The Los Angeles Dodgers have been in the news for non-baseball reasons quite a bit in the past few years. Be it for playing host to Mannywood and all its attendant festivities or for the disastrous ownership situation and high-profile city, the recent half-decade has sullied the name of one of baseball’s great franchises. The organization’s recent signing of Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig seemed to be more of the same; scouts far and wide panned the signing as a team grasping at straws and over committing to a good, but not elite, talent.
A few months later, however, Puig is putting his detractors to shame and doing his best to earn the money the Dodgers have paid him. While it’s not for me to say if the 7 year, $42 million contract was a fair price, the way Puig rampaged through the rookie league (.400/.500/1.000 in 36 PA) and has more than held his own in High A (.386/.471/.500 in 51 plate appearances) is a win for Dodgers scouts and offers the organization a promising piece for the future. How big of a piece? That depends on how accurate scouting director Logan White was when he said that Puig, “reminds me a lot of Sammy Sosa,” a five tool player with huge power.
Most frequently compared to fellow Cuban emigré and 2012 AL Rookie of the Year candidate Yoenis Cespedes, the 21 year old Puig is by all accounts a talented player. Standing 6’3″, 230, he has the body of a professional athlete. And he had a tremendous year in the Cuban professional league, hitting 17 home runs and posting a .430 OBP in 327 at bats during the 2010-2011 season, numbers which compare favorably with Cespedes’ statistics for the same period (though the latter clubbed a preposterous 33 homers in the same window). Although Puig has almost never played outside of Cuba, the Dodgers felt comfortable enough in what they saw to sign him to a long-term deal. “These types of players with that speed and power combination are very rarely available,” said GM Ned Colletti in a statement. “All things considered, we had to be aggressive. The chance and the opportunity to do what we did were in a very short period of time. After that, all dynamics change.”
Obviously, there is much more to consider for Puig than just his talent. He has to adjust to an entirely new culture, learn a new language, and discover how to manage his newfound wealth, all while learning to play baseball at the highest level in the world. It will be a difficult journey. But the Dodgers, once famous for helping bring foreigners from Juan Marichal to Fernando Valenzuela to Hideo Nomo to stardom, have more experience than anyone with bringing international athletes to stardom. Mike Trout Puig is not, but with some hard work and good fortune, he may soon be donning Dodger blue with a chance to justify the faith the team has placed in him.
For more on Puig and the Dodgers, check out Lasorda’s Lair