Dynamic outfielder likely to swap with Crawford atop Dodgers' lineup
By Ken Gurnick
LOS ANGELES -- Yasiel Puig could be the Dodgers' leadoff hitter this year, manager Don Mattingly indicated this weekend.
Mattingly said by switching Puig and last year's leadoff hitter, lefty-swinging Carl Crawford, in the order, it would provide better righty-lefty balance, with right-handed hitter Hanley Ramirez batting third and left-handed hitter Adrian Gonzalez batting fourth.
But it also would be a nod to the reality that the 23-year-old Puig is more dynamic offensively than the 32-year-old Crawford, whose baserunning was hampered by hamstring problems throughout the 2013 season.
Crawford, who won four American League base-stealing titles with Tampa Bay, was 15-for-19 stealing bases last year, and he missed one-quarter of the season with injuries that forced him to run cautiously when he was available.
Puig, however, still has a lot to learn about base stealing. Although he finished second on the club to Crawford with 11 steals, he was caught a team-high eight times.
But for Mattingly, it's hard to ignore Puig's .391 on-base percentage, second on the club only to Ramirez's .402.
Puig also was more balanced in production against right-handed (.312) and left-handed pitching (.340) than Crawford, who hit 102 points lower against lefties (.206) than righties (.308). But Puig will also need to show he can make adjustments, as he batted only .214 in September.
Crawford led off in 86 games, hitting .304 with a .353 on-base percentage and .421 slugging percentage in those games. He was dropped to second while in a slump, played 14 games there and hit .200/.214./.345.
Most of Puig's starts (51) came batting second, with a slash line of .299/.358/.493. He was in the leadoff spot for 28 games, when he went an impressive .333/.409/.618, with eight of his 19 home runs.
While the Dodgers' second-base situation remains an unknown, whomever wins the starting job will probably bat eighth. So the batting order could shape up like: RF Puig, LF Crawford, SS Ramirez, 1B Gonzalez, 3B Juan Uribe, CF Andre Ethier, C A.J. Ellis and 2B Alex Guerrero, or whoever plays second base. That would give Mattingly alternating righties and lefties nearly top to bottom.
And that's all based on the assumption that Matt Kemp isn't ready at the start of the season, as it now appears. A healthy Kemp would most likely bat fifth and bump either Ethier or Crawford from the outfield.
Although that would put Kemp behind a slow-running Gonzalez in the order, Kemp's running speed figures to be the last thing that returns to normal as he recovers from ankle surgery. Kemp still has not run outdoors and was non-committal when he was asked about an expected return date.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.