Yasiel Puig Is Following That Matt Kemp Playbook

June 24, 2013 at 12:15 pm | Posted in Yasiel Puig | Leave a comment

puig_sandiego_2013-06-23We’ve now had Yasiel Puig in the big leagues for three weeks, and… man, is that really all it’s been? Good lord, what a wild ride. He’s hitting .425/.462/.712, he’s turning ground ball singles into doubles, he’s making unbelievable throws to nail runners, he’s getting bands named in his honor, and probably a few babies too. No matter what you expected when the Dodgers called him up three weeks ago, Puig has been all that and more.

No, really. He’s been everything we expected and more. I know it seems so long ago now, but let’s try to remember what the thinking here was just a few short weeks ago…

I think Puig is going to wow everyone quickly with his mammoth physical gifts…

Um, yep. Do I even have to take you through all this? There was the game-ending throw from right field in his debut, the two homers in his second game, the grand slam in his fourth, the throws, the running, the everything. He’s just unlike anything we’ve ever seen out there.

… and shock everyone with some silly plays or unfortunate outbursts.

That was mainly in reference to the reported attitude issues in the minors, specifically the issues with tossing bats and showing up umpires, and so far he’s been pretty good in that regard. By all accounts he’s been a fine teammate and has had no issues in the clubhouse, either, though he was a central figure in the Arizona brawl and missed a start due to a sore shoulder thought to have been suffered in the fray. As expected, though, there’s definitely been some rough edges he’ll need to sort out — missing the cutoff man, throwing to the wrong base, getting picked off yesterday, etc. Nothing major here, just some of the anticipated inexperience coming out.

Frankly, as long as he adds some power and doesn’t fly out of his defensive zone to absolutely steamroll Crawford or Ethier or Scott Van Slyke in the outfield and turn them into pancakes, I’ll probably be happy.

Actually, we’ve come pretty close on this one more than once. Puig has flown into center more than a few times on balls that were really Ethier’s — including another one yesterday afternoon — and it actually cost Ethier a game on Friday when he had to rest a sore knee suffered when Puig ran into him last week in Pittsburgh. Sometimes you can visibly see the frustration on Ethier’s face, though I guess I wouldn’t be too comfortable if a block of muscle like Puig was coming at me full speed, either.

I’m pretty sure that this is how the whole “when healthy, the Dodgers are going to have four outfielders, so what will they do?” situation is going to work out, by the way — with Ethier in dozens of tiny little pieces spread across the outfield.

I think he’s going to crush some unlucky fastballs about 9,000 feet, and I think he’s going to whiff badly on good outside breaking pitches.

Yes to the first part, obviously, and… well, that second part is starting to come true more often. Jason Marquis got him on a few of those in San Diego the other night, and even Huston Street — yes, the guy who poured all of the gasoline on that fire against Adrian Gonzalez & Hanley Ramirez — was able to easily retire Puig on three of those junkballs:

That can be expected only to increase now that the word is out, because really, why would you bother ever throwing this man a fastball in the zone right now? We’ve said a few times, dating back to April, that “Matt Kemp 2006″ seemed like a likely script for Puig’s debut…

If Puig came up right now, I’ll tell you how it would go. Pitchers would attempt to challenge him, and he’d make them pay in a hot early start. Eventually, he’ll get figured out and strike out on endless low-and-away breaking stuff, likely while making silly mental mistakes on the bases and outfield that overshadow his massive talent. After a few weeks of that, he’d end up in the minors.

If you think I’m just making up stories, then realize that what I’m actually describing is Kemp’s experience as a raw 21-year-old in 2006.

…and that’s close to being accurate. Kemp hit .333/.380/.667 through his first 79 plate appearances (Puig has 78), which is still impressive if not Puig-ian, and then he quickly began to struggle after that. The difference here is that I don’t really believe Puig will end up back in the minors as Kemp was, and Don Mattingly has already said he can’t see that happening.

Again, the man is hitting .425/.462/.712 and has infused life into what was quickly becoming a moribund Dodger season, so there’s no room for complaints here. He’s practically a real-life folk hero at this point, and the idea of a top five of a lineup that has him with Gonzalez, Ramirez, and a healthy Kemp & Carl Crawford just seems completely unfair at this point, though who knows if we’ll ever see that.

So far, Puig has been everything, good and bad. It’s whether he can make the necessary adjustments over the next few weeks as the league adjusts to him that will determine whether his rookie season will be remembered for the incredible way in which he entered the league, or a truly historic performance from beginning to end.

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