By the time Yasiel Puig reported for Spring Training — days ahead of when position players were officially due in camp — it was clear he was ready to put a down 2015 season and subsequent rocky offseason behind him.
Puig lost weight, as Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman requested, and reconnected with his 2013 mentor and interpreter (Tim Bravo). Clayton Kershaw noticed a change, praising Puig during Spring Training for his work ethic.
Unfortunately for the 25-year-old Cuban native, his work has yet to fully translate to on-field success. While Puig has turned in multiple highlight-worthy defensive plays, he’s struggled at the plate and more recently been a victim of bad luck.
As Puig continues to search for offensive success, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts regularly finds himself discussing his outfielder. The rookie manager has primarily conveyed a focal point of the coaching staff is getting Puig to attack pitches inside the strike zone.
Although results haven’t necessarily proven as much, Roberts noted on Friday there’s been recent improvement. “You look at the last two days, there’s one at-bat against (Mets closer Jeurys) Familia that wasn’t a good at-bat. Outside of that, he’s squared the ball up more than he had,” Roberts said.
“He’s hitting balls to the wall, a line drive where the shortstop makes a play, bullet up the middle that Bartolo (Colon) snags. So, yeah, I have (seen improvement).” However, with that, Roberts believes a lack of hits continues to wear on Puig.
“I think Yasiel is trying to get four hits in one at-bat,” Roberts hypothesized. “And that’s what happens to players when they start struggling.” Earlier in the week Roberts said he thought Puig was “putting a lot of the pressure on himself to perform.”
Puig responded in the series opener against the St. Louis Cardinals, going 3-for-5 with one home run and two RBIs. While his offensive production has been inconsistent, Roberts provided a glowing review of Puig’s focus and play in right field. “He’s playing Gold-Glove defense, from the eye test to the metrics,” Roberts said on Tuesday.
“That’s the respect he has for his teammates. What he’s not doing with the bat right now, he’s certainly doing with the glove.” That same day, Puig went on to make a diving catch to rob Juan Lagares of a base hit on the first play of the game.
It was the second time in as many games Puig took a hit away from Lagares with an impressive catch. According to FanGraphs, Puig’s eight defensive runs saved ranks only behind Adam Eaton (15) among right fielders.