MMO Top 20 Mets Prospects – #9 Cesar Puello, OF

In July of 2007, exactly three months after his 16th birthday the Mets signed Cesar Puello, a toolsy, RH hitting outfielder from the Dominican Republic, to his first professional contract. Now 20-years-old, 6’2″ and about 220 lbs., with 1192 lifetime minor league AB’s under his belt, Puello seems poised and ready to bust out in 2012. That’s why he is our choice for the 2012 MMO Mets Top 20 Prospect list, at #9.

His first two seasons stateside 2008 and 2009 were spent toiling in the rookie leagues. Puello broke in as a 17-year-old, with 151 AB’s in the GCL in ’08, batting .305 with 1 HR and 17 RBI’s. In 2009 Puello played at Kingsport, in the Appalachian League, where in 196 AB’s he batted .296 with 5 HR’s and 23 RBI’s.

Playing at Savannah in 2010 was Puello’s first year in a long-season league, and he hit pretty well considering he was two to three years younger than the average player in the South Atlantic League. Puello notched season highs in almost every offensive category, in 404 AB’s, he scored 80 runs, and banged out 118 hits, 22 2B’s, 1 3B, 1 HR, 34 RBI’s, 45 SB’s, and batted .292.

The move to high A, St. Lucie for the 2011 season turned out to be the biggest jump so far for Puello, and he struggled quite a bit as he tried to adjust to Florida State League pitching. Suddenly the pitchers were throwing breaking balls and change-ups for strikes! In April/May/June he hit .242/.228/.235, and he was clearly over-matched at the plate. Working hard with hitting coach George Greer on pitch selection and working the count, Puello began to turn his season around at the mid-way point.

In July and August the rest of the league started to take notice, as he hit .297 and .333, to bring his season BA up to .259 in 441 AB’s. He had 67 runs scored, 114 hits, 21 2B’s, 5 3B’s, 10 HR’s, 50 RBI’s and 19 SB’s. Did I mention that Puello is a baseball magnet? He was hit with 6 pitches in 2008, 14 pitches in 2009, 22 pitches in 2010 and 20 more pitches last year, that’s 62 for his career! Ouch.

The thing about Puello that makes you take notice, is his combination of speed, power, and youth. The buzz about him going around the South Atlantic League in 2010 was that he was one of the strongest players in the league. Although his power has yet to emerge in the form of HR’s and SLG%, it still lies dormant under the surface. At some point Puello will figure out how to turn on an inside fastball, or learn how to hit it squarely with loft and carry, and when he does he definitely has the strength to develop into at least a 20+ homerun guy. Something about him reminds me of Kevin Mitchell when he was in the minors. Mitchell didn’t hit a lot of HR’s either, only 42 in his minor league career over 5 seasons before he made the big league club in ’86. But then, as a big leaguer, he emerged as a “crusher” of baseballs.

Puello is a very fast runner, with times from home to first in the 4.15 to 4.2 range. He is not Jose Reyes fast, but pretty darn close, say Angel Pagan fast. Of course, as he matures physically, he could potentially slow down a tic, which would project him at somewhere around 25 SB’s per year at the big league level. Puello has good instincts and awareness on the bases, and usually gets good jumps on steal attempts, but still needs to refine his running game and cut down on his CS (roughly one-in-three attempts).

Defensively Puello is an above-average right-fielder, with a very strong, and accurate throwing arm. But thanks to his defensive skill and speed, there is no ruling him out as a center-fielder at this point in his career. Moving forward the Mets should continue to play him in CF as much as possible, as this will only increase his value someday.

Will we see Cesar tearing around the Citifield outfield this season? No, I really don’t think that would be possible. He should open the season at AA Bingo, and if he does really well in the Eastern League, he may finish the year at AAA. I look for Puello to get his feet wet in the majors sometime in 2013, at the tender age of 22. At that point all bets are off, as an interesting competition will hopefully emerge between “Captain Kirk” Nieuwenhuis, Juan Lagares, and Puello, for playing time in the outfield at Citi.

Cesar Puello: VIDEO

Check back on Monday when we unveil the 2012 MMO Mets Top 20 Prospects, #8.

My short list includes:

          Wilmer Flores         INF

          Kirk Nieuwenhuis    CF

          Brandon Nimmo      CF

          Juan Lagares           LF

2012 MMO Top 20 Prospects

9.   Cesar Puello                RF

10.  Reese Havens              2B

11.  Cory Mazzoni             RHP

12.  Jordany Valdespin      INF

13.  Darin Gorski               LHP

14.  Phillip Evans              SS

15.  Jefry Marte                  3B

16.  Collin McHugh           RHP

17.  Juan Urbina               LHP

18.  Akeel Morris              RHP

19.  Michael Fulmer          RHP

20.  Danny Muno               INF