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By Jon Weisman
Two years to the day after 22-year-old Yasiel Puig’s thrilling, extra-inning walkoff homer to beat the Reds, it’s fascinating to see how many people are ready to shut the door on 24-year-old Yasiel Puig’s future as a baseball player.
Puig’s in a slump, it’s fair to say. He’s coming off a mixed bag of a week in which his only two hits were home runs, and his OPS has dropped from 1.047 on June 12 to .750 today.
Here’s where I point out what should be obvious:
1) His OPS was 1.047 on June 12. That’s very good.
2) One good week would halt the complaining, and one good month would render it laughable.
It would take a deep level of cynicism to assume Puig wasn’t capable of such a turnaround.
Though they are not the same player, I continue finding it hard to resist comparing Puig with the four other hitters in Los Angeles Dodger history that have made the greatest impact by age 22: Tommy Davis, Willie Davis, Steve Sax and Adrian Beltre.
Look at their adjusted OPS year-by-year, and how inconsistent the path is. (Needless to say, although he isn’t included in this chart, Matt Kemp would fit as well.)
The impatience with Beltre, one of the greatest all-around third basemen baseball has seen, is still a viscerally unpleasant memory for me.
It’s so convenient, even comforting, to think that young players develop in a solidly upward trajectory, but it’s just a fantasy. Kids have growing pains — mental and physical — and adjustments can take weeks, months or even years. Or haven’t you noticed?
What kind of player will Puig ultimately be? I have no idea. But this idea that the clock has run out on him, that if he hasn’t fixed what’s bothering him yet, he won’t fix it at all, is far too reactionary for my tastes.
And not for nothing: Puig at his worst is still a player with value.
Dodger manager Don Mattingly said that Puig has shown signs of improvement since the All-Star Break.
“I think he’s been better lately,” Mattingly said. “Before the break, he looked a little rough. … I know he’s been working in the cage, doing certain things, trying to keep his lines a little straighter, a little less turned. I think he understands he’s not swinging as well as he’s capable of.
“We’re trying to get him straight, but he’s just got a lot of body turn — stuck in. It’s kind of, ‘Which came first — the chicken or the egg?’ You line up turned in, and you end up having to spin. It creates length, and it creates vision problems and everything else. So we’re just trying to get him straight.”
Needless to say, it would be naive to expect a sudden mellowing of opinions on Puig.
“Yasiel, obviously, is pretty much of a lightning rod in all areas,” Mattingly said. “No matter if he’s doing good or doing bad, or makes a good throw or makes a bad throw, or gets a hit or doesn’t get a hit, he’s pretty much a lightning rod.”