In December 2018, the Los Angeles Dodgers made an off season splash trading away Matt Kemp, Alex Wood, Kyle Farmer, and the love him or hate him, Yasiel Puig. The move, which was initially thought to free up outfield space for Bryce Harper, ended up paving the way for A.J. Pollock to take over as the everyday centerfielder for the Dodgers. Benefitting from increased playing time due to an injury to Pollock, Alex Verdugo has shined. While Pollock for Puig looked like a pretty even swap, Verdugo for Puig has been an upgrade.
Puig’s Dodger Tenure
Yasiel Puig burst onto the Major League Baseball scene in June of 2013. He lit the baseball world on fire in his first week hitting 4 home runs and knocking in 10 runs over his first 5 games. Puig went on to hit .319 with 19 home runs and 42 RBIs over the remainder of the 2013 season.
Dubbed the “Wild Horse” by Vin Scully for his high energy, cannon of an arm, reckless abandon on the base paths and overall feral behavior, Yasiel Puig was an instant fan favorite. Over the subsequent 6 years, that love wavered some as stories of tardiness, multiple off-field antics, and teammate strife highlighted his inability to recreate the potential everyone saw in freshman season.
Puig with the Reds
Since being traded to the “Wild Horse” embracing Cincinnati Reds, Puig has been outspoken about previously not working hard because it wasn’t a contract year and about working harder than ever now, because it is. Despite the increased effort and his love for the color red, Puig has struggled. Heading into Saturday’s game, he had a WAR of -.01 and he was slashing .203/.251/.361 with 7 home runs and 23 RBIs.
Verdugo Road to the Majors
Alex Verdugo’s rise to the majors hasn’t been as flashy. Over the past few years he’s been ranked as a top prospect multiple times, he’s merited a couple non-roster invites to Spring Training, and has been a part of the September roster expansions the past two years. This year with the outfield log-jam finally somewhat cleared, Verdugo made the opening day roster. Initially he was platooning left field with Joc Pederson and Chris Taylor, but following an elbow infection that landed A.J. Pollock on the Injured List, Verdugo has seen his playing time grow and he’s making the most of it.
Verdugo’s 2019 Start
Like Puig, Verdugo’s energy and enthusiasm for the game has quickly made him a fan favorite (so much so, they even sang Happy Birthday to him), but the similarities stop there. Heading into Saturday’s game he had a WAR of 2.0 and was slashing .328/.373/.534 with 4 home runs and 20 RBI’s from 116 at-bats.
To put it plainly, Verdugo is a batsmith. He has a veteran approach at the plate, a calm composure that allows him to slow the game down. As a result, he has just 13 strike outs this year.
Additionally, he can hit right-handed and left-handed pitching well, so far he has hit RHP to a tune of .316 and LHP to .351. Also, while his bat has some pop, he hits to get on base and is currently 3rd on the team in OBP. Even when Verdugo is not getting on base though, he’s making productive outs. Last week, in a pitchers dual between Hyun-Jin Ryu and Stephen Strasburg, he hit a ball to the right side to move Cody Bellinger to 3rd. Bellinger would be hit in by a sacrifice fly the very next at-bat. While the Dodgers went on to win 6-0, that could’ve been the only run scored.
Puig Vs. Verdugo
Puig gave fans energy, smiles, and big moments. Alex Verdugo is giving fans the same energy, the same smile, and consistency. Puig could pump up a crowd, but would frustrate them trying to stretch a good hit into miraculous one. Verdugo can pump up a crowd and keep them elevated by maturely extending an inning. Puig played for his glory. Verdugo plays for the team.
Alex and Russell’s friendship is my favorite. pic.twitter.com/kV3wv0LeRo
— Sue Jo (@suejo825) May 7, 2019
Puig was the outfielder fans wanted. Verdugo is the outfielder fans need; the outfielder that the Dodgers deserve.