Dodgers send Yasiel Puig to minors

The Los Angeles Dodgers optioned Cuban defector Yasiel Puig, batting .526 in spring training, to Double-A Chattanooga, ending the possibility the outfielder's torrid spring could allow him to make the rare leap from Class A to the major leagues.

The Dodgers have said all along that Puig needed more minor league seasoning after just 95 professional plate appearances in 2012, but in recent days they admitted they were exploring possible roles for him. They signed him to a seven-year, $42 million deal shortly after he defected from Cuba last June.

"He came into camp and the guy wasn't even on the radar. We really didn't know what to expect," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly told reporters in Arizona. "He put himself on the map, probably knocking on the door instead of a couple years away. We knew he was tooled up. We found out he was really smart, he learns quick. He needs a little work in certain areas, the details of the game."

Puig, 22, missed all of the 2011 season as punishment from the Cuban government after his first attempt to defect, then hit .354 between rookie ball and Class A last season.

Puig's chances of making the Dodgers hinged in part on the health of left fielder Carl Crawford, recovering from elbow surgery. Crawford has begun playing the outfield and the club expects him to be their Opening Day left fielder.

The Dodgers have more than $50 million committed to their outfielders next year, between Crawford, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. All three players are signed through at least the 2017 season.

The Dodgers also optioned shortstop Dee Gordon to Triple-A Albuquerque, meaning they will use Luis Cruz in place of Hanley Ramirez, who is expected to be out for about two months recovering from surgery to his right thumb.