Nothing about Yasiel Puig’s rise to stardom with the Los Angeles Dodgers has been normal. From escaping Cuba to signing a large contract despite being unproven and out of baseball for one year, Puig has been in the headlines before stepping foot in the U.S.
After a torrid spring training with the team in 2013, Puig was left off the big league roster and was optioned to Double-A. With the series of injuries and sub .500 record, the Dodgers called up the young right fielder in June and he took MLB by storm.
Growing up under the lights at Dodger Stadium, Puig has had his successes praised and flaws criticized. His stats slowly began to drop as the year wore on and pitchers learned of his weaknesses at the plate, which led to some claims of Puig being overrated.
Fast forward this season, Puig has put a slow 2014 spring behind him as he leads the Dodgers in multiple offensive categories. Puig has discussed his study of more film this season and now shared his sense of belonging, via Paul Hagen of MLB.com:
If you work hard, hopefully you’ll have success. That’s one thing I’ve done. I don’t think I’m in awe of being in the major leagues now. I feel like I belong. I’ve done the things I need to do. When you face major league pitching it’s never easy. You have to make adjustments and that’s what I’m trying to do to compete. I just love playing baseball.”
Puig leads the team with a .333 batting average, 1.037 OPS, 37 RBIs and 53 hits. His 10 home runs trail only Adrian Gonzalez’s 12. Puig has also cut down on his defensive and base running mistakes, with noticeable improvement in his ability, or willingness to hit cutoff men and more of a calculated approach on the basepaths rather than running with reckless abandon.
The 23-year-old has also improved off the field, despite not quite feeling comfortable with that role just yet:
The attention is there. I’m still not accustomed to it, but I know it’s part of the job,” he said with a shrug. “I know I have to do it. I try to respect everybody. I don’t know if it’s one of my favorite things, but it’s my responsibility.”
With the improvements across the board, Puig certainly hasn’t been perfect this season — he arrived late for the Dodgers home opener and was subsequently benched. While the team was in Australia for the Opening Series, manager Don Mattingly openly questioned and criticized Puig’s tendency to claim injury when things didn’t break his way.
Since that point, Puig has asked for and received advice in a team meeting and Mattingly has come to the defense of his right fielder on multiple occasions and lauded him for his play. While it may seem as though Puig has spent an ample amount of time in the Majors, the one-year anniversary of his call up still sits just under two weeks away.
If the scale of improvement in one year is any indication of what’s to come, the Dodgers have themselves a special player who may be young, but is mature enough to realize the opportunity that’s laid out in front of him.
Dodgers Update: Yasiel Puig’s Hitting Streak, Maturity And Bat Flips