Tuesday, June 4, 2013
Yasiel Puig has begun to run amok
By Mark Saxon
LOS ANGELES -- There is a temptation when you see a young player with such explosive tools and such raw edges to wonder how good he can be with a good coat of polish.
Then again, when you put varnish on a work of art, you only diminish its value.
Yasiel Puig, left, is greeted at home by Adrian Gonzalez after Puig belted his second homer of the game on Tuesday night.
The Los Angeles Dodgers seem perfectly willing to accept some rough edges in this Yasiel Puig-to-the-rescue experiment. His upside is so enormous, it's already breaking the surface. Puig took over Tuesday's 9-7 win over the San Diego Padres, belting two impressive home runs, driving in five runs and electrifying Dodger Stadium for a night.
The Dodgers knew he had this in him. They'd seen him do exactly the same things for one month in Arizona. So, when manager Don Mattingly watched Puig freeze on Adrian Gonzalez's sharp grounder to second baseman Jedd Gyorko -- playing practically in right field, ceding the run -- and not score in the first inning, he didn't get mad. He sent coach Tim Wallach over to make sure Puig kept his head up and didn't fret over the mistake.
Who knows? The way the Dodgers are going this season, giving up a run could have easily cost them a game. But Mattingly knows what he's got in Puig. He has a player with, it would appear, as much raw talent as anyone in baseball under the age of 23. Davey Lopes practically snapped when I asked him if he reminded him of anyone.
"He's right down the I-5," Lopes said, an obvious reference to Mike Trout.
He's far less polished than Trout, which is not to say he can't be as good. Baseball tests everything and everyone with time.
So, Puig is a great runner without being a great base runner. Maybe that will change. Or, maybe it won't. Pedro Guerrero never learned how to slide correctly. So, Puig might miss a cutoff man here or there. Vladimir Guerrero was doing that when he was 35 and he might wind up in the Hall of Fame.
Ted Lilly, who started Tuesday's game for the Dodgers, began his career in Montreal when Vladimir Guerrero was establishing himself as one of the game's truly outsized talents. He felt it was an apt comparison for Puig.
"Obviously, he's gifted," Lilly said. "But there's an aggression to the way he goes about playing baseball. Certainly, the results are attractive, but I like the mind frame. He's up there with an intent to do damage."
There will be times it appears Puig is out of control, but if he can channel the chaos toward the other team, the Dodgers are more than happy to get caught up in his little storm.
"We're going to see some of that, but obviously when you see as much as you get on the other side you deal with it," Mattingly said.
The best description I've seen of Puig so far was from Mattingly. He said this spring Puig has been like a "wild horse," out on a baseball field.
You can, of course, throw a bridle on a stallion, maybe even bring him to bear and force him to accept the saddle. Or, you can just let him run wild and enjoy the view.