By now everyone is well aware that Cuban superstar outfield Yasiel Puig, who made his major league baseball debut on Monday evening before 37,055 at Dodger Stadium, defected to the United States from Cuba. Everyone also knows that the Dodgers signed the (then) 21-year-old ball player to an enormous 7-year/$42 million contract basically unseen – except by two people. One of those people was Dodgers Vice President of Vice President of Amateur Scouting Logan White, who is also credited with finding other Dodger gems such as Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw.
But long before Logan White had ever heard the name Yasiel Puig, Dodger scouting legend Mike Brito was already all over this kid.
I had an opportunity to interview Mike on the field during batting practice prior to Puig’s MLB debut on Monday to get a first hand account on how he came across the guy who could very well become one of the greatest baseball players of our generation.
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RC: This has to be a really exciting day for you, Mike.
MB: It’s my number 32 in 35 years to make it to the big leagues so I’m pretty happy… and a good one.
RC: Thirty two?
MB: …in 35 years.
RC: There’s been a lot of hype in the media about Yasiel, perhaps even more so than when you discovered Fernando Valenzuela because of today’s social media that didn’t exist back then. How would you compare this to Fernandomania?
MB: The big thing with Fernando is that I don’t think that mania will happen again. This guy (Puig) is close in making an impact but with Fernando, everywhere he pitched, stadiums were packed and people came from other cities when Fernando was going to pitch when the Dodgers were playing and I don’t think that is ever going to happen again, but this guy is kind of close. He’s only 22 and I hope that he starts with a good season. He’s got all the talent in the world, he’s a five-tool player. All he needs is to be a bit patient and change his attitude a little bit and he’s going to be a great player.
RC: There are so many different stories out there about how you came to find Yasiel, how did it actually happen?
MB: It happened when he played in Canada in a tournament (when he was with the Cuban national team). I saw him there when I went over there with Mexico’s team to see players and by coincidence I saw him play. I was excited when I saw him and that was almost five years ago. I made (a scouting) report on him. I knew he was a good player but I knew that I would have no chance to see him.
At the beginning of the year last year, I read in the paper that Yasiel Puig had escaped (defected) and my brother in Cuba called me and said ‘Hey, you know that player you liked that you saw in Canada? He’s on his way right now to Cancun.’ When I saw that I called Logan White and said ‘Logan, we’ve got a player that played in Cuba that is in Cancun right now, and when I saw him he was a five-tool player.’ Logan told me to keep track of him and see what happens.
We found out from a friend of mine that (Puig) was in Cancun and that he was going to be in Mexico pretty soon, so Logan White went with me and another scout to see him in Mexico. We watched him for four days, only hitting, because we didn’t want to take a chance of someone seeing him run or see him throw and we didn’t want to see him (get) hurt.
I have to give Logan White a lot of credit because he had to take my word for it because I was the only guy to see him play.
RC: One of the stories that I had heard is that Yasiel had been held captive while he was in Mexico. Is that true?
MB: He was (held) captive in Mexico. Some people put (up) some money to bring him from Cuba. Some people rented a big boat and spent $10,000 and brought him to Cancun. These guys have a lot of money and they knew what kind of player (Puig) was, so they spent some money with the idea that they were going to make more and that’s what happened.
RC: Was the intention to come to the United States all along or was it to keep him in Mexico to play in Mexico?
MB: No, they brought him (to Mexico) to bring him to the United States because the guy in Cuba… I cannot give you his name because he (is still) doing it, knew he was major league material. As a matter of fact, he did it with another player about three weeks ago who is in Mexico right now. They know who has talent and who does not and they know whether to spend that kind of money or not. Look at how much money (the Dodgers) paid for the kid (Puig).
RC: Wow, that’s incredible.
MB: It’s not incredible, it’s going to happen and it’s going to keep happening. As long as Castro is still there, they’re going to keep coming and they’re going to be spending money because they know who they’re going to spend it on.
RC: I was at Rancho Cucamonga when Puig made his debut there and you and I spoke briefly about him and it seems to me that this has to be extremely exciting for you when you stop and think of how far Yasiel has come in less than a year, especially after the spring training that he had.
MB: Let me tell you, I’ve been with the Dodgers for 35 years and this makes my 32nd player to reach the big leagues and he is the best position player I’ve ever signed. I’ve signed a lot of good pitchers like Fernando Valenzuela, Ismael Valdez, Antonio Osuna, a lot of big pitchers, but position players he’s the best. I don’t think there’s going to be something close to him for a long time.
All he needs is time, something that he has. I told him to be patient and have a good attitude and he’s going to be great. I’m very confident (in) him.
RC: Thank you for your time, Mike, I really appreciate it.
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In Tuesday night’s game, the second of Puig’s career, he hit his first and second career home runs – the first an absolute monster shot to left field and the second a hard line drive to right field. In doing so, Puig became the first Dodger ever to hit multiple home runs in their first two major league games.