Yasiel Puig, the mere mention of his name evokes an outcry of varied responses. Some good, some bad. But one thing for sure, you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone with indifference to the polarizing young Cuban.
The story of Yasiel Puig’s defection from Cuba has all the earmarks of a Hollywood blockbuster. Smugglers, small-time crooks, blackmail, huge pay-offs and a daring escape. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you read Jesse Katz’s remarkable piece, Escape from Cuba: Yasiel Puig’s Untold Journey to the Dodgers from the Los Angeles Magazine (2014) it’s an enlightening story on the perseverance of Yasiel Puig.
EXCERPT: Puig’s journey, according to claims made in court documents and detailed in interviews, underwritten by a small-time crook in Miami named Raul Pacheco, an air-conditioning repairman and recycler on probation for attempted burglary and possession of a fake ID. Pacheco had allegedly agreed to pay the smugglers $250,000 to get Puig out of Cuba; Puig, after signing a contract, would owe 20 percent of his future earnings to Pacheco.
His story gets more exciting and unbelievable from there, but by all accounts, it’s true. Maybe his incredible back story is why I’m more forgiving of Puig’s many foibles on and off the field. I want Puig to grow up and become the disciplined all-star his undeniable athletic gifts and potential suggests.
I, unapologetically, love Yasiel Puig. He’s like that little kid who misbehaves, but his playful grin and twinkling eyes make you instantly forgive him. His child-like smile is infectious. I laugh at his clubhouse antics and I can’t begrudge his desire for fun on the field. It’s baseball, it should be fun.
You could be a kid for as long as you want when you play baseball. ~Cal Ripken, Jr.
Since it appears Puig has his off-field antics under control, we’ll put that in the “growth” category and move on.
Puig’s on field antics are hit or miss – excuse the pun. On occasion he throws to the cut-off man, fans and broadcasters alike react like he’s hit a World Series winning grand slam – it’s that rare. Undeniably, Puig has a cannon for an arm and he likes to show it off. So, why throw to the cut-off man when you can get the runner out with your rocket arm?
Smart… no, not always. Electric, exciting and mind blowing? Most definitely! I don’t think NASA can nail a landing like some of Puig’s precision throws that leave the runner stunned as they trudge back to the dugout.
That’s pretty fun.
Less fun is Puig’s lack of focus that often leads to on-field errors. He isn’t called the “Wild Horse” for nothing, he flies. But, running fast is not all it takes to steal a base. If that were the case, every young player with fast legs would be doing it. Even more crucial is an understanding of the pitcher’s timing and moves. A studied knowledge of how far to lead off and when to break. The same thought process applies to every at bat. The best hitters aren’t the guy who hits the ball the hardest, more often, it’s the guy who hits the ball the smartest. Baseball is a thinking man’s game as much as it’s a physical game. Puig has a healthy dose of one and needs a sizable dose of the other.
While few can argue Puig’s potential, the debate is how long do you try to foster that potential before you start thinking about cutting bait. As can be seen in the graph below, Puig’s numbers in all hitting areas have decreased from year to year. These are obviously troublesome statistics. As a result, the question remains, how long do you wait in hopes that he figures things out.