Touted Chattanooga Lookouts outfielder Yasiel Puig has heard the comparisons to Bo Jackson.
He just hasn't heard them for long.
"I never knew who Bo Jackson was when I was in Cuba," Puig said Tuesday afternoon before the Lookouts held their first practice at AT&T Field. "I just try to play hard every day, and if people want to compare me to him, that's OK with me. I have seen two or three Bo Jackson highlights.
"I have seen him hit and the catch he made when he jumped up on the fence. I am very impressed that Bo Jackson could play baseball and football."
A chiseled 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, Puig evoked memories of Jackson throughout spring training, when he hit .526 in 26 big-league exhibition games. Jackson was 6-1 and 222 pounds when he won the 1985 Heisman Trophy at Auburn University, and he was able to excel professionally in two sports until a career-ending hip injury in 1991.
In 1989, Jackson was the MVP of baseball's All-Star game and later rushed for 950 yards in 11 games with the Los Angeles Raiders.
New Lookouts manager Jody Reed played for Boston when Jackson was with the Kansas City Royals, and he sees a lot of the same traits in Puig, a 22-year-old who defected from Cuba last year and signed a $42 million, seven-year contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
"He's an extremely talented man and, like Bo, has all five tools," Reed said. "He can really do just about anything on that field, and he is really fun to watch in the same way Bo was. I can remember being in the big leagues and just thoroughly enjoying watching Bo Jackson play baseball because you didn't know what you were going to see.
"Yasiel Puig is the same guy."
Puig is creating a season-opening buzz that hasn't been witnessed in Chattanooga since Adam Dunn's arrival in 2001. He played in just 14 games late last season with Rancho Cucamonga in the high Single-A California League, where he hit .327 with a home run and four RBIs.
His blistering spring kept him in big-league camp until last Tuesday, when he was optioned to the Class AA Lookouts.
"The thing that impresses the most about him is his street smarts," Lookouts hitting coach Orv Franchuk said. "He's not a Harvard guy, but he figures stuff out. Sometimes you get guys from underdeveloped countries in that condition because they've had to fight and scratch and steal just to survive every day. He's that kind of a guy.
"His tools are off the chart, but I call his makeup a tool, and he's got solid makeup. Nothing seems to bother him much."
Puig spoke Tuesday through his translator, Eddie Oropesa. Dodgers player development director DeJon Watson said Puig has an English teacher who will be coming to Chattanooga for the opening series, which starts Thursday against visiting Huntsville.
Watson added that Puig will be taking English classes five days a week during his time with the Lookouts.
How long Puig stays in Chattanooga is the big question. Should he shred the Southern League the way he did major league pitching, the stint could be short, but the Dodgers want him to play every day and have a lot invested in their outfield of Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp.
"At the end of the day, this is clearly best for his development," Reed said. "He's very raw, and he needs to learn some of the team concepts and all the stuff that comes with the seasoning of a young player. The talent is there, and he is an incredible athlete. Barring injury, he is going to play in the big leagues."
Said Franchuk: "I hope he's here the whole year, because I would love to work with him."
Puig was hoping to break camp with the Dodgers, so he had some disappointment, but that pales to the excitement of being in a new country. He tried to defect from Cuba several times and missed the 2011 season as punishment.
"I thank God for everything that has happened to me this past year," Puig said. "I'm going to keep working hard and listening to the coaches so I can get better every day."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...