As expected, the historic suspension of Alex Rodriguez stole the show when the sentences of the players involved in the Biogenesis scandal were handed out on Monday. The suspensions of Rodriguez and 13 other players cap a long and frustrating process for everyone involved, from the players who broke the rules to varying extents, to the league which felt impotent to hand out suspensions without failed tests, to the fans who are just sick of this whole damn thing.
Other players are notable too: The suspensions of Nelson Cruz and Jhonny Peralta could alter the pennant races this fall, and perhaps more important to some fans, the suspensions of players like base-stealer Everth Cabrera could alter a few fantasy titles.
There are fringe major leaguers like Jordany Valdespin, who no one is particularly sad to see disappear for 50 games, not because he’s not a good enough player, but because his antics have rubbed virtually everyone he’s crossed paths with the wrong way. There are career minor leaguers like Sergio Escalona and free agents like Jordan Norberto, the latter of whom can’t even begin to serve his suspension until he signs with a team.
But largely lost in the chaos of Monday’s suspensions is the lone prospect among the group, outfielder Cesar Puello of the New York Mets organization.
Unlike some of the minor leaguers, such as the Mariners’ Jesus Montero, Puello has yet to appear in the major leagues. Unlike Escalona and Norberto, both of whom were likely attempting to hang on to what to this point have been brief major league careers, Puello is a player still very much on the rise.
Of the group, he is the only one still considered to be a prospect without any major league experience. This, of course, doesn’t forgive his actions or involvement, but it does differentiate him. How it affects his prospect status remains to be seen.
Puello is an outfielder out of the Dominican Republic who, before this year, had been more about tools than performance. This season, for the first time, those tools manifested themselves into the player scouts had been hoping he would become. Puello’s involvement in the Biogenesis scandal sends immediate speculation into the validity of his newfound accomplishments, but that type of knee-jerk reaction is unfair—the clinic at the center of this mess closed last December. Whatever Puello was taking, he was probably taking it last season.
Which is not to let Puello off the schneid altogether. He took something and it certainly didn’t hold him back, but it is worth noting that discounting his entire 2013 performance as a product of PEDs is a post hoc argument. Much like it was decidedly inconvenient to Andy Dufresne that his gun was never found, it is nothing more than inconvenient to Puello’s legacy that his breakout season came in the midst of this speculation.
Puello is still very much a prospect, and because he is a member of the Mets’ 40-man roster, half of his suspension will be served after the minor league season ends, as he get credit for the rest of the games the Mets play in September. All this suspension causes Puello is his chance to finish off a strong season. He likely wasn’t getting called up to the majors this fall and the suspension won’t delay the start of his 2014 season in any way, including spring training. Essentially, this is a 25-game slap on the wrist for Puello.
Puello still has some development to do and is likely destined for Triple-A next season. He has a strange profile as an offensive player: He’s one who posts above-average on-base percentages despite low walk rates (never higher than 7.5 percent) thanks to his ability to consistently get hit by pitches (double digit HBPs five straight years). The ability to get plunked certainly doesn’t seem like it would be one that would be tied to PEDs, so that’s not a concern for his future, but his plate discipline in other aspects is, as are his high strikeout rates.
Still, Puello made the most difficult jump in the minor leagues this season while putting together his best year to date. We don’t know what role steroids played in that development, but we certainly can’t give them all of the credit.
That makes next season even more important for Puello. He will need to back up his performance with a strong follow-up effort if he wants the Mets to be able to have confidence in his true abilities. Despite his being ready for Triple-A, the Mets may consider keeping him in Double-A Binghamton just to force him to repeat his performance in a more neutral hitting environment rather than send him to Las Vegas and have his efforts get further discounted by playing at the launchpad that is Cashman Field.
With every player involved in this disaster, we have doubts about the legitimacy of their performances, but for most players, we have a much longer track record to look back upon and gauge the future. Such is not the case with Puello, whose future is now largely undefined. Puello is still a top prospect and a part of the Mets’ future, but there are now major question marks surrounding not what he has done, but what it all means.