Dodger rookie Yasiel Puig is baseball's 'Cuban Missile'

Yasiel Puig is off to a sensational start at the plate for the Los Angeles Dodgers. And Puig's throws from right field are turning heads.

MARK J. TERRILL/AP
Los Angeles Dodgers' Yasiel Puig tosses his helmet during batting practice prior to their baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, June 11, 2013, in Los Angeles.

Every 10 years or so Major League Baseball finds a rookie like Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, who can hit standing up in a hammock!

The Dodgers didn’t scout him. They got him out of Central Casting. He’s a product of Cuba: 6 foot 3 inches and 245 pounds of muscle who knows the strike zone.

After five games in the big leagues, the "Cuban Missile" was hitting .464, including four home runs. Overall he had 13 hits in his first 29 trips to the plate. His momentum was thrown off a bit Tuesday night when a 92 m.p.h. fastball thrown by Arizona's Ian Kennedy hit him on the nose. He went 0-for-2 at the plate in that game in which a handful of hit batsmen led to a bench-clearing brawl and the six ejections, including Puig's.

Before that, however, Puig was named National League Player of the Week for the first week of June. Basically there aren’t enough superlatives in baseball’s rhetoric barrel to emphasize all the things this kid can do.

For those who want Puig to skip his next 10 years in baseball and go straight to the game’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., there are just as many experts who would like to wait until they can examine his offensive figures in 90 days.

When Puig defected from Cuba to the United States in 2012 in the hope of signing a long-term contract with a major-league team, Dodger scouts were among the few who had filed glowing reports on him.

He came with at least a couple of question marks. Although listed as 22 years old, he may be 24, and his throwing arm's condition is clouded by the fact he was sidelined for several months while his right elbow recovered from surgery.

But after Dodger management saw him hit, throw bullets from the outfield to home plate, and run from home to first like an Olympic sprinter, the Dodgers  signed him to a seven-year contract worth $42 million.

Los Angeles immediately placed him on their 40-man roster and assigned him to their Arizona Rookie League franchise, where in nine games he hit .400 with four home runs and drove in 11 runs.

Later promoted to the Dodgers'  Rancho Cucamonga Quakes of the Class-A-Advanced California League, Yasiel played 14 games and hit .327.

Whenever a major-league team comes up with a prospect with Puig’s potential, it is customary to take him to spring training.

Right away the Dodgers didn’t believe what they were seeing. In spring training games this year Puig hit .526 in the Cactus League, showed a lot of power, and looked as though he could play any of the three outfield positions.

Maybe, if the Dodgers didn’t already have a veteran outfield, they would have brought Puig back to Los Angeles for at least the first month of the season.

Instead they farmed him out to the Chattanooga Lookouts of the Class AA Southern League, where he hit .313 with eight home runs and collected 37 runs batted in for the Lookouts in 40 games.

Even though the Dodgers have not had that much trouble getting runners on base this season, so far almost none of their veteran players has  been able to drive them home. Several times this year the Dodgers have left 11 runners on base while losing games by only one or two runs.

Finally promoted to the Dodgers on June 3, Yasiel singled in his first at-bat against the visiting San Diego Padres. He went 2-for-4 at the plate. He also showcased a bazooka-like throwing arm by recording an outfield assist on a double play to end the game.

Still to be debated about Puig is how many hits he might log in June. Ty Cobb was one of only 10 players in post-1900 history to compile at least 58 hits in a single month.

Phil Elderkin, The Christian Science Monitor's former sports editor, currently holds card No. 5 in the nearly 900-member Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.