On June 29, 2012 the Los Angeles Dodgers signed Cuban free agent batter Yasiel Puig to a 7-year / $42-million contract, jumping on the Jorge Soler and Yoenis Cespedes Cuban-import train.
Puig played 23 games in the minor leagues last year and obliterated rookie league and single-A pitching to the tune of a .354 average, 1.076 OPS, and 5 HR. He then proceeded to destroy opposing pitching in spring training, before crushing AA pitching in the early part of 2013.
The Dodgers, expected to be World Series contenders in 2013 after a massive offseason spending spree, have been nearly as bad as the Blue Jays. So in an attempt to spark the team to life, they called Puig up to the big leagues earlier this week. In his first four games, Puig has gone 7 for 16, with 3 HR, 9 RBI, 3 R, and 1 2B, good for a .438 average
and a 1.500 OPS. Not surprisingly, the Dodgers have gone 3-1 in those games, clawing to within 7.5 games of first place Arizona.
Last season, the Angels did something similar with Mike Trout, as did the Nationals with Bryce Harper. Elsewhere this season, Washington recently called up Anthony Rendon, the Cardinals have had great success with young pitching phenoms Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha, and the Rays may be on the verge of promoting reigning minor league player of the year Wil Myers.
All of this got me thinking of the Blue Jays. Where is our Puig? Where is our Trout, Harper, Rendon, Miller, Wacha, or Myers? Where is our young phenom, a difference maker who can be called up from the minors to give the team a shot in the arm, and propel us on a second half surge?
Well, there isn’t one. And there hasn’t been one for a long time. For some reason or another, Toronto’s history of heavily anticipated young studs has been poor. In 2011 Brett Lawrie made his anticipated debut with much fanfare. For 43 games he was outstanding, but that success has not carried over in subsequent seasons. In 2010, J.P. Arencibia, the much hyped young catcher, went 4 for 5 with 2 HR and 3 RBI in his August MLB debut….and then 1 for 30 in 10 games afterwards. That same season, one of minor league baseball’s most talked about young pitchers joined the Jays when Kyle Drabek made his debut. In three starts he went 0-3 with a 4.76 ERA, and grew steadily worse in 2011 and 2012 before succumbing to Tommy John surgery.
Toronto even had a Cuban import of their own, a player whose signing caused fans to celebrate that the Jays were back on the map. But while Cespedes had an oustanding season in 2012 and Puig is off to a monumental start, Adeiny Hechavarria hit .254 with a .645 OPS in 41 games last season before being shipped out to Miami in the offseason. Puig he was not.
You might have to go all the way back to the mid-90’s to find Toronto’s last hot-shot youngster who actually became a star. But even Carlos Delgado had a rough debut, struggling badly in parts of ’94 and ’95 before finally taking off in 1996.
So while the Dodgers restore hope to their fans after a rough start with dynamite reinforcements, Jays fans are left to sit and watch a maddening, injury ravaged, and disappointing team attempt to squeak out wins. Jose Reyes is coming back soon, and that will give the Jays a bigger shot in the arm than any young player ever could.
But just once, as a Jays fan, don’t you sit and wonder – where’s our Puig?