Guerrero brings even keel, dedication to Dodgers
Cuban signee hopes to be Los Angeles' Opening Day second baseman
LOS ANGELES -- Yasiel Puig and Alexander Guerrero are Cuban and Dodgers, and that's about where the similarities end.
We've all seen the 23-year-old Puig's unique act, from his reckless enthusiasm and production that took MLB by storm last year, to the immaturity that resulted in benching and arrests.
Guerrero is the anti-Puig. He's 27, soft spoken, respectful of the media. He's married and a father of two, hopeful his family will soon be able to leave his homeland and, if his game is ready, watch him play second base for the Dodgers.
Signed to a four-year, $28 million contract, Guerrero was initially expected to be the starting second baseman Opening Day. He said that's still his goal, although he admits the conversion from his natural position of shortstop hasn't been easy.
"The positioning, the ball off the bat, the movement -- it's all reversed," Guerrero said Friday while participating in the club's annual community caravan with Puig and 16 other Dodgers. "But anybody that plays shortstop can play any position in the infield."
Maybe so, but the Dodgers signed reclamation project Chone Figgins last week, pursued Michael Young until he retired this week and have kicked around the idea of defensive whiz Miguel Rojas, along with Justin Sellers and Dee Gordon, just in case Guerrero isn't ready.
"I think so," Guerrero said about starting Opening Day in Australia. "Ultimately, it's a team decision. On my side, I'm working as hard as I can."
Introducing No. 7, Alexander Guerrero. pic.twitter.com/NL9GgKBwzm- Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) January 31, 2014
Playing second base can't be harder than leaving his country and his family behind, making three attempts to escape the island nation, eventually succeeding by boat with his brother and two friends.
They landed in Haiti, where he established residency to be allowed into the United States. The Dodgers were hoping a stint in the Dominican Winter League would prime Guerrero for the big leagues, only for left hamstring injuries to derail the plan. He said he's been working out for five weeks with no further hamstring issues.
He said it required talking to family and friends, as well as sitting out the 2013 season. The scouting reports label Guerrero as an offensive player. He's a three-time All-Star in Cuba with a .308 career average, 102 home runs and 392 RBIs.
"I saw my future would be here," he said of his decision to leave Cuba. "I was thinking about it for four years. There are a lot of Cuban stars here."
And, as he points out, he's not like Puig.
"He has a different style," Guerrero said. "I'm more calm in the game. Puig is aggressive with a lot of energy. I've even keel."
So, are there other players in Cuba more like Puig?
"He's a little different," Guerrero said in Spanish, although he has begun English lessons.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.