Puig, Trout are game's most exciting talents
Southern California center fielders are more similar than most fans might realize
LOS ANGELES -- You can't miss Yasiel Puig. His deep, loud baritone bounces off the walls of the Dodgers' clubhouse. Mike Trout blends seamlessly into the Angels' scenery. He speaks more softly than Puig but carries an equally big stick.
As different as they are in personality, Puig and Trout are more similar than most fans might realize. Trout, destined to become the face of baseball with Derek Jeter's imminent departure, sees Puig for what he is and welcomes him into the picture.
"The similar parts are we play hard and love the game -- and he plays free," Trout said before Los Angeles' two powerhouses met at Dodger Stadium on Monday night for the first of four Interleague games. "Watching him play, he's just trying to make things happen and plays to win. He gets after it, trying to score from first on a base hit. He's a great talent, exciting to watch."
A case can be made that the two center fielders sharing the stage in Southern California are the game's most exciting talents. Trout and Puig have all the tools and a deep desire to show them to the world. Puig is more flamboyant about it, but Trout has the same iron will and drive.
"As a Cuban player, he was brought up to show it," Trout said of Puig's colorful, sometimes controversial style. "We've talked a little bit. I was raised to play the game a certain way, always respect the game. He's learning, getting better. And I'm always trying to get better."
Trout comes into the week with a .303/.394/.585 slash line, compared to Puig's .323/.407/.551. Trout is third in the Majors in OPS at .979, Puig tied for fourth at .959.
Trout has 25 homers, tied for sixth in the game, and is fourth in RBIs with 80 -- a remarkable number for a man who has hit second in the lineup for all but two games. Puig has 13 homers and 55 RBIs.
With Puig having moved comfortably into center, the comparisons defensively are only just starting. Both use their speed and athleticism to great advantage. Puig's powerful arm is his one distinct edge, but Trout's spring work has paid dividends. His arm has been stronger and more accurate this season.
"You just don't see many guys put together like Yasiel and Trout who can run like they do," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.
Dan Haren, Puig's teammate, was with the Angels when Trout broke in, rather quietly, in 2011 and busted out with his historic 2012 season. Haren, who also was on Bryce Harper's side with the Nationals in '13, is hesitant to measure the three young outfielders against each other.
"I don't like to compare players," Haren said. "The only thing I will say is Trout's the best player in baseball. I'm sure if you went around asking players, that's the answer you'd usually get.
"I've been able to see it firsthand and also from a distance. All around baseball, he's earned so much respect from peers. I don't think there's any doubt he's the Most Valuable Player in the American League."
Puig had his big misstep when he was late for the home opener this season, but Haren has been impressed with his teammate's growth.
"He's pretty much done the right thing here from then on," Haren said. "The way the season's going -- the Dodgers hopefully getting into the playoffs, one of the best teams in the National League -- Puig would have to be one of the front-runners for MVP."
As close to the perfect player as the sport showcases, Trout's big edge over Puig is in his knack of always doing the right thing. Unlike Yasiel, who can run off the tracks at times, Trout makes a mental or physical error about once a month -- and quickly corrects it to make sure it doesn't happen again.
"They're both great talents," Angels coach Alfredo Griffin said, grinning. "The difference is one plays smarter than the other one. Mike's played more. Puig is going to get there. He's a heck of a player already, and he has a lot of room to improve."
Exhibit A: Trout has 12 stolen bases and has not been caught. Puig has seven steals and has been thrown out seven times. If there's an edge in raw speed, it's hard to distinguish. The difference is that Trout is uncommonly advanced for a guy who turns 23 on Thursday.
When Griffin sizes up Puig, he sees more Vladimir Guerrero -- another Angels superstar who wore No. 27 -- than Trout.
"Definitely he's more like Vlad," Griffin said. "Puig's more of a bad-ball hitter, and he's so aggressive on the bases. Plus he has that great arm -- just like Vlad. Puig has the tools -- and he's not afraid."
Puig, at 23, is eight months older than Trout. The "Wild Horse," as legendary Dodgers voice Vin Scully calls him, looks like an NFL running back when he pulls off his uniform. So does Trout.
"They're both massive," Haren said. "You have to see it in person, in the clubhouse, how they stand out physically. Skill-wise, they're very similar. They're line-drive hitters who can go deep on you. Both get down the line almost as good as any right-handed hitters and both cover a ton of ground.
"Puig's still learning how to play -- just as Trout was early on. Trout's been up here longer and has put together MVP-caliber seasons. That's why I'm reluctant to compare anyone to him. He has earned that special place he has in the game now."
If they continue on this course, Trout and Puig can be the Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays of their generation, center fielders creating the gold standard for all those who follow them.