The Dodgers have officially announced the signing of Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig to a seven-year Major League contract. General Manager Ned Colletti made the announcement. “Scouting and signing talent in Latin America is critical and this signing shows ownership’s commitment to reengage in the region and dedicate ourselves to getting stronger in this area,” said Colletti. “We feel that Yasiel can be an outstanding Major League player for the organization.”
Yasiel Puig (pronounced Ya-see-el Pweeg) played professionally in Cuba for Cienfuegos during the 2010-11 Cuban Series and hit .330 with 17 homers, 19 doubles, six triples, 47 RBI with a .430 on-base percentage in just 327 at-bats. In the playoffs following that season, Puig hit .370 in 46 at-bats.
“Yasiel is a fantastic kid with an infectious personality and we think he has the tools to be a front line player in the Major Leagues,” said Dodgers assistant GM Logan White. “He is very physical and athletic with raw power…he can hit it a long way. On top of that, he has a good arm and is an above average runner. We had a great team of people that worked to get this done and I’m proud of our staff.”
The speedy, strong-armed 21-year-old outfielder is expected to report to Camelback Ranch in Glendale, AZ when he arrives in the United States. If the six-foot, three-inch, 215-pound Puig reaches the Major Leagues, he will become the eighth native of Cuba in Dodger history and the first since Danys Baez in 2006. The last Dodger position player born in Cuba was shortstop Zoilo Versalles (1968).
The most famous native of Cuba to play for the Dodgers (both Brooklyn and Los Angeles) was outfielder Sandy Amoros, who had 324 hits from 1952-60 and made a game-saving catch in Game 7 of the 1955 World Series, robbing Hall of Famer Yogi Berra of extra bases. In addition to Amoros, Baez and Versalles, Camilo Pascual (1970), Rene Valdes (1957), Chico Fernandez (1956) and Dolph Luque (1930-31) were all Cuban-born players to wear Dodger Blue. Pascual has been a longtime Dodger scout, covering Venezuela, as has legendary scout Mike Brito, who was born in Cuba. In addition, Dodger scouts Ralph Avila and Manny Estrada are also natives of Cuba, as is Rancho Cucamonga Quakes manager Juan Bustabad.
The Dodgers held Spring Training in Havana from 1941-42 and again in 1947. Many legendary Dodgers spent extensive time playing in Cuba, including Jackie Robinson, Don Newcombe, Duke Snider and Sandy Koufax. Hall of Fame Manager Tommy Lasorda not only played in Cuba, but was inducted into the Cuban Sports Hall of Fame in 2010 and beat the Cuban National team on his way to a gold medal at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. In the 2012 First-Year Draft held earlier this month, the Dodgers took two Cuban players, pitchers Onelki Garcia and Alfredo Unzue, while signing another as a free agent, catcher Selme Angulo.