Charlie Culberson enjoyed Yasiel Puig as person, teammate with Dodgers

Charlie Culberson understands soon-to-be Braves outfielder Yasiel Puig isn’t for everybody, but he enjoyed their time together in Los Angeles.

Puig, whom the Braves will sign to a one-year deal when he’s cleared the protocols, is known on the outside for his vibrant personality that draws widespread reaction. Puig’s unorthodox behavior has bothered teammates and opponents in the past, giving him a mixed reputation across baseball.

Few have more familiarity with Puig than Culberson, who spent parts of two seasons (2016-17) with the Dodgers. His locker was adjacent to Puig’s.

“I really enjoyed Yasiel,” Culberson said. “Good person. Good heart. He means well. He has so much ability, so much talent. For me, parts of two seasons in L.A., I had a locker beside him, so I really got to know him as who he was. A lot of people, I guess, are rubbed a little differently if he’s on the opposing team. And I can see that. That’s just his style of play.

“The more, if you want to say ‘antics’ that goes on, sometimes that feeds Yasiel and his style of play. So much talent. He’s a good person and can bring a lot to a team.”

The Braves are taking a shot because of Culberson’s final point. Puig produces, specifically against right-handed pitching, against whom the Braves needed a boost. Puig has hit .285/.350/.495 against righties in his career.

Culberson was considered one of the Dodgers teammates who best related with Puig. He credited that to simply letting Puig be himself and respecting him as a person.

“We just looked for him as a person, caring for him, being behind him, talking with him,” Culberson said. “Nothing more than that. I’m sure so many people look to some of these guys for so much and I just wasn’t one of those guys who was going to ask for a lot from Yasiel. It was more, ‘Hey, I’m your teammate. I’m here for you. If you need to talk, talk about something else besides baseball, let’s do it.’ And I think he really appreciated that.

“That’s just something we all should do instead of thinking that this person is going to come save the team or be the next MVP. It’s just dumbing things down a bit and being a good person and becoming a friend.”

Puig’s personality certainly hasn’t harmed his teams’ performances. Across his seven seasons, every team he’s finished on accumulated 90-or-more victories, as first pointed out by STATS. Puig spent much of last season on an average Reds team before he was part of a massive three-way trade that landed him in Cleveland, which won 93 games but missed the postseason.

That stat is more fun fact than meaningful, but there’s still the takeaway that Puig, eccentric and all, has consistently contributed to winning teams. He played 104 or more games in five of his six seasons with the Dodgers, earning his only All-Star appearance in 2014. Over his last two seasons with the Dodgers, both of which ended with World Series losses, he hit .264 with 51 homers and 137 RBIs. He also stole 30 bases.

Between both Ohio teams last season, Puig’s production was along those lines: .267/.327/.458 with 24 homers and 84 RBIs across 149 games in 2019. His 19 steals were a career high.

Yet Puig, 31, remained unsigned through the winter. He recently drew reported interest from the Marlins and Orioles, but landing in Atlanta would allow Puig to showcase himself on a contender before re-entering the market after this 60-game season.

Was he still available because of concerns about how he fits into clubhouses? That’s a thought shared by many. The Braves have been put into a pickle early. Nick Markakis decided against playing, Freddie Freeman tested positive for COVID-19 and hasn’t yet returned and Cristian Pache sprained his ankle in Monday’s intrasquad game.

Already seeing their depth tested, general manager Alex Anthoupoulos – who spent two seasons with Puig in L.A. – decided to try a Puig-Braves union.

“I think we have a bunch of good guys over here,” Culberson said when asked how Puig could fit the clubhouse. “A bunch of young kids, too, with a tremendous amount of talent. I just think if everyone is here playing their game, enjoying it, having fun – we’re out there having fun right now. You just feed off one another.

“Letting guys be themselves is a big deal. You see that with a lot of guys, and I feel like guys flourish when that happens. You put too much pressure on somebody, you ask too much of them, I think it can go the other way. As long as we’re in it together and having a good time, good things happen.”

While Puig and Culberson had a solid relationship, they haven’t spoken recently. Culberson is looking forward to seeing him again soon.

“When I do, I’m sure it’ll be good,” Culberson said. “We’ll have some smiles and a few laughs.”