Lyle Spencer

Puig's key to suc-CES: Play like Yoenis

Dodgers need Cuban star to make Cespedes-sized impact

Puig's key to suc-CES: Play like Yoenis

LOS ANGELES -- Back in 2013 -- it seems like a decade ago to Dodgers fans -- Oakland's Yoenis Cespedes was the other Cuban outfielder in Major League Baseball.

Yasiel Puig had arrived in Hollywood in a June whirlwind, trumpets blaring and fans dancing in the Dodger Stadium aisles over the wonder of it all.

How times have changed.

Now Cespedes is among the sport's biggest names, having driven the amazin' Mets into the postseason and the World Series before the magic finally deserted them. He's back in the fold, for one expensive season at least, and Queens is jumping the way it did when Straw and Doc, Mex and The Kid were all the rage.

Puig? After one weird and frustrating 2015, nobody knows what to expect from this remarkable athlete with all that talent and all those question marks.

Puig tossed after striking out

With National League West rivals San Francisco and Arizona having spent the offseason building up, the Dodgers have been strangely quiet. Their biggest news came when they watched the D-backs steal Zack Greinke after a historic season.

Sticking with their youth plan and a system brimming with talent, the Dodgers aren't getting much patience from fans waiting 27 years for a return to the World Series. Scott Kazmir is a solid pro and Japanese import Kenta Maeda might mesmerize hitters, but the Dodgers are diminished without Greinke in tandem with Clayton Kershaw.

This is where Puig comes into focus. His team needs him to be the player he can be and once was: an offensive dynamo.

New manager Dave Roberts, one of the most respected clubhouse unifiers of his generation, has made Puig a personal challenge. Roberts' mission is to bring out the best in a man with so much to offer -- if he can stay healthy and find real growth and maturity.

"I'm just going to be honest with him, let him know what our expectations are of him," Roberts said. "And, for the most part, players have higher expectations than coaches or even the media. It should be good."

Puig plates five runs in win

For all the talk about what a distraction he is, Puig can be every bit as impactful on the field as his countryman, Cespedes.

Even after his hamstring-derailed 2015 season contributed to a substandard .255/.322/.436 slash line in just 79 games, Puig has the offensive edge over Cespedes across the board.

In three seasons and 331 games, Puig owns a .294/.371/.487 slash line for an .858 OPS. Cespedes, in four years and 575 games, is at .271/.319/.486, an .805 OPS. Taking ballparks into the equation, Puig's career OPS+ of 141 outstrips Cespedes' 122.

Defensively, they're similar. Both have powerful arms and tremendous speed. Both turn doubles and triples into outs -- and both make mental lapses that leave heads shaking.

With these two Cuban imports, it's a clear case of what they've done lately. Cespedes owned the second half of 2015, while Puig disappeared.

Puig turns two to end game

When he arrived on the scene, closing his MLB debut with a double-play throw from the Dodger Stadium track that invited inevitable Roberto Clemente comparisons, Puig was a big kid in the park, letting his talent go and flow.

It soon became evident that the player Puig most resembled was Bonds -- Bobby Bonds, Barry's dad.

Leading off, Puig crushed first pitches and ignited the offense, batting .333 in that role with a .409 on-base percentage and a .618 slugging rate.

By season's end, Puig had a .551 batting average with nine homers and a 1.072 slugging percentage on 69 first pitches put in play. His career numbers on first pitches -- .424 average, .750 slugging, 17 homers in 224 contacts -- scream, "Don't mess with his aggression."

While Puig's rookie numbers dropped as he moved to the second and fourth slots, his final slash line of .319/.391/.534 had fans drawing comparisons with Mike Trout, the Angels' superstar down the freeway. Even Trout was amazed, wanting to know all about Puig.

In his first exposure to postseason play, Puig punished the Braves, hitting .471 with a 1.029 OPS in the NL Division Series. But the NL Championship Series against the Cardinals produced an overly eager Puig hitting .227 with 10 strikeouts in 23 plate appearances as the season ended.

While Puig's offensive production in 2014 remained at an All-Star level, it became clear the big kid had let stardom go to his head. He wanted and got things his way, creating clubhouse discord. Manager Don Mattingly was patient with Puig -- to a fault, some felt -- but it eventually wore thin.

That disenchantment remained unresolved last summer as Puig struggled to overcome a recurring hamstring ailment and watched veteran Andre Ethier flourish in his role.

At 25, with three years and $19.5 million total left on a team-friendly contract, Puig is simply too talented and affordable to be unloaded at bargain rates. If he gets his head and game together, Puig can be one of the game's dominant forces -- just like Cespedes.

Lyle Spencer is a columnist for Follow him on Twitter @LyleMSpencer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.