Amazing Yasiel Puig already on list of must-see hitters in baseball
For four nights Yasiel Puig has allowed the Dodgers to dream that perhaps the 22-year-old rookie could jolt a struggling team the way 20-year Mike Trout did the Angels and 19-year-old Bryce Harper did the Nationals last year. The kid is batting .438 and slugging 1.063. Already he has a multi-home run game and a game-busting grand slam and become the hottest star at Dodger Stadium since Manny Ramirez (pre-drug bust). It's too soon to know if Puig's impact will be a lasting one, but it's not too soon to know that with his power, fierce stroke and boundless energy and joy, Puig just became one of the top must-see at-bats of this baseball season.
Think about the way Puig attacks the baseball. In his first four games, covering 49 pitches, Puig allowed only five strikes to pass by him without him swinging -- and one of those was on a 3-and-0 count. His three home runs have come on the first or second pitches of at-bats. In all, 30 of his 35 strikes came from swinging the bat (balls in play, fouls and misses).
Poor guy has seen only 3.06 pitches per plate appearance. Guess that's not very good in today's game, huh? But you want offense? You want action? You want Puig.
What will he do next? That is what makes Puig so fun: When he comes to bat you pay attention, regardless of the game score. And that leads to this question: Just who are the top must-see at-bats in baseball? Here are my top five hitters in baseball right now that make you stop and watch -- it's not a list of the best hitters -- and they are presented in alphabetical order:
Miguel Cabrera: The best pure hitter in the game. One of the best sights in baseball is watching Cabrera play around-the-world home runs in batting practice -- he will smash home runs in order across the outfield from right to left. You get the feeling he's so good he might do it one day in a game.
Yoenis Cespedes: He and Carlos Gonzalez have the best plate coverage since Juan Gonzalez. With his long bat and whip-like stroke, Cespedes can take an outside pitch and make it look like it was down the middle by pulling it out of the park.
Harper: The Nationals miss him (he's on the disabled list with an inflamed knee) and so do fans of aggressive hitting. He recalls the old scouting line about "light tower power," attacking pitches with such ferocity his back foot often comes off the ground.
Puig: Is he the next Bo Jackson? A comet or a true star? The mystery is part of the attraction, but so is that aggressive swing.
Trout: He has lightning quick bat speed, ridiculous power and the speed to beat out routine groundballs to shortstop.
2. A glimmer of hope for B.J. Upton
The Braves tried just about everything to get centerfielder B.J. Upton on track. He looked at old video and spent hours in the cage. They tried giving him five games off in a seven-game span last month. "I've called just about everybody I know in baseball," hitting coach Greg Walker said last week, "just looking for any idea, any drill, any small piece of advice. I just got off the phone with Chipper Jones about B.J."
Still, Upton ended May hitting .145 and had struck out in 35 percent of his plate appearances. Upton was late on fastballs, the result of spinning his torso while loading and a trigger mechanism with his front foot that resulted in him getting the foot down too late. "The strange thing," Walker said, "was that he wouldn't do it in batting practice -- he would look great -- but then it would show up in the game."
Finally, as the calendar flipped to June, Upton brought the swing fixes into the game. It hardly was epic stuff -- he started the month 4-for-17, including two home runs and a game-winning broken-bat single -- but Atlanta finally saw some signs that Upton is crawling out of his funk.
Upton is not an efficient hitter. In 2012, his walk year in the prime of his career, he set career worsts for on-base percentage and strikeouts. But the Braves gave him $75.25 million over five years during the offseason because he is an impact player at times who can change games with his power, speed and defense. The good news for Atlanta is that it hasn't seen anything close to the best of Upton and yet it has held first place all but one day.
Indeed, the Braves can take heart that they have built an impressive record without seeing anything close to the outfield production they expected from Upton, his brother Justin, who has cooled after a hot start, and Jason Heyward, whose slow start included a DL stint due to appendicitis. Entering play last night, Atlanta's outfield ranked last in the league in batting average (.217), 14th in hits (142), 12th in slugging (.382) and 10th in on-base percentage (.321). Better days are surely ahead.
3. Notes on a scandal
Congratulations to Matt Holliday, Mark Teixeira, Mark DeRosa and any other player who spoke out this week that neither their union nor ownership should be in the business of protecting PED cheats. Holliday, when asked on MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM about the news that Tony Bosch will cooperate with MLB investigators, said, "I think it's just another sign that Major League Baseball is willing to spend their resources and investigations and trying to get to every single lead that they have about guys cheating and going to the bottom of it and not letting it slip or letting it slide depending on who it is and what it might cause as far as the reputation of the game. They're coming after whoever might be cheating. They're really doing the research and putting the money towards figuring out who is doing it. I think it's good that they're cleaning up the game the best that they can and ultimately we can move past it pretty soon."
The union got into this mess with its reputation tarnished partly because the rank and file dared not speak up about a game they knew was unfair. With testing and rules in place, the burden on players to uphold the integrity of the game rises to an even higher level. As for those who oddly question baseball's vigilance in upholding that integrity by pursuing a major drug scandal made public by the Miami New Times, weren't many of them the same people who second-guessed baseball for not doing enough (or worse, even intentionally doing nothing) in the Steroid Era?