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Puig's performance this spring too good to dismiss

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Dodgers didn't develop 15 Rookies of the Year by sending their phenoms to the Minor Leagues for more seasoning, which brings them to the dilemma of Yasiel Puig, who is making management think long and hard about whether he's ready for the Big Show.

Puig has only 95 professional plate appearances after sitting out the 2011 season, but in his first Spring Training, he's set the Cactus League on fire with a .500 batting average and .804 slugging percentage.

It continued in Tuesday's 7-1 win, when he outdid fellow Cuban left fielder Yoenis Cespedes of the A's by going 4-for-4 with a homer, and he would have had a cycle if he hustled out of the box in the fifth inning, when Cespedes instead threw him out trying for a double.

Management won't say what chance Puig has of making the Opening Day roster, but when a rookie gets four at-bats in a game 12 days before the season starts, somebody will take a serious look.

Puig has a huge hurdle to clear, as the outfield is being manned by former All-Stars Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, but he has been too good to ignore or dismiss.

"It's rare in a Spring Training game that everybody will stop what they're doing to see someone hit," said general manager Ned Colletti, comparing Puig's buzz with that created when Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco arrived with Oakland. "That's what happens. The crowd, scouts, the front office, they drop whatever they're doing."

The club spent $42 million on the unproven Puig off workouts last summer, even though other clubs laughed, so somebody apparently knew what they were doing.

"He hasn't disappointed anybody," Colletti said.

Yet after watching Crawford participate in cutoff and relay drills on Tuesday, Colletti is convinced Crawford's elbow will allow him to be the starting left fielder on Opening Day. Bringing up Puig, 22, to sit on the bench is not an option.

Puig realizes what he's doing isn't normal, and he thanked God for making it possible. He also said, through an interpreter, that he will understand if he is sent down.

"If it's Single-A, Double-A, Triple-A, I'll continue to play hard," Puig said. "Wherever God sends me, I'm going to [play] really hard."

Manager Don Mattingly, who only days ago said that Puig needs to play every day in the Minor Leagues, backpedaled only slightly after Puig's latest display, but he explained why he's reluctant to rush Puig to the Major Leagues.

"At this point he's creating expectations he can't live up to," Mattingly said. "Nobody can."

Mattingly said there isn't a whole lot not to like about Puig, except for the lack of hustle on his second single on Tuesday, which Puig admitted to Mattingly was a mistake. It cost Puig a double, and in the process a cycle, as he also homered, tripled, singled and stole a base.

Those are the mistakes that have old-timers believing Puig should start the season in the Minors. Colletti adds the reminder that no matter what Puig is doing, he's doing it in Spring Training.

"We've all seen it. Opening Day hits, and everything's different," Colletti said. "It's faster. It's real. It's the big leagues. You can't replicate that here."

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for
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