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Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig Still Has Doubters After Huge Rookie Season

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PHOENIX, AZ - SEPTEMBER 18: Yasiel Puig #66 of the Los Angeles Dodgers walks from the dugout to bat against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the MLB game at Chase Field on September 18, 2013 in Phoenix, Arizona.

Yasiel Puig (Photo Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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By Rich Arleo

CBS Local Sports, in our “30 Players 30 Days” spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.

Yasiel Puig, Outfielder, Los Angeles Dodgers

2013 season (minors): 40 G, 147 AB, .313 BA, 8 HR, 37 RBI, 13 SB, .982 OPS

2013 season (majors): 104 G, 383 AB, .319 BA, 19 HR, 42 RBI, 11 SB, .925 OPS

This time last season, baseball fans everywhere began learning the name Yasiel Puig. Signed out of Cuba, in just his second season with the Dodgers organization, Puig received an invite to spring training and quickly made himself known.

He went an incredible 30-for-58 with five doubles, three home runs, four steals and 11 RBIs last spring. This after going 29-for-82 with five home runs, eight steals and a 1.076 OPS in only 23 games between Rookie and High-A ball in 2012. While it was a small sample, he was clearly too advanced for the minors. And the red-hot spring just reinforced what many already knew: Puig was ready for the bigs. Unfortunately, the Dodgers didn’t have a spot for him.

Their outfield already included Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. Having Puig languish on the bench after such a great spring training was pointless, so the team dropped him down to Double-A. He didn’t miss a beat, hitting eight home runs and 37 RBIs with a .313/.383/.599 slash line and stealing 13 bases in 40 games. When injuries mounted in the Dodgers outfield, it was Puig’s time.

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And what a time it was. The Cuban took to the league with ease, going 5-for-8 with two home runs and five RBIs in his first two games. And there was plenty more to come. Puig finished the season with 19 home runs, 11 steals, a .319 average and a .925 OPS. Not only did he hit like crazy, but he played great defense in right field too. His cannon of an arm can be credited with eight outfield assists and a ton of highlights.

Unfortunately, there were some negative highlights as well. Many criticized Puig for styling his home runs and, in general, not showing “respect” for the game. Then this offseason he got into some legal trouble — though nothing too crazy in the scope of off-field issues for athletes. Some critics added his two arrests for reckless driving to his on-field conduct and, suddenly Puig was being labeled a problem.

But the bottom line with Puig — and any athlete who gets their personality criticized — is that he can make all the problems go away simply by performing on the field. And he showed last season that he can perform at a level only a handful of players can. Puig has played exceptionally well at every level and will be starting in right field and hitting in the middle of the Dodgers order come opening day, whether his detractors like it or not. If he keeps quiet off the field and continues to perform on it, he’s on the fast track to superstardom.

Next up: Archie Bradley, Arizona Diamondbacks

Check out our Fantasy Baseball Preview, breaking down the top players at each position.

Rich Arleo is a Marist College alum who has been a professional writer and editor since graduating in 2010. Find him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ for more of his sports musings.

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