Opinion of Kingman's Performance

Saturday, March 2, 2013

They Don't Know Puig Now, But It's Only a Matter of Time

Yasiel Puig laces an RBI double to the left field wall in yesterday's action against the Angels (photo captured from Fox Sports West telecast)

I returned to work this week reporting to my co-worker friends about my 5 days of baseball nirvana at Camelback Ranch with one thing to say about my trip.  “Yasiel Puig is going to be a superstar.”
“Gesundheit,” one said.  “I didn’t sneeze, I said 'Yasiel Puig,'” I replied.  “Is that a name? Can you spell it for me?”  said another.
“Y-A-S-I-E-L, P-U-I-G.”  You pronounce it ‘Pweeg.”
“I wouldn’t pronounce it at all, I’d change my name,” he smirked as others laughed. “Once you watch him hit, run and  throw, everybody is going to know what his name is. His will be the most punched out name of the all star ballot every year.  He’s built like a rock and he’s a five tool player.”
The Debut
While attending the Dodger-White debut game of Spring Training, I had the misfortune of sitting in front of a Giants fan.  Every time Puig’s name was announced by the Public Address announcer, the Giant fan would say to his friend.  “That announcer’s an idiot, his name is pronounced ‘pyoog.’ “  I kept silent.  There was no point in addressing it.
In that game, after Puig had blasted a double to deep left center, he took a header when third base coach Tim Wallach put up the stop sign as he rounded second and started heading for third.  I told me son that it wouldn’t be long before his name would be easily pronounced by the entire baseball world.
So as word got out that Carl Crawford is being rested this week to allow the barking nerves of his left arm to calm down and heal, the twitter world began to light up about Puig's prospects of making the big club.  It made sense  Puig is arguably the most exciting player in camp.  He has raw tools,  but they are that, “raw.”  
Raw, a word that Don Mattingly used to describe Puig in a quote provided by Bill Plunkett of the OC Register, (ARTICLE LINKED HERE).  I'm not sure if that word stuck in my subconscious after reading that piece or if it came to me naturally.  Regardless, the word is an accurate description of where Yasiel is with his development.  There is little doubt that Puig could make the team, but it wouldn’t be in his best long term interest.  He has 14 games of A ball experience in the minors plus some Arizona Rookie League time, hardly enough to merit a promotion to the Big Leagues.
A Mentor, Aide and Confidant

Puig has a shadow that follows him around and shows him the ropes.  His name is Eddie Oropesa.  Eddie was the second baseball Cuban defector in decades, (after Rene Arocha had defected two years before).  A pitcher with a young Cuban University games team, Oropesa escaped to the U.S. in 1993  at the age of 23.  Oropesa struggled to make it in the U.S.  Along the way he admits that he made mistakes, many cultural in nature, that harmed his career development.  The Dodgers are intent on assuring that Puig doesn’t repeat any of them.
Oropesa had been through Puig’s ordeal  He actually was the pioneer of it.  While playing in the 1993 World University Games in Buffalo, NY., he jumped the fence into the stands behind home plate before a game started in full uniform.  Eddie had made arrangements for a cousin that lived in Miami to travel up to Buffalo, rent a car and be outside the Stadium waiting for him.  Oropesa was so nervous that when he arrived at the car, he attempted to enter it through he driver’s side window.  Two days later, his teammate, Rey Ordonez, also defected in Buffalo.  The Cuban team stopped playing in the U.S. for years after that trip and the World Baseball Classic has been the lone exception due to the fateful ’93 World University Games in Buffalo.
What resulted for Oropesa was a long separation from his family that was punished for his actions, (his father was jailed for four months).   At the time of his defection, Eddie’s wife was pregnant with their first child.  They wouldn’t be reunited again until 1996.  It was a long and lonely climb for Oropesa in the minors, and it included stints in leagues in Taiwan, Venezuela, and Mexico before he finally made his major league debut a full eight years later in 2001 with the Phillies. 
Dodger Scouting Director DeJon Watson sought out Oropesa to smooth over the cultural nuances with Puig last year while he played in the Arizona Rookie League with the Dodger affiliate.  Oropesa isn’t only a language translator for Puig, he’s an educator and person that is showing him the ropes and the “do’s and don’ts” of playing in the United States.
Yasiel Puig releases throw from RF to gun out a runner heading to third base. (Photo captured from Fox Sports West telecast)

One thing Oropesa doesn't need to concern himself with is the talent side of Puig's development.  It is naturally there.  Those that watched yesterday's Dodger-Angel game televised on Fox Sports West saw glimpses of his greatness.  Even while striking out against Jared Weaver in the first inning, he just missed, fouling off a fastball straight back and forcing the ace to motor up with a few extra ticks on his best fastball to retire him.  A few innings later he showed the world his arm as he gunned out a Halo runner at third who tried to advance from first base on a single.  In the top of the third inning, he smoked a fastball to the left field fence, driving in a run.
A Miscalculation by the Latin America Baseball Scouting Community?
Puig is showing his wares this spring.  The baseball world is seeing what a gem the Dodgers scooped up last year.  The criticism sent their way following his June 29th signing, (and there was a lot of it), seems to be unwarranted.  Baseball America's headline on the transaction read "Dodgers Sign Yasiel Puig To Puzzling Deal."  A scout from another club called the signing "crazy," and an unnamed executive heading the international department of another club was quoted as saying, "I don't know what's going on in Dodgerland.  They must have seen something."   Few found $42 million dollars over 7 years as a prudent signing.  Now it's looking like a bargain.  Those scouts were quick to question Puig's good numbers in Cuba.  That same article had this interesting quote from a Major League Latin America director:
"Leslie Anderson's numbers were good in Cuba-where's he at?  It means nothing.  You don't want their numbers to be bad, but just because they're good doesn't mean anything."
What all this says is that Logan White again has that keen eye for talent.  The organization was also willing to take the risk and put purse strings behind it.  But it wasn't such a crap shoot to the Dodgers.  Rules on international signings were changing and they had to scoop up this gem before the playing field was evened out after the July 1st deadline. (after July 1st, teams are limited to $2.9 million for international signings without penalties).  "For me you have to have history to make that kind of investment," said another international baseball executive on the Puig signing.  My take on all of this was there was a lot of sour grapes that the Dodgers had the money to take on what others considered a risk.  That didn't set well with other teams.  (BaseballAmerica.com article by Ben Badler LINKED HERE)
What Dodger fans have found in Puig, aside from his high ceiling and raw talent is that he's a good kid.  Puig is giving of his time.  He signs autographs for everyone and on more than one occasion I witnessed him as the last player to return to the clubhouse as he has made the effort to please fans.   He literally signed for everyone, and it took 45 minutes. 
In the batting cage, the sound of the ball of his bat is indistinguishable.  He has pop.  He has strength.  Puig can definitely strike out and his youthful enthusiasm has displayed itself in a weeks worth of Spring Training games as he has swung from the heels at some high and hard stuff out of the strike zone.  He should be able to learn to lay off that stuff with some further minor league seasoning.
What few seem to remember is that Yasiel had a year and a half departure from the game as the Cuban authorities punished him for an earlier failed defection attempt.  He is just getting back into full playing shape.  As he continues to progress, we shall see if he's a quick learner while participating in games in the U.S.  His ceiling is so high, I truly see him as an MVP candidate one day.
(photo capture from Fox Sports West telecast)

Puig will be a superstar.  I'll call it now.  It won't be in 2013, but by 2015 we'll be giddy with excitement watching this phenom tear the cover off the ball at Dodger Stadium.  Bank on it.

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