While the Los Angeles Dodgers’ season has been mired in disappointment, the club has received an infusion of production and excitement from their most promising prospect, Yasiel Puig.
On Monday, Puig was named National League Player of the Week and the selection probably raised very objections. Since making his debut on June 3, Puig has a hit in six of seven games, and already has four home runs to go along with his .464 batting average and an astounding 1.447 OPS. On Sunday, the outfielder and leadoff hitter had three hits in five at-bats.
Such production is certainly welcome for Don Mattingly’s squad, who is currently 27th in baseball in runs. The Dodgers are also in last place in the National League West in a season that had World Series expectations, and with an All-Star outfield.
Due to injuries, the Dodgers have had to rely on a rather thin bench, and there were some questions as to why Puig was in the minors for as long as he was. At the very least, he could have provided a top pinch-hitting option when the Dodgers had their regular starting outfield of Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier in the lineup.
In Double-A Chattanooga, Puig hit eight home runs in 147 at-bats with a .982 OPS. The 22-year-old also swiped 13 bases on 18 attempts. What may have had some scouts scratching their heads with Puig was how he was producing similar results to fellow top outfield prospect Joc Pederson in Chattanooga. Pederson’s slugging percentage is lower than Puig’s, but the 21-year-old has posted similar statistics in other categories.
There is more to Puig than just hitting and base running, though. Puig is also an asset on defense, and it only took his first game in the Majors for him to show off his impressive arm, when he gunned out a base runner at first base from the warning track. Puig already has two assists, and runners are now aware that they shouldn’t test his arm. He is already drawing comparisons to Dodger Stadium fan favorite Raul Mondesi, who would draw chants of “Raaaaaul” when base runners would think twice about tagging from third base when a fly ball was hit to right field.
Puig, who defected from Cuba, signed with the Dodgers in June 2012, and was greeted with a wave of optimism behind an impressive array of tools. So far, the rookie has exceeded the already high expectations.
There had been high hopes for Puig based on his size, and the numbers that fellow Cuban Yoenis Cespedes posted in 2012. The Oakland A’s left fielder hit 23 home runs in 487 at-bats, and had an .861 OPS. There was talk before Puig even had a minor-league plate appearance that he was more talented than Cespedes, and would be fast-tracked to Los Angeles. The scouting report on Puig was so impressive that he was considered a strong candidate to unseat a current Dodgers starting outfielder, even before he took his first Major League swing.
It’s understandable for such praise to surround the new star. In spring training, Puig had a 1.328 OPS in 58 at-bats.
"Right now, he brings an energy we were missing," said backup catcher Ramon Hernandez.
Even with his hot streak, Puig may not be able to change the Dodgers fortunes this season. In seven games with Puig in the lineup, the Dodgers have won four games. The club has historically relied on excellent pitching to make up for a lack of run scoring, but this season the Dodgers are just 13th in earned-run average.