By: Kristopher Colley, Ruling Sports Intern (Twitter: KCMasterpiece52)
The influx of young talent that Major League Baseball has been blessed with the past couple of seasons has been something to marvel at. Young stud after young stud, the MLB is loaded with exciting youth. The abundance of young talent and faces sprinkled around the league is just what MLB needed to recover from the embarrassing and tragic period, known as the Steroids Era.
Lately, it seems like year after year, there is a new youngster taking the league by storm. In 2012, fans were amazed with the heroics of two young prospects: Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals. Both players breathed life into motionless and struggling franchises. Each of their wins over replacement, WAR, topped the league by a significant margin and Harper’s Nationals bolstered the National League’s best record to make the postseason for the first time since the team moved to the nation’s capital in 2004. Like Troy Tulowitzki in 2007, Evan Longoria in 2008, and Buster Posey in 2010, Trout and Harper energized dormant franchises and made them relevant again.
This season, one rookie has taken over in a way that the others have not; and that is with pure excitement, a distinct love of the game, and flash. His name is Yasiel Puig of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He is a 22-year-old phenom from Cuba, who is the newest player in a historic lineage spanning from the island nation into the big leagues. Puig has blazing speed, a trusted glove, an absolute cannon for an arm in right field, and hits hard line-drives all over Dodger Stadium while also being able to hit for power. In sum, Puig is the five-tool prospect that scouts would sacrifice their entire career to find.
His numbers–59 hits, 19 runs batted in, 8 homeruns, .391 batting average, .422 on-base percentage, and .616 slugging percentage, make him seem like he is entering his prime rather than rounding out the first couple of games of his rookie season. He has been the most talked about player of the 2013 season, already being compared to greats Joe DiMaggio and young Sammy Sosa. Puig was also in the center of the most argued debate of the first half of the season: whether Puig deserves to be named an All-Star after only playing a limited number of games.
Puig has only played in 38 games this season, but within those games his team has gone from the highest paid doormat team in league history, to what many thought they would be at the beginning of the season: a contender.
Last Friday it was announced that Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman edged out Puig to win the final fan vote for the All-Star Game. This final tally left Puig off of the team and when it was announced Freeman could not play Tuesday night, Puig was once again excluded, this time by rival San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy, in favor of Braves catcher Brian McCann. Both of these moves miss the point of the All-Star Game, to showcase the league’s best players and the players that the masses want to see. There is no other player that the fans want to see this year more than Puig.
The question, then, is when it comes to the All-Star Game, is the rest of the league out to get Puig? Or do the Giants just hate the Dodgers that much? Or, does the league, fans and Giants’ manager see his numbers as being skewed because of his lack of games? Regardless, something that cannot be viewed adversely is his undeniable talent. The kid is good.
The second half of the season will be filled with interesting stories, but Puig’s progression will top the list. He can carry the Dodgers into the postseason, and set untouchable rookie records. He will achieve all of this, though, without being named to the All-Star Game roster. Yet, if he can continue building impressive stats and take the Dodgers to the postseason, it is possible that not making the midseason classic will only be a small blemish on an otherwise incredible season for Puig.