Puig is next star for scout who landed Fernando
Brito expects bright future in LA for fellow Cuban he first spotted 3 1/2 years ago
PEORIA, Ariz. -- The renaissance of the Dodgers, clearly in evidence by a revamped roster and stadium under renovation, has also been felt by the scouting department in general and one scout in particular.
Mike Brito, who still wears a distinctive Panama hat and had been a fixture with his radar gun behind home plate until technology took over, is the scout who teamed with Mexican colleague Corito Verona to discover and help acquire Fernando Valenzuela in 1979.
Three decades later, Brito was the first Dodgers scout to see Yasiel Puig in a game at a junior tournament in Canada. That was 3 1/2 years ago and Puig's eventual signing for a staggering $42 million linked Brito with another budding Dodgers superstar.
With a body like Bo Jackson, Puig possesses power, running speed, ball-catching skills and a right-fielder arm. But with limited exposure as a young Cuban ballplayer, Puig's raw skills were relatively under wraps when he escaped his homeland for free agency.
When vice president of scouting Logan White and Brito attended Puig's audition workout last June in Mexico City, they only saw him hit. Brito said White trusted his opinion and White said after seeing Puig hit, he was confident in the other tools, but was curious about the intangibles.
"Those three days I spent getting to know the kid," White said. "I wanted to know what kind of person he was. He has an infectious smile, he's full of energy, he's just a good human being. Getting to know his makeup, I was sold.
"You could see he had a chance to be a five-tool player. When he played catch, I liked his arm action. I didn't have to see him run to know he was a plus runner. He's still learning, but he has the skills to be a quality player."
Brito was sold on Puig at the age of 17.
"You don't need to be a genius to see the talent with a guy like this," Brito said. "He showed me arm, speed, power to all fields. I went to that tournament to scout everybody. I always watch the Cuban team because you never know when somebody will defect. It's like when I signed Fernando. I went to see a shortstop Fernando was pitching against. I never signed the shortstop."
While Valenzuela became the Mexican star that Hall of Fame owner Walter O'Malley had always sought, Puig provides Brito with a potential success story even closer to his homeland. Brito left his native Cuba in 1955 when he was signed by the Washington Senators.
"I always wanted [to sign] a Cuban player," Brito said. "I know the Cubans got talent. Before [Fidel] Castro, Cubans produced more players than anywhere other than the United States. With Castro in power, everything changed. But people there tell me that they have so much talent there, if we had a tryout camp, we'd sign 80 percent of them."
The total financial package Puig received is spread over seven years and included a Major League roster spot. The Cubs, at the time, were believed to be the Dodgers' most aggressive competition for Puig's autograph.
The $42 million was considered by most clubs as wildly excessive, but the Dodgers needed impact hitters in their farm system and wanted to make a statement that the years of ignoring international talent because of economics were over.
They sure paid up to do it. The per capita annual income in Cuba equates to $5,600, so over the life of the deal Puig will earn as much as 7,500 Cubans combined earn in a year.
"I appreciate that Logan took my word on the kid," said Brito. "Logan did a nice job with him."
Brito said Dodgers fans will enjoy Puig's home runs, like the blast he launched Sunday. But with bloggers already speculating that Puig, the Dodgers' top prospect, could step into left field if Carl Crawford isn't ready for Opening Day, Brito cautioned patience.
"He's got a long ways to go," Brito said. "I agree with Don Mattingly. For me, in my opinion, Puig will be a star with the club, a superstar. But he's got to go step by step."
Brito said Puig is a bigger version of Brito's childhood hero, former White Sox and Indians outfielder Minnie Minoso. He said one of Puig's special traits is his confidence, and Brito said he's noticed Puig's improved maturity after last season, when he demonstrated a lack of knowledge of baseball etiquette that infuriated opponents and teammates alike.
"He's not dumb," said Brito. "He knows we're trying to help him. Coming to a different country like this, it's not easy, but he has to listen to us."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.