The Cesar Puello Dilemma

cesar puello

Left-handed pitching out of the bullpen, the Wilmer Flores bid to man the shortstop position, the return of Matt Harvey and when will there be room to accommodate Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz; these are the story lines out of Port St. Lucie this spring. I’d like to add the Cesar Puello dilemma to that mix.

In a Met minor league system dominated by pitching talent, Cesar Puello is a rare toolsy position guy, a soon to be 24-year old outfielder who has realized notable highs and lows on his ascent through the Mets system. The fact that Puello is out of options means that if he fails to make the Met roster out of camp, Puello would need to clear waivers to remain a Met. That makes the question ‘What do we do with Cesar Puello?’ a compelling one.

Admittedly, when it comes to Cesar Puello my viewpoint is distorted. In 2013, Puello was a terror on the baseball diamond in Binghamton, one of the reasons that baseball became so much fun in upstate New York’s Triple Cities. Puello was dynamic; an engaging baseball personality, a big kid with a cannon like outfield arm who hit with power and could run. Watching Puello in Binghamton was an event. From the moment he strode out of the dugout you could count on the big guy adding excitement to a night of baseball.

Vegas and Triple-A proved to be an obstacle for Puello. Many Met fans attributed Puello’s woes to his involvement and suspension in the Biogenesis scandal reasoning his breakout Binghamton performance had to be attributed to his use of performance enhancing drugs. I never bought that rationale.

To my way of thinking, Puello’s issues for the 51’s had more to do with how he was used than what he at one time used. On Wally Backman’s roster, Puello was part of a platoon split sharing time with other 51 outfielders. That was not the case in Binghamton, where Pedro Lopez penciled his star outfielder’s name on his lineup card nearly every day.

Met fans forget that after a very tepid start it was early June before Puello heated up in the Eastern League, but when he did, he more than rewarded Lopez for his confidence and patience.

That was not the case in Las Vegas. Here’s Paul DePodesta, the Mets Vice President of Player Development chatting with Chris McShane of SB Nation about Puello.

“One of the things last year for Cesar, not only had he missed time, but he goes to Triple-A and starts facing some real experienced pitchers – especially experienced right-handed pitchers. And, that caused him an adjustment period.”

“He still hit left-handers extremely well, and in the second half, he started hitting right handers better and better. So to Cesar’s credit, he was making a lot of adjustment through the course of the season and was productive again in the second half – as an offensive player.”

DePodesta went on to say that Puello’s defensive play in the outfield has always been a resume booster, something regular Binghamton baseball fans would attest to wholeheartedly.

DePodesta makes three points that make me believe the Mets will be making a real mistake if they don’t at least give this kid a brief major league preview before losing him on waivers.

First, DePodesta makes the point that Puello unlike his time spent as a regular in Binghamton, was part of a split platoon in Vegas. Even so, DePodesta acknowledges that after a shaky Triple-A start, Puello made adjustments and had his offensive game back on track during the second half of the year last year.

DePodesta’s point is consistent with my observations of Puello’s performance in Double-A. Early in his season in Binghamton, Puello lacked plate discipline and struggled hitting off-speed pitches from right-handed pitchers. Watching him play on a regular basis it was obvious he was working diligently to correct those issues and the young outfielder made substantial progress over time.

Finally, DePodesta speaks of the fact, that even when he struggled last summer, Puello hit left-handed pitchers extremely well. That’s a fact that should not be overlooked. Every major league team could use a right-handed power bat off the bench, a guy noted for solid outfield play including a cannon like throwing arm and a guy who can steal bases. Take a look at Puello’s recent stat line against left-handed pitching.

AAA 109 24 34 8 2 4 17 10 27 .312 .409 .532
AA 76 19 32 6 1 8 25 7 18 .421 .483 .842
A (adv) 69 10 21 6 2 1 7 1 19 .304 .360 .493

The personnel decisions a major league franchise make are delicate matters. Decisions need to balance present needs with the long term health of the operation. I appreciate what a guy like Eric Campbell brings to the table for the Mets. His ability to play multiple spots on the baseball diamond, including the possibility of an emergency catching assignment provided pay value. Yet, in my opinion, Eric Campbell’s major league future is only in a utility role.

That may not be the case with Cesar Puello. In Puello the Mets have a diamond in the rough, a rare baseball commodity packaged as a combination of speed and power, the type of toolsy outfielder who just might someday become a major league baseball star.

Knowing Michael Cuddyer can play first base against left-handed pitching and with the Mets now working Ruben Tejada on the second base side of the infield, I’d prefer the Mets keep an eye on the future as we compete in the present. That means cutting Eric Campbell loose to give Cesar Puello a real major league audition before we lose him to another major league team. It a tough choice but a smart baseball move with little risk and big upside possibilities.

Thoughts From Joe D.

I was a little taken aback by some of the negative and vicious comments made against Puello a week ago by a few Mets fans. It’s sad to see how some have condemned, vilified, and basically kicked him to the curb at 23 because of the suspension.

I don’t see this same treatment for other Mets players who have been suspended, most recently Daniel Muno who is still very well received.

Let me remind you of a few things regarding Puello as it pertains to the Biogenesis suspension.

For one, he was tested every month during the 2013 season and never failed a drug test. In fact, he never failed a drug test in his life. Second, we have no idea what if any performance enhancing drug Puello took because that information was sealed. All we know was that it was an undisclosed banned substance. And finally, whatever the banned substance was, it was purchased in the Spring of 2012 and while Puello wanted to appeal, he didn’t for the good of the team.

“Out of respect for the Mets’ organization, my teammates, and my family, I have decided to accept this suspension and not exercise my rights under the Basic Agreement to appeal.”

I think in life we’ve all made mistakes when we were 19 and 20, I know I did. And that’s not to say Puello did anything wrong. The fact is nobody knows. All the minor leaguers had extreme pressure on them not to appeal. Or else.

So those of you who have been one of the select few who’ve been castigating the guy despite not having any facts, how would you like it if you were treated that way or perhaps your kid? The point is that Cesar Puello is one of our own. Part of our Mets family. Maybe he did something wrong, maybe he didn’t. But at 21 at the time, he at least deserves a second chance, even if you’re still unwilling to give him the benefit of the doubt.

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About John Bernhardt 165 Articles
MMO Minor League Analyst John Bernhardt is a retired public school teacher and administrator, who still coaches high school baseball. Growing up in a Yankees household, Bernhardt was an ardent Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra fan. When the Yankees fired Yogi in his first season as the Bomber manager, curiosity turned to passion when the Mets signed Berra as a player/coach and he has pulled for the Mets ever since. In retirement, John writes the sports for a local weekly, The Catskill Mountain News and hosts Tip-Off, a Friday morning sports hour, from 8:00-9:00 on WIOX, 91.3 F.M.