Kevin Kernan put together an interesting piece earlier in the week in the New York Post on Dodger baseball phenom Yasiel Puig. In his first sentence, he speculates that Puig is ready for October baseball, but wonders whether baseball is ready for Puig.
He builds his piece around what he calls the ‘Puig Philosophy,’ an aggressive, hustling brand of baseball that has endured Los Angeles Dodger fans to the young star.
My oldest son, a true blue Met fan, lives in Los Angeles and reports to me the enthusiasm for the Dodgers in L.A. is off the charts. He’s never seen anything like it. According to Kernan, Puig has been a transformative figure on the Dodgers. By playing
‘all-out’ each and every time he steps on the baseball field, Puig has almost single handedly changed the culture of the Dodger baseball team.
Nicknamed ‘Wild Horse’ Puig has often been difficult to rein in, a huge responsibility for Dodger manager Don Mattingly. Always at home in front of a camera, Puig is a modern day showboat, a status adored by the fan base but often seen with suspicion from the vantage point of a clubhouse.
Kernan feels that Puig lives for the bright lights and fame. The rookie tore up opposing pitching at a .360 clip in Dodger Stadium but batted at a more modest .284 when on the road. Puig was sensational hitting .436 in his first month in the majors then fell to .214 down the stretch in September. Those bright lights shine brightest in post season play where Puig hit a dazzling .471/.500/.529 in the four game series with the Braves.
Kernan also used playing examples to describe the ‘Puig Way,’ things like running out base hits so hard that outfielders race so hard to play the ball they make a miscue. It’s all about giving your best on every play, turning routine singles into doubles, routine ground outs into forced infield errors and the like.
In the story, Kernan quotes Puig talking about his observations of playoff baseball. “I notice each pitcher is focusing more on each pitch that he throws and everyone is trying to give there all on every singe play. I’ve noticed that the zone has been a little higher, everything. There is a lot more focus and more intensity on every little detail, and that each player is doing their best not to make errors and making sure that they complete every play the best they can.”
In other words, Kernan points out, everybody is playing the Puig way. I found myself thinking I was reading about the Binghamton Mets’ Cesar Puello as I read the piece. I’m not talking about Puig’s propensity for finding the spotlight. Puello sat at my table at the B-Met Welcome Back Dinner in April and although he was charming and funny, I saw no signs of a camera hungry baseball personality. It is entertaining watching Puello, especially his on-deck routine. But that’s because his focus and intensity is like none other you have seen before.
The aggressive on-the-field playing philosophy Kernan pins on Puig is the exact same kind of baseball played by the Met outfield prospect in the Eastern League this summer. Puello ran out every ground ball like he had a chance to earn an infield single and several times I watched surprised infielders scramble quickly at the end of those plays making errors. Puello took extra bases, ran down every outfield ball fair or foul, and played all out, all the time.
And, ‘Puello’s Way‘ on the East coast had the same residual effect on his teammates as Puig’s aggressive play did on the Dodgers on the opposite side of the country. It was June when Puello really caught fire and found his stride this summer. As the calendar pages turned from May to June, the B-Mets were piecing together a decent season, but few could have predicted the dominant baseball that was to follow. The B-Mets were a modest 31-25 as May came to a close.
June found Puello surging. The B-Met rightfielder was the Eastern League player of the month winning the Eastern League Triple Crown as spring turned to summer in June. The Dominican Republic native hit .441 with eight home runs and 24 RBIs for the B-Mets. Binghamton started the month in a three-way chase for the top of the Eastern Division standings with Portland and Trenton — after going 19-5 in June, ended the month far out in front.
With Puello on fire, Binghamton started June winning 9 of 10 games, five for five over Trenton, and the B-Mets continued to follow Puello’s lead finishing the month taking seven games out of the final eight.
In a post I submitted in the early summer as Puig splashed on the major league baseball landscape, I speculated whether Cesar Puello could be the Mets’ Yasiel Puig. I went on to compare Puig’s Double-A performance at Chattanooga statistically with Puello’s Double-A statistical profile at that point of the year in Binghamton. That seemed the only reasonable point of comparison. Here’s what I found:
- Puig: .313/.383/.549, 147 AB, 26 R, 8 HR, 37 RBI, 13 SB, .982 OPS
- Puello: .326/.401/.606, 217 AB, 39 R, 13 HR, 46 RBI, 17 SB, 1.007 OPS
It’s safe to say that as a Double-A player, before the Dodgers elevated Yasiel Puig to their major league squad, Cesar Puello was slightly outperforming or at least playing equally with the combustible Puig.
As each of you know, numbers never tell the entire story. That’s why Kernan’s description of Puig’s play and his ability to shake up the Dodgers and drive them to take an entirely different attitude on the field each day struck so close to home. That’s the Cesar Puello I enjoyed watching this summer in Binghamton, and explosive five tool outfielder capable of putting a team on his back and carrying them. Puig and Puello.
I hope those are two major league baseball names that some day will draw argument and comparison like Mantle and Mays did when I was a kid.
(Photo Credit: Gordon Donovan)