This season was one for the ages for outfielder Cesar Puello. Not only did Puello excel, he flat out dominated the Eastern League this year, proving that all 5 tools that touted him so high were there all along. The 22 year-old right fielder hit .326 with 16 homers and 24 steals in 91 games. Because of that, he was ranked on MMN as the sixth best prospect in the system despite being suspended for 50 games due to the Biogenesis Scandal.
But first, a Confession
But let me confess to you something first, because I deserve to be ashamed. When I was standing, interviewing one of my sources in spring training, I saw Cesar Puello trotting across my eyes. In the past, Puello had shown his tools, his excellence, but had disappointed since playing in Kingsport in 09’. When I saw the bulky Cesar run across, I turned to my contact and said, “Seems like the clock is running out on Puello eh?”
The official turned to me and said, “Don’t count him out yet, he’s still young.”
After the 2013 season, and knowing what came next, I can’t be anything but ashamed of myself for such a premature judgment, and proud of that player for putting me to shame. Apologies to you Mr. Puello, you’ve taught me a lesson in judging young players.
But back to his growth.
As Cesar came up through the system, his reputation grew at the five-tool player that people want to see. To start, it seemed that his tools were there in Gulf Coast League in 2008 as a 17 year old, hitting .305 in 40 games, with 6 doubles, a homer, and 13 stolen bases.
His line improved the next year in Kingsport with a .296 average, 10 doubles, 5 homers, 15 stolen bases in 49 games at 18 years old.
In 2010, he broke out exponentially with regard to speed with 45 stolen bases, while keeping a similar average (.292). However, he hit for barely any power, hitting one homer and 22 doubles. He also set a career high in walks with 32, and struck out 82 times as a 19 year old.
The Mets were pleased with Puello, promoting him to High-A Port St. Lucie in 2011, and in terms of average and plate discipline, he took a step back; however, he took a step forward in power. During 2011, Cesar Puello belted 10 homers to prove that his power tool was still there. His average dropped 33 points, and his walk to strikeout rate was abysmal at 18 walks to 103 strikeouts in 117 games. His speed tool was still around with 19 steals as well. This was all at 20 years old.
And in 2012, Puello was slowed by injuries, not just by oblique injuries, but also a hamate bone injury. During 66 games, he hit only one point higher than last year at .260, but hit at a higher rate for doubles when repeating High-A Port St. Lucie. He had accumulated 17 doubles in 66 games, which was a higher rate than the 21 in 117 games in 2011, and 21 in his breakout year in 91 games. However, he had hit 4 home runs, and walked only 7 times while collecting 58 strikeouts. Interestingly enough, during this time, he stole 19 more bases in almost half as many games as the previous year.
Why did he not have more power in 2012 in terms of wall-clearing ability could be due to injuries, especially the broken Hamate Bone, which if happens, messes with the strength of his hands. Strong hands means more power, and his power was lost because the bone broke.
Many prospect evaluators felt last season was a “lost year” despite having a higher rate of driving doubles and stealing more bases, warranting many to question whether or not Puello was going to repeat St. Lucie again for a third time. He didn’t, and showed us all the tools we had seen, but this time all together.
The 2013 Season
Cesar Puello didn’t just break out, he exploded onto the scene. After being implicated as a PED user in the Biogenesis Scandal, a dark cloud had come over his head, and he pushed it aside and showed us the player that had been arriving in sporadic amounts.
He had shown that he could hit for average in the 2008-2010 seasons.
He had shown that he could hit for power in the 2011 season.
He had shown that he could steal a ton of bases in the 2010 season.
The gun for an arm, and the fielding, don’t even start; they were phenomenal.
And all of that came together in the 2013 season as he hit .326 with 21 doubles, 16 homers, and 24 steals in 91 games before taking his 50-game suspension in an implication of Performance Enhancing Drugs.
How much the PED’s helped is beyond me, considering the similarities in years past with power, speed and average. Also, accounting the power surge from the year prior, More power can happen usually when players learn to barrel the ball more at Double-A, it seems as though a healthy year would have warranted into this type of step up anyway by all standards. His down years in average had to do with being in a pitching-strong Florida State League. Either way, all the tools were in place to warrant a breakout. Maybe the PED’s helped, maybe they didn’t; no one knows for sure.
Either way, Puello was on an MVP-style season in Double-A Binghamton. In fact, had he not been suspended for PED’s, Puello would have been MVP of Binghamton and rightfully so.
Look at his month-by-month. He started out slow with a .269 average in 16 games in April, before breaking out in May, hitting .298 with 7 homers, and 5 doubles. Then June happened: He hit an insane .431 average in 18 games while hitting 7 doubles and 8 homers. He cooled off to hit .315 in July with a homer, before disappearing under suspension in August.
Even though he had only hit one home run in 21 games in the second half after an explosive first half where he hit 15 home runs in 70 games, he was still on pace for a 20-20 season, likely even 20-30.
Other impressing stats from Cesar Puello include the ones he left behind. With less that 40 games to go, Puello led the league in batting average with .326. Something that continued to be at the top of the Eastern League for the remainder of the season and second on the double-a level alone. His 16 home runs are tied for 6th in the Eastern League, despite leaving on a suspension.
More interesting statistics include how Puello batted with runners on versus when there were none. He hit for more over-the-wall power with the bases empty, with 11 solo home runs, and hit for a .293 average in his 167 at-bats. However, in a similar amount of at-bats (164), Puello hit .360 with runners on, hitting 17 doubles and 5 homers. It seemed his approach changed to more gap-to-gap and lining the ball than trying to clear the wall. Even more astounding was 105 of the 164 at bats, with runners in scoring position, Cesar hit .400, gaining 53 of his 73 RBI from such opportunities.
Another interesting fact includes his splits of lefty versus righty.
Versus lefties: .421 Average, 6 doubles, 8 homers in 76 at-bats.
Versus righties: .298 Average, 15 doubles, 8 homers in 255 at-bats.
If you read that right, you can see in 1/3rd the at-bats, Puello hit as many homers against lefties as he did against righties. That is an incredible statistic in itself.
I could go on about Puello facts forever. To be honest, while Cesar played, I read the Binghamton box scores, because I wanted to see what he would do. His walk-to-Strikeout ratio was still not up to par this year at 28/82, (though he was going to set a new career high in walks, had he kept playing) but the rest of his season was one for the record books, up until his suspension at the beginning of August. And while his suspension for Biogenesis was grave, the writing was on the wall for a breakout season that we all wanted from Cesar.
As for assignment, there is no doubt in my mind Cesar Puello ends up in Vegas to begin the year, and heads up to New York around June if he continues to do well.
I couldn’t be prouder of the fact that Puello proved me wrong this year. And am very content with his development despite the scandal. From the reports I’ve heard, he’s a good kid who was caught in a bad situation of this drug trial, and to prove the character, here’s a story left by our own John Bernhardt left on a post about Puello earlier in the summer. I will leave you with this:
B-Met Fan July 30, 2013 at 2:41 pm
Cesar elevated even one notch higher during Saturday’s rain postponed game in Binghamton. As the rain poured down, I sat under an umbrella hoping there might be a break in the weather. Both benches had cleared except for a solitary B-Met holding court in the home team dugout with two youngsters.
At first I couldn’t tell who the player was but it was obvious, he was engaged in a real conversation with two young baseball fans, leaning in and sharing in a long exchange. When the three finally stood to break, I recognized the B-Met player was Cesar. Puello fist bumped both of the youngsters, and two happy young baseball fans were on their way.
For Cesar those moments provide another indication that he has that something special to become a baseball personality. Cesar sat at my table at the preseason Welcome Back Dinner and charmed and impressed the dinner guests. I have no idea what the circumstances of his pow-wow with the youngsters, but it was a real plus to see the B-Met’s biggest offensive star taking a good chunk of time to chat with two young baseball enthusiasts. I have a real good sense about Cesar.
(photo credit: Gordon Donovan)