After one year in the Majors, Yasiel Puig's best is yet to come
JUN 03, 2014 1:44a ET
LOS ANGELES -- Yasiel Puig had a fairly uneventful game Monday night, going hitless in four at-bats, although he reached base in the seventh inning thanks to an error.
But the Dodgers' 5-2 win over the Chicago White Sox at Dodger Stadium still marked a milestone for the mercurial outfielder. It signaled the completion of one full year in the major leagues -- a year full of growth and learning, mistakes and tardiness, great plays and silly missteps.
The bottom line is this: Puig is an enormously talented player who remains far from his potential. An unpolished diamond.
His ceiling? "I don't know if we've seen it," manager Don Mattingly said. "I know he's (hitting) around .350. He's doing it with on-base percentage, he does it with some power, he's driving in runs. He continues to get better.
"I think there's still room for improvement with him. As good as he is defensively, you still catch him flat-footed when he gets caught."
Puig was called up from Double-A Chattanooga on June 3 of last year. In his first 156 games, not including Monday's, he hit .329 with 191 hits, 36 doubles, five triples, 30 home runs and 82 RBI. He was only the fifth player in major league history with at least 190 hits and 30 homers within one year of his debut.
“He could do so many things it's almost a curse sometimes because we always ask for more.”
Pujols has gone from a player who swung at almost anything to one who has become selective at the plate. He's figuring out how to hit the cutoff man. He was late for the Dodgers' home opener but hasn't been late since.
"The biggest change I think we've seen so far is his patience at the plate," Mattingly said. "When you first come up, everybody's going to challenge you to see if you can hit, see if you can hit this or hit that, and once he kind of proved he could do that, then all of a sudden they started working on him. The first test for him was they weren't going to throw him a strike. Early on last year, he continued to swing. This year, he's shown that he's not going to chase."
Puig tied Willie Davis' 1971 Los Angeles Dodgers record for hits in May with 43 and led the National League in hits, extra-base hits (19) and batting average (.398). His eight homers tied for the league lead.
Technically, he reached base for a 34th consecutive game if you include the error by White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham. The Dodgers, in fact, used some faulty fielding by Chicago to score five unearned runs in the sixth.
It helped them come back from a 2-0 deficit when starter Clayton Kershaw gave up a fourth-inning single to Beckham and a two-run homer to Jose Abreu, who was reinstated from the disabled list earlier in the day.
Abreu and Puig are former teammates on Cienfuegos in Cuba, and it appeared Abreu would have the upper hand in their first meeting.
"I made one mistake to Abreu -- and to Beckham, too," said Kershaw, who left a slider up to Abreu. "Both of those were over the plate. You'd like for the one to Abreu to be a double or a single, not over the fence, but I guess that's why he's got 15 or 16 homers. He's pretty good."
So is Puig. And he's getting better.
He still avoids the media whenever possible, but his English is improving and he's comfortable in the clubhouse and mixing with fans. Even better, he has met virtually all expectations.
"You talk about (someone) like Rickey Henderson," Mattingly said. "He could do so many things it's almost a curse sometimes because we always ask for more. Yasiel hits .350, now we want him to be a perfect base stealer. Then he does that and we want him to do this. With all that talent you always ask if there's still more."
Clearly, there is. And lots of time to show it.
Note: The Dodgers announced after Monday's game that right-handed Chris Withrow will undergo Tommy John surgery Tuesday.