Oops. The kid’s average was down to .433 Sunday morning. Oh well, maybe Yasiel Puig won’ bat .500 after all.
It’s always a blast for baseball fans when a newcomer to the scene shows up virtually out of nowhere and batters big-league pitching as if he is facing Little League stuff. We all know it won’t last forever, but it’s a great ride while he does. Gives the game welcome fun exposure.
Puig is the latest phenom who fits that profile, a rookie from Cuba who is young and raw and has just marched up to the plate since the Los Angeles Dodgers brought him to the majors on June 3 and clobbered every fastball, curveball, screwball or knuckler tossed his way. Some heralded rookies get the call to the bigs and can’t hit the ball out of the infield for a couple of weeks. Some make memorable debuts and hit the ball with such authority it seems as if the game was invented for them.
Puig is one of the latter. He is 22 years old, stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 230 pounds. He has been playing right field for a Dodgers team that was stumbling along underachieving, but in a few weeks time has energized the fan base and provided newfound optimism that the 2013 season might not become the disaster it was headed for after LA began the campaign as a pre-season National League favorite.
There are several aspects to the Puig story that brand him a bit of an innocent and a bit of a mystery man. First of all, he is from Cuba, where the doors have officially been locked to big-league scouts for more than 50 years now. The main way that those outside the island country discover talent from Cuba was when it is displayed in international tournaments.
Talented and determined Cuban baseball players who realize great riches await them if they defect have taken off for foreign lands in recent years in the hopes of pursuing their dreams. Puig made such an attempt to defect in 2011, but was caught. In 2012 he escaped to Mexico, where he became a free agent, an enticing catch for a Major League club willing to invest in his promise. The Dodgers came through and signed Puig to a seven-year, $42-million deal.
Part of the endearing lore surrounding Puig is that when he agreed to join the Dodgers he was unaware of the team’s blue and white colors. Puig spent 2012 in the minors for LA and in 327 total at-bats hit .330 with 17 home runs and 47 runs batted in. Despite his rather impressive size, Puig is also a swift runner, variously being timed running to first base in 4.1 or 4.2 seconds. He’s kind of got NFL running back speed to go along with a similar build.
Maybe the Dodgers didn’t trust what they had, but even though Puig hit .526 in spring training games this year they optioned him to the Chattanooga Lookouts, where he lasted 40 games in AA before their SOS call earlier this month. Puig singled in his first Major League at-bat and gathered two hits that day, June 3. Ever since he’s been mashing the ball at an outrageous pace.
One other funny aspect of the rise of Puig has been the number on his jersey. He wears 66, as if he was a hockey player, a Wayne Gretzky. Why not? If the young player does prove to be one of a kind then having a one-of-a-kind number seems appropriate.