If he leads Dodgers to playoffs
Mike Trout didn't just have a great rookie season last year. He had a historic season. It took Miguel Cabrera's winning the first Triple Crown in 45 years to prevent Trout from winning the AL MVP and completing the greatest rookie season in baseball history.
It would be absurd to expect Yasiel Puig to have a better season than Trout did. But there is one area where Puig can surpass Trout and indeed have a more successful season than his crosstown rival. Puig can help lead the Dodgers to a division title and the playoffs, something Trout has yet to do.
For all the struggles the Dodgers have had this season, they are still just seven games behind the Arizona Diamondbacks for first place in the NL West.
If Puig can lead the Dodgers into the postseason and help them win their first division title since 2009, he will have had a more successful season than Trout to those who value team accomplishments over individual awards.
And if Puig does in fact get the Dodgers into the playoffs, he will no doubt be in the running for the NL MVP, where he will likely be going up against other candidates who will not have won the Triple Crown, giving him an opportunity to do something else Trout wasn't able to do in his rookie season.
It's a long shot to expect Puig to have a better rookie season than Trout did, but if the Dodgers turn their season around, he has a chance.
Biggest difference is approach
The first thing I thought when I watched Yasiel Puig sprint down the first-base line on a routine dribbler to the left side of the infield this spring was, "Mike Trout."
I kept it to myself, worried that it was a comparison people would laugh at. The earliest comparisons all were born of Puig's square shoulders and bulging biceps, his 245 pounds crammed into a 6-foot-3 frame. Don Mattingly said he reminded him of Bo Jackson. But it's the gait, the heavy, slightly bowlegged, running-back stride and the surprising ground they eat up that brings Trout to mind.
Both players are athletic marvels. Both players bring an energy and charisma to the game that are electric. In the long run, I would predict Puig will hit with more power, though Trout has developed into a surprisingly reliable slugger, reaching 30 home runs in his rookie year.
What sets Trout apart and what will make it hard for Puig to equal Trout's early success is his approach.
Trout has had plate awareness since high school. Veteran Torii Hunter marveled about it last year, saying, "I didn't have that until like … yesterday."
On-base percentage has become such a valuable commodity, one of the bedrock measuring sticks of a player's value, a number constantly monitored. In the old days, striking out 150 times would have been an embarrassment. Now, it's fine as long as you walk 100 times. Puig didn't draw a walk in spring training. He has just one in his first 36 major league plate appearances. He is swinging at 36 percent of pitches outside the strike zone. He's batting .471 with a .500 OBP.
That's not to say he's a wild hacker. But changing a player's mentality at this level is practically impossible to do. Puig is an aggressive player and, in the long run, that relentless need to push the action could be the reason he doesn't quite reach his potential.