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Puig's talent overcomes his occasional gaffes

Young star's mistakes can be frustrating, but he's among MLB's elite players @RichardJustice

He's back. Yasiel Puig, that is. You've missed him, haven't you? Sure, you have. We all have. He has made baseball better since he played his first big league game last June.

Anyway, welcome back, kid. OK, Puig hasn't actually gone anyplace. He has been in the Dodgers' starting lineup for 23 of 29 games this season. Problem is, for awhile there, it was easy to get distracted by other issues.

One day, Puig shows up late for work and gets himself benched. He apologizes and promises to try harder … and then does it again. Or there's a flurry of coverage about an assortment of issues, including his apparently terrifying escape from Cuba.

These are legitimate issues. Let's be clear about that. But they distract us from the fact that this guy is an incredible baseball player, a fascinating baseball player. When Puig is good, he's scary good.

And Puig has been scary good pretty regularly since he arrived. The Dodgers are 78-41 with him in the starting lineup the past two seasons. His career batting average is .317.

Does Puig miss the cutoff man occasionally? Yes, he does. We'll call that part of his game a work in progress.

Does he need to slow things down at times? Oh, you betcha. Not every base has to be stolen. Not every wall has to be crashed into.

On the other hand, that stuff is part of Puig's charm. Not long after he arrived, Vin Scully nicknamed him "The Wild Horse."

It was fascinating listening to Vin attempt to put Puig's game into context. At times, Scully clearly was fascinated by what he was seeing. At other times, amid the bat-tossing and crazy stolen-base attempts, there seemed to be a different kind of fascination -- the fascination of watching, say, a train wreck.

Would Puig be one of the most gifted, productive and fascinating players for the next decade? Or would he be a comet that exploded on the scene for a few moments and then disappeared?

At various times, either path seemed entirely possible.

This week, we've been reminded that, distractions aside, this guy has the ability to make the most difficult game on earth look easy.

Puig's performance in the Dodgers' doubleheader sweep of the Twins on Thursday was a reminder that this 23-year-old -- this kid who has been in just 129 big league games, who has had just 479 at-bats, which is not even a full season -- is an amazing baseball player.

In 12 plate appearances on Thursday, Puig collected six hits and walked twice. There were even signals that "The Wild Horse" is evolving in some important ways.

One of those instances came in the top of the sixth inning of Game 2, when Puig fell behind Twins reliever Anthony Swarzak, 0-2, then coaxed a walk out of a seven-pitch at-bat.

No one is going to mistake Puig for Mike Napoli. The Dodgers star's 3.49 pitches per plate appearance is among the lowest in the National League (171st), and even lower than his 3.58 last season.

But Puig's walks are up and his strikeouts are down. He's swinging at fewer pitches outside the strike zone and, in fact, swinging at fewer pitches overall.

Again, though, let's not get sidetracked by the larger story. If Puig stays healthy, he's going to end up being one of baseball's resplendent talents.

Puig got off to a mediocre (by his standards) offensive start, and two weeks ago, his batting average got down to .235. It's up to .309 entering the weekend.

In Puig's past nine games, he's batted .410. His story is a long way from being written, and when you see him running too hard and playing too fast, when you see him playing every game like it might be his last, it's important to remember that this is still the beginning paragraphs.

In 11 months, Puig has already made a huge impact on one of baseball's great franchises. The Dodgers might just be the best team in baseball, and over the next few months, we'll all get to see plenty of Puig.

One thing we know for sure -- maybe the only thing we know for sure: we'll be watching.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Yasiel Puig