Don't write off Cesar Puello because of Biogenesis

Cesar Puello - Scott Rovak-US PRESSWIRE

Cesar Puello had his best MiLB season shortly after being connected in some way to the infamous Biogenesis clinic. Is it just coincidence, or should we be worried that Puello won't be able to repeat the kinds of numbers he put up in 2013 without artificial assistance?

Major League Baseball is almost back. The winter break gives fans an opportunity to review the past season, identify improvements and regressions, and assess the overall state of the organization, including the farm system.

It was an exciting year for the Mets' farm system, with numerous players putting up good numbers and improving their stock. Outfielder Cesar Puello was one of those prospects. The 22-year-old flat out dominated the Eastern League in 2013, but his season came to an unfortunate end when he was suspended for his connection to the Biogenesis clinic.

John Sickels of Minor League Ball ranked Puello 10th in his list of Mets prospects for 2014 while Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com ranked him 6th. Baseball America and Fangraphs left Puello off their lists entirely. The Biogenesis connection played a significant role in where he appears on those lists, and in what each author expects from him in the future. Puello's breakout 2013 was clearly tainted by his suspension and suspected PED use. But should his 2013 season be given an asterisk? If so, should we discount the numbers he put along with his viability as a prospect. And while any prospect can stall out at any point during his minor league career, is it a fair assumption to make about Puello?

In other words, that Puello's breakout 2013 was "tainted" by his supposed PED use, and that such numbers are not necessarily what to expect from the talented outfielder come 2014 and beyond. While any prospect can theoretically stall out at any point during his minor league maturation, is this a fair assumption to make about Puello, that his 2013 season should be given an asterisk? That we discount the numbers he put up? That we discount his viability as a prospect?

Cesar Puello 2013 (Eastern League)

Games PA AVG OBP SLG HR SB BB K HBP
91 377 .326 .403 .547 16 24/31 28 82 16

In 2013, the Dominican-born outfielder found himself among the league leaders in most offensive categories. Among those who played in at least 90 games or 400 plate appearances in the Eastern League, Puello ranked:

  • 1st in AVG
  • 5th in OBP
  • 1st in SLG
  • 1st in OPS
  • 9th (Tie) in HR
  • 8th (Tie) in SB
  • 1st (Tie) in HBP

Using an equivalency calculator, one can project what his numbers and rank might look like if he played in the other MLB-affiliated Double-A leagues, the Texas or Southern Leagues.

Cesar Puello 2013 (if he were in Texas League)

Games PA AVG OBP SLG HR SB BB K HBP
91 329 .318 .401 .536 16 25/32 29 81 17
  • 3rd in AVG
  • 4th in OBP
  • 2nd in SLG
  • 2nd in OPS
  • 12th (Tie) in HR
  • 13th (Tie) in SB
  • 2nd (Tie) in HBP

Cesar Puello 2013 (if he were in Southern League)

Games PA BA OBP SLG HR SB BB K HBP
91 332 .304 .383 .506 15 23/30 27 83 15
  • 2nd in AVG
  • 3rd in OBP
  • 1st in SLG
  • 2nd in OPS
  • 6th in HR
  • 13th (Tie) in SB
  • 2nd (Tie) in HBP

Puello was among the top players in his own league, and would have been among the top if he played in the Southern or Texas leagues as well. While some might write off his success in 2013 as being Biogenesis fueled1, evidence can be construed as saying otherwise.

Long before Biogenesis became a household word, scouts saw Puello’s potential as a developing five-tool player. In 2008—his first year in professional ball—Baseball America rated Puello the 12th best prospect in the Gulf Coast League. He was ranked the 9th best prospect in the Appalachian League in 2009, and the 13th best prospect in the South Atlantic League in 2010. Though he failed to crack their Top 10 Mets prospect list in 2008 or 2009, he made the lists in 2010 and 2011, ranking 3rd and 5th respectively.

His 2011 season was a down year, but it was not necessarily a poor one. Playing with the St. Lucie Mets (High-A), the outfielder hit .259/.313/.397 in 117 games. His batting average and on-base percentage were down in part because of lower-than-average line drive and outfield fly ball rates and his elevated groundball rate. His 10 home runs were a career high, giving him a healthy .128 ISO.

Despite his struggles, Puello posted a 96 wRC+, meaning he created runs at basically a league average level. It was not the performance of a top prospect, but not bad either. He did this while playing 52 games in centerfield, as well as demonstrating his range and arm strength in another 65 games in right field.

As the Mets' increased the depth of the talent in their farm system, Puello fell off most Top 10 Mets Prospect lists after his 2011 season. He had a chance to redeem himself in 2012, but because of injuries the season was a missed opportunity for him. A broken hamate bone and lingering hamstring issues limited him to only 66 games.

Year Games PA Hits 2B 3B HR SB BB K HBP
2011 117 488 114 21 5 10 19/28 18 103 20
2012 66 252 59 17 4 4 19/21 7 58 16

His injury-shortened 2012 season did provide evidence of improvement at the plate. In 2012 Puello either matched, exceeded, or was on pace to exceed the numbers he put up in 2011. While some might dismiss it as a statistical anomaly, I see it as a positive development on his part, and the manifestation of his latent baseball abilities.

Puello’s is a young player with significant potential. Like most prospects, he has his fair share of flaws and areas that need improvement. His plate discipline has always been an issue, and while he appeared to have made strides in 2013, he still needs work. His 28 walks and 82 strikeouts (roughly a 3:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio) is likely to be troublesome.

In “Best Position Prospect I Saw”, Jeff Paternostro wrote of his plate discipline, “His approach and pitch recognition improved throughout the year, but Puello still has trouble with breaking balls, especially down in the zone,” and, that his “approach and pitch recognition (especially on breaking balls) needs to continue to improve in order for him to hit enough to win and maintain an everyday job in the majors."

Cesar_puello_21_feb_2013_chris_trotman_getty_images_medium
(Photo credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

In his May 2013 “Prospect Smackdown” article, John Sickels noted that Puello a has impressive raw power, above-average speed, a strong throwing arm, and the range to play centerfield or right. It would not be unheard of for a product with his potential to finally put together an exceptional season.

Last month, Dan Lewis carefully broke down the myth of Mike Piazza, PEDs, and his minor league performance. That same kind of meme seems to be creeping into people’s assessment of Puello. We should remember that those who looked closely at Puello before Biogenesis thought he might one day play in the majors. That potential still exists, and we should not allow unspecified connections to the latest PED boogieman to scare us away from someone who might play an important role in the Mets future.

  1. In normal situations, it is difficult to project the development of a young player. This is complicated more so by the possibility of PED use. Unfortunately, we do not know some critical details, such as: What exactly was Puello receiving from the Biogenesis clinic? When was he receiving treatments? If he is no longer taking banned substances, will he become mediocre, or return to his previous trajectory?

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