The minor league career of outfielder Cesar Puello is a tale of two players; the one prior to August 13, 2013, and the player who resumed playing in 2014.
Characterized by scouts as a five tool prospect, Cesar Puello was signed in 2007 as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic by former general manager Omar Minaya.
He played his first season as a professional in 2008 as a 17-year old for the (R) Gulf Coast League Mets. As an 18-year old, he played for the (R) Appalachian League Kingsport Mets. In 89 combined rookie league games and 347 at-bats, Cesar slashed .300/.372/.398, with 16 doubles, 6 home runs, 40 RBI, and 28 stolen bases.
He was promoted to (A) Savannah in 2010, where in 109 games and 404 at-bats, he slashed .292/.375/.359, with 22 doubles, 80 runs scored, and an attention grabbing 45 stolen bases. In the power department, however, he hit just one home run and drove in 34 runs.
In 2011, Cesar Puello played his first season for the (A+) Port St. Lucie Mets. In 117 games and 441 at-bats, Puello slashed .259/.313/.397, with 21 doubles, 5 triples, 10 home runs, 50 RBI, and 19 stolen bases.
After the season, he risked exposure to the Rule-5 draft under the stipulation Puello was 18 years old or younger when he signed his first pro contract and was approaching the fourth Rule-5 draft since he signed. By November, Sandy Alderson decided his positive development earned him protection on the Mets 40-man roster, and purchased his contract.
Puello’s second season with the PSL Mets in 2012 was limited to just 66 games due to an oblique and wrist injury. In 227 at-bats, he slashed .260/.328/.423, with 17 doubles, 4 home runs, 21 RBI, and 19 stolen bases.
By this point in his career, Cesar Puello was 21-years old with five minor league seasons under his belt. In 381 total games and 1,419 combined at-bats, he slashed .278/.364/.390, with 76 doubles, 21 home runs, 145 RBI, and 111 stolen bases.
In 2013, Puello was promoted to the (AA) Binghamton Mets, where it seemed he finally got all five tools working towards building an MVP caliber season in the Eastern League.
Through 91 games and 331 at-bats, he established career highs by slashing .326/.403/.547, with 16 home runs and 73 RBI, to go along with 21 doubles and 24 stolen bases. In 86 games manning right field, he committed 4 errors in 189 chances for a .979 FA, and demonstrated his above average throwing arm highlighted by 7 assists.
However, his exceptional season came to a screeching halt on August 13th, when baseball served him with a 50-game suspension over his involvement with Biogenesis.
Cesar Puello’s unofficial return to the field came during winter ball for los Toros del Este of the Dominican league, but he performed poorly. In 41 games and 115 at-bats, Cesar slashed .200/.252/.261, with only 2 doubles, one home run, and 12 RBI. He drew a mere 5 walks, and fanned 30 times.
After serving the full term of his suspension, Cesar Puello played the 2014 season with the (AAA) Las Vegas 51s, where his winter woes continued. Although healthy, he failed to distinguish himself, and only managed 105 games played in Wally Backman‘s crowded outfield. In 318 at-bats, Cesar slashed .252/.355/.393, with 20 doubles, 7 home runs, 37 RBI, and 13 stolen bases. Defensively, he played all three outfield positions, and committed 8 errors in 138 chances for a .942 FA.
Cesar Puello returned to the Dominican Republic to play for los Toros del Este this winter. The four Caribbean league seasons have ended, and are now into their respective playoffs (with the overall championship series to be played in February). In 30 games, Puello put forth a strong performance. In 51 at-bats he slashed .353/.393/.667, with 4 doubles, 4 home runs, 9 RBI, 5 stolen bases, but only 3 walks and 12 strikeouts.
In 2015, Cesar Puello finds his career at a crossroad. Entering his 8th minor league season, Puello will turn 24-years old in April. Although still young, at this stage of his career, perhaps nothing short of a bounce-back performance will do.
At a minimum, his place on the 40-man roster is in jeopardy.
After his contract was purchased by the Mets in November 2011, Cesar Puello received his 2013 and 2014 one year deal on March 3rd. We’ll find out what Sandy Alderson’s true intentions are by then. In the mean time, the Mets are out of options, but Cesar Puello can not refuse an outright assignment.
According to Major League Rule 3(b), all Minor League Uniform Player Contracts expire after 7 years, but because Puello was protected (on the 40-man) in his 7th year, he was not eligible for minor league free agency.
Unlike Logan Verrett, Puello yet again evaded the recent Rule-5 draft. Verrett, however, is evidence how quickly organizational opinions can change. If in 2015, Cesar Puello fails to replicate the kind of production he demonstrated at Binghamton, the Mets might be inclined to just part ways.
While he posted promising winter league stats, a strong spring training is not necessarily required of him. He’s sure to get signed and out-righted to Las Vegas. That doesn’t mean he won’t be in camp. Barring another transaction, spring training is when the finishing touches to the New York Mets (roster) outfield will be made.
Matt den Dekker, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, and Brandon Nimmo will be competing from the left side of the plate. From the right side, I’ll assume John Mayberry Jr. makes the team based on his ability to play outfield and spell first baseman Lucas Duda against lefties, and for the veteran leadership he might provide. That potentially leaves Puello competing against Alex Castellanos (and long shot Cory Vaughn, who completed his 5th season in the organization) for a very remote, unlikely trip north.
Cesar Puello is presently ranked #13 on the Mets prospect watch, which is down from his pre-season #9 rank. Just to be fair, his 2014 drop in productivity could be somewhat attributable to rust, but the fact is he struggled to earn his playing time. On a personal level, I’m sure he labored with the stigma of having been suspended.
Therefore, how well he does in his (assumed) second season with the Las Vegas 51s under the watchful, and critical eyes of Wally Backman and general manager Sandy Alderson is paramount to his future with the Mets.