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Yasiel Puig's Rise to Stardom Leads Los Angeles Dodgers to 1st Place in NL West

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Yasiel Puig's Rise to Stardom Leads Los Angeles Dodgers to 1st Place in NL West
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Yasiel Puig has made an enormous impact in such a short time frame.

Underperforming with a 23-32 record on June 3, the Los Angeles Dodgers were beset by injuries and called up Yasiel Puig, a player whom very few people—aside from baseball junkies—knew at the time.

Everyone knows him now.   

Since calling up the Cuban-born phenom, the Dodgers have risen to first place in the NL West.  Much of the team’s success can be attributed to his 11 home runs, including a walk-off homer against the Cincinnati Reds on July 28, and his lofty .367 batting average. 

Before making it to the big leagues, Puig was hitting .313 with eight home runs and had an exceptional OPS of .982 in 40 games in Double-A for the Chattanooga Lookouts.

Despite spending the first two months of the season in the minors, he made a legitimate case for an All-Star selection but came in second in fan write-in votes.  His charisma and aggressive style of play have re-energerized the Dodgers fanbase in a way similar to Manny Ramirez's magical first months in Los Angeles (before he wore out his welcome) and the early days of "Fernando-mania" in the 1980s with Fernando Valenzuela.

Vin Scully, who has called Dodgers games for the past 63 years, says that he has never seen anyone burst onto the scene like Puig has.  The 85-year-old broadcasting legend described the Cuban star as a "five-tool player who showed all five tools in just three days; he did everything imaginable." 

Puig hit three home runs in his first four games in the majors, something previously accomplished only a handful of times.  His rapid emergence resembles the debut of Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout, who burst onto the scene and won American League Rookie of the Year honors in 2012. 

Puig’s personal history could indeed be a movie script. Born in Cienfuegos, Cuba, the 22-year-old slugger won the bronze medal with the Cuban national team in the 2008 World Junior Baseball Championship.  His breakout season was 2009-2010 when he hit .330 with 17 home runs for the Cienfuegos team.  After a previous failed attempt, he defected from Cuba in 2012 and briefly settled in Mexico. 

Dodgers scouting director Logan White was impressed with Puig after seeing just three workouts, and the team signed him to a seven-year, $42 million contract last June.  When the Los Angeles Times reported the signing, White said that Puig would “have a lot of flair” and that fans would like him.  He also predicted that Puig would be a .300 hitter who could belt 30 home runs a year.  Through his first 50 games, he is on target for 33 home runs in a full 162-game season.

Puig's meteoric rise has coincided with the revival of the Dodgers, who have climbed out of the cellar to first place.  The question to be answered in October will be whether his story has a Hollywood ending.

 

Jed Hughes is Vice Chair of Korn/Ferry and the leader of the executive search firm's Global Sports Practice. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter @jedhughesKF

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