Yasiel Puig is a dangerous man when he has a bat in his hands.
It's incorrect to call him Yasiel Puig.
Referring to the Los Angeles Dodgers rookie phenom requires full exclamation, like so: Yasiel Puig!
That's what happens when a 22-year-old top prospect out of Cuba makes his introduction to Major League Baseball the way that Yasiel Puig—sorry, Yasiel Puig!—has, hitting four homers and driving in 10 runs in his first five games.
No surprise, then, that Puig earned National League Player of the Week honors in his very first week. Or that he was moved from leadoff to the cleanup spot in the Dodgers lineup, per Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times.
All this from a player who was a relative unknown a year ago before he inked a seven-year, $42 million deal that drew criticism and questions. And yet, in the months since, Puig became a legitimate top prospect, one who ranked among the top 50 in the sport by Baseball America and among the top 100 by Baseball Prospectus and MLB.com.
While pretty much everything Puig has done in his first week of action has been impressive (video evidence at right), here we'll focus specifically on his hitting.
Let's start by taking a look at Puig's first homer in the majors, complete with Spanish-language commentary...
As you can see, he has a very quiet, almost straight-on stance from the right side, with his feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart and his hands just off his back shoulder.
Comfortable yet compact would be a good word to describe his pre-pitch setup.
From there, Puig lifts his front (left) foot slightly but noticeably to transfer his weight back into the hitting position from which he's ready to explode. There's a good side-angle view of this on the video at the 33-second mark.
The first thing that stands out about Puig's swing is his bat speed. That and the force with which he attacks the ball. Here's a look at his first big league hit, a single...
You'll notice Puig actually is fooled on the pitch but is able to keep his hands back just long enough to throw them at the ball and connect with enough oomph to muscle it into the outfield off the end of the bat.
That kind of result can happen, even when a batter's weight has shifted and momentum is already going forward, but it requires quick hands and raw bat speed.
Puig has both.
What's interesting about Puig's swing, though, is that it's fairly level. Often a hitter will employ an uppercut swing that cuts through the hitting zone quickly in order to get the kind of power that Puig has shown so far.
But Puig's bat path doesn't show anything like this. Just check the video above at the two-minute mark, at which point Puig smacks a line drive of an opposite-field home run—the sort of thing that calls for a level swing plane to ensure hard contact on a ball deep in the hitting zone.
The fact that he's hit for such power so far, then, is a result of the bat speed and force, but also an ability to put backspin on the ball to get it to travel a longer distance.
The Follow-Through and the Flip
If it looks like Puig's swing has some down-to-up to it that's only because of his dramatic follow-through, best seen here—after his grand slam—at the 1:15 mark.
Puig has a high, one-handed finish, but that flair only comes at the very end of his swing, after that quiet, compact setup—that simple loading of the hands into the hitting position and that minimal leg kick to shift his weight.
In other words, pretty much everything Puig does in the batters' box is controlled and well-balanced up through contact, after which he completes his swing and follows through with a little extra.
Speaking of a little extra, Puig has drawn more than a little attention for his bat flip, as Carson Cistulli of FanGraphs has enjoyed pointing out and documenting.
For full effect, here's that first career homer again:
Now that we've made our way through Puig's swing, what do the numbers say about his approach?
This, as with everything surrounding Puig in his brief major league career to date, is a small sample size (just 29 plate appearances) so it's too soon for any real judgments just yet. But the good news is Puig is making contact 78.6 percent of the time—right around the league average rate of 79.5 percent—according to the plate discipline portion of his player page on FanGraphs.
The bad news? Puig is making contact at a significantly below-average rate on pitches in the strike zone: 77.8 percent compared to 86.7 percent.
He's also actually putting bat on ball 80.0 percent of the time when the pitch is outside the zone, which is rather remarkable in light of the 66.4 percent MLB average.
The problem there, of course, is that Puig is unlikely to continue to make contact on non-strikes with such frequency, so something is going to have to give.
Well, this is where things become fun (not that they haven't already). You see, per his plate-discipline numbers on FanGraphs, Puig is swinging. Like, a lot.
To wit, Puig has swung at 59.2 percent of the pitches he's seen through his first seven games, which is 13 percent more than the league average. He's also sporting a swinging strike rate of 10.2 percent that's slightly worse than the league average (9.2 percent).
Beyond that, Puig has seen a first-pitch strike in just 44.8 percent of his plate appearances. The average MLB hitter gets a strike on pitch No. 1 60.2 percent of the time.
Translation? While seeing fewer strikes on the first pitch, Puig is swinging at most everything, swinging and missing more than the league average and making contact slightly less often than the league average.
Somehow, Puig has only four whiffs so far.
This is an aspect of Puig's game we should watch closely.
So far, he's demonstrated both an ability to swing at pretty much everything—he failed to draw even a single free pass in 60 plate appearances this spring training—and a willingness to show some patience. To that end, Puig walked 15 times in 167 plate appearances at Double-A this season for a respectable nine percent walk rate.
In his first 29 big league plate appearances, Puig has just one walk, and it was of the intentional variety.
The #Braves intentionally walk the rookie, Yasiel Puig.— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) June 8, 2013
While it hasn't hurt him yet, this is the sort of thing that will catch up to Puig if he doesn't adjust his discipline and learn to reel in his aggressiveness when needed. It's a tricky balance, though, since Puig shouldn't be looking to keep the bat on his shoulder, mainly because of the damage he can do when he wields the lumber.
Puig's start has been legendary and historic from a performance and production point of view. This, friends, is inarguable. Digging a little deeper, though, it's evident that Puig has enjoyed some luck. That .450 BABIP? Coming down. That 57.1 HR/FB rate? Also regressing.
The key for Puig, then, will be how he adjusts his approach and plate discipline once some flares stop falling, half of his fly balls stop leaving the park, and he makes contact with fewer pitches out of the zone.
The setup, balance, bat speed and swing mechanics all appear to be there, meaning Puig has the raw talent to figure things out once pitchers start figuring him out. He's going to have to learn how to blend the ridiculous athletic talent with the proper mental approach.
For now, though, let's just enjoy this while it lasts, courtesy of the man known as Yasiel Puig.
Or, more appropriately, Yasiel Puig!