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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Puig as an All-Star should be a no-brainer

Puig as an All-Star should be a no-brainer

Look, this isn't complicated. Yasiel Puig should be a member of the National League All-Star team.

Absolutely.

More

Positively.

Puig is the most interesting player in baseball, and isn't that part of what the All-Star Game is about? It's for the fans, right? At the moment, the Dodgers' right fielder is the player virtually everyone who follows the game is talking about.

We're amazed by how Puig has burst onto the scene with five weeks of video game-like numbers. We try to catch his at-bats. We watch his highlights. We are struck by Puig's strength and quickness. Yes, he really is hitting .443. He has started 26 games for the Dodgers and had at least two hits 15 times, at least three seven times.

Puig has sprayed the ball around the field, doubles here, homers there. He has put a franchise on his shoulders as well. Southern California hasn't been this energized by a baseball player since Fernando Valenzuela stepped onto the stage in 1981.


And it's not just Puig's talents that have swept us away. It's something else -- something that doesn't show up in the numbers.

Puig is playing the game with unbridled joy and energy. He's reckless and carefree, and he is doing a pretty good imitation of the happiest man on earth. If his attitude doesn't rub off on teammates and coaches, on fans of every team, then you've got a mighty cold heart, my friend.

The Dodgers are 16-10 with Puig in the starting lineup, 23-33 without him. In the last 11 days, they've cut their deficit in the NL West from 9 1/2 games to 2 1/2.

Is Puig the only reason the Dodgers have soared back into contention? Of course not. Hanley Ramirez has had an insane few weeks. Clayton Kershaw is the definition of a No. 1 starter.

Every hot streak is the product of a dozen different things falling into place. Yet the Dodgers clearly have been ignited by one player. Puig is the guy teammates stop to watch take batting practice, the guy opposing players want to get a look at.

There's simply no reason not to invite Puig to the party. His impact on the game in a single month is close to that of Mike Trout and Bryce Harper a year ago.

Jonathan Papelbon is wrong when he says it would be a "joke" to have Puig in the All-Star Game. Papelbon is right to be concerned that Puig would take the spot of a more deserving player who has been in the big leagues since Opening Day.

Puig wouldn't be doing that. More on that later. The All-Star Game is for the best players. Whether that means the players who've had the best overall careers or the players who've had the best 2013 season is one of those gray areas all of us might see a bit differently.

But celebrity matters. If the fans want to see a player, if the fans are talking about him, then he should be there. The All-Star Game is for ushering a new generation of players onto one of baseball's biggest stages.

We'll hear all about Chris Davis and Paul Goldschmidt and Josh Donaldson and Jason Kipnis this year. They're all 27 or younger. They're all also four of the very best players in baseball this season.

And there's Puig.

Those who believe he doesn't belong -- for instance, Papelbon -- point out Puig didn't play his first game until June 3, in the Dodgers' 56th game. They probably acknowledge he has been baseball's best player since then, that he has done things virtually no player in history has done.

Puig's stat line is ridiculous: a .443 batting average and a .745 slugging percentage. In just 106 at-bats, he has six doubles, one triple, eight home runs and 17 RBIs.

In June, Puig led the Major Leagues in hits, batting average, on-base percentage and an assortment of other categories among players with at least 100 at-bats.

But Puig has fewer homers, RBIs, etc., than a bunch of players who were on Opening Day rosters. Is it possible that his overall numbers simply don't add up? After all, 99 NL players have had more than his 47 hits.

Shouldn't they have the first crack at a spot on the All-Star team? That's a tough one.

To dig inside the numbers a bit is to see a better case for Puig. According to BaseballReference.com's Wins Above Replacement -- a number that attempts to measure a player's overall impact -- Puig is tied for 21st among all NL players at 2.3. Carlos Gomez is No. 1 at 4.8.

Push the pause button and take a moment to roll that thought around in your mind. Don Mattingly has written the kid's name on his lineup card just 26 times, and Puig has already had more of an impact that all but 20 other NL position players.

Among outfielders, Puig is ninth. Here are the eight in front of him: Gomez, Andrew McCutchen, Carlos Gonzalez, Starling Marte, Gerardo Parra, Jay Bruce, Hunter Pence and Domonic Brown.

In last year's All-Star Game, the NL team used exactly nine outfielders, so even without taking a spot from a player who has produced since Opening Day, Puig should have a place on the team.

And there's more. At 22, Yasiel Puig is the living, breathing definition of the American Dream. He risked his life to escape Cuba and get to the United States. To him, America represented what President Reagan called "that bright, shining city on a hill."

Nothing can be done about the fact that Puig didn't play his first game until June 2. Since then, he has been the best player in the game, the most interesting player in the game. Puig would also be the most interesting player in this Midsummer Classic, and that's reason enough to want him there.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"event":["all_star" ] ,"content":["highly_trained_performances" ] }
{"event":["all_star" ] ,"content":["highly_trained_performances" ] }