Dodger Stadium will be buzzing Monday night, for one of the most anticipated debuts in recent memory. Adrian Gonzalez hit a home run in his first at-bat with the Dodgers last year. Manny Ramirez hugged a reporter before his first game with the Dodgers, then got two hits as fans chanted his name.
Yasiel Puig is expected to make his major league debut Monday.
“Any time somebody walks into the stadium and gets an opportunity, it’s a chance for the start of something big,” Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly said Sunday. “That’s kind of the cool part, really. You don’t know if you’re going to end up seeing [Ken] Griffey Jr. or the next Fernando [Valenzuela] or whoever it is.”
In spring training, Mattingly compared Puig to Bo Jackson. In his discussion of Puig on Sunday, Mattingly dropped the name of the best baseball player in Southern California.
“You saw with the Angels and Mike Trout last year, he came up and things completely turned around with what he brought to the table,” Mattingly said. “It’s unfair to say that happens here, but he could make a big impact.”
Here’s the thing: Trout wasn’t making his major league debut last year, when he hit .326 with 30 home runs and stole 49 bases. Never in major league history had a player done so well in all three categories.
But Trout made his major league debut in 2011, after 249 minor league games. He played 14 games, hit .163 with one home run, and the Angels sent him back to the minors.
The Dodgers are calling up Puig after 63 minor league games. That does not mean he is not ready. Trout was 19 when he was first called up, and the Angels signed him out of high school. Puig is 22, and he had played in the top Cuban league before he defected and signed with the Dodgers.
The Angels wanted Trout last year. They cut Bobby Abreu so Trout would have a place to play.
The Dodgers needed Puig this year. They promoted him only after injuries to Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford, even though Puig appears to have more power than anyone on the major league club.
The Dodgers did not really want to call him up so soon. If he struggles, they are not sure how he might adjust. If he succeeds, they are not sure how he would react if Kemp and Crawford get healthy and they do not trade Andre Ethier. Puig was not thrilled, after all, to find out that he could hit .517 in spring training and still not make the team.
The raw skill is there, no doubt. Puig has a cannon for an arm and lightning in his bat. He also had no walks in 58 at-bats this spring, and major league pitchers will be pleased to exploit that kind of aggressiveness. (He had 15 walks in 147 minor league at-bats this year.)
The Dodgers also believe maturity and professionalism remain works in progress for Puig, who was arrested for driving 97 mph in a 50-mph zone in April. The Angels had no such concerns about Trout, who walked out of the Angels clubhouse Sunday afternoon saying he was heading home to watch Sunday night’s game between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.
There will be breathtaking moments for Puig, times when the Dodgers and their fans can celebrate an extraordinary talent. How successful will he be? The ordinary moments -- the ones in between the web gems -- will tell the story.