Welcome to this week’s edition of Prospect Face-Off! Today, we pin two slugging outfield prospects against one another in Dustin Lawley and Cesar Puello. Their seasons took very different routes by the end of 2013. Lawley hit .260/.313/.512 with 25 home runs and 92 RBIs for St. Lucie, earning a late-season promotion to Triple-A Las Vegas. Puello had a breakout season, hitting .326/.403/.547 with 16 home runs and 73 RBIs in Binghamton, but served a 50-game suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal.
Each of the seasons these prospects had were encouraging for the outfield depth in the minors, but who had a better year? The MMN staff weighs in:
The edge would’ve gone to Puello if he didn’t end up a part of the Biogenesis fiasco. I can’t give Puello the win on this because we saw the drop in Muno’s batting average after his suspension, may it be a mental or physical thing (that’s not to say he didn’t have a good year, though). The focus should be on Dustin Lawley. While he struck out more than anyone would like to admit (113 times to be exact) he made the jump from Adv A St. Lucie to AAA Las Vegas. In limited time in AAA: 6 for 21 for a .300 average, 1 home run, 2 doubles, 4 RBIs, 3 runs scored. As for Adv. A? Dustin had 25 home runs, 92 RBIs, 33 doubles, 5 triples with a .260 average. He also didn’t perform too badly in the playoffs for the 51s. I’m going to give the edge to Lawley, though there’s no doubt Puello had an incredible year in AA, and it’ll be great to see him hopefully join the Mets soon, it was impressive to see Lawley make a large jump and hold his own, even if only for 6 games (excluding playoffs). I’m 99% sure I’m in the minority on this, and I love Puello, he’s great, but the whole suspension thing is upsetting enough that Lawley gets the win. Verdict: Lawley
Drat! Like a sports reporter with a Hall of Fame ballot, this week’s Face-Off query places us in the midst of ‘Steroid Stress.’ I watched Cesar Puello on multiple occasions in Binghamton this summer and it would be difficult to find another Met prospect who put together a season that compares with the B-Met right fielder. Puello was a beast. In several seasons watching baseball in Binghamton, I have never watched a prospect quite like Cesar. Several quests I took to games, baseball guys who root for other major league franchises, raved after viewing Puello’s game. He is a dynamic ‘can’t-take-your -eyes-off’ kind of player from the moment he steps into the on-deck circle. Puello is a five tool guy. He finished the season with the Eastern League’s top batting average at .326. Puello’s slugging percentage was a whopping .547, also best in the EL, a full .43 ahead of his nearest competitor. Although he only played in 91 games, Puello figured in the top ten in stolen bases with 24. By the way, B-Met center fielder Darrell Ceciliani had the second most EL thefts with 31. Puello blasted 16 home runs with 21 doubles. And, the kid has a rocket propelled arm in the outfield. Although Puello was part of the steroid implosion and one of baseball’s suspended users, I have hope he can put that behind him. Puello sat at our table during the Welcome Back Dinner in the spring. He’s engaging and witty. Gordon Donovan, a Metsmerized photographer, reported to me Puello has an incredible work ethic and spends hours in the weight room preparing. And on one rain soaked afternoon when all the players on both benches were long gone, for over 30 minutes I watched Puello chat with two kids in the B-Met dugout.
With all that said, Puello’s suspension left a huge hole in the B-Met lineup. When the chips were down and his team needed him in the playoffs, Puello was no where to be found. For that reason I’ll go with Dustin Lawley, a young Met prospect who had a pretty exceptional season of his own. The Port St. Lucie Met slugger was selected as the Florida State League Player of the Year. Lawley blasted a league leading 25 home runs and 33 doubles for St. Lucie helping him to a .512 slugging percentage. Lawley’s 92 RBIs were second in the FSL. As he climbs the minor league ladder, Dustin Lawley continues to make a case that he could become a long ball option in the major leagues. Verdict: Lawley
I’ll say this much about Lawley — I wrote him off as more of an organizational guy for the most part throughout my time covering him and his power surge last year forced me to give him a second look. If someone asked me if I thought Dustin Lawley could actually hit 20 home runs consistently in the MLB now, I’d have to say yes. He does strike out a little too much for me and needs to show a little more plate discipline, but he can definitely be a useful player down the line.
But man, that Puello kid can go get it. This is a guy who finally found a way to turn potential into performance — and I’m under the impression that a lot of it was his own hard work since the BioGenesis clinic had closed down. There was never any detail put into what Puello took — so all we know, that suspension could go by the boards. While I’m saddened by the whole idea of the 50-game suspension to begin with, there was no doubting his impact on the Binghamton line-up through the regular season. A potential 20-20 player who is improving his walk rate is definitely somebody I want in my organization, so I’ll give the nod to him right now. Verdict: Puello
I believe Puello had the more impressive season. Not only did he have one of the top-5 highest averages in Double-A, he also proved doubters wrong and hit for power. With 16 home runs this year, he’s proved that he can definitely be a 20-20 players with a cannon of an arm, and an improving approach at the dish. With Natera’s guidance it was all possible, and he could be a good shape of things to come in the future. Verdict: Puello
Despite the suspension he had to serve, I think Puello had the more impressive season. You can’t go wrong choosing either one of these players, though. Puello was always a part of the Biogenesis investigation, but the spotlight intensified on him once the season got going. Once the pressure was on, his season took off in May and June. He was able to perform under the stress and anxiety of knowing a possible suspension was on it’s way. Baseball is a mental game, and his ability to perform with that weighing on his mind was amazing to watch. I hope the above remarks from John B. on Puello are correct, as I’m rooting for him to get past this situation and have it just be a small blip after what hopefully is a long major league career. His power, speed, and defense are all things the Mets could use in right field in Flushing. Verdict: Puello.
So, we almost ran down the middle here… this one was a close one that narrowly tipped in favor of Cesar Puello! Who do you think had a more impressive season: Lawley or Puello?