How Yasiel Puig Has Quietly Gotten Even Better after Breakout 2013-14 Season

Jason MartinezContributor IMay 20, 2014

USA Today

From the "oohs" and "aahs" of baseball fans when they see this larger than life figure walk out onto a baseball field to the crack of the bat when he strikes a baseball to the sound of a teammate's mitt popping when he guns a throw from right field to the sound of his car engine when he's driving way too fastYasiel Puig is rarely surrounded by silence. 

Yet, the Los Angeles Dodgers superstar has quietly gone about his business over the last month while fellow Cuban slugger Jose Abreu has stolen all of the headlines. 

But now that Abreu has finally stopped demolishing baseballs and adding to his league-leading 15 homers—the 27-year-old is on the 15-day disabled list with ankle tendinitis—maybe it's a good time to check up on this Puig guy who took Major League Baseball by storm in 2013. 

Not only has the 23-year-old Puig avoided any of the negative press that seemed to follow him around previously, whether it was from his 26-pound weight gain from the end of last season to the start of spring, his two reckless driving charges or just a multitude of bat flips and on-field behavior that almost always seemed to rub an opposing team the wrong way, he's also putting up huge numbers that are reminiscent of his rookie season and probably even better. 

After a slow start (.723 OPS, HR in 14 games), at least for the standards he created after his amazing big league debut in 2013, Puig has been on a tear. Since April 20, he has a .366/.443/.693 slash line with eight homers, seven doubles and 30 runs batted in. 

He also extended a career-high 16-game hitting streak with this two-run homer on Saturday, though it ended the next day. 

His team is only 12-15 during that span, which is another reason why his current run is falling slightly under the radar. But that's no fault of Puig, who is helping to squash the theory that one man is not capable of carrying an entire team on his back. 

If he was, you'd think this month-long performance by Puig would qualify as one of those cases. 

Regardless, Puig is thriving without the spotlight right now and proving all of his doubters wrong as opposing teams are still unable to put together a game plan that is strong enough to contain him. 

Any player capable of posting a .925 OPS with 19 homers in 104 games is cause for an opponent's concern. When that player is a 22-year-old rookie as was Puig, it's of even greater concern because of the strong chance of improvement.

But in Puig's case, his lack of patience (36 BB, 97 K) was an indication that he could eventually be figured out. The St. Louis Cardinals appeared to have done so in the NLCS when Puig went just 5-for-22 with no homers, a walk and 10 strikeouts. An 8-for-48 performance this spring with no homers, one walk and eight strikeouts was just another sign that the league was catching up to him. 

It was also the reason why Dodgers manager Don Mattingly was so reluctant to say that Puig was a middle-of-the-order hitter who could drive in a lot of runs, according to Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times.

Fast forward to his first 14 games of 2014. 

While his overall numbers weren't great, there was possibly a silver lining. He had eight walks during that span. Compared to 2013, when he didn't draw his eighth walk until his 43rd game, it was obvious that Puig was taking a different approach at the plate. 

Of course, that could've been seen as a lack of aggressiveness, resulting in his lack of production. Or it could've also meant that Puig understood the need to become a more patient hitter with the results showing up down the line. For the patience to pay off, he needed to be patient. 

The beginning of his hot streak, however, resulted in a .310 batting average (9-for-29) with two homers, a double, triple and zero walks. 

But instead of acting like the immature kid he's been made out to be for very good reason, Puig didn't become overly aggressive. In the 15 games that followed, he walked 11 times while hitting .409 (27-for-66) with six homers and five doubles. 

The difference, says Mattingly, is the patience that is forcing pitchers to throw the ball down the middle instead of always trying to make him chase pitches outside of the strike zone, even in a hitter's count. 

"He's now basically forcing the issue," Mattingly said. "You throw him strikes or you walk him. He's forcing them to throw strikes."

Just when they think they have Puig figured out, he goes and does this. I guess it's back to the drawing board.