With the Dodgers in last place and Yasiel Puig on fire in Double-A, pressure to call up the Cuban outfielder is building. In his last ten games, the 22-year-old has posted a .395/.465/.658 slash line, including seven extra base hits and six steals. Healthy and productive, Puig is once again knocking on the door to Los Angeles.
Earlier in the week, Dave Cameron discussed Andre Ethier being “eminently available” after comments and a benching by Manager Don Mattingly. Combine losing with mammoth contracts and the potential for roster shakeup seems inevitable. No individual stands to gain more than Yasiel Puig if this occurs.
But is Puig ready? From a baseball standpoint, yes. From a maturity standpoint, perhaps not.
In spring training, the baseball community saw the best of Puig on a daily basis. When one hits .517/.500/.828, there’s really no room for a cold spell. And while this provided a glimpse of his immense ceiling, baseball is ultimately a game of failure. How Puig responds to the inevitable failures that baseball pushes upon him may determine just how good he eventually becomes.
I was in attendance to watch Puig on May 8th against the Mobile BayBears (Double-A Arizona Diamondbacks), where he went 1 for 5, with his lone hit being a laser to center field, showing the tools that could make him a star. The rest of the game, however, Puig did nothing but draw negative attention to himself, beginning with a strikeout looking in the first inning. With a 1-0 count, top prospect Archie Bradley attacked Puig with fastballs on the inner half. Three 92-95 mph fastballs later and the right fielder took a slow walk back to the dugout with a runner on second and one out. Bradley is a terrific prospect, but the majors are full of pitchers who can do what Bradley did to Puig in that at-bat.
In the third inning, Puig was first pitch swinging with two outs and Joc Pederson on first base. Down four early, it’s a borderline situation to steal considering Pederson’s ability to score from first on an extra base hit and the risk of running into an out. But against a new pitcher, seeing a pitch or two would have afforded Pederson a chance to attempt a steal while Puig worked on timing him. Instead, he rolled over on an 88 mph fastball (a far cry from the 92-95 Bradley was throwing), resulting in a 6-4 force out.
Is this nitpicking? Absolutely. And while one could argue this wasn’t an example of explicitly bad baseball, it is the kind of thing that will get nitpicked once he gets to the big leagues and is asked to help turn around a $200 million disappointment.
Puig’s single was in the sixth with Pederson on second and no out. Down 4-0, there was little reason for him not to “grip it and rip it.”
After a 16-pitch walk by Pederson which included 11 foul balls, Puig faced a new pitcher with two outs and the bases loaded. After fouling off the first pitch, Puig did this after a questionable check swing strike.
Puig put the next pitch in play for another ground ball to shortstop to end the inning. Given the way in which he had just shown up the umpire, the ball could have been thrown behind Puig’s head and the umpire might have called strike three. Some umpires would not have even given Puig the chance to see another pitch and ejected him on the spot. Reacting that way to a called strike is simply poor judgment.
In the ninth, Puig worked a 3-1 count before grounding out to shortstop again. Late in the game and down by one, not running hard through first base was the stamp on a day where Puig’s body language and effort were simply not a match for his physical talents. Outside of his at bats, Puig was consistently the last player in the dugout between innings and could frequently be seen with his head in hands. In right field, he had the longest distance to run to reach the third base dugout, but breaking a slow jog at the third base line to walk the rest of the way does nothing but draw negative attention.
In this particular game, his frustration bubbled over onto the field and presented as immaturity. In fairness, many of us would struggle with similar issues if we had a $42 million dollar contract in hand at 22, and Puig is hardly the only immature kid in professional sports. But, on the big stage of the Major Leagues, this act won’t fly.
Even after the game, I witnessed Puig make a pair of kids wait 15 minutes or more for autographs as he toyed with his smartphone 10 feet away. I say “or more” because I was able to move my car, interview Archie Bradley, and the kids were still waiting as I left the ballpark. Both boys were respectful and patient while Puig went about his business like they did not exist. As a professional baseball player, one has to expect every moment at the ballpark will be scrutinized.
Baseball players do not develop the skills of a Yasiel Puig without a considerable amount of effort and determination. Without a doubt, the Dodgers outfielder wants to improve and puts pressure on himself to produce. However, he can do this without being the center of attention at all times. After all, he’s talented enough to consistently be the center of attention for all the right reasons.