11/8/2013 12:09 P.M. ET
No rookie was more valuable or exciting than Puig
The five-tool talent helped to energize the Dodgers after June promotion from Minors
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
LOS ANGELES -- If making an impact from the moment of your Major League debut until the final game of the season is a key consideration for a Rookie of the Year Award winner, consider Yasiel Puig.
He was promoted from Double-A Chattanooga June 3. The Dodgers were in last place. He was an immediate late-night highlight reel. He hit four homers in his first five games. By the end of the month, Puig not only was the National League Rookie of the Month, but also the NL Player of the Month -- the first player to win both awards in his first month in the Major Leagues.
The Dodgers were en route to the greatest in-season turnaround in franchise history and it didn't happen only because of Puig, but it wouldn't have happened without him, either.
Puig hit .436 with a .713 slugging percentage that month. His 44 hits set a Los Angeles Dodgers rookie record for a month and were second all-time behind Joe DiMaggio's 48.
Understandably, Puig couldn't keep up that pace and finished the season hitting .319 with 19 homers and 42 RBIs in 104 games. The club was 66-38 in games he played. His average was the highest for a Dodgers rookie since James Loney's .331 in 2007. The homers were the most for a Dodgers rookie since Mike Piazza's 35 in 1993.
Puig became an immediate fan magnet because he plays with an unbridled energy that sometimes turns reckless, earning the nickname "Wild Horse" from Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully. "His energy was infectious," said manager Don Mattingly.
It also earns him occasional scoldings from teammates and staff for fundamental mistakes that are inevitable when a player is rushed to the Major Leagues with less than one year of Minor League seasoning.
"We take the bad with the good," said Mattingly.
Puig showed up late to a game in Miami and was fined, having already been benched for a dugout tantrum thrown while he was slumping. Another time, Puig was yanked mid-game for a lack of concentration. He was ejected for his part in an on-field brawl against the D-backs. And he infuriated umpires during the playoffs for showing them up. So, there are still rough edges needing to be smoothed.
But then there's the five-tool talent that a Dodgers prospect hasn't possessed since perhaps Roberto Clemente. Puig's Superman imitation started in Spring Training and continued at Double-A Chattanooga, where he was hitting .313 with eight homers, 12 doubles, three triples, 37 RBIs and 13 stolen bases in 40 games.
Puig was signed last summer for a staggering $42 million, seven-year Major League contract. The Cubs were believed to be the Dodgers' most aggressive competition for Puig's autograph. The $42 million was considered by most clubs as wildly excessive, but the Dodgers needed impact hitters in their farm system and wanted to make a statement that the years of ignoring international talent because of economics were over.
With a body like Bo Jackson, Puig possesses power, running speed, ball-catching skills and a powerful right-fielder arm. But with limited exposure as a young Cuban ballplayer, Puig's raw skills were relatively under wraps when he escaped his homeland for free agency.
Puig showed up four years ago on the radar of Dodgers scout Mike Brito, who shared the credit with Corito Verona for the signing of Fernando Valenzuela 3 1/2 decades ago. Brito and current scouting vice president Logan White watched Puig bat in a controlled workout in the summer of 2012 in Mexico City, then White took the ball in a full-court pursuit that resulted in Puig's stunning signing.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.