By Brandon Niles Explore Big Sky Sports Columnist
Standing 6 foot 3 inches tall and built like a house, the mercurial Los Angeles
Dodgers rookie Yasiel Puig is a hard one to read. Nicknamed “Wild Horse” for
his reckless-abandon style of play and brash demeanor, the 22-year-old
Cuban rookie has taken the National League by storm en route to a likely
Rookie of the Year award.
Puig plays right field, but his real value has been at the plate. In less than
300 at bats since arriving in the majors in June, Puig has batted an
astounding .346 in his first 79 games. He’s also added 13 homeruns and 30
RBIs, helping the Dodgers to a commanding first place lead in the West
Perhaps the only thing larger than his play on the field has been the hype
surrounding him off of it. He’s made off-color comments about the media,
local critics have questioned his effort, and his mental mistakes have been
noted by teammates and pundits alike. Puig was benched recently by
manager Don Mattingly in the fourth inning of a game against the Chicago
Cubs, in what’s being called a disciplinary move by members of the media,
for “not being ready on defense” according to Dayn Perry of CBS Sports.
The most confounding aspect of watching Puig is that even fans can see the
troubles in his play. Watching that Cubs game, it was clear to me that his
defense in the first four innings was lackluster and he seemed unmotivated.
If this is true, it will not only hurt the team, but will ultimately cost him at bats if management continues to use discipline to motivate him.
Controversies aside, Puig is one of the most exciting players to watch in
baseball right now. He hasn’t maintained the astronomical average he had
during his first month in the big leagues – batting .436 for the month – but
he’s remained a phenomenal hitter and a bright young talent in the Dodgers
organization. The team is looking for him to continue his success into the
post season with October on the horizon, as the Dodgers are hoping to make
some noise in the playoffs after a three-year hiatus.
For the Dodgers to make their first World Series appearance since 1988 and
to maximize Puig’s enormous potential, Mattingly will need to find the
balance as a strict disciplinarian and nurturing coach with the talented
player. For better or worse, Puig has become the face of this franchise. And
with other talented youngsters like pitcher Clayton Kershaw on the squad,
Mattingly will need the leadership of his veterans – like first baseman Adrian
Gonzalez – in order to keep the team focused for a deep playoff run.