Dodger rookie Yasiel Puig is baseball's 'Cuban Missile'
Yasiel Puig is off to a sensational start at the plate for the Los Angeles Dodgers. And Puig's throws from right field are turning heads.
MARK J. TERRILL/AP
The Dodgers didn’t scout him. They got him out of Central Casting. He’s a product of Cuba: 6 foot 3 inches and 245 pounds of muscle who knows the strike zone.
After five games in the big leagues, the "Cuban Missile" was hitting .464, including four home runs. Overall he had 13 hits in his first 29 trips to the plate. His momentum was thrown off a bit Tuesday night when a 92 m.p.h. fastball thrown by Arizona's Ian Kennedy hit him on the nose. He went 0-for-2 at the plate in that game in which a handful of hit batsmen led to a bench-clearing brawl and the six ejections, including Puig's.
Before that, however, Puig was named National League Player of the Week for the first week of June. Basically there aren’t enough superlatives in baseball’s rhetoric barrel to emphasize all the things this kid can do.
For those who want Puig to skip his next 10 years in baseball and go straight to the game’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., there are just as many experts who would like to wait until they can examine his offensive figures in 90 days.
When Puig defected from Cuba to the United States in 2012 in the hope of signing a long-term contract with a major-league team, Dodger scouts were among the few who had filed glowing reports on him.
He came with at least a couple of question marks. Although listed as 22 years old, he may be 24, and his throwing arm's condition is clouded by the fact he was sidelined for several months while his right elbow recovered from surgery.
But after Dodger management saw him hit, throw bullets from the outfield to home plate, and run from home to first like an Olympic sprinter, the Dodgers signed him to a seven-year contract worth $42 million.
Los Angeles immediately placed him on their 40-man roster and assigned him to their Arizona Rookie League franchise, where in nine games he hit .400 with four home runs and drove in 11 runs.
Later promoted to the Dodgers' Rancho Cucamonga Quakes of the Class-A-Advanced California League, Yasiel played 14 games and hit .327.
Whenever a major-league team comes up with a prospect with Puig’s potential, it is customary to take him to spring training.
Right away the Dodgers didn’t believe what they were seeing. In spring training games this year Puig hit .526 in the Cactus League, showed a lot of power, and looked as though he could play any of the three outfield positions.
Maybe, if the Dodgers didn’t already have a veteran outfield, they would have brought Puig back to Los Angeles for at least the first month of the season.
Instead they farmed him out to the Chattanooga Lookouts of the Class AA Southern League, where he hit .313 with eight home runs and collected 37 runs batted in for the Lookouts in 40 games.
Even though the Dodgers have not had that much trouble getting runners on base this season, so far almost none of their veteran players has been able to drive them home. Several times this year the Dodgers have left 11 runners on base while losing games by only one or two runs.
Finally promoted to the Dodgers on June 3, Yasiel singled in his first at-bat against the visiting San Diego Padres. He went 2-for-4 at the plate. He also showcased a bazooka-like throwing arm by recording an outfield assist on a double play to end the game.
Still to be debated about Puig is how many hits he might log in June. Ty Cobb was one of only 10 players in post-1900 history to compile at least 58 hits in a single month.
Phil Elderkin, The Christian Science Monitor's former sports editor, currently holds card No. 5 in the nearly 900-member Baseball Writers’ Association of America.