Breakout candidate: A’s shortstop Puason
MiLB.com's Breakout Candidate series spotlights players who could garner some serious attention in 2022. Here's a look at A’s No. 10 prospect Robert Puason. Robert Puason may never shed his lofty expectations, but he showed enough in his difficult debut season to offer hope of him one day becoming a
MiLB.com's Breakout Candidate series spotlights players who could garner some serious attention in 2022. Here's a look at A’s No. 10 prospect Robert Puason.
Robert Puason may never shed his lofty expectations, but he showed enough in his difficult debut season to offer hope of him one day becoming a productive Major Leaguer.
The A’s No. 10 prospect signed with the club out of the Dominican Republic in July 2019 for $5.1 million, which tied the Yankees’ record pact with No. 17 overall prospect Jasson Dominguez. While Dominguez earned Top 20 overall prospect status before even playing a professional game, Puason, it seemed, had more to prove.
During his first professional season, Puason did little to challenge that perception.
He batted .215/.282/.291 with 16 extra-base hits, 27 RBIs and 139 punchouts in 91 games with Low-A Stockton. Puason scored 43 runs and drew 24 walks over 302 at-bats. In addition to his struggles at the plate, he committed 29 errors in 91 games at shortstop.
Even with that difficult defensive season, there is still an expectation for Puason to live up to initial expectations and remain at the position moving forward.
“He’s fun to watch play shortstop,” A’s assistant general manager Dan Feinstein told MLB.com after the 2019 signing. “He plays with such energy and emotion and it’s fun to watch him pick up a ball. He’s got advanced defensive capabilities right now and we anticipate him to be an above-average Major League shortstop.”
So it was an objectively disappointing season for a player with that kind of prestige entering his professional career. But there were enough elements shown that provide optimism that things can get better quickly.
“He’s going to be fun to watch once he fills in and matures and gets to actually play a little bit,” former A’s hitting coach Eric Martins told MLB.com last September. “That’s the only thing that's hindering him right now, is not being able to get out there and get some innings and at-bats in Minor League games. But from what I've seen of him, I really like the kind of player he is. He has a lot of passion and a lot of energy. He really gets after it. He wants to work as much as anybody.”
Puason’s career didn’t begin under the most comfortable circumstances. He immediately moved to the States after signing and quickly got to work at the A’s training site in Mesa, Arizona. But the 19-year-old was denied an opportunity to start on a traditional timeline due to the pandemic.
The A’s invited Puason to their alternate site in San Jose in 2020, where he was one of the youngest participants in camp. He continued to play against older competition by the time he got to Stockton. He was the youngest player in the High-A West and the third-youngest player in the Minors on Opening Day in May.
A’s prospect Robert Puason spent this holiday delivering food and Christmas baskets to families near his hometown of Guaymate in the Dominican Republic. pic.twitter.com/fR9XSbpFq9— Martín Gallegos (@MartinJGallegos) December 24, 2021
Puason gained attention as a wiry switch-hitter with a large 6-foot-3 frame that, even as he approaches the end of his teenage years, still has a lot of room to fill out. When everything is working, he has a level, line-drive swing that can hit gaps, and he could have double-digit homer potential.
But his undoing in his first professional season was the inability to make contact on any sort of consistent basis. Puason wound up on the low end of the scale -- he was among the 172 qualified Minor Leaguers finishing the season with a batting average south of .220. In that group, Puason had the seventh-highest strikeout rate of 41.2 percent.
Professional ball got to Puason right away, but his strikeout rate improved over the course of the season. He struggled to a 50.7 percent mark through 69 plate appearances in May, but he posted a lower -- though still not great -- 36.9 percent rate in his final 103 plate appearances of the season.
There isn’t much over-the-fence power expected of Puason. Improving on his 7.1 percent walk rate will be an important step forward. But if his first season in the Minors proved anything, it’s that good things happened when he put the bat on the ball.
Puason posted a .383 BABIP with the Ports, which was the highest among the group of Minor Leaguers hitting below .220 this season.
A more selective approach should enable him to see better pitches to put in play and draw more walks. He’ll also get naturally stronger as he matures and drive the ball with more authority.
Puason will have a lot of time to figure it out. Maintaining a BABIP close to his initial mark and decreasing the strikeout totals should help him find himself as a hitter. His plus arm and athleticism will give him time to get the necessary repetitions to correct his defensive issues at shortstop.
Put it all together and Puason could enjoy a breakout season in 2022 that can restore some of his shine and get him back on the right track.
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.