One of the main differences the Dodgers will take into their newly found off-season from a year ago is making starting lineup plans with the mercurial Yasiel Puig.
What to do, what to do?
No one was certain what to make of him after he signed with the Dodgers as a Cuban defector last summer and, truth is, having now had the opportunity to watch him the past four months of the season, Puig certainly remains rumor.
Certainly, we know more. He is as gifted as advertised, perhaps even more so. He is the real five-tool deal. He’s outgoing, with a huge smile and enough charisma for some entire teams.
And that polish the Dodgers said he needed? Still in very real need. Several coats’ worth.
He is a highly emotional player, which is a very good thing when he’s energizing the team and its fan base. Not so much when he sulks after an outfield miscue and jogs to the ball or stares down an umpire after a called third strike.
But it’s one thing to hope all that will lessen as he matures, and another to make excuses for him when he simply does something stupid baseball-wise.
There are too many Puig apologists out there, all too willing to accept his baseball mistakes because of his enormous talent and enthusiasm, like it’s the bad you have to accept with the good.
These are mostly the same people who easily dismiss Matt Kemp’s baseball blunders because of his great talent. Which you would think would begin to dissipate after he had a brain cramp at third, failed to break on a grounder, had to slide at the plate (awkwardly), tore up his ankle and was of no use to the Dodgers in the post-season.
Puig playing with high energy and making silly mistakes are typically two separate things. Knowing where to throw the ball, when to give yourself up at the plate, when to dive for a line drive, when to try for the extra base — these are baseball fundamentals. The kind they either don’t teach in Cuba or Puig didn’t slow down enough to learn.
He needs to learn now. His age (22) should not be an excuse. It’s not that challenging. He’s had almost two years in the Dodgers’ system now. He’s a very bright guy.
The Dodgers are working with him, teaching him, but you have to wonder who he really listens to. Of if deep in his heart, he really believes it.
He wants to make every play. Wants to throw the runner out at first every time the ball lands in front of him. Acts like every baserunner trying for third or to score is some kind of manly challenge to his rifle arm.
Puig can play smarter without sacrificing his great passion for the game. And whether his already long season is extended with some winter ball or the Dodgers simply need another sit-down, heart-to-heart with him, he has to learn.
His mistakes can’t simply be written off as part of the deal. He’s too important to the team’s future and is going to be around too long. And really, it should not be that hard to accomplish, if he wants to.