“When you see talent shine through…it makes you remember why baseball is great. And it makes us want to raise our games even though we know in our heart of hearts we’ll never reach that level.” – Dodgers catcher AJ Ellis, on teammate Yasiel Puig
Recently, I wrote about the youth movement in Major League Baseball, and how it is truly becoming a renaissance for the sport. Too often we refer to things as the greatest ever. “That was the greatest thing I ever saw”, has been uttered millions of times over. Last year it was Mike Trout, and you can make a strong case it was true of his rookie season. Fortunately for baseball fans, it has only taken a year to witness the second coming. In case you missed it, there is this young, football player shaped gazelle, taking Los Angeles by storm. If you are thinking the referenced player is Trout, you would be mistaken. While the Angels outfielder is again putting up monstrous numbers, proving his rookie year was no fluke, it is the man across town who is now grabbing all of the headlines. He goes by the name Yasiel Puig, and the mania he is creating has just begun.
To say there was absolutely no indication this was possible would be inaccurate. After all, the Dodgers did sign the Cuban defector to a $42 million contract for seven years. While that may indeed be a lot of money, most in the industry felt the Dodgers were drastically overpaying on all of their players, Puig included. Up North, the Oakland A’s had success with another Cuban in Yoenis Cespedes, and the Angels were the talk of the town due to Trout’s heroics. For the new management of the Dodgers who, led by Los Angeles icon Magic Johnson, paid $2 billion for the rights to the team, taking a gamble on their own potential international superstar made sense. There was no doubt Puig had all of the raw makings of a supreme talent, the question was would he ever realize them. By comparison, Mike Trout was a first round draft pick of the Angels (#25 overall). On virtually every prospect rankings list he was in the top 3, fortifying the notion that he would be a successful major leaguer. What he did in his rookie season, challenging triple crown winner Miguel Cabrera for MVP honors, was beyond comprehension. This only adds to the growing legend that is Yasiel Puig. Prior to his arrival in Los Angeles, Puig was in no ones pre-season top 25, much less the top 50. His average ranking was in the 70′s (highest was #35), which is not where you would expect to find a prospect garnering many expectations. He began the season at Chattanooga, which is the Dodgers double A affiliate, and the belief was he may advance a level if he could exhibit plate discipline and progress. In 40 games he batted .313 with 8 homers, 37 RBI, and 13 stolen bases. Terrific numbers for anyone, so much so that when the Dodgers had a few injuries to their outfield it was he they called up to fill in on a short term basis. It was supposed to be just to hold the fort down, and get a taste (maybe motivation) of what it is like to be in the show. So far he hasn’t held the fort down, he has tore it down and built a castle in its place.
A glimpse at a preseason breakdown by noted Prospect guru Rich Wilson (@RichWilsonFSG):
“The history books will point to the Dodgers signing of Cuban defector Yasiel Puig as the start of their incredible and record breaking spending spree. The $42 million dollar contract caught a lot of people off guard as Puig did not come with the hype of fellow countrymen Yoenis Cespedes or Jorge Soler. However, the Dodgers saw something in Puig and decided to pull out the checkbook.
There’s actually a lot to like with Puig. He has plus raw power, speed, and a cannon for an arm. While he clearly has tools, the question is will he be able to hit enough to tap into those tools. In looking at his swing, there are definitely questions.”
Including last night’s action, Puig is batting .420, with 8 homers, and 19 RBI through just 30 games. Throw in 4 stolen bases, 24 runs scored, and 3 outfield assists, and you can understand why he is a legitimate 5-tool player. Not since the Dodgers hit it rich with another young Latin player, Fernando Valenzuela, has the baseball world been on fire like this. To give some perspective, Puig just won National League Player of the Month honors. Never in the history of the award has a player in his first professional month accomplished this feat, going back almost 60 years. He is on the verge of being voted in by the fans for the All Star game, as a write in. He has made the rest of the Dodgers big name, and big payroll roster (Kemp, Kershaw, Ramirez, Gonzalez, etc), virtually unmentionable. He has saved manager Don Mattingly’s job, as the team is one of the hottest in baseball and has climbed back into the division race. He is the lead on ESPN’s Sportscenter daily, he is trending on Twitter, and he may have just made another spectacular play while you are reading this. While his average may fall down below .400, his home runs become less frequent, and his overall play more mediocre, his star will continue to rise. He plays the game with wreck-less abandon, and his hustle inspires thoughts of Pete Rose. His youthful exuberance has injected life into a proud organization that aspires to return to Championship glory. He comes from an educated family, both parents are engineers in his homeland, and he displays a distinct bravado that avoids cockiness. In short, he is a like-able figure, who is the real deal, and currently seems inhuman. Hollywood is the land of stars, and as such he will continue to get the media’s attention. He joins a list that includes Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Jose Fernandez, and Shelby Miller, as already amongst the games elite, and still at the age of 22 or younger. He has to regress at some point, as no one expects him to continue hitting at this rate. It has been 72 years and counting since Ted Williams hit over .400 for a season, and that went down to the last game of the year. Yasiel Puig is the player you create when playing in “season mode” of a video game. He has to regress at some point, right? Or does he…
Andy ‘Peoplez’ Singleton works as a Firefighter for the City of New York, and writes sports commentary in his spare time. As a former Division 1 college basketball player, AAU basketball coach in Brooklyn, and NYC night club promoter, he has seen more than the average eye. Catch his unique take on the sports world every Sunday at MajorLeagueFantasySports.com and follow him on Twitter @PeoplezPen