Standing near Yasiel Puig, it is easy to see why scouts fawn over him. At 6-foot 3, 245 pounds, he looks more like a linebacker or defensive end than a right-fielder.
Watching him play, however, you see him showcase his entire repertoire of talents that have earned him the praise of being labeled a five-tool player.
Few players have draw a comparison to the legendary Bo Jackson, but Dodgers manager Don Mattingly and superstar center-fielder Matt Kemp made that claim in Spring Training. However, the Cuban is not concerned with living up to Bo. In fact, he has only seen “two or three Bo Jackson highlights.”
The 22-year-old’s only concerns are the comparisons to the trio of all-stars that are currently patrolling the outfield in Los Angeles (Kemp, Carl Crawford, and Andre Ethier).
Mattingly has been persistent in his stance that an educational stint in the minors will be the most beneficial for Yasiel’s career in the long-run. There will be growing pains, but the road ahead looks far brighter than where the Cuban defector has had to travel to earn this opportunity.
He was forced to sit out the 2011-2012 season in Cuba as discipline for a suspected defection attempt. Puig was ultimately able to acquire residency in Mexico which allowed him to become a free agent and be signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers in June of 2012.
Despite batting a blistering .526 in the Cactus League in 57 at-bats, Puig was optioned to Double-A to begin the season in Chattanooga with the Lookouts. He was told that he needed to focus on improving his defense, base-running, and maturity.
In this series against the Smokies, Yasiel has had a couple of blunders fielding the ball, but at the same time, has shown off his superb throwing arm by effortlessly throwing out Smokies pitcher Eric Jokisch on an assumed, rather routine first-to-third base hit to right field. Instead, Puig delivered a laser that made the Smokies starter look like he was running in quick sand.
Friday night at Smokies Park, Puig’s speed aided him in legging out his first triple of the season and on Saturday, fans saw a display of the Cuban’s power as he crushed his second home-run.
Even with the flashes of brilliance, there are still setbacks for the young star and his maturity remains an issue. In Wednesday’s series opener in Kodak, the 42 million dollar man was benched in the fourth inning after his second at-bat for a “mental mistake.”
The perceived flamboyancy and flare with which he plays the game can be accredited to culture differences. In Latin American leagues, players are praised, not criticized, for playing the game with the same theatrics that are usually deemed as immature and unsportsmanlike here in the United States.
When asked about the culture change, Puig said through his interpreter Eddie Oropesa, “Baseball is different; it’s more disciplined here in America. I have to get used to it.”
There is a fine line between maturing and removing the intensity that makes the Lookouts’ outfielder special. Puig is using his stint in Chattanooga to find the right balance while biding his time before his inevitable call-up to the majors.
Fans of the Southern League should take the opportunity to see Yasiel Puig while they still can because he may not be in Double-A much longer.
Jonathan Reed is a broadcast and media associate with the Smokies Radio Network. You can follow him on twitter here.