No. 66 Yasiel Puig, Outfielder
Weight: 245 lbs
Hometown: Palmira, Cienfuego, Cuba
With offensive stars like Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Carl Crawford, it probably comes as a surprise that a rookie who has only played nine games this season is solely responsible for bringing some excitement back to the disappointing Los Angeles Dodgers. In that span, Yasiel Puig has done a little bit of everything, from his impressive work with the bat (.471 batting average, 4 home runs, 10 RBIs) to his incredible arm to his ability to come through in the clutch. Sure, the Dodgers are only 5-4 in games played with Puig (pronounced Pweeg), but all that falls by the wayside when you're just anticipating what incredible feat he will accomplish next. So, while the Dodger rookie is out with a minor shoulder injury more than likely stemming from Tuesday's vintage baseball fight, why not get familiar with the player that has taken the league by storm?
Early Years: While playing for his hometown team, Cienfuegos, in the Cuban National Series, Puig started turning heads in the 2009-10 season when he hit .330 with 17 homers, 47 RBIs and 78 runs scored. After his stint on the national team for the 2011 World Port Tournament, Puig tried defecting from Cuba in order to get an opportunity to possibly play in the MLB, but he was unsuccessful. As a punishment for attempting to defect, he was not allowed to compete in the 2011-12 season.
In the summer of 2012, Puig successfully defected and established permanent residency in Mexico, making him eligible for free agency in the majors. With fellow Cuban players like Yoenis Céspedes signing a 4-year, $36 million with the Oakland Athletics in February and Jorge Soler agreeing to a nine-year, $30 million contract with the Chicago Cubs in early June, it didn't take long for a team to snatch up Puig. On June 28, 2012, Puig signed a 7-year, $42 million deal with the Dodgers and was immediately sent to their Arizona Rookie League squad and placed on the team's 40-man roster, which made him available to join the major league team at any moment.
In only nine games, Puig posted numbers eerily similar to his stats in that same span with the Dodgers (.400, 4 HRs, 11 RBIs). Puig continued to move quickly up the minors until a staph infection in his right elbow kept him out of commission for two months. When he got healthy again, Puig decided to play for the Mayaguez Indios in the Puerto Rico winter ball league in order to get his hitting on point. When spring training for the Dodgers rolled around, Puig was invited and he didn't fail to impress, hitting .526. Still, the Dodgers were apprehensive to giving him a spot on the major league team and sent him to their Class AA Southern League team, the Chattanooga Lookouts. One month after getting sent down, Puig was arrested for speeding, reckless driving and driving without insurance after allegedly driving 97 MPH in a 50-MPH zone. A small blip on his resume, but that off-the-field matter didn't hurt his play on the field. Puig played 40 games with the Lookouts and hit .313 with 8 home runs and 37 RBIs.
MLB: Hindered by injuries, the Dodgers mulled over the possibility of bringing up Puig, even though he only played 63 games in the minors. On June 3, Puig was called up and thrown immediately into the fire. In addition to getting a start in right field and batting lead-off, the Dodgers' Twitter account posted the following message: “Yasiel Puig will wear No. 66. You will not want to miss his #Dodgers debut. Trust us.” No pressure, right? Apparently not because Puig got two hits and really got people's attention with this incredible throw to end the game.
After only five games, Puig already saw his name in the record books, becoming only the second player since 1900 with four home runs, as well as tying a major-league record for RBIs in the first five games of a major league career with 10. Now everyone wants a piece of Puig. Literally. From last Thursday to Sunday, the Dodgers sold "more Puig-related merchandise...than they had ever sold of any player over a four-day period." Remember, this is the same team that has Kemp, and had Manny Ramirez and Hideo Nomo once upon a time.
Of course, Puig will go through his growing pains eventually. All major league players do. However, Puig has all the tools to sustain a solid MLB career for years to come. But let's not talk about the future just yet. That's a long ways away. Let's just enjoy the ride while it lasts.