Could Yasiel Puig be ready to modify his “Wild Horse” image?
The veteran outfielder was not signed by a Major League club in 2020 -- negotiations with the Braves were reportedly halted in July when he contracted COVID-19. Now, he is in his first season in the Dominican Winter League with Toros del Este, who go into the 2020-21 playoffs next week vying for their second straight league championship. Puig is not only playing to win for his D.R. team; he is also trying to put his best foot forward in hopes of getting an opportunity to return to the big leagues in 2021.
“The main thing for me and my agent right now is to be healthy and improve the things that bothered some people when I played,” Puig said Tuesday in a video conference call organized by the Toros. “To give my best in the playoffs and in the big leagues in the future, if I have the opportunity in spring 2021.”
Puig’s colorful history in the Majors is well-documented. On the one hand, he has an OPS+ of 122 and hit 132 home runs in seven seasons with the Dodgers, Reds and Indians. On the other, there have been incidences of missed cutoff men, baserunning errors and altercations -- some in plain sight, some confirmed in reports and others simply rumored -- with teammates, coaches, managers and opponents.
When pressed on what things he’d like to change that “bothered” people, Puig -- who turned 30 this offseason -- mentioned his resistance to coaches’ calls for outfield positioning.
“You’ve got to pay attention to the coaches,” said the native of Cienfuegos, Cuba. “If they tell me to move to a certain area and the ball ends up being hit somewhere else, that’s a problem with their statistics. They’re the ones in charge.
“I didn’t like to do it, because I’m the one in the game and I see if the batter is going to hit the ball here or not. If they decide [on the positioning], you’ve got to respect that. You’ve got to do what they say. I’m ready to play in the big leagues and leave behind the things that were bothersome.”
Limited by a right leg injury this winter, Puig played in only five games in the Dominican regular season. In 20 plate appearances, he drew seven walks and struck out six times, going 3-for-13 (.231) with a double and an RBI. But now says he’s healthy and ready to help the Toros in the playoffs, and at the same time show the baseball world what he has left in the tank.
“I want to give my best and prepare for any team that wants to give me a chance in the big leagues,” he said. “I want the opportunity to play every day.
“I’m going to prepare the best I can. You’ve got to keep improving in every aspect.”