Yasiel Puig Can Spark Slugging with Strong Showing at Home Run Derby

Kevin Boilard@@KevinBoilardCorrespondent IJuly 9, 2014

Yasiel Puig is hoping for a strong showing at the 2014 HRD.
Yasiel Puig is hoping for a strong showing at the 2014 HRD.Paul Sancya/Associated Press

Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig is one of Major League Baseball's most exciting young stars.

Next week, baseball fans will get to watch him perform on the most exciting stage of the MLB All-Star break: the 2014 Home Run Derby.

The Dodgers' Twitter account announced Puig's inclusion in the event on Tuesday evening:

Puig was selected by National League captain Troy Tulowitzki of the Rockies. He joins Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins and Todd Frazier of the Reds. The last member of the five-man NL contingent will be named on Thursday.

For some, the Home Run Derby is a meaningless spectacle in which the MLB exploits the most explosive play in baseball in exchange for television ratings. For Puig, however, a big performance in the Home Run Derby could carry over into the remainder of the regular season.

Yasiel Puig vs. All Other Members of 2014 Home Run Derby
Jose Bautista*AL1717.2
Yoenis Cespedes**AL1421.4
Adam JonesAL1625.0
Brian DozierAL1630.2
Troy Tulowitzki*NL1820.5
Giancarlo StantonNL2115.1
Todd FrazierNL1723.0
Yasiel PuigNL1222.7

* Denotes team captain.

** Denotes defending Home Run Derby champ.

Puig has the fewest home runs of any of this year's Home Run Derby contestants—NL or AL—with only 12 to his name in 2014. That total places Puig in a seven-way tie for 51st in the majors.

After a stellar May in which he homered eight times, Puig toiled through the entire month of June without knocking one into the stands. Puig's home-run drought was not broken until July 4 when he homered off of Colorado's Jair Jurrjens in the top of the first inning.

It doesn't take much for a young player to suffer a crisis of confidence. Although, currently, it appears as if it's all lighthearted bat-flips and finger-wags for the 23-year-old, it won't be long before Puig's plate appearances begin to grow stale.

OK, so it's not a full-blown sophomore slump for Puig.

He has a .307 batting average through 85 games—a team-best and 15th among all major league batters. He is one of 25 players with at least 100 hits, has five triples and, in the field, he has showcased a cannon of an arm that has baserunners thinking twice before rounding first.

For a player batting second in the lineup on the squad currently leading the NL West, Puig's actually excelling—not slumping—in his second MLB season.

But if the frenzy over the Home Run Derby teaches us nothing else, it's that homers are the quickest way to achieve professional baseball fame. And for Puig to take the next step toward baseball stardom, he must start cranking them out at a higher rate.

There is no setting better-suited to make this happen than the Home Run Derby, where a national audience squeals for 200-pound men (235 in Puig's case) to smack a lobbed ball over the fence...again...and again...and again.

The competition will be steep.

Stanton, his NL teammate, currently ranks fourth in the majors with 21 home runs in 2014. AL adversaries Jose Bautista and Adam Jones—both battle-tested veterans—will not shy away from the bright lights of the All-Star break. Yoenis Cespedes, also of the AL, has a little extra at stake as he defends his Derby title.

A win, or at least a strong showing, will boost Puig's confidence heading into the second half of the season. If nothing else, it'll send an extra ounce of electricity throughout the stands whenever he steps up to the plate.

The fans will cheer a bit louder; the pitch will seem a bit slower.

This year's Derby will take place at Target Field in Minneapolis, but it won't take much for Puig to impress the hometown fans back in Los Angeles. Historically, Dodgers players haven't had much success at the Home Run Derby.

Even if Puig bombs (is that a good or a bad thing in this instance?) at the Home Run Derby he'll be welcomed back to Los Angeles, where he has been playing solid baseball up until this point.

And if he winds up cracking 30-plus homers—causing ESPN's Chris Berman to gasp for air between "back-back-backs"—then Puig will be well on his way to becoming baseball's next slugging sensation.

*All statistical information courtesy of ESPN.com.


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