To most of us, Yasiel Puig is little more than a rumor, someone who drew our attention for A) receiving a $42 million contract from the Dodgers seemingly out of nowhere last June and B) batting .517 with an .828 slugging percentage in his first major league camp last spring.
Puig, 22, will become a more tangible vision Monday night when he makes his major league debut for the Dodgers. But to his manager at Double-A Chattanooga, former major league second baseman Jody Reed, the Cuban outfielder already is something to behold.
Reed managed Puig for 40 games, watching him bat .313 with eight homers and 37 RBI. He understands the questions about Puig’s maturity, defense and baserunning. And yes, he concedes that Puig is not a finished product.
“From a physical standpoint, tools-wise, he’s got all the tools — he’s a five-tool player,” Reed told FOXSports.com on Monday. “But the game of baseball is more than that. It’s experience, instincts, knowing the strategy. And he’s 22 years old with limited game-time experience.
“There is going to be some patience necessary, as there is with any young player. Young players make mistakes. He’s going to also. But he’s also going to bring a lot of positives to the team. Hopefully, he will be a big part of them turning things around.”
Puig already has shown notable progress in one aspect of his game — plate discipline. He did walk once in spring training but drew 15 walks in 167 plate appearances at Double-A, along with 29 strikeouts, for an on-base percentage of .383.
His improvement, Reed said, was noticeable.
“His pitch recognition and strike-zone discipline were outstanding,” Reed said. “That’s one of the main reasons why I think he’s going to find success early up there. He’s recognizing spin out of the pitcher’s hand, and that’s the same no matter where you are. If you’re doing that, you’ve got a chance to be successful.”
Puig’s lack of polish might be more evident in his defense and especially his base-running. Defense is easier to practice, Reed said, and thus easier to master.
The Dodgers expect to play Puig at all three outfield positions, though most of his experience is in right.
“He’s not afraid of hard work,” Reed said. “He plays the game the right way. That is one thing that has always been a constant.
“His defense has definitely gotten better. Most (defensive) things are all about repetition, seeing them over and over again. That’s how baseball players get better. But clearly, it’s easier to do with defense. You can hit balls at them, shoot balls at them.
“It’s much tougher with base-running. That almost has to be a game-time type of scenario, to create those reads. Offensively, defensively, I don’t think he’ll have any issues. But on occasion with base-running reads, he may be over-aggressive — he’s an extremely aggressive player — he may make some mistakes. But again, what young player hasn’t? It’s a heck of a lot easier to teach a guy to pull back than it is to goad a player to play hard.”
Which brings us to the next question— Puig’s maturity. A number of major league clubs questioned Puig’s makeup even when he was in Cuba, and those questions have persisted since he began playing in the US.
Puig was arrested in Chattanooga in April for speeding, reckless driving and driving without insurance after allegedly driving 97 mph in a 50-mph zone.
“I don’t think maturity is the proper word. I would say excitability. He needs to learn to control his excitability,” Reed said. “It’s not so much with his teammates. But other players, teams he plays against, even fans for that matter — they may take things the wrong way.
“He’s passionate and he really wants to do everything right. He plays the game hard, he wants to win, he wears his emotions on his sleeve. Things just pop out.
“We try to teach players, especially here in America, to respect umpires, try to control your emotions. I don’t think it’s a maturity issue. It’s an excitability issue. Learning how to control those bursts that sometimes come out.”
Puig obviously has reason to be excited now that he is heading to the majors. Reed said he informed Puig of his promotion during Chattanooga’s pregame workout on Sunday. Puig was in the outfield, going through his daily drills.
The night before, the team had traveled by bus from Mobile to Chattanooga, watching the movie, “Bull Durham,” along the way.
Reed said he quoted from the movie in breaking the news to Puig.
“I called his interpreter over and said, ‘Kid, you’re going to The Show,’” Reed said. “(Puig) was cracking up. The interpreter was cracking up. And when we got to the locker room, we were throwing out all the ‘Bull Durham’ clichés, saying, ‘Don’t forget this one, don’t forget that one.’
“He was extremely excited. And we’re excited to watch his debut."