Puig's potential is off the charts
It's easy to list the reasons to take Giancarlo Stanton over Yasiel Puig: Stanton's light-tower power, his still relative youth (he's only a year older than Puig), the concerns -- which are fair -- that Puig may not work for greatness as much as he may desire it.
But while we know the upper limit to Stanton's game -- he's never going to offer much on defense and the swing-and-miss aspect of his offense means he's probably not going to be a .300 hitter (he has a .265 batting average over the first four years of his career) -- Puig's limits remain unknown, and that's exactly what makes his future as exciting as what we've already seen from him.
Remember this: Puig didn't play any competitive baseball from July 2011, when he was suspended from his Cuban team for trying to defect, until last season. Despite that layoff, in his first season in the U.S. he jumped to the major leagues after just 63 games in the minors and hit .319/.391/.534. Stanton's career-best OBP is .365. Puig's prorated WAR over a full season of plate appearances would have ranked fifth in the majors.
OK, he overthrew a few cutoff men. His baserunning was, at times, a bit too eager, as well. Yes, he drove too fast and hung out too late with LeBron on South Beach. He's not the first ballplayer to enjoy life off the field. But let's cut him some slack on that behavior for now, especially considering where he was two years ago. The kid played hard, he brought fun and energy to the game and the raw talent speaks for itself.
He could be a batting champion; he could be a home run champion; he could be a Gold Glove right fielder (one of his throws to third base last season was clocked at 95 mph). All of that is possible.
Does he get there? That's the great unknown.
People point to his hot start and how his batting average faded after he hit .443 over his first 27 games. I point to a kid who didn't draw a single walk in spring training and drew three unintentional walks in his first month (June) in the majors, yet drew 10 walks in September. That's a fast learning curve.
Maybe he's not a franchise player in the traditional sense of bringing clubhouse leadership, but he's the type of player I'd risk building a franchise around.
Must go with the certainty of Stanton
If you're ever afforded a choice between Yasiel Puig and Giancarlo Stanton, who you pick is essentially telling the world something about yourself. Do you want what might be, or what is? Do you want the roll of the dice, or the sure thing, when the sure thing is great? In this, I'll part company with the poets to pick certainty over wishcasting.
Stanton has four seasons under his belt, and as he heads into his age-24 season, he has never broken from fulfilling the expectation that he is what he is supposed to be: a player with the power to hit 35 or 40 home runs in any ballpark, the ability to draw walks 10 percent of the time or more and to play good defense in right field. For franchise right fielders, he is the idealized archetype made manifest. The only tragic flaw involved is whether he'll be mired in Miami forever.
In short, if you want power at a power position, you pick Stanton, because the near-identical slugging numbers (.535 for Stanton, .534 for Puig) of these two don't reflect the advantage of relying on a player who has already long since adapted to the game's internal war of adjustments in his four seasons. Puig's second-half slugging tumble (to .481) after his electric introduction to the majors suggests what he is. Looking at the ZiPS projections from ESPN Insider's Dan Szymborski, Stanton is projected to slug .533, while Puig's down at .485. Stanton's projected to walk more, and be more valuable at the plate. That's now, but stretch that out a ways: Baseball Prospectus projects Stanton for 376 bombs over the next 10 years if he just stays where he's at. Puig's at 277 projected homers over the decade. Do you really want to give up a hundred homers from players projected to be otherwise similar in their total offensive output?
Now sure, if you want drama then pick Puig. He'll provide it, on the field and off. But is this figure skating, or baseball? Puig might have a visceral, eye-popping advantage on defense, but pick your poison among the fielding analytics, and you'll find that Stanton is a net positive on his career, too. Heck, numbers like Baseball-Reference.com's Total Zone say Stanton's the more valuable fielder. In the end, you've got two strong-armed, rangy right fielders who will get a couple of chances per game.
Puig is the stuff of Bernard Malamud and "The Natural," Stanton a run-generating machine incarnated from the pages of Bill James or Nate Silver. I'm sure that, much like Bo Jackson before him, we'll be talking about Puig's feats of strength for years to come. But if you want something concrete to build around and win with, I'd prefer what Stanton is and will be, not what we project onto Puig.