Puig's many talents defy ordinary description
Dodgers phenom's unbridled energy, skill inspire lofty comparisons
How can we properly put the five-tool, terrific talents of Yasiel Puig in perspective?
The term "freakish" has been used to describe the abilities of the Los Angeles Dodgers rookie outfielder. The connotation is not positive enough. Lose it.
"Otherworldly," has also been in play. It's understandable, but Puig is clearly of this world, however unprecedented his talent may be. That talent could fairly be described as extraordinary and/or exceptional, but not extraterrestrial.
Comparisons with Bo Jackson have been frequent. This doesn't completely work, either. The speed, the power, the strength, the sculptured body, that's all in line. But it may be that Puig will be a better baseball player than Jackson. On the other hand, Puig is probably not going to become a Pro Bowl running back in the National Football League if the Dodgers have anything to say about it. Bo Jackson will remain a solo act in the diversity of his accomplishments, but thanks for trying.
Puig is in the eye of the beholder now, with the whole baseball world watching, in a mixture somewhere between appreciation and awe. Puig does things that you don't see done at the ballpark on a regular basis, if ever.
The Dodgers are 20-13 since Puig's arrival and that should be seen as his largest contribution. His average is still in Honus Wagner territory, but that just scratches the surface of what he is doing.
Last weekend, at AT&T Park against the rival Giants, all of his talents -- and a few moments of actual mortal shortcomings -- were on display.
Puig made a throw from the warning track in right to third that rocketed through the air of China Basin. You wondered why there weren't vapor trails following the flight of the baseball. Maybe Roberto Clemente could have made that throw. Maybe.
Giants backup catcher Guillermo Quiroz hit a sinking line drive to right-center that you knew from its direction and trajectory could not be caught because there was nobody in the neighborhood to catch it. But Puig caught it, coming at full speed from right field, covering great chunks of ground in the blink of an eye, finishing with a diving catch. This was a catch that seemed to stretch the bounds of human capability.
In the midst of all this greatness, Puig was human at the plate for one Saturday afternoon, striking out four times in the Dodgers' one loss in a three-game series. Three of those strikeouts came against Madison Bumgarner, who was at the top of his considerable game. The fourth came against Giants closer Sergio Romo.
Puig came back the next day to get a hit against Romo that started a game-winning rally for the Dodgers. But for a moment, Puig has been a young player chasing pitches outside the strike zone.
"It just really proves that if you don't swing at strikes you don't hit," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said of Puig's performance. "He didn't swing at strikes. As that day went on, visibility went way down during the course of that game. But more than anything, he didn't swing at strikes.
"We've seen it many, many times with all kinds of guys. You are what you eat. You don't swing at strikes, you're not going to hit, I don't care who you are.
"[Puig] had his moments that he's chased and then he'll show us that he makes adjustments and leaves it alone. It's unusual that he strikes out like that, but for me, he was out of the strike zone all day."
There was a moment, when Carl Crawford returned from the disabled list, that it appeared that the Dodgers had four big-time outfielders for only three spots. That situation became temporary when Matt Kemp injured his left shoulder and eventually was placed on the DL. But in that initial moment of an overcrowded outfield, there was little doubt that Puig wasn't the choice for a rest.
"With Yasiel, it's like anything else," Mattingly said with a smile. "You keep getting three hits a day, you usually stay in the lineup.
"He brings a lot of energy. He plays extremely hard and he's going to get nicked up, banged up and he'll need a day off. He's at a pretty torrid pace as far as what he's doing on the team. The energy, we've seen it, it's pretty much the same every day."
That's the other part of the Puig picture. It's not only the talent, it's the full-tilt, wall-to-wall approach. Oh, man.
It's early, but off the field, Puig is an enigmatic figure, partly by choice. He has been disdainful of the typical daily baseball player's dealings with the media. Saturday, for instance, when he was named as one of the five National League candidates for the Final Vote, Puig refused to talk to reporters.
The next day, after a meeting with Puig, Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti and Hall of Fame Spanish-language broadcaster Jaime Jarrin, Puig agreed to make himself briefly available to the media after each game.
In the Sunday postgame session with the media, with Puig's remarks interpreted by Tim Bravo, an English teacher who works with the Dodgers' Spanish-speaking players, Puig said that he was not worried about the All-Star Game, that his primary concern was the Dodgers winning.
Puig said that the All-Star Game was the fans' game and that everyone had an opinion about which players should be on the team. Puig also stayed on-message with the importance of the Dodgers winning. That was safe, conventional, indisputable stuff. Puig's play will command media attention. That attention will not go away, because in this transaction, reporters are the conduits between the athlete and the fans, the people who pay the freight.
But now, Puig's play, remarkable as it is, creates the primary impression. It is left to the rest of us to argue about which lofty descriptions are most applicable for this unique talent.