Yasiel Puig has been anything but dull so far this season for the Chattanooga Lookouts, which has been both good and bad.
The 22-year-old right fielder went 2-for-3 with an RBI in Monday night's 7-4 defeat of Birmingham at AT&T Field to increase his average to .389 through his first 11 Double-A games. Yet those same games include two baserunning blunders, and he was pulled out of last Wednesday's victory at Tennessee during the fourth inning.
"One of the things we're trying to get him to do is be less showy," Lookouts manager Jody Reed said Monday afternoon. "We want him to play the game with discipline and for him to be respectful of his opponents. Clearly you go out there to work hard and to try and beat them, but you have to minimize the showiness, and we have seen that from him from time to time."
Puig is a 6-foot-3, 245-pounder who defected from Cuba last year and signed a whopping $42 million, seven-year contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers that included $12 million up front. He played in 14 high-Single-A games late last season and 26 big-league spring training games last month, which is a minuscule number of contests compared to his time in Cuba.
Baseball in Cuba and the United States is very different, according to Lookouts hitting coach Orv Franchuk, who was in Cuba a few years ago for a tournament when he helped coach the Canadian Olympic team.
"They let their guys go and play, but as far as the team atmosphere and being a good teammate, I'm not sure that they talk about that much," Franchuk said. "They teach them how to do the fundamentals and the mechanics, but not much of the mental stuff and the visual stuff is done. They really, really work on mechanical stuff, and Yasiel is so gifted and so talented, but there are times he really doesn't know how to play the game.
"He plays the game so hard that there are times he needs to pump the brakes."
Puig was unable to comment for this story, because his translator, Eddie Oropesa, is in Miami this week for jury duty.
His removal in last week's game against the Smokies was for a "personal matter" that was handled internally, said Reed, who added that Puig responded positively. That Puig had to be benched does not mean that he struggles to take instruction.
"The one thing you never have to worry about is him not playing hard," Reed said. "He brings it every day, and we will show him things that he will use literally that night. There is an adaptability there, and he will take things and try to apply them as fast as he can."
Puig is still an infant in terms of being a baseball player in the states, with every day providing more guidance.
"They like to show their stuff off in Cuba, especially if there are scouts there," Franchuk said. "I tell our guys now to go out there and have fun and show off, but they need to be under control and smart with it. That's how you have fun. You don't want the guys with tight sphincters, because the ball has a way of finding those guys all the time."
Zach Lee pitched six scoreless innings Monday night and first baseman Chris Jacobs went 3-for-3 with an RBI for the Lookouts, who improved to 4-7.
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 ...