His major league career to date is only four weeks and 26 games old.
And yet, this 22-year old from Cuba, who defected in 2012, has captured the hearts of Dodger fans in a way that hasn’t been seen since the days of Fernando Valenzuela in the 1980s and Hideo Nomo in the mid-1990s.
Actually, this surpasses the mania that Valenzuela and Nomo generated in their times as Dodgers due to the fact that as pitchers, their appearances on the field were limited to once every five days.
Meanwhile, folks get to see Yasiel Puig’s spectacular feats in the Dodger Stadium outfield every day.
Although fans knew that Puig was a special talent as he batted over .500 in spring training, I personally knew that this would he would be someone to be very much reckoned with in his very first game on June 3rd, when the outfielder clinched a win over the San Diego Padres by making a catch against the fence, then firing a long strike to first base to double up a Padre runner.
That would only be the beginning, as Puig finished up the month of June with, to put it bluntly, some sick numbers:
* A .436 batting average, leading all MLB players with at least 75 plate appearances, punctuated by his 4-for-5 performance against Philadelphia in the Dodgers’ last game when he was a home run short of the cycle.
* Seven home runs and 16 RBIs, who would project to 44 homers and 100 RBIs in a 162-game season, and…
* 44 hits, which not only broke Steve Sax’s record for most hits by a Dodger rookie in his first month, it is second only to Joe DiMaggio’s 58 for most hits by a first-month rookie all-time.
Most importantly, Puig’s play and enthusiasm has lit a fire into these Dodgers, as though they remain in last place they have won eight of their last nine contests to climb to within four games out of first place in the National League West.
He has certainly deserved the “M-V-Puig!” chants that the fans have been yelling.
And I’ll be angrily shocked if he is not named the N.L. Player of the Month.
However, while I don’t want to rain on the Puig parade, I still have a “wait-and-see” attitude as while this is a guy whose five-tool talents – hitting, hitting with power, running, fielding, and throwing – is completely off the charts, time will well as far as whether or not he can maintain this performance not only for the rest of this season, but also for his career.
In other words, it remains to be seen if Puig can be the franchise player that the Dodgers projected him to be when they signed him, for these reasons…
First, if anyone thinks that Puig will end the season with a batting average above .400, they’re living in a fantasy world as it is written in the Gospel of Baseball that he WILL go into a slump at some point.
I only hope that fans won’t turn on him when it happens.
As such, I expect the young man to bat in the .300 to .320 or .330 range; that would suit me just fine.
Next, I would like to see Puig be more disciplined at the plate, as there was one game in San Diego where he chased slider after slider out of the strike zone, striking out several times.
If he doesn’t pitchers will see that as a weakness, exploit it, and the next thing he knows his average will drop to .250 – or worse.
And it would be a good idea to see him mature a bit, as he has shown to get angry when pitchers come a bit too inside on him; Puig needs to understand that as dominating as he has been so far, pitchers are going to use any means necessary to contain him, including using the “Let’s see if you can hit sitting down” approach.
Being that Puig won’t turn 23 until December 7th, I’m confident that his level of maturity will increase over time and that his Roberto Clemente-like skills will translate to him being a star in the Dodgers outfield for the next ten years.
Which leads me to another issue…
Being the player that he has shown to be, Puig absolutely can not go back to the minors as he has nothing more to prove down there.
He needs to be in L.A., but with Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier being the incumbents in the outfield, Puig’s presence makes it four spots for three guys, which means that one outfielder ultimately has to go.
Crawford was doing great before his injury, which he is expected to come back from soon, and Kemp is not only showing signs of a resurgence, he started an eight-year, $160 million deal this season, so that narrows it down…
As much as Either has meant to the Dodgers over the past several years, he needs to be traded after the season to make room for Puig as no way can that phenom be a fourth outfielder.
It would be good not only for the Dodgers, but for Ethier as well as there are many teams that wold love to have him as an everyday player.
Meanwhile, Puig would be free to have a career as a potential superstar; it’s a win-win situation.
Oh, and as for whether or not he should go to the upcoming All-Star game on July 16th, I say this:
In 2014 and beyond, if he continues playing the way he is: YES.
This year: NO, although he’ll get many write-in votes for the last spot on the N.L. team.
My vote for Puig would be for Rookie of the Year, the way things are going.
I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how he does over the season’s second half.
In the meantime, enjoy this clip of his four-hit game: