For us Colorado Rockies fans, maybe the Los Angeles Dodgers’ young star Yasiel Puig isn’t such a bad guy, after all? I mean, if he keeps going in the direction he’s headed, he’ll be lucky to be playing for the Dodgers midseason. Hell, maybe he’ll drag the team into the cellar?
OK, so maybe I’m exaggerating here. Puig will probably be with the Dodgers for a long time, but how effective he’ll be for the Dodgers remains to be seen. The young Cuban phenomenon is turning out to be a real wild card of a player for Los Angeles.
Puig was the story of the National League last year when the Dodgers called him up from the minors in early June. He singlehandedly reversed what seemed to be a dismal Dodgers season. In his Major League Baseball debut for the Dodgers, he hit two for four and recorded an outfield assist on a double play. In his second game in L.A., he hit two home runs and hit five RBIs. In his fourth game, he hit a grand slam. After his first 20 games he set the Dodger record for most hits through 20 games at 34. Seven of those 34 hits were home runs.
No doubt about it, Yasiel Puig waltzed into the Major League Baseball spotlight in grand style. He had everyone talking and wondering if this guy was for real. He certainly didn’t seem real.
Well, here we are only a few games into this 2014 season of baseball, and we are finding out that Puig’s picture isn’t so perfect. The guy has unbelievable physical talent, but he doesn’t quite have the mindset of a respected professional ball player. On Friday, April 4, the Dodgers were set to take on their National League West rival San Francisco Giants in their home opener. A home opener for any team is a big deal. In Los Angeles, with the Dodgers expected to be at or near the top (and now having baseball’s highest payroll), the Friday afternoon game was even more hyped. It was set to be a grand day for the Dodgers until Manager Don Mattingly had to make an unexpected decision to bench Puig from the game. The reason? Showed up late for work again.
According to The Los Angeles Times, Puig hadn’t shown up at the ballpark when the team took the field for batting practice. Puig did show up halfway through, at about 10:30 a.m., but he was still very, very late.
Doing what any manager must do in that situation, Mattingly benched him. The news of his removal from the day’s lineup shifted the day’s focus from home opener excitement to what the hell is wrong with that 23-year-old ball of talent?
Friday’s tardiness was the second time in his career Puig has been benched for showing up late. Other blemishes scarring his short career include two reckless driving arrests, constantly missing cutoffs, terrible base-running decisions and getting pulled in the middle of one game for not being set defensively. Yes, I think we all know that the youngster from Cuba, who skyrocketed into stardom over a very short period of time, needs time to mature. Just how long will that take seems to be the question.
Having to bench Puig has to have pissed Mattingly off, because he had to make an equally tough decision earlier that same day. After recovering from numerous injuries, the Dodgers activated Matt Kemp in time for Friday’s opener. Seeing the way the pitching was matching up, Mattingly called Kemp into his office and told Kemp that he was he was going to sit him in the opener and start him the following day. Kemp, according to reports, was visibly upset after he was told he wouldn’t be starting in the home opener.
Then Puig doesn’t show up on time. So Mattingly has to call Kemp back into his office and tell him to cheer up, he’s starting after all because Puig showed up late. It’s the kind of B.S. no manager wants to deal with, let alone on your home opener.
As it turned out, it wasn’t the grand home opener the Dodgers organization had envisioned. They lost to the Giants 8-4.
Then, to cap off a somewhat disappointing weekend at home, Puig went ahead on Sunday and injured his thumb when he was sliding into first base during the third inning. Puig, as of Monday, was listed as day-to-day. Probably not that big of a deal, but injuring himself while sliding into first base does make you scratch your head. Is this really how Yasiel Puig is going to play his entire career? Sure, he’s just 23 and has a lot of maturing ahead of him. What if he doesn’t mature like most ballplayers do? Do the Dodgers have another Manny Ramírez on their hands?
Last year, I was in complete awe of Puig. Now, I wonder if he’s worth the headache. It makes me wonder if Puig doesn’t have that capability of learning and growing to be one of the greatest in the league. He has the physical build and ability to do so, but right now he’s being held back by a lack of discipline. So far, most people say the Dodgers just have to be patient with Puig – he’ll mature soon enough. I believe that, but he should have taken some positive steps since last year. Right now, I can’t tell if he’s taken one step forward or two steps back. I wonder if Mattingly is thinking the same thing.
But it doesn’t matter to me, really, since I despise the Dodgers. Unfortunately for me, it seems the Dodgers’ organization is on the up and up. They are spending money and looking to win a World Series the New York Yankees’ way. Right now, that team has so much depth that even if Puig proves to be a bust later this year, they have the depth to make up for it.
On the other hand, if Puig keeps up his bad behavior, could it become cancerous to the rest of the team? There is no “I” in team but there is an “I” in Puig. Could Puig be a detriment to the Dodgers’ clubhouse? It will be fun to watch. Hell, I’m kind of hoping he is a detriment to the Dodgers. It could be entertaining.
And for the Rockies, they’ll take any help they can get in the NL West – and they are going to need it.