Los Angeles Dodgers

The Best and Worst of Yasiel Puig's Polarizing First Calendar Year in MLB

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistJune 3, 2014

The Best and Worst of Yasiel Puig's Polarizing First Calendar Year in MLB

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Today officially marks the one-year anniversary of Los Angeles Dodgers polarizing superstar Yasiel Puig making his major league debut.

    The Dodgers were 23-32 and 8.5 games back in the NL West at the time of his promotion, and they proceeded to go 69-38 the rest of the way, roaring back to take the division title by 11 games over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

    Puig was a big reason why they were able to get their season on track, but his first calendar year in the big leagues has been a roller-coaster ride to say the least.

    Here is a look at the best and worst of Yasiel Puig one year after he burst onto the scene with a memorable performance against the San Diego Padres.

Major League Debut (June 3, 2013)

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    After putting on a show during spring training and going 30-for-57 with 10 extra-base hits, Puig abused minor-league pitching to the tune of a .313/.383/.599 line that included 12 doubles and eight home runs in 147 at-bats for Double-A Chattanooga.

    With Matt Kemp landing on the disabled list, a spot finally opened up for him to see regular playing time in Los Angeles, and Puig-mania officially started June 3 of last season.

    Hitting in the leadoff spot and playing right field, Puig hit the first big-league pitch he saw from Eric Stults up the middle for a single.

    He singled off of Stults again in the bottom of the sixth, finishing the game 2-for-4, but the highlight of the night came in right field.

    With one out and a runner on first in the bottom of the ninth, Kyle Blanks hit a deep fly ball to right field. Puig ranged back to pull in the fly ball, then threw a strike to Adrian Gonzalez at first base to double up Chris Denorfia and secure a 2-1 win for the Dodgers.

Shows Off His Cannon Arm, Goes 2-for-4 with Home Run at the Plate (June 6, 2013)

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    Puig followed up his impressive debut with a 3-for-4 game that saw him smack two home runs and drive in five, but it was his arm that again grabbed headlines and made highlight reels in his fourth career game.

    Atlanta Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons made the ill-advised attempt to go first-to-third on a single to Puig in right field, and he again showed off his cannon arm by gunning him down easily for the second out of the inning.

    Oh, and he was also 2-for-4 with another home run and four RBI in that game, as his career was undoubtedly off to a roaring start.

Brawl Against the Arizona Diamondbacks (June 11, 2013)

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    There's been no love lost between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers in recent years, and things came to a head last June when an all-out brawl ensued following a handful of hit batters.

    It all started when D'Backs starter Ian Kennedy came up and in on Puig in the bottom of the sixth inning and wound up hitting him in the head.

    Zack Greinke retaliated by beaning catcher Miguel Montero in the top of the seventh, both sides were warned, and the benches emptied with little action to speak of.

    However, when Kennedy drilled Greinke the next half-inning, the benches cleared again and things got a bit more interesting.

    When the dust cleared, Kennedy (10 games), Eric Hinske (five games) and manager Kirk Gibson (one game) were given suspensions for the Diamondbacks, while J.P. Howell (two games), Skip Schumaker (two games), hitting coach Mark McGwire (two games), Ronald Belisario (one game) and manager Don Mattingly (one game) were suspended on the Dodgers side.

All-Star Game Snub? (July 6, 2013)

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    Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

    2013 NL All-Star Outfielders

    Carlos Beltran, St. Louis Cardinals (starter)
    Domonic Brown, Philadelphia Phillies
    Michael Cuddyer, Colorado Rockies
    Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee Brewers
    Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies (starter)
    Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals (starter)
    Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates

     

    When the All-Star Game rolled around on July 16, Puig had just 38 games under his belt, but there was no ignoring his .391/.422/.616 line that included eight doubles, eight home runs and five steals.

    That was enough for many to call for his inclusion on the NL All-Star roster, but when the teams were announced on July 6, Puig was not among the players headed to New York for the festivities.

    It's hard to argue with anyone that was picked over him, as all seven outfielders on the NL side were having great seasons, but his candidacy was a major talking point in the weeks leading up to the game.

    Jon Morosi of Fox Sports actually was in favor of Puig's exclusion from the roster.

    The electorate has done a tremendous favor for Puig and his Los Angeles Dodgers. He’s cooled a little lately...but this isn't about a statistical regression to the mean. Puig — 22 years old, born and raised in Cuba, with barely more than one month in the majors — is unprepared for the All-Star hype vortex.

    He currently leads all NL outfielders in All-Star voting this year, according to the latest update released on Tuesday, and suffice to say, it would be a shock if he did not make his Midsummer Classic debut this year.

Walk-Off Home Run and Slide Into Home Plate (July 28, 2013)

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    Puig is without question one of the most polarizing figures in sports right now, and his walk-off home run against the Cincinnati Reds last July was the perfect example of that.

    With the game still scoreless in the bottom of the 11th, Puig crushed a two-out pitch from Curtis Partch to left field for a walk-off home run, giving a streaking Dodgers team yet another victory.

    It was what he did after he hit the pitch that made headlines, though, as he followed his signature bat flip by throwing his hands in the air before leaving the batter's box. He then capped his jog around the bases by sliding feet first into home.

    It was no doubt just a matter of the 22-year-old being caught up in the excitement of his first walk-off home run, but that is not necessarily how it looked from Cincinnati's point of view.

    "Puig slid into home after a walk-off homer. A good talent. But he is making a mockery of baseball. Please stop," former big leaguer Greg Swindell said on Twitter, via Yahoo Sports' David Brown.

    Puig himself called the decision to slide a matter of safety, referencing fellow Cuban defector Kendrys Morales, who injured himself jumping onto home plate after a walk-off of his own.

    "Each player does what he can when he gets to the plate. Some people jump, some people slide, some people run,'' Puig told Joe Resnick of The Associated Press. ''I have a previous teammate in Cuba that jumped and hurt his ankle. So I decided to slide.

    Regardless of whether he was trying to show the Reds up with his decision to slide, this was the perfect example of how polarizing his actions have been.

Benched for Showing Up Late, Still Hits Go-Ahead Home Run (Aug. 20, 2013)

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    Tardiness has also been an issue for Puig during his career, as he has been benched more than once for showing up late on game day, but proved he can make a difference even if he's not penciled into the starting lineup on Aug. 20.

    After spending the first five innings of the game on the bench, Puig entered in the bottom of the sixth inning along with reliever J.P. Howell as part of a double-switch.

    His first at-bat of the game came in the top of the eighth, and he crushed the first pitch he saw for a solo home run, breaking a 4-4 tie and providing what would be the winning run as the Dodgers came away with a 6-4 victory over the Miami Marlins.

Benched Mid-Game for Not Hustling (Aug. 28, 2013)

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    Roughly a week later, Puig was benched again, this time mid-game for a handful of indiscretions that eventually led manager Don Mattingly to make the move.

    He failed to slide into second base to break up a double play in the first inning, slammed his bat down after striking out in the third and then hot-dogged under a fly ball in the fourth inning.

    Mattingly would not call it a disciplinary move after the game, instead opting to say that replacing Puig gave the Dodgers the best chance to win.

    "It’s not action against Yasiel," Mattingly said in a postgame interview, via Ross Gasmer of DodgersNation.com. "Today is just a decision, simple decision. I felt like at that point in the game, Skip (Schumaker) gave us a better chance to win. I want to keep it in house and there’s no reason to discuss reasons."

    For what it's worth, Schumaker was hitting .269/.343/.342 at the time of the move, giving him an OPS that was 279 points lower than the .964 mark Puig had at that point in the season.

NLDS Performance (Oct. 3-7, 2014)

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    After playing a huge role in sparking the Los Angeles Dodgers' drastic turnaround, and helping them secure the NL West title, Puig saw his first postseason action against the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS.

    The Dodgers wrapped up the series in dominant fashion in four games, outscoring the Braves, 26-14, on their way to an NLCS matchup with the St. Louis Cardinals.

    Puig played as big a role as anyone in knocking off the Braves, going 8-for-17 (.471 BA) with a double, two RBI and five runs scored.

Bat-Flip Triple in the NLCS Game 3 (Oct. 14, 2013)

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    After falling behind, 2-0, in the NLCS, the Dodgers desperately needed a win in Game 3 as they headed home to Los Angeles, but they faced a daunting task against Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright, who was fresh off of a dominant performance in Game 5 of the NLDS.

    They managed just one hit through the first three innings, but the Dodgers got to him in the fourth. Mark Ellis led off the inning with a double and then scored when Adrian Gonzalez delivered a double of his own.

    Puig came up a batter later with two outs and Gonzalez still on second, and ripped a deep fly ball to right field, flipping the bat and breaking out into the first few steps of a home-run trot before the ball came up short of the seats and bounced off the wall.

    Turning on the jets from there, Puig still managed a stand-up triple on the play, bringing the Dodger Stadium crowd to its feet. The Dodgers went on to win that game, 3-0, though they would lose the series in six games.

ESPN The Magazine Story on His Defection from Cuba (April 13, 2014)

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Prior to the 2014 season starting, further details of Puig's defection from Cuba and his ties to human traffickers who helped him get from Cuba to Mexico were released following an ESPN The Magazine investigation

    The report included an interview with a childhood friend of Puig named Yunior Despaigne, who was with Puig every step of the way, and his story was later featured in Los Angeles Magazine piece by Jesse Katz.

    Details included a report that one member of the Mexican-based smugglers that got Puig out of Cuba, before another ring eventually ushered him to Mexico City, showed up at the Dodgers team hotel looking to be compensated:

    ESPN The Magazine learned from a source close to a smuggler involved in the episode that, during that time, at least one person affiliated with the Mexican-based smugglers who initially got Puig out of Cuba showed up at the Dodgers' team hotel and demanded Puig pay the money they felt they were still owed. Prior to that, a member of that same ring was found shot to death on the side of a road in Cancun. Later, a member of the rival group that "stole" away Puig was allegedly abducted but later released.

    On top of all of that was a $12 million civil suit in Florida court against Puig, by a man that alleges Puig wrongfully accused him of setting up one of his prior defection attempts, resulting in the man serving seven years in prison.

    None of this has affected his play here in 2014, as he is off to a phenomenal start, but they were unsettling reports nonetheless.

16-Game Hitting Streak (April 30-May 17, 2014)

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    Any thoughts of a sophomore slump can be tossed aside at this point, as Puig has proved he belongs in MLB's upper echelon of bona fide stars.

    Through 53 games and 203 at-bats, he's currently hitting .340/.430/.606 with 15 doubles, 11 home runs, 40 RBI and 32 runs scored. With a number of Dodgers hitters off to slow starts, he's carried their offense to this point, and he is a legitimate NL MVP candidate here at the beginning of June.

    The highlight of his season so far is a career-best 16-game hitting streak, a span of games in which he hit .409/.494/.758 with 11 extra-base hits in 66 at-bats.

    He's actually hit safely in 41-of-53 games so far this year, including an impressive 22 multi-hit games, as he has only gotten better in his first year as a big leaguer.

Big Personality

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    Just because no highlight article of Yasiel Puig is complete without the video of him doing the worm after the Dodgers clinched the NL West title last year, I present you with the above clip.

    Also, if you've never seen it, his impression of teammate Adrian Gonzalez running is definitely worth a watch as well.

    Puig will never be called boring, that's for sure.

Stats and MLB Rank Since His Major League Debut

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    Julie Jacobson/Associated Press
    CategoryStatsMLB Rank
    BA.3264th
    OBP.4057th
    SLG.5596th
    OPS.9644th
    ISO.23212th
    H1917th
    2B3620th
    HR3011th
    RBI8231st
    R988th
    SB1634th
    WAR7.14th

    *Stats and ranks courtesy of CBSSports.

     

    The main takeaway here is that this guy has been really, really good offensively since breaking into the league, and at this point, there is really no safe place to pitch him. This heat map from ESPN's Mark Simon is all the evidence you need.

    He'll play the whole season at the age of 23, and if he can continue to mature as both a player and a person, Yasiel Puig should be one of the game's best for a long time.

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