Yasiel Puig has been crushing the ball since being called up. (Photo credit)
The Los Angeles Dodgers are the Cerberus of the sports world. A three-headed monster with the wallet of a Steinbrenner, the media draw of LeBron James, and the propensity to fail of every talented-but-evil team in the final minutes of a sports movie. What could possibly go wrong?
Don’t ask fans in L.A. All they wanted to know was when things were going to start going right! That was, before the arrival of Yasiel Puig to the hearts and minds of a city and the green grass of a stadium.
The Legend of Yasiel Puig has all the makings of a classic: At 21, he defected from Cuba, signed a seven-year $42 million deal without so much as an at bat in America, and came into Spring Training ... blocked for playing time by three All-Stars: Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, and Andre Ethier. The young outfielder shrugged that off and hit .526 in the spring anyway, prompting discussions about the club needing to make room for him ASAP.
The Dodgers waited. The team struggled and stars got injured. Ownership watched the team's place in the standings fall. Puig hit .313/.383/.599 and slugged eight home runs in AA Chattanooga. And then, with DL stints for Kemp and Crawford, it was time: Puig arrived in the majors.
In his first 10 games, all he’s done is hit .486/.514/.886, have a two-homer game, launch a grand slam, and lead the team in a rally after being hit in the nose. Per the folks at Stats Inc., as of June 11, Puig had as many three-hit games as Mike Trout this season — and Trout had two full months of baseball before Puig even put on a Dodgers uniform.
And from Baseball Tonight came another tidbit: In those first 10 games, Puig leads the majors in batting average and OPS while being second in hits, and third in home runs since he was called up on June 3. That’s a great debut. But how does he compare to the guys who had the fanfare last year?
After handedly winning AL Rookie of the Year in 2012, and for many, deserving of MVP honors as well, Mike Trout needs no introduction. In his first 10 games last season, Trout had “just” five doubles and a home run as part of an 11-hit campaign once promoted. Trout, too, was toiling away in the minors to the tune of .403/.467/.623 while waiting for the call from the other team in Los Angeles, the Angels.
Trout showed more patience on the farm with 11 walks in 20 AAA games. Puig walked just 15 times in double the number of games to begin 2013, and has walked just twice (once intentionally) in his first MLB experience. While Puig has just stolen one base in the majors, he swiped 13 before his callup. Trout led the league with 49 stolen bases in his rookie season and has 14 steals with the Angels this year, so we will likely need to wait for 2014 to have a real idea of which LA outfielder is going to lay claim to the city speed title.
Like Trout, NL Rookie of Year Bryce Harper started 2012 in the minors as well and had just one home run to his name before earning a promotion. From that point on, Harper acquainted himself with the long ball. He hit 22 home runs in 139 games last year and 12 more through 44 games this year before the dynamic Nationals outfielder succumbed to the DL.
In a twist of fate, Harper was injured at Dodger Stadium, losing a fight with the wall, and Puig, actually older than Harper, might replace him in the national conversation while he recovers. Harper chipped in with 18 steals in 2012, which is a number Puig could reach given the speed he’s shown in the minors.
The last guy of the “big three” to debut in 2012 played the fewest number of games and got the least attention nationally. That was Manny Machado. The Orioles shortstop prospect was pressed into service at third base during the O’s unlikely playoff push last season. Machado, just 19, was overwhelmed at times while hitting .262/.294/.739.
Fast forward a year and Machado is hitting over .300 and leading the league in hits and doubles. With 99 hits already, the young third baseman is on pace for his first 200-hit season at 20 years old. He hasn’t shown as much power (five homers) or speed (five stolen bases) as Trout or Harper, but he’s turned into a valuable contributor for Baltimore several years earlier than anyone figured at the start of last year.
Will Puig replicate any one of these seasons? And if he doesn't, is he a failure? No. Yasiel Puig is a talent that baseball fans will hopefully get to enjoy for years to come. If he’s still succeeding when Crawford and Kemp return, the Dodgers will have to ask themselves a question fans always worry about: “Where do we play this guy?” If the drive Puig has shown in the minors and in the start of his major league career is any indication, no one in the organization will mind.
By: Mike Carlucci