He was a sensation, the blinding birth of a new sun. A mass of nuclear energy demanding release that no one could hope to contain.
If people struggled to take their eyes off Yasiel Puig, his dynamic play almost would not allow it. What would happen next? What crazy, inexplicable, border impossible feat would he come up with in the next moment?
One year ago, he rocketed to one of the most spectacular starts baseball has ever seen. He looked less like he came from Cuba than Krypton. In his first 145 plate appearances he batted .407, with a .441 on-base and .659 slugging percentages.
There have been plenty of highs and lows since, though the lows have now dramatically diminished in frequency. And if some feared his enthusiastic, sometimes over-the-top play would alienate too many voters after this year’s first All-Star votes release showed him only fifth among outfielders, the latest results released Tuesday now have him leading all National League outfielders.
He is currently second in the N.L. to Colorado shortstop Troy Tulowitzki in average (.340) and on-base percentage (.430), and is third behind Tulowitzki and Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton in slugging percentage (.606).
Puig has quickly put aside fears that pitchers had figured him out after he faded in the final six weeks (.235) last season. Pitchers gave up challenging him and got him to start chasing pitches off the plate. Less so this season.
“The biggest change I think we’ve seen so far is just the patience at the plate,” said Manager Don Mattingly. “That’s been a huge difference.
“This year he’s shown that he’s not going to chase.”
If you put together his numbers over the past year and take them as one season, you get some absolutely remarkable results:
Average .326, on-base percentage .405, slugging .558, runs 98, hits 191, doubles 36, triples five, homers 30, RBIs 82, stolen bases 16 and walks 62.
ESPN’s Jayson Stark said he examined that stat line over every player who debuted in the last 50 years and not one could match Puig through their first 157 games. If you subtract stolen bases, Stark said the only player who match or top him is Albert Pujols. That’s it, one.
And Puig is just beginning his career, now cutting down on the wild throws and baserunning that plagued him early. His ceiling remains wonderfully unknown as he begins to develop as a player.
“I think his game has matured from the standpoint, that he’s still with all the energy but less out of control,” Mattingly said. “Where he’s throwing the ball to the right place most of the time. You’re seeing him still being aggressive on the bases but not just running into outs. There’s still going to be a step backwards now and then, but for the most part there’s a different maturity in his game as far as him saying, 'OK, I can’t keep going like that.' It’s been fun to watch.”
True five-tool players are rare and cherished in baseball. And all that talent creates heightened expectations, sometimes unfairly.
“It’s almost a curse sometimes, because we always ask for more,” he said. “Yasiel hits .350 and 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’re thinking there’s still more there. And at times, you’re asking a lot.”
Only for the sunshine to burst a little brighter. One year into his career, and the unknown still remains must-watch baseball.