The countdown has begun, kids. Opening Night (well, American Opening Night) is fast approaching as the Dodgers take on the Padres down in San Diego on March 30th. Leading up until then, MAMBINO will tackle 20 of the most important–and some not so important–questions that will get you set up for a season of almost unparalleled expectations. Let’s get it going:
Puig is fat right now. Concerned?
I’m not overly concerned that the Rookie of the Year runner-up landed in Spring Training 15-20 pounds overweight. He’s 23 years old. 15 pounds can come off of him in a few days of hard workouts and gluten-free meals.
What does worry me is… everything else. As per usual.
Puig started off… well, you know. In his first month of Major League service, he hit .436 with 7 homers. He “tapered off” from July to August, hitting .305, with a .858 OPS. His September? Not as great. Puig hit just .214 (but still maintaining his power at .477 slugging) and looked noticeably overmatched on many nights. His troubles extended to this spring, when he notoriously hit just .122 while, yes, looking out of shape for the first weeks of training camp.
And even as bad as his batting average has been for the past month in exhibition play, Puig’s troubles seem to have extended past just the percentage of at-bats he’s gotten hits. In Mark Saxon’s recent article for ESPNLA, he details how the young superstar in waiting has gotten on the nerves of his veteran teammates, screwing around in practice and generally acting like a butthole. None of this information is particularly out of line with his past behavior, as Don Mattingly benched him last season for lackadaisical play in the field.
As distant as the issue may seem, Puig’s immaturity in regards to the “right way to play the game” as me worried about his overall effectiveness this season. He’s been largely terrible this spring, striking out plate appearance at a time, spearheaded by his continued inability to hit a breaking ball. His immaturity in practice and exhibition is just another glaring sign that he may not be able to adjust and grow as the rest of the league has more time (and video tape) to attack his weaknesses and try to out-think him at the plate. Moving beyond just hitting, in his first two regular season games in Australia this past weekend, Puig made a number of base running mistakes that could have easily been on a review reel of last season’s antics. Top that off with an 0-5 first game with 3 strikeouts, it’s quite obvious to me that he’s still got a ton of growing up to do… but can still get by on raw talent.
The main problem here is that Puig can flip the switch day to day. He looked like he didn’t belong in Major Leagues on Friday night with a horrid performance at the plate, but 16 hours later looked like an All-League talent. He’ll be able to do that because of his freak athleticism, immense strength and explosive bursts of power, but overall I fear that he’ll have more nights like Friday than ever before. More to the point, he’s irritating teammates and his manager, which may affect his on-field game even further. Physically, I could never be worried about him. It’s every other part of the game which leads me to believe that he could have a seriously sophmore slumping type of year.