LOS ANGELES – It got lost in the hubbub of the discord between Don Mattingly and the Dodgers about his contract, but one of the more interesting comments to come out of Mattingly’s Monday press conference was this nugget about the handling of Yasiel Puig:
“Leave it to me, it’d be one way, but that’s not necessarily the way the organization wants things to go,” Mattingly said.
Hmm. I asked Mattingly how he would have handled Puig if it were strictly his call and, without going into much detail, he made it sound as if he would have left him in the minor leagues until he had a better understanding of the game. Puig played in just 63 minor-league games, never touching Triple-A, before he was called up on June 3.
“I’m not going to answer that, I just think there has to be a development system that we adhere to with Yasiel, along with all the other guys,” Mattingly said.
There may be no more divisive player in baseball than Puig. Some people seem to think his talent is so profound and his productivity so worthwhile that people should stop hassling him about his struggles in reading pitchers, his tendency to overthrow cutoff men and his sometimes emotional dealings with umpires.
Other people seem to think he needs to be taught the ins and outs of the game with a firmer hand, that he could cost the Dodgers a key game -- or even a key series -- at any moment. He made three defensive miscues in Game 6 of the NLCS and was inconsistent at the plate, but he’s hardly the reason the Dodgers didn’t beat the St. Louis Cardinals. They batted .211 as a team and their ace, Clayton Kershaw, lasted just four innings in the final game.
Puig batted .319 with a .925 OPS in 104 regular-season games for the Dodgers, but he also was maddening for the coaches and Mattingly to watch at times, apparently. Mattingly fined him after he showed up late to the clubhouse in Miami and, later in Los Angeles, he pulled him out of a game for being slow to take the field after a strikeout that ended an inning.
“Most of the time, the small things don’t get on ESPN so they’re not highlights, nobody talks about them so they’re not important to guys,” Mattingly said Monday. “That’s where development comes in. Kids come up and they have to know how to play the game.”
One way for Puig to gain a little more seasoning and interact with different coaches and players would be to play winter ball, but Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said that wasn’t going to happen. That puts more emphasis on spring training, Puig’s second with the major-league team, for the Dodgers to teach him some of the finer points of the game.
The question, at this point, is whether Mattingly will be there, too.