Heading into his first full season in the majors, Yasiel Puig has become the most exciting player in baseball. Good or bad, taking one's eyes off the Dodgers outfielder is asking to miss something memorable.
Whether he's unleashing a throw from right field - hitting the cut-off man or not - or running the bases with reckless abandon, Puig is usually good for at least one highlight per game.
There was no moment from 2013 that encapsulated all that Puig brings to the table than his at-bat in the fourth inning of Game 3 of the NLCS. Puig at that point was 0-for-11 with seven strikeouts in the series but got a hold of a 2-1 pitch from Adam Wainwright.
Puig celebrated right away, thinking he had hit a home run, but even with the late start around the bases his speed allowed him to make it to third base standing up, with ease. It was amazing and infuriating all at once, and in the end resulted in a net gain for the Dodgers.
In other words, it was pure Puig.
Puig will forever chase the performance in his first month in the big leagues. He hit .436/.467/.713 with seven home runs in 26 games and won National League Player of the Month. After a few adjustment periods - back and forth between Puig and opposing pitchers - Puig settled in to hit .278/.366/.470 with 12 home runs in 78 games over the season's final three months.
The story of Puig likely batting leadoff in 2014 - as briefly mentioned by manager Don Mattingly on Saturday and written about by Ken Gurnick at MLB.com on Monday - is getting a lot of play but it can't be much of a surprise. The Dodgers are without security blanket Mark Ellis, who made 113 starts batting second the last two years as well as all 10 playoff games in 2013.
It's unlikely that catcher A.J. Ellis or newcomer Alex Guerrero will see regular time at the top of the order, at least to start.
Moving Carl Crawford to second in the batting order allows the Dodgers to alternate between right and left at the top of the order, with Puig, Crawford, Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez. When Matt Kemp is in the lineup, he fits right in the middle of the order, making it even easier to keep Puig at the top, whether Crawford or Andre Ethier is playing left field (and probably batting second).
But wherever Puig is batting, when he is at the plate you shouldn't take your eyes off him. You never know what you might miss.
Before Puig was activated the Dodgers had four home runs as a team in 553 plate appearances with runners in scoring position in 2013. In Puig's first four plate appearances with RISP, he hit three home runs.
Puig's batting average didn't dip below .400 until his 35th major league game and 151st plate appearance. His final 2013 line of .319/.391/.534 represented season lows in average, on-base percentage and OPS.
Puig will earn $2 million in the third season of a seven-year contract. Puig has 119 days of service time and once he's eligible for salary arbitration - either as a Super Two after 2015 or after surpassing three years of service time in 2016 - he can choose to opt out of his contract and go to arbitration instead. He won't be eligible for free agency until after the 2019 season.
|2012 - Class-A
|2013 - Double-A
|2013 - MLB
|2014 projections - Age 23 season|
The Bill James projection is the outlier here, with the other systems settling in at Puig's production over the final three months. I'll guess Puig starts 148 times in the outfield and hits .304/.371/.516 with 27 home runs and 23 steals. What's your guess?