Yasiel Puig impresses Torii Hunter, could draw more praise this week

Yasiel Puig

Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig acknowledges fans during batting practice before Friday’s game against the San Diego Padres at Dodger Stadium. Detroit Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter says it’s fun to watch Puig throw.

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

The men who play baseball are fans of the sport too. The MLB Network is the default setting for every clubhouse television. When veterans hear about The Next Big Thing, well, they would rather not take the word of a talking head. They prefer to see with their own eyes and decide for themselves, thank you very much.

When the Dodgers played in Detroit last week, Torii Hunter got his first look at Yasiel Puig.

“Watch him on TV, and you see he’s good,” Hunter said. “You see him in person, and now you see everything.

“You’re like, ‘Wow! That guy’s got some talent.’ Seeing him live, I can see it.”


Hunter saw it up close, uncomfortably close, when he lined what looked like an easy double into the right-field corner. Puig played the carom off the wall, pivoted toward the infield, then fired to second base, a play so stunningly close that Hunter was called out on the field but confirmed safe by a replay review.

“I never change for anybody,” Hunter said. “I’m always trying to take the extra base. If you’re at a standstill, you can’t move forward in life.”

Hunter, who mans right field for Detroit, put on a straight face and tried to downplay Puig’s play.

“Nothing special about that play,” Hunter said. “Good bounce, right to him. He made an accurate throw. I’ve done that several times, and the guy was safe.”


That was about the moment Hunter broke into his patented wide smile.

“I’m always going to test you,” Hunter said. “But I ain’t running on him no more.”

After watching Puig in person, Hunter offered a glowing report.

“He loves to throw,” Hunter said. “It’s fun for him to throw. You can tell. He has a strong arm, and he knows it. He has great plate presence. He knows the difference between a ball and a strike. Some of his swings are vicious.”

Some of his bat flips, too. The American League stars will see for themselves Monday, when Puig lends his flair to the home run derby, and Tuesday, when he starts in the All-Star game.

Puig’s debut on the All-Star stage will be among the major story lines at baseball’s summer celebration. Among the others:

—The rosters for Sunday’s Futures Game (MLB Network, 2 p.m. PDT) include two of the names most prominent in Dodgers’ trade rumors — Class A Rancho Cucamonga teammates Julio Urias, 17, a precocious left-hander, and Corey Seager, 20, a shortstop often projected as a major league third baseman. The Dodgers say they want to rebuild their minor league system rather than deplete it, but they also want to add a starting pitcher, and it would be difficult to imagine them acquiring an elite one — David Price or Cole Hamels – without surrendering Urias or Seager.

—Price should attract a crowd to the Monday news conference, where every All-Star sits behind a table in a hotel ballroom and takes questions. For 45 minutes, Price should expect dozens of versions of “How do you feel about possibly being traded?” and “Would you like to play for [insert team here]?” His Tampa Bay Rays are 91/2 games out of first place in an AL East in which the Boston Red Sox already have ushered in a youth movement, the Toronto Blue Jays have faded, and the New York Yankees have lost ace Masahiro Tanaka and three other members of their opening-day starting rotation to injury. If the Rays can make up some ground in their first eight games out of the break — six against the Red Sox and Minnesota Twins — Tampa Bay might consider playing to win this summer and trading Price in the off-season.


—The Oakland Athletics have the best record in the major leagues and the most players in the All-Star game — six. How many can you name? Answer at end of column.

—Joe Mauer should be the brightest star here, the six-time All-Star who passed on free agency to sign with his hometown team. But Mauer is on pace for the worst season of his career, and now he is injured. The hometown cheers could be loudest for Justin Morneau of the Colorado Rockies in Monday’s home run derby and Pat Neshek of the St. Louis Cardinals in Tuesday’s All-Star game. Morneau, 33, won the AL most-valuable-player award with the Twins in 2006. He suffered a concussion in 2010, the first in a litany of injuries over three years, but he has put up starry statistics this season. Neshek, 33, is a middle reliever who grew up in the Minneapolis area. In 2012, as his A’s won the AL West, his 1-day-old son, Gehrig, died. In March, Neshek and his wife, Stephanee, welcomed another boy, Hoyt.

—The Fox broadcast assuredly will celebrate Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, 40, playing in his 14th and final All-Star game. Jeter, who is retiring after the season, played in his first All-Star game in 1998 — as the backup to shortstop to Alex Rodriguez.

—The Oakland All-Stars, ranked by name recognition from easiest to most difficult: outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, third baseman Josh Donaldson, starting pitcher Scott Kazmir, reliever Sean Doolittle, first baseman Brandon Moss and catcher Derek Norris. Pitcher Jeff Samardzija, elected by National League players but traded from the Chicago Cubs to the A’s last week, is expected to wear a generic NL jersey.

Twitter: @BillShaikin

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