Yasiel Puig Valdés
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 3", Weight 215 lb.
Yasiel Puig starred for Cuba in the 2008 World Junior Championship, making the All-Star outfield. In the Bronze Medal game, he went 3 for 4 with 3 runs to lead Cuba past Australia. Puig debuted in the Cuban Serie Nacional with Cienfuegos in 2008-2009. As a rookie, the teenager hit .276/.321/.425 and was 8-for-10 in steal attempts. He had 11 assists in 70 games in the outfield. Despite that performance, he did not play in 2009-2010.
In 2010-2011, he hit .330/.431/.581 with 17 homers, 47 RBI and 78 runs in 89 games for Cienfuegos. He also had 15 outfield assists. He was 9th in the league in runs, tied Jorge Jhonson for third in triples (6) and tied Giorvis Duvergel for 7th in intentional walks (12). In the Cuban All-Star Game that season, he drove in 5 runs for the Occidentales, but they still lost to the Orientales. He was then barred from taking part in the league in 2011-2012 as a disciplinary measure for having attempted to leave the island without permission.
Undeterred, however, Puig defected from Cuba in May of 2012 and managed to establish residence in Mexico, making him a highly sought-after free agent. With a deadline capping bonuses for international signings about to come into effect on July 2nd, the Los Angeles Dodgers opened their pocketbooks to ink the young outfielder, shelling out a reported $42 million over 7 years. The deal was announced on June 28th, days before the deadline kicked in, and before Puig had been able to obtain a U.S. work visa, forcing him to remain in Mexico for a time before being able to join his new organization. It was later revealed that he had been forced to deal with some rather unsavory characters to leave Cuba, as a small-time Miami-based crook invested $250,000 to underwrite his departure, in return for a 20% cut of Yasiel's future earnings. The smugglers who arranged his trip tried to ransom him for additional money, keeping him locked up in a seedy motel near Cancun until he managed to come up with additional funds. They were later arrested and convicted of charges of human trafficking. He finally made his pro debut with the AZL Dodgers in early August. He hit .400 in 9 games and got a quick promotion to the Class A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, where he hit .327 in 14 games.
Puig was invited to the Dodgers' 2013 spring training as a non-roster player, and was sensational, as he hit .526 and slugged .842 in the Cactus League, prompting comparisons to Bo Jackson and Matt Kemp and putting pressure on the team brass to have him open the season in Los Angeles. In the end the Dodgers elected to send him to the AA Chattanooga Lookouts, considering that it would be better for him to get a few more professional at-bats rather than sit on the bench in a crowded Dodgers outfield. Unfortunately, he got himself in trouble in Chattanooga, but not on the field: in the early hours of April 28th, he was arrested on charges of reckless driving, speeding and driving without proof of insurance and was taken to Hamilton County jail, being released a few hours later on his own recognizance. He was hitting .333 with 3 homers at the time. He was driving at nearly twice the speed limit - 97 mph in a 50 mph zone - but at least he was sober, since he was the designated driver for a group of friends who had gone out partying. He was still hitting .313/.383/.599 after 40 games when GM Ned Colletti announced that he was being called up to L.A. "reluctantly". The team brass would have liked to see him continue his minor league apprenticeship, but with OFs Matt Kemp on the disabled list and Carl Crawford nursing a sore hamstring, there was a desperate need for outfield help on the big league club.
He was thus called up on June 3rd and made his debut as the Dodgers' starting rightfielder and lead-off hitter against the San Diego Padres that day. He did not waste any time in recording his first big league hit, as he singled off Eric Stults to lead off the bottom of the 1st, part of going 2 for 4 at the plate; he also showed that there was more to his game than just hitting, as he caught a line drive by Kyle Blanks in the 9th inning, then made a strong throw to 1B Adrian Gonzalez to double off Chris Denorfia, thus ending the game, which the Dodgers won, 2-1. If his first day in the Show was good, his second was the stuff legends are made of. On June 4th, he went 3 for 5 with a double and a pair of homers and drove in 5 runs to lead the Dodgers to a 9-7 win over the Padres. He hit a three-run homer off Clayton Richard for his first big league long ball in the 5th, then hit a two-run shot to the opposite field off Tyson Ross in the 6th. He was the first Dodger ever to have a multi-homer game in his first two games, the first with a five-RBI game in his first two since Spider Jorgensen had six in his second game in 1947, and the first to start off with two multi-hit games since pitcher Larry Miller in 1964. After going 0 for 4 in his third game, he wrote more headlines on June 6th, when his 8th-inning grand slam off the Atlanta Braves' Cory Gearrin was the key hit in a 5-0 Dodgers' win. He homered again the next day against the Braves' Paul Maholm as the Dodgers won again, 2-1. That made him the second player to have four homers in his first five games; Mike Jacobs had set the record by homering four times in his first four games in 2005. His 10 RBI in 5 games tied him for the record with Danny Espinosa (2010) and Jack Merson (1951). He finished his first week by going 2-for-4 and 3-for-5 in his sixth and seven games, giving him a .464 average and the title of National League Player of the Week. On June 11th, he was at the center of hostilities in a 5-3 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks: he was hit in the head by a Ian Kennedy fastball in the 6th inning, and lay on the ground for a while, his nose bleeding, but he stayed in the game. Andre Ethier followed with a two-run homer, tying the game at 2, but it was not enough punishment apparently, as Zack Greinke immediately threw a pitch at D-Backs catcher Miguel Montero when he led off the 7th; both benches and bullpens emptied, but no punches were thrown. However, when Arizona kept the war going by throwing near Greinke's head in the bottom of the inning, punches were exchanged, with even coaches going at each other. When order was restored, Puig had been ejected from the game. On June 24th, he hit his 7th homer, and then drove in the winning run with a single in the 8th inning as the Dodgers defeated the San Francisco Giants, 3-1. After 20 games, he was hitting .442 with the 7 homers and 14 RBI. He went 4-for-5 in a 6-1 win over the Philadelphia Phillies on June 30th to finish the month with 44 hits, the second-most ever for a player in his first month: Joe DiMaggio had 48 hits in his first month with the New York Yankees in May of 1936. He had the highest average ever for a player in his first calendar month with 60+ AB since at least 1900. When the National League handed out its monthly awards for June, Puig took home both the league's Player of the Month and its Rookie of the Month awards. He was nominated as one of five players on the ballot for the NL Final Man Vote for the 2013 All-Star Game, a decision that generated a lot of passionate controversy, with some writers arguing that it was a travesty that a player with barely a month of experience should be considered for the mid-summer classic, and others stating that Puig was the most exciting player in baseball and deserved to be honored among its stars. In the end, Freddie Freeman won the vote and Puig was not at the game. On July 28th, he added another exploit to his growing list: his first walk-off homer. In typical fashion, it came in extra innings, against Curtis Partch of the Cincinnati Reds, and broke a scoreless tie in the 11th to give L.A. a 1-0 win. He finished the year with a batting line of .319/.391/.534 in 104 games, good for an OPS+ of 160. Had he qualified, he would have tied Freddie Freeman and Yadier Molina for 3rd in the league in average and been 9th in OBP. He was tied for 6th with 11 HBP and his 8 assists tied Chris Denorfia for 5th among the loop's right fielders. He had 21 doubles and 19 homers, was named to the 2013 Topps All-Star Rookie Team and finished second behind fellow Cuban and P Jose Fernandez in the NL Rookie of the Year vote. In the postseason, he went 8 for 17 (.471) and scored 5 runs as the Dodgers defeated the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS, then went 5 for 22 (.227) as the St. Louis Cardinals disposed of the Dodgers in the 2013 NLCS.
On December 28th, Puig was arrested for the second time in less than a year on reckless driving charges after he was caught speeding at 110 mph in a 70 mph zone by the Florida Highway Patrol. The Dodgers stated they were "very disappointed" with his behavior. Puig announced a few days later that would give up driving for a while and had hired a cousin to serve as his driver. He had the honor of being the first batter of the 2014 major league season, leading off the opening game played in Sydney, Australia on March 22nd. He was assigned the role in spite of barely hitting .150 that spring, and a number of observers wondered if the fact that the Dodgers wanted him to take more pitches had not messed up his instinctual and unorthodox approach at the plate. He continued to struggle in his first game, going 0 for 5 with three strikeouts. In the second game, however, batting second behind Dee Gordon, he went 3 for 5, scored a run and drove in two but also made a couple of baserunning mistakes; the Dodgers won both games though. More unprofessional behavior followed on April 4th, when he was scratched from the line-up in the Dodgers' home opener because he had arrived late to the ballpark. He apologized. claiming he had failed to understand when pre-game drills would start for the afternoon contest. On May 1st, he had a four-hit game in the first game of a doubleheader sweep over the Minnesota Twins, part of a string of reaching base in 9 consecutive plate appearances. He put together the longest hitting streak of his career that month, 16 games, during which he also hit with power: part of the streak included an eight-game sequence in which he had at least an extra-base hit and an RBI, a team record. He went on to be named the ML's Player of the Month for May, after batting .398/.492/.731 for the month, with 8 homers and 25 RBIs. He was named to the All-Star team for the first time that year and also participated in the Home Run Derby, although he did not manage to hit a single long ball. On July 25th, he tied a Dodgers team record by hitting three triples in an 8-1 win over the Giants; he also added a double, and his 11 total bases on the day were one shy of the team record held by Kevin Elster. On August 24th, he made one of his typical blunders born of an over-enthusiastic style of play that gives managers gray hair when he tried to score from second base on a ground ball to third while the New York Mets were busy turning a double play; 1B Lucas Duda then saw him make the ill-advised move towards home and threw to C Travis d'Arnaud to retire the outfielder by a comfortable margin, completing a triple play. For all those occasional lapses in judgment, he remained one of the most dangerous and exciting hitters in the majors, however. he finished the season with a .296 average, 16 homers and 69 RBIs in 148 games, then went 3 for 12 with a triple as the Dodgers lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in the Division Series.
He went on the disabled list with a pulled hamstring on April 25, 2015, then reinjured the hamstring while on a rehabilitation assignment with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes on May 8th. He ended up missing 39 games before returning on June 6th. He contributed immediately upon his return, with an RBI double off Jaime Garcia in a 2-0 win over the St. Louis Cardinals in his first game back. On June 10th, he reminded everyone of what a superlative talent he was by getting 4 hits, including a homer, and a walk in a 7-6 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks. However, he did not put up superlative numbers that season, and on August 28th, he went back to the DL, again because of a hamstring problem. Altogether, he played 79 games, during which he hit .255 with 11 homers and 38 RBIs. In the postseason, he went 0 for 6 as the Dodgers were eliminated by the New York Mets in the Division Series. Trouble continued after the season, while speculation about a potential trade away from L.A. was swirling, as he got into a fight with his sister and a bar bouncer in Miami, FL the night before Thanksgiving, ending up with a swollen eye and facial bruises. There were conflicting reports whether Puig had hit his sister or not, and he was facing potential discipline from MLB which had vowed to crack down on incidents of family violence. In the end, however, MLB judged that the evidence given by witnesses and that obtained from video footage did not show conclusively that Puig was guilty of assault, and he escaped punishment.
He returned to the Dodgers in 2016, but gone were the days when he was the talk of baseball. He played regularly in right field during the first half, missing three weeks in June with a hamstring injury, but the Dodgers were not thrilled with his production. There were also questions about his attitude, as there had been various instances when he had shown up late for batting practice and team meetings. At the end of July, he was hitting .260 with 7 homers and 34 RBIs in 81 games, good for an OPS+ of only 93. There was speculation that he could be used as trade bait at the trading deadline, but that did not happen; instead, after the Dodgers acquired Josh Reddick from the Oakland Athletics, he was sent down to the Oklahoma City Dodgers, the first time he would actually play at AAA since he had gone straight from AA to the majors in 2013, and his only minor league action since had been a pair of rehabilitation assignments at Rancho Cucamonga. On August 30th, he was placed on revocable waivers and claimed by a team that remained unidentified for the time being, while the Dodgers were seeing whether they could work out a trade. The Dodgers insisted that Puig had not had any behavior problems in AAA, but if that was the case, it was not clear why they were trying to unload him when he could be added back to the active roster as soon as teams became allowed to carry extra players on September 1st. But there was no trade, and Puig was indeed called up on September 1st. In his first game back the next day, he was in the starting line-up and collected a pair of hits in a 4-2 loss to the San Diego Padres. On September 10th, he made a tremendous diving catch in the 7th inning, depriving Martin Prado of the Miami Marlins of a potential extra-base hit and preserving a perfect game bid by Rich Hill.
- 2013 Topps All-Star Rookie Team
- NL All-Star (2014)
- Jesse Katz: "Escape from Cuba: Yasiel Puig's Untold Journey to the Dodgers - The shocking saga of Major League Baseball's most controversial player", Los Angeles Magazine, May 2014. 
- Jorge L. Ortiz: "A wary Yasiel Puig explains himself: 'I'm a ballplayer'", USA Today, July 7, 2013. 
- Jorge L. Ortiz: "Yasiel Puig determined to overcome 'my worst season, in all aspects'", USA Today Sports, February 21, 2016.