Yasiel Puig appears headed for the minors.

Yasiel Puig

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly told reporters Thursday that outfielder Yasiel Puig should begin the season in the minors.

Asked if the 22-year-old was under consideration for the Dodgers’ Opening Day roster, Mattingly told reporters that “realistically it’s not the best thing for him.”

Since yesterday’s demotion of Brian Barden, Puig is leading the Dodgers in batting average (.424) and is third in slugging (.606) this spring. The chiseled Cuban has been timed as the fastest runner in camp, ahead of shortstop Dee Gordon, and has displayed a strong arm in the outfield.

It’s hard to envision Puig, the 47th-best prospect according to Baseball America, struggling at the minor-league level, but the Dodgers clearly want him playing every day. He won’t get that chance in Los Angeles unless there’s an injury in the outfield. Even if left fielder Carl Crawford begins the season on the disabled list, parts of Puig’s game have been deemed raw enough to warrant a season-opening stint at Triple-A Albuquerque.

“We see a lot of things that tells us that he’s still young and needs to keep working,” Mattingly told reporters.

A couple educated guesses on what the Dodgers might be looking for:

Mattingly praised Puig’s ability to make contact within the strike zone, yet the outfielder has struck out 10 times in 33 spring at-bats. That means Puig’s pitch selection and/or his ability to pick up certain breaking pitches still leaves something to be desired. He seems to have contained his tendency to round bases aggressively but hasn’t attempted a stolen base. That was a problem during Puig’s brief stint in the minors last year, when he was 8 for 13 on stolen-base attempts. Stealing bases is an important part of his game. Although you wonder how necessary it is given Puig’s ability to hit for power, the Dodgers aren’t paying their fastest player $42 million to not steal bases.

Mattingly’s proclamation didn’t suck the entire Puig intrigue out of camp. Now we know we’re seeing the last of Puig in a Dodgers uniform for some time.

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About J.P. Hoornstra

J.P. Hoornstra covers the Dodgers, Angels and Major League Baseball for the Los Angeles Daily News, Long Beach Press-Telegram, Torrance Daily Breeze, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Pasadena Star-News, San Bernardino Sun, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Whittier Daily News and Redlands Daily Facts. Before taking the beat in 2012, J.P. covered the NHL for four years. UCLA gave him a degree once upon a time; when he graduated on schedule, he missed getting Arnold Schwarzenegger's autograph on his diploma by five months.