Up Close and Personal: Yasiel Puig
After taking two of three from the Padres, the Phillies travel from San Diego to Los Angeles for a four-game set with the Dodgers to finish off their West coast road trip. The Dodgers, much like the Phillies, have been an expensive disappointment. Last year, they took on $250 million in salary from the Red Sox, acquiring Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett in what was arguably the biggest trade in baseball history. Manager Don Mattingly, like Charlie Manuel has in the past, has stubbornly refused to use his best reliever (Kenley Jansen) in the most crucial situations, favoring a less-effective veteran (Brandon League).
Perhaps the most interesting storyline to come out of Los Angeles this year, however, has been Yasiel Puig. A Cuban defector, he signed with the Dodgers last year on a seven-year, $42 million contract. Between rookie ball in the Arizona League and a handful of at-bats with Single-A Rancho Cucamonga, Puig flashed star potential at every turn. The Dodgers moved the 22-year-old to Double-A Chattanooga to start the 2013 season and the outfielder caught on fire immediately. Between the start of the season and the end of May, Puig posted a .982 OPS which included a .313 average, eight home runs, and 13 stolen bases in 167 plate appearances. The Dodgers, struggling mightily at the time due in large part to an avalanche of injuries, promoted Puig and put him in the starting lineup on June 3.
Puig singled in his first Major League at-bat, against Padres lefty Eric Stults. In his second Major League game, Puig hit two home runs and drove in five runs. In his 22 total games at the Major League level, Puig has had a hit in 18 of them and multiple hits in 13. He has seven home runs in 90 plate appearances (on pace for 50 over 650 PA), and only two of them have been pulled. His triple-slash line is .435/.467/.729.
I plugged that into Baseball Reference’s Play Index to find out which rookies have posted such a season. Of course, none went .400/.400/.700, so I lowered the threshold and only got this:
|Albert Pujols (RoY-1st)||2001||.329||.403||.610||676||21||STL|
|Willie McCovey (RoY-1st)||1959||.354||.429||.656||219||21||SFG|
Will Puig hit .400/.400/.700 the rest of the year? Of course not, but even if he regresses heavily over his next 300 PA, he will still be quite a valuable player to the Dodgers.
Looking across the baseball landscape, you see Aroldis Chapman thriving with the Reds, Yoenis Cespedes with the Athletics, and now Puig with the Dodgers. It makes you wonder why the Phillies aren’t terribly active in pursuing international players. If the Phillies are lucky, they’ll be able to minimize Puig’s ability to do damage over the next four games, but chances are he’ll make quick use of his talent and leave the Phillies wondering what it’d be like to have such a talent on the roster.