LOS ANGELES -- A trimmer Yasiel Puig, after serving as barista at a neighborhood coffee shop in a Dodgers community appearance on Monday, said he wants "to be a starter again, whether it's here or somewhere else."Less than a month before Spring Training and six months after a Minor League
LOS ANGELES -- A trimmer Yasiel Puig, after serving as barista at a neighborhood coffee shop in a Dodgers community appearance on Monday, said he wants "to be a starter again, whether it's here or somewhere else."
Less than a month before Spring Training and six months after a Minor League demotion, Puig has been working out at Dodger Stadium the last two weeks. He is conditioning his leaner body to avoid injuries that have plagued him and working with batting coaches in search of regaining the impact bat that once had him on the verge of superstardom.
The 26-year-old Puig has work to do. When he returned from the Minor Leagues in September, he was a platoon player. Now the roster is more crowded, with Andre Ethier, Alvin Toles, Scott Van Slyke, Trayce Thompson, Darin Ruf and Puig vying to flank center fielder Joc Pederson in the outfield corners.
Wildly popular among fans but dogged by controversy, Puig has seen his OPS go from .925 his debut season of 2013, when he was second in National League Rookie of the Year Award balloting, to .740 last year. The Dodgers were reportedly willing to trade him this offseason -- after a Trade Deadline deal last season with Milwaukee for Ryan Braun unraveled -- but his trade value plunged.
The Dodgers haven't given up on him, especially after he posted a .900 OPS in September, although he struggled again in the postseason.
Puig's performance has been hampered by repeated hamstring injuries, which management believes might be mitigated by adjustments in conditioning and diet.
The 6-foot-2 Puig, who last year was listed at 240 pounds, now has a personal chef to prepare healthier foods.
"If God permits me, I'm trying to be more healthy and doing what I need to do to better myself," he said. "I had made the decision to eat healthier and be at a good weight to run better."
Puig has been taking batting practice at Dodger Stadium after working for a week in the Dominican Republic with Seattle's Robinson Cano when they weren't delivering clothes through the foundations established by Puig and longtime Dodgers coach Manny Mota.
Puig hinted, however, that his problems have not all been physical.
"I was very anxious to meet all the expectations, and that's something I have to put out of mind," Puig said. "I ask God to help me, to respect my teammates and respect myself, and in that way I can better myself when I go out there."
He said winning back his starting job is "what I'll be working on in Spring Training. I want to be a better person in and out of the field, and I'll work toward that."
Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.