From ESPN Stats & Information, most total bases through 19 career games (live-ball era):
Mandy Brooks, 1925 Cubs, 64
Joe DiMaggio, 1936 Yankees, 59
George Scott, 1966 Red Sox, 59
Willie McCovey, 1959 Giants, 56
Alvin Davis, 1984 Mariners, 54
Jeff Francoeur, 2005 Braves, 53
Chris Dickerson, 2008 Reds, 53
Josh Rutledge, 2012 Rockies, 52
Yasiel Puig, 2013 Dodgers, 52
The Dodgers host the Giants tonight on ESPN at 10 p.m. ET, so if you haven't seen Puig play yet, try checking out the game. It's a good matchup with Madison Bumgarner facing Hyun-Jin Ryu, who has quietly had an effective rookie season for the Dodgers.
Anyway, that's an interesting list above, and while comparing Puig to them isn't the most valuable of exercises, it's a fun exercise. It's what we like to do when a young phenom emerges. Who does he remind us of?
Mandy Brooks played a long time ago, and I'd never heard of him, with good reason: He was a 27-year-old rookie and 1925 was more or less the extent of his big league career (he added 57 plate appearances in 1926). He hit .370 with eight home runs and 28 RBIs in his first 19 games and finished the season at .281 with 14 home runs. The odd thing is he came up in late May and was immediately inserted into the cleanup spot. Guess they did things differently then.
Alvin Davis and Willie McCovey were different players from Puig -- slow left-handed-hitting first basemen (although McCovey ended up playing left field with Orlando Cepeda around). As a Mariners fan, I have fond memories of Davis' debut. He was called up a week into the season, homered in his first two games and hit .352 with eight home runs in his first 19 games. He went on to win Rookie of the Year honors and was one of the best hitters in the American League for seven years before suddenly losing it. He was a much different hitter from Puig, with great plate discipline (he had more walks than strikeouts in his career) and marginal power.
George Scott was a 22-year-old rookie with the Red Sox when he hit .343 with nine home runs through 19 games. He struck out 152 times that year -- the second-highest total ever at the time. Like Davis and McCovey, he was a first baseman, although athletic enough that the Red Sox tried him at third base one year.
Maybe you remember Josh Rutledge's hot start last year. It didn't get quite the same play as Puig's, but he hit .355 with five home runs, six doubles and two triples in his first 19 games. In the end, he was done in by poor strike-zone judgment; he finished the year with 54 strikeouts and nine walks, and his future appears to be more utility infielder than big league starter.
Chris Dickerson was a 26-year-old minor league vet when the Reds called him up in August of 2008. He hit .320 with six home runs, seven doubles, two triples and drew 12 walks in his first 19 games. He's never been able to get a regular gig, and as a backup with the Orioles this year he's hitting .265 with four home runs in 85 plate appearances, but has struck out 29 times while drawing two walks.
So that leaves us with Joe DiMaggio and Jeff Francoeur, and I'd suggest Puig's future could range from DiMaggio to Francoeur -- yes, that's how wide of an arc we have to put over him right now. His raw ability is so immense, with that great opposite-field power -- four of his six home runs have gone to right-center or right -- and his plus defense (he has already been rated at plus-5 defensive runs saved in right and looks as if he could handle center) that he could grow into an MVP candidate someday.
Or he could turn into Francoeur.
Wait! Jeff Francoeur? Are you kidding me?
Well, remember, Sports Illustrated put him on the cover after his torrid start. He was the 2005 version of Puig, except he grew up right in the Braves' backyard instead of in Cuba. He hit .406 with seven home runs in his first 19 games. Although Puig hadn't had much high-level experience, neither had Francoeur, who was only 21 at the time of his recall in July, a year younger than Puig.
There was a red flag about Francoeur's start, however: He hadn't drawn a walk in those 19 games. "My whole life, plate discipline has been the knock on me," Francoeur said in that glowing SI cover story. "I'm not the kind of guy who'll look for a certain pitch and take two strikes till I get it. The biggest difference here is that I haven't been swinging at sliders in the dirt."
In the end, that approach did hurt Francoeur, who never learned to rein in that aggressive approach. And after hitting .300 as a rookie, he now has a career .264 average.
It could be that's what ultimately will determine Puig's star power as well; his two walks on Saturday were the first two unintentional free passes of his young career. I think he'll end up being much better than Francoeur, and maybe someday be mentioned again alongside Hall of Famers, but as you can see from that list of hot starts, 19 games does not yet guarantee that he's the real deal.