Investing in the Future Yasiel Puig


Raising a child is the most difficult job in the world. Everyone has their opinion about how it should be done, and there sure isn’t any built-in manual included. Yasiel Puig is almost child-like with his aggressive and unhinged style of play. Like a toddler sponging up information, Puig is still in his development as both a player and a young Cuban man. Puig’s birth-given talents are rare treasures which should be nurtured instead of hampered. There is still a lot of refinement to be done, but Puig has the ability to adapt and learn. The big question is how should Don Mattingly motivate Puig while in a torrid slump? Negative approaches haven’t seemed to work, and if anything it has broken the spirit of the Wild Horse.

If you’re late to the ballpark without a valid excuse, then you should be fined or punished. Being unprepared at the Major League level is

Yasiel Puig is hitting .154 in September. Photo: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

unacceptable, and management should not allow players to go unchecked. My problem with the disciplinary action by Don Mattingly in regards to Puig’s slump is that it has not created a positive path toward breaking out of the slump. A different tactic is needed with Puig. Matt Kemp may have bounced back after Mattingly benched him for five days earlier in the season, but Puig is a different player with unique needs when it comes to progression and maturity on and off the baseball field.

Matt Kemp has peaked. He’s having a great year, and I’m so glad to watch Bison Blasts sail over the center field wall at Dodgers Stadium. Yet the truth is, Matt is not going to return to his 2011 form. I’m okay with that, and I have accepted that he is still a great player with a key role on this Dodger team. Yasiel Puig’s situation is quite different, and the youngster still has yet to peak in his career. The best is still to come with Puig both offensively and defensively. The Dodgers need to figure out the best way to hone his skills in order to tap into all that talent for many years to come.

Puig looks frustrated at the plate. It’s unclear whether a lingering injury may be playing a role in his slump, but all indications point to a normal offensive decline. It could be fatigue has played a part in Puig’s decline, and that’s no surprise since 2014 is his first full season as a Major Leaguer. It could, and most likely, a mental hurdle. Puig, who has had so much expectation upon his shoulder this season, could be feeling the affect of the glaring media coverage during what is a common slump every Major Leaguer experiences in their career. Everything Puig does is magnified x100, and until Puig regains his focus, the media will continue to dissect every bad throw and every strikeout he makes.

Some may feel that Puig needs a “time out” or some sort of wake-up call in order to shake him out of his slump. Don Mattingly has benched Puig and moved him all the way down to seventh in the Dodger lineup in direct response to Puig’s struggles with the bat. Those type of manager decisions have a connotation of punishment with them. When I punish my child, I will put her in the corner for a two-minute timeout. I don’t place my kid in timeouts if she forgot her letters that day. Biting your friend? Timeout. Getting an “A” one week on her spelling test, and the next test she scores a “C” does not constitute a reason to punish her by taking away her books.

By batting Puig lower in the lineup, Mattingly is just taking away opportunities for the moldable hitter to make adjustments at the plate and gain his confidence back. Receiving negative feedback from your manager by finding your name absent from the lineup doesn’t exactly foster confidence.

The inconsistencies in Mattingly’s handling of the players is confusing as well. He stuck with Carl Crawford through his earlier slump, and CC came out the other side having a four-hit night on Wednesday versus San Diego. At this point in the season, Mattingly should be confidently putting out his lineup with Puig in the top part of the order.

Now is not the right time to use tough love in order to whip your star player into place. The Dodgers are in a pennant race. If Puig can’t snap out of this funk, and quick, the Dodgers will have trouble battling Buster Posey and company down the stretch. Without Puig, the Dodgers can’t win a championship. By putting negative pressure on the impressionable Puig, the strategy could backfire in Mattingly’s face. There’s a difference between babying a player and nurturing their development. Puig yearns to play baseball every day, and the Dodgers should not hinder his growth. The Dodgers want to win this year and for years to come with Puig.

Yasiel Puig is still really really good. Even with a little bump in the road, Puig is still the Dodgers’ best all-around player.

Among NL Outfielders:

2nd in triples 9

5th in doubles 33

5th in OBP .379

8th in walks 62

9th in runs 73

10th in hits 144

13th in OPS .850

16th in batting average .290

Not too shabby.

Perhaps the ones who want Puig benched forgot that he had a huge July when he hit .351/.425/.688 with a 1.114 OPS. All great hitters have bad months. Heck, Clayton Kershaw had a horrible May.

Puig had the determination and bravery to escape Cuba after being caught numerous times. This little slump is nothing compared to the obstacles he faced in his journey to the United States. Puig is resilient, but the Dodgers have to be careful not to break his spirit. It may be an accepted regimen of discipline, but it’s not always the right course.

"“Difficulties break some men but make others. No axe is sharp enough to cut the soul of a sinner who keeps on trying, one armed with the hope that he will rise even in the end.” -Nelson Mandela"

Bat flips will return. I have no doubt about that. I just hope that there hasn’t been seeds of doubt already planted within him.