Yasiel Puig has taken Major League Baseball by storm since being called up to the majors on June 3. In that time, the 22-year-old Cuban defector has hit an absurd .474/.500/.789, and whether it's been with his hitting, his baserunning, his defense or his brawling, he has proven to be a one-man advent calendar of highlights. As I can now testify based upon witnessing him firsthand, even his outs are memorable. Based upon the torrid start to his major league career, one can make a reasonable case that he belongs on the National League All-Star team when it convenes at Citi Field in New York next month.
But will he be? Giants manager Bruce Bochy — who will pilot the NL team — addressed that on SiriusXM's MLB Network Radio earlier this week. Via the Los Angeles Daily News' J.P. Hoornstra, here's his response:
"I’ve got to be honest here, that would be really hard for me to consider that… I guess there was somebody who wrote they would like to see him there and that he deserves to go because this game is for the fans and they want to see not just the best players, but the most interesting or intriguing players. I would have a hard time picking somebody who has been here three weeks, to be honest. The numbers would have to be so stupid that you say, ‘Ok I’ll consider it.’ But, you know, I couldn’t take away from a player who has been here and done it the whole half and been out there grinding every day and he doesn’t go. I couldn’t look at that player. I couldn’t look at myself, to be honest. So that’s why I’m saying, that’s a really long shot.”
In Puig's defense, the numbers are stupid. Since 1916 (when Retrosheet game-by-game data coverage begins), just two players have collected more total bases in their first 15 games than Puig, and only one has collected more hits:
Fifteen games is a small sample size and not a great barometer of career success. Some of the players above turned into stars, Hall of Famers even; McCovey, DiMaggio and Klein found their way to Cooperstown, and Keltner had a reasonable enough case to have a whole line of sabermetric inquiry named after him (Bill James' Keltner Test). Others cooled off and quickly faded into obscurity; Brooks, Ristelli and Hart put up acceptable numbers as rookies but were done in the majors after a handful of games in their second seasons.
As noted before, Puig has done more than just post fantastic numbers. Whether his talent is truly All-Star caliber remains to be seen, but given the number of players who make it each year who are demonstrably not — take 2012 NL All-Star Bryan LaHair, who lost his job later in the year and left for Japan this winter, or Dan Uggla, who has fallen apart as a hitter in recent years and was hitting .221/.351/.395 at last year's All-Star break — that shouldn't be a major impediment.
Having been called up so late, Puig isn't on the ballot, but as Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan pointed out, when luminaries like Mike Baxter (now in Triple-A), Kirk Nieuwenhuis (with a 451 OPS) and Adam Eaton (who has yet to play this year due to injury) are, that doesn't speak particularly well of the process. It wouldn't be a surprise if the Dodgers mount a write-in campaign before balloting ends on July 4, or if fans around the majors start writing him in on their own. They want to see him, and assuming Bochy bypasses him on principle when he chooses the reserves, it would still be no shock at all if he's part of the internet-based All-Star Final Vote procedure, which allows fans to choose from a five-player slate in each league.
Quite frankly, baseball needs Puig at Citi Field on July 16 given that last year's game sank to record-low television ratings. The NL — Bochy's team included — needs him as well given that he may be able to help them win and therefore secure home field advantage in the World Series for the league's pennant-winner. He doesn't have to start, nor does he deserve to, but imagine him as a late-inning pinch-hitting threat if nothing else, because one swing of his bat can change a game. Dude is hitting .474/.500/.789!
The Dodgers are 10 games under .500, but they nevertheless have several candidates to represent them in Queens. Clayton Kershaw is an easy pick even if he doesn't actually pitch, and both Adrian Gonzalez (.309/.367/.469) and Carl Crawford (.301/.358/.470) are defensible choices based upon track records and current performance — health permitting, given that the latter is on the DL due to the hamstring strain that led to Puig's recall in the first place.
According to MLB.com, 99 rookies have played in an All-Star Game, including 59 position players. There is however no precedent for a position player making the All-Star Game with as little major league experience as Puig, who if he were to play every remaining Dodger game between now and July 14 would max out at 39 games. Bryce Harper became the youngest player in All-Star history last year at 19, but after being recalled in late April, he had 63 games under his belt by the time the game rolled around; he was only added to the team as an injury replacement, and was hitting .282/.354/.472 with eight homers at the break.
Pitchers have been selected with less experience. A's rookie closer Ryan Cook had pitched in 50 career games, thrown 46 innings and picked up eight saves when he was tabbed last summer. Dodgers phenom Fernando Valenzuela had 24 games and 14 starts when he was chosen to start for the NL in the 1981 game following the settlement of the players' strike. On the other hand, Stephen Strasburg was bypassed in 2010 after making seven starts with a 2.32 ERA and a 12.9 strikeout per nine ratio — roughly a quarter of a season of work, about what Puig would have by the time this year's game rolled around. As Bochy can certainly recall, even without Strasburg's help, the NL won that one and then his own Giants team used the home-field advantage as a springboard to a world championship.
From here, despite his rawness and his limited experience, Puig appears to be at least a defensible choice, particularly as the All-Star Game scrambles to straddle its dual roles of being an exhibition for the people and a competitive means of deciding home-field advantage. That said, the odds are against him maintaining even a .400 average by the time the squads are announced on July 6, or on July 7, when Final Vote balloting begins, which should give Bochy cover as he protects The Old Guard from an upstart who could help the exhibition regain some of the popularity it has lost.
Assuming that happens, it will be a shame, a missed opportunity if not an injustice. Like most other players who don't happen to be lucky enough to be the sole defensible choice on a bad team, Puig will have to grind his way to the Midsummer Classic like everyone else. Bo-ring. This article has been updated to correct the date when All-Star teams will be announced.