Monday, in his chat on the Eastern League Top 20 Prospects List, which did not include Puello, Josh Norris answered a question on the 22-year-old outfielder in his first exchange:
@Jaypers413 (IL): Thanks for the chat, Josh. What did evaluators have to say about Cesar Puello’s season, and did he end up close making your list?
Josh Norris: He didn’t end up close to making the list, and quite frankly, a great deal of it had to do with the Biogenesis scandal. It also didn’t help that people within the Mets organization have told me beforehand that they don’t really consider him a prospect.
According to Josh, conversation he is referring to, with someone within the Mets organization, occurred during the season, perhaps June.
Sure, Puello was not good in 2011 or 2012 in the Florida State League, but the statement seems like a pretty big overreaction.
Lets start with the basics. Puello, who turned 22 on April 1, had his best professional season this year, but was limited to 91 games because he was suspended for the final month+ thanks to his connection with the Biogenesis mess. Mets people I have talked to believe strongly that Puello was clean in 2013.
Puello had always looked the part. He’s big, strong, runs well, throws well and plays hard – always willing to take a pitch and get his uniform dirty. However, he had a long way to go mechanically and tweak after tweak have finally put him in a place where he can make his physical prowess work.
The tables below show Puello’s four seasons in full-season ball. After two years in the Florida State League in which he was injured and swung at everything, he seemed to figure things out this year. His walk rate rose to 7.4% and his homerun rate spiked driving his isolated slugging percentage to a career-best. His extra-base hit rate reached an all-time high. His BABIP of .391 was also his career-best and one he has no chance of sustaining in the big leagues (if he gets there). Still, there’s plenty to work with.
Although his suspension kept him from the number of plate appearances to qualify for the Eastern League leaderboards, if we relax our requirements to 300 plate appearances, he finished second in the circuit in wRC+ and wOBA (two advanced offensive metrics) to 26-year-old teammate Allan Dykstra. Puello’s 163 wRC+, where 100 is league average, is outstanding.
Lets take a look at how 22-year-olds who have produced similarly in recent years have fared. Whoops, there are none. More on that in a minute.
The following list is the top hitter in the Eastern League in each season at age 22 or lower. Note, all the players in the list below I’ll be looking at the top wRC+ among players in the Eastern League with 300 or more plate appearances in a year (basically half a season).
Year - Player - AA wRC+ – Update
2012 – Aaron Hicks - 133 – Replacement-level big leaguer for the Twins in ’13
2011 – Travis D’Arnaud - 150 - Replacement-level big leaguer for the Mets (31 games).
2010 – Brandon Laird - 136 - Replacement-level Astro in ’13
2009 – Josh Thole - 129 - Replacement-level Blue Jay in ’13
2008 – Nick Evans – 145 – Plugging away in AA for the DBacks in ’13
2007 – Asdrubal Cabrera – 129 – Viable MLB middle infielder who had his worst year in the big in ’13.
2006 – Adam Lind - 152 – He can still hit, but defense hurts his MLB value.
Other notable 22-year-olds from 2011 included young big leaguers like Starling Marte (wRC+ – 138) and Will Middlebrooks (136).
Just being the best 22-year-old in the Eastern League is certainly no guarantee of big league stardom or even big league success although every one of the best 22-year-olds in the EL in a given year played in the big leagues.
But there’s something else important going on here. Limiting the sample to all players who had 300 PA in the Eastern League in a season, Puello just had the best season by a 22-year-old, as measured by wRC+ since Fangraphs began keeping track in 2006.
Adam Lind has been a bit better than league average as a hitter over his career. Considering that his wRC+ is closest to Puello’s on the above list, I think that should carry a little weight. Unlike Lind, I expect Puello’s defense to be a positive addition to his overall value rather than a major drag.
This is not just about numbers. Puello has the underlying tools – power, bat-speed, strength, hand-eye coordination to be a big leaguer.
I expect Puello to be a solid, everyday outfielder with a peak that does make him an above average contributor for a time. Now, he had his career-best marks in plate discipline and power in 2013. Any further improvement in both crucial categories and his projection would improve in parallel fashion.