Yasiel’s No Bo, But He’ll Do
The buzz surrounding Yasiel Puig is unlike anything I’ve experienced covering a prospect. From fans both in the stands and on the internet, to reporters covering his rapid ascent to fabled baseball superstardom, everyone is talking about Yasiel Puig. Not since Fernandomania and, on a smaller scale, Nomo-Mania enveloped Southern California has a singular Dodgers player garnered as much intrigue as the young, Cuban outfielder who has yet to debut with in a Major League game yet. Seemingly out of nowhere, Puig batted .526 during Spring Training this year, showcasing a skill set that has left baseball people and fans drooling and yearning for more. He’s a player a scout dreams on, and one the media ridiculously tags as “The Next Bo Jackson”. Let me assure you, he is no Bo. There will never be another Bo Jackson. Heck, Puig didn’t even know who Bo is before coming to America.
Physically, Puig has a herculean build. Listed at 6’3’’ and 245 pounds, Puig is a man amongst boys playing for Double A Chattanooga. He imposing enough that he makes his 6’2’’, 225 pound teammate Blake Smith look small by comparison. He is the strongest player I’ve seen in the minor leagues since I saw Giancarlo Stanton pass through the Sally. For such a physically strong specimen, Puig is both agile and athletic. Had he grown up in the United States, he’d likely be a starting linebacker for a NFL team.
Puig gets at it on the base paths, always looking to take the extra base. At times, however, it borderlines on reckless; in game one of the doubleheader on April 7th, Puig hit a run scoring single to center, advanced to second on the throw home, then tried to take third when the ball got away from the catcher. As he was closing in on third, Yasiel aborted a slide at the last second, causing him to tumble over his right shoulder and come close to jamming his shoulder into the ground. Of course, that’s the most extreme example of Puig’s recklessness, but it’s a pattern that I’ve seen on a smaller scale repeated, especially at the end of a play. Combining my own observations with FanGraphs’ Mike Newman’s observation, Puig hasn’t had a good jump during any of his stolen base attempts this year. His speed was able to make up for a poor jump two out of his three attempts.
In the field, Puig gets average jumps on batted balls and tracks down the baseball with ease. I have yet to see the opposition test his throwing arm. With a runner on third and less than two outs, a can of corn was hit to shallow right field. Puig got behind the ball beautifully and rocketed a one hop throw to home plate, showcasing a strong and accurate arm. The opposition bluffed but didn’t move more than a step off third base.
Only a handful of elite power hitters come to mind that have the ability to barrel a baseball with as much force as Yasiel Puig. Other than Giancarlo Stanton and Mike Piazza, I haven’t seen a minor league player with as much natural power as Puig. Puig has improved his swing since our Steve Fiorindo captured Puig’s first California League home run last season. He has shortened his swing which, in turn, has smoothed out his bat plane and has put him in better position to get extension at the point of attack.
With a .341/.396/.591 line, many Dodger fans are wondering why Puig hasn’t been called up yet. It’s simple: Puig is struggling with recognizing the spin on a breaking ball, causing him to either flail at pitches away or turn away from breaking pitches that start in. When a pitcher executes the latter, Puig usually has a word with the umpire about the validity of the strike call. I have faith that Puig will make the proper adjustments working under the watchful eye of Lookouts hitting coach Orv Franchuk and the slew of player development staff members that have already ventured to Chattanooga to see the organization’s star prospect perform.
Besides pitch recognition, nothing else other than a crowded outfield is keeping Yasiel Puig out of the big leagues. If I’m a Dodgers fan, as much as I’d love him on my team, the proper place to work on his breaking ball problem is the Southern League. Judging from the changes in his swing over the offseason, he will likely make the necessary adjustments fairly quickly. With good health, Puig’s projects to be a 5 or 6 WAR right fielder, showing an ability, in some seasons, to exceed those WAR totals. It should be fun to watch. That boy is good.
2013 Yasiel Puig Compilation, including every swing from the first four games I scouted
Steve Fiorindo’s 2012 video of Puig hitting his first California League home run.
A Double Puig hit off the Right Centerfield wall on 4/16/13
Puig getting caught stealing 2nd base from 4/16/13
Puig on Bo Jackson Comparisons