continues to patrol center field.
Puig has made a few difficult catches in center field as well, and he has yet to collide with any of the other outfielders or make an errant throw. When I first started my 2014 Yasiel for Center campaign over two months ago, I fielded many negative takes on Yasiel being shifted to center: He’s way too wild, and he lacks the communication needed to be the outfield captain. He needs the entire time during Spring Training to work on shagging fly balls in center field- it can’t be done during the season.
Although Don Mattingly had reservations with Puig playing center due to his wild ways, I never doubted Puig’s ability to adjust and learn in order to improve all aspects of his game. Puig has made great strides when it comes to being more patient at the plate, and he has even begun to slide better (but he can still use some more improvement on the base path). Puig’s maturation as a Major League ball player is still developing, and we are extremely lucky to be watching him become the M.V.P. caliber player which his birth given talents have bestowed upon him.
Yasiel Puig may be known for his bat flips at the plate, but he will soon be commended on what could be a Gold Glove career in center field as well.