It seems as if only yesterday Yasiel Puig was captivating baseball and bringing Vin Scully to complete silence. It may be fresh in our minds still, but Puig-mania happened 4 years ago, and since then he has had a roller coaster of a career. Both the Dodgers and the fans know the player that he can be, we can only hope that is the player he is in 2017.
On June 3rd, 2013 Yasiel Puig made his major league debut with the Dodgers. With just one throw we were all instantly hooked to the “Wild Horse.” For the next week, Puig became baseball’s biggest story. From grand slams to outfield assists, it seemed as if the Dodgers had found their next superstar.
As time passed, the loud cheers turned to frustrated boos towards the Cuban phenom. After Puig’s unreal rookie campaign, his career had nowhere to go but down. Slowly over the years, his production and his body started to deteriorate. He has become a dartboard for the media and fans. He has fallen from the top of the world to the bottom of the barrel.
The struggles of Puig can be traced back to the 2015 campaign. That year, we saw him struggle with hamstring issues that limited him to 79 games. These injuries led to struggles at the plate as he posted career lows in almost every statistical category (11 home runs, 38 RBI, 30 runs scored with a .255/.436/.758 slash rate).
As 2016 loomed, the Dodgers hoped to see if Puig could find his wild horse form. What they received was a disappointment.
Again he struggled with hamstring issues and started to become the focus of criticism in the dugout. In years past, antics such as his bat flips would be seen as fun and good for the game. But as the fanbase, media, and what seemed like the world turned on Puig, the discussions turned into him being immature and a virus for the team.
Dodger’s fans grew frustrated with Puig and the front office did as well. On August 2nd, 2016, the Dodgers made a statement to Puig.
In what was the low point of his career, Yasiel was sent down to AAA after 3 years with the big league club. He was no longer the future star of the Dodgers; he was the cancer in the clubhouse and the underachiever.
Puig’s career has had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. No other player has had such a tumultuous career change in such a short amount of time. The only hope for him to become a solid everyday player for LA again is to make drastic changes.
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When spring training started this year, it looked as if he was ready to make those changes.
Coming into spring, Yasiel made a change to his approach in the batter’s box. He now comes up to plate looking much more relaxed and open when the pitcher comes set. Once the pitch is thrown to him, he’s taking a slightly higher step, which will help with his timing on breaking balls.
This new stance has attributed to a strong spring outing. So far, he is 9-23 with 3 home runs and a 1.085 OPS. Yes, it’s spring training so take that with a grain of salt, but it’s encouraging that he is willing to tamper with his stance and it looks to be paying off.
It’s tough to get overly optimistic about Yasiel anymore, as we’ve all been let down before. As we enter the new year he is slated to be the starter in right field. If his struggles continue, he will find himself on the bench according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post.
"“My message to him was clear: If he is not performing or he loses his focus, he is going to create opportunities for others, but that is the way it is for everyone,” said manager Dave Roberts."
In order to keep his spot on the team, and help the organization win a title, Puig has to produce at the plate. It doesn’t have to be superstar-level numbers; he just needs to be above average.
To do this Puig must stay relaxed at the plate and try and just have fun. When you are as talented as he is, sometimes it comes down to just having fun. When he begins to overthink his at-bats the wheels start to fall off.
As his new stance indicates, he is much less tense in the box and just seems looser overall. Puig is the type of player who is affected by what others say about him. If he can close out the noise and just play baseball he can succeed with the club again.
Like I said, Puig doesn’t need to be a superstar. With how deep the Dodgers lineup is, he is protected by other solid hitters around him. If he is able to put up a .270/.350/.450 season with 13-17 home runs, I will be more than happy. Pair that with his strong defense and god-like arm and you have an above average right fielder.
Expectations are low coming into this season for Yasiel Puig, but all eyes are on him to see if he can correct his course. There are not many players who are quite as captivating and fun to watch as Puig. When he is firing on all cylinders, baseball is undoubtedly better. He brings an energy and craziness to the game that baseball so desperately needs.
2017 is the year all of Dodger fans hope Puig can find that 2013 form again. After tearing up every level of play we know what he can do, we just need him to do it consistently.
In 2013, he took the game by storm when he dominated in spring training and in his stint with the Chattanooga Lookouts. Just as Vin Scully said about Yasiel as he walked up for his first major league at-bat.
“It is a long way from Chattanooga to Los Angeles, and we’re not talking geography.”
Right you are Vin, right you are.