Puigmania - Yasiel Puig wows Dodgers with historic spring training

When Guggenheim Baseball Management crafted a monstrous seven-year, $42 million contract for an obscure Cuban defector last June, they saw him as the muscular symbol of an expanding Dodgers universe. The price tag piqued the chagrin of traditionalists. The name furrowed the brow of the most crusty veteran scouts. 

Yasiel Puig?


Nine months hence, this prodigious athlete has the entire baseball world agog. The Cactus League has never seen so much excitement.

The enigmatic outfielder, who possesses wide sloping shoulders and the kind of mass athleticism which inspires jealousy, has pounded the cover off the ball this spring. In 25 exhibition games, Puig harbours an absurd .527 batting average, a mesmeric .509 on-base percentage, and has launched three prodigious home runs which have incited the interests of a global sports audience.

When refined further, such statistics are even more impressive. The 22-year-old has gone 29-for-55 so far this spring. Such performances cease to comprise a baseball players renown. They roar and intensify into an all-encompassing mania. 

Puigmania, indeed.

Born December 7, 1990, Puig was raised in the Cuban bay town of Cienfuegos. A jewel in junior baseball, Puig eventually starred in the highly-competitive cauldron of Cuban baseball, most pertinently for the National Team. In this regard, Puig was part of the Cuban team that won the 2008 World Junior Baseball Championships - a major springboard for his domestic playing career.

In the Cuban National Series, Puig starred for his regional Cienfuegos team over two impressive seasons. When his dream of professional baseball morphed further into potentiality, Puig attempted to defect on several occasions; initial failure costing him the entire 2011-12 season as punishment. However, when finally successful in 2012, Puig settled in Mexico, and awaited a suitable offer from an MLB team. 

Coincidentally, the Dodgers were hungrier than ever for Latin American talent. With Magic Johnson and Guggenheim sharing a voracious appetite for the organisation's global expansion, Puig was an intriguing option. A long flirtation ensued, with the eye-popping contract representing the satisfaction of desires for both parties. In a very short span, Yasiel Puig morphed from a little-known question mark to a great big ‘why not?’

Initially assigned to low-level Rookie ball, Puig also saw time at Single-A Rancho Cucamonga before an elbow infection shut him down. After returning, Puig opted to play in Puerto Rico during the winter, before joining the Dodgers for spring training in Arizona.  

Ever since he walked into camp, Puig has been the centre of attention. When not evoking comparisons to Vladimir Guerrero and Bo Jackson, or mashing another pitch into the gap, Puig can usually be found enveloped by a sea of international journalists, eager to send a piece of this phenomenon to those intrigued back home.

On Saturday, Puig’s mere presence was enough to elicit the largest crowd in Cactus League history - 13,721 taking in the latest instalment of the Yasiel Roadshow. There is just something Ruthian about the Puig legend, a dramatic layer of mythology that makes reality difficult to decipher.

While it is implausible to argue against Puig’s spring production, so littered with gargantuan feats of athletic prowess, debate does still surround his future. Can Yasiel Puig make the Opening Day roster? Just as there is no one explanation to the very concept of Yasiel Puig, there is no one answer to this burning question. Even once we separate the mythology from the actuality, the best anybody has ever come up with is a set of pros-and-cons. 

Here are the pros. The guy deserves some kind of reward for one of the greatest springs ever recorded, otherwise we see something akin to baseball in a pointless vacuum. Further, with Hanley Ramírez down for two months, Puig is an ideal replacement, both in charismatic star value and righthanded power.

…and the cons? While swimming in oodles of raw talent, Puig could do with more seasoning in the minors, to be moulded further it into the quintessential five-tool player. He has searing speed and brute strength, but only experience and baseball smarts, taught in abundance in the minors, will be able to condition such attributes. Furthermore, you do not use such a talented player in a utility role. Only by playing every day will Puig continue to develop into the stratosphere. 

Thus, there is no definite answer. 

It is possible to make a case that Puig is at least as major league ready as Mike Trout or Bryce Harper, superstar contributors in 2012. Also, Puig would offer the kind of mania with which the Dodgers are synonymous - a rekindling of Fernandomania or Mannywood for an entirely new generation. Something just tells you that Yasiel Puig in Los Angeles would be more interesting than any baseball plot-line in the past half-decade - a fun, clean, evocative story in which we can all invest. 

Most probably, however, Puig will begin at Class-AA in 2013. As ever, hamstringing contracts and money owed will be assessed before talent in the Dodgers’ roster makeup. With an outfield of Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, Los Angeles appears locked. All three must hit the ground running, though, because down on the farm, a new Dodgers icon awaits his coronation.

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