Yoenis Cespedes: Instant Legend

With a single crack of the bat on a picturesque day in Phoenix, the legend of Oakland Athletics Yoenis Cespedes was born. From infield/outfield, to pre-game batting practice, to his 2-2 effort with a home run and a walk, Cespedes’ United States debut unfolded like a play where each act heightened the storyline to a memorable crescendo.

Video after the jump

In breaking down the day from start-to-finish from a scouting standpoint, infield/outfield is the place to start as Cespedes showed the strongest arm in the outfield throwing to both third base and home plate. Cespedes’ created strong backspin on his throws leading to very little arc and low, playable hops for infielders to handle. Cespedes’ accuracy was also impressive resulting in praise by teammates after each throw placed on the bag.

Moving to batting practice, Manny Ramirez’ size dwarfed Cespedes to the point where I couldn’t be sure it was him hitting from my vantage point down the right field line sneaking looks at top Athletics prospects on the back fields. Cespedes’ bat speed was electric and he really began to drive the baseball after a couple of early rounds of pop ups followed by a change of bat (Kudos to Rotographs Michael Barr for that, and for noticing Brett Anderson throwing a side session on the back fields as well). Instead of line drives, “rockets” is a more fitting word to describe the explosive nature of Cespedes’ batted balls. It was an impressive display, but strong batting practice sessions are often just enough to whet the appetite before one realizes sloppy joe’s are what’s actually on the menu.

Additionally, one has to wonder just how much of Cespedes looking so much more explosive than his teammates was due to a true difference in talent level, or the fact he knew the national media was watching and set out to put on a show at a time when other players are simply getting loose. Of course it’s a question which I’ll never have the answer to, but it’s certainly worth mentioning.

Fast forward to the actual ballgame and it quickly became obvious the 6,000-plus baseball fans at the game were there to see Cespedes and Ramirez – period. As he approached the plate, one could sense all eyes on the Cuban centerfielder. After walking without taking the bat off of his shoulder, it was hard not to feel just a little cheated even though the result was certainly a positive one.

Throughout his appearance, Reds Johnny Cueto was noticeably flat – so much so that I felt inclined to chart a few pitches behind the plate and pull a handful radar gun readings. In his second inning of work, Cueto threw a few 88 MPH fastballs and a soft curveball in the upper-70’s which lacked any real bite. It’s early in the spring and Cueto is already established so his rounding into form can take a little longer, but Cespedes was able to take advantage and ripped a single back up the middle during his second at bat – staying back nicely on a low and away offering.

In his third and final at bat, Reds Jeff Francis made Cespedes look silly on a couple of changeups fading away from the righty. As Cespedes extended the at bat, each subsequent changeup became a little easier for him to handle. It was fantastic seeing him make adjustments during an at bat. It may have even been more impressive than the actual home run itself.

However, after taking a few radar gun readings for Francis, I’m left wondering just how much Cespedes adjustments were true hit ability, or a guy realizing a pitcher simply does not have the fastball to keep him honest in the batter’s box. In Francis’ case, his changeup at 79-80 MPH, along with a fastball clocked a few times in the 84 MPH range was not enough to keep Cespedes from sitting off-speed and fighting off fastballs – if needed.

After having time to think through the context of the at bat, I’m left needing to see more in terms of Cespedes making real adjustments to off-speed pitches against a guy like Padres Anthony Bass who can flash 94 MPH and break off an upper-80’s slider and low-80’s changeup. Yes, the use of Bass is a bit random in this particular piece, but he’s a great example of an okay pitcher who would force Cespedes to react and not sit on one particular pitch – especially with two strikes.

By the time Cespedes was replaced, a legend was born. And while I certainly can’t ding Cespedes for having about as perfect a debut as a player could have, were any questions about Cespedes’ potential weaknesses really answered? It was fantastic to see the reports of top flight tools validated in person, but my concern is that the expectations are now set at a completely unattainable level, leaving Cespedes as a player who will be considered a disappointment by the masses if he not only does not make the team out of spring training, but if he’s not an instant impact performer at the games highest level.




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Mike Newman is the Owner/Managing Editor ofROTOscouting, a subscription site focused on baseball scouting, baseball prospects and fantasy baseball. Follow me onTwitter. Likeus on Facebook.Subscribeto my YouTube Channel.


40 Responses to “Yoenis Cespedes: Instant Legend”

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  1. ChuckO says:

    Didn’t the scouts who watched him in winter ball have reservations about his ability to hit the breaking pitch? If that is a fundmental weakness, it’s not likely to show up early in spring training.

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    • Mike Newman says:

      Maybe so, but the Francis at bat is something writers would point to and say, “see, that pitch recognition stuff is overblown”. It was the equivalent of a very convincing sound bite in a Presidential race.

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  2. John says:

    “Moving to batting practice, Manny Ramirez dwarfed Cespedes to the point where I couldn’t be sure it was him hitting from my vantage point down the right field line sneaking looks at top Athletics prospects on the back fields.”

    You lost me here. What do you mean “dwarfed”?

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    • 40/40club says:

      I think he meant that the 5’10, 187 Cespedes was dwarfed when standing next to the 6’0 225 Ramirez, though I was also a little confused (not the most well constructed sentence, but this is fangraphs and not an English literacy blog).

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    • Mike Newman says:

      v. dwarfed, dwarf·ing, dwarfs
      v.tr.

      To cause to appear small by comparison: “Together these two big men dwarfed the tiny Broadway office” (Saul Bellow).
      v.intr.

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      • John says:

        Don’t be so defensive, Mike. We are all well aware of the definition of “dwarfed”.

        Your sentence could be construed as Manny hitting ability dwarfed Cespedes.

        It is an odd sentence altogether. I’m having a hard time understanding how the size of Player A is making it so you aren’t able to (or barely) recognize Player B. They are mutually exclusive. Unless Player A was in front of Player B and directly blocking your view, which the word “dwarfed” wouldn’t fit the definiton of.

        Just sayin.

        LOL!

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      • jim says:

        “Your sentence could be construed as Manny hitting ability dwarfed Cespedes.”

        that’s what i thought he meant

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      • Sabermetric Solutions says:

        Fangraphs is the only place where people argue about baseball and sentence structure. That’s why I love it!

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      • Mike Newman says:

        John,

        No need to be defensive. I left the definition because the sentence argument stuff is pretty silly.

        To make the grammar police happy, I added an apostrophe and size to the piece to be even more clear.

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  3. TheGrandslamwich says:

    I’m not convinced that Cespedes will be an effective regular OF. If Cuban ball really is comparable in talent to A-ball, I could be a league average player there. The ability to hit a sharp breaking ball or recognize a change-up from someone with more deception than Francis isn’t something that happens overnight. Considering Cespedes should be just now hitting his prime, I don’t see his raw physical prowess translating into much success.

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    • Derek says:

      You really think you could hit A-ball pitching?

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      • John says:

        Likely, only if the guy was an ex-pro or good D1 player, still in shape.

        I’ve been told Cuban ball is similar to A+, with a scattering of Double-A, Triple-A, and MLB caliber players mixed in.

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      • Derek says:

        John, so you mean it’s not likely.

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      • TheGrandslamwich says:

        Well, I was a pitcher, but back in Legion and a brief stint with Connie Mack ball I played with and against quite a few guys who went pro. I think I could potentially be average in A-ball if I still was playing but I certainly didn’t have the talent to make it to the show though.

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      • John says:

        They still throw gas. It’s not like you are going to be seeing a lot of 84-mph fastballs in A ball.

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  4. Hurtlockertwo says:

    I looked up Hyperbole in the dictionary and this article was there.

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    • Jon L. says:

      I looked up Hyperbole on the internet and found some really funny web comics drawn by a depressed girl.

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    • Conrad says:

      DId you actually read the article? The whole point of it is that people SHOULDN’T get too excited about Cespedes based on only one game.

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  5. Antonio Bananas says:

    O wow a 26 year old (maybe) that can crush A ball and kill fastball, WHAT FUTURE THIS GUY HAS!!!!

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      Jason Heyward basically did the same thing, opening day home run and all. The difference is Heyward is a lot younger.

      Still don’t get the Cespedes hype. Definately don’t believe the “upside” talks. “Upside” would suggest he’s going to get better.

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      • baty says:

        I think “upside” can also mean that we don’t really know how good he might be now. We need to separate the fact that he’s not your typical 26 year old prospect. Forget all the A ball translation junk.

        If Cuba really IS the equivalent to A ball, and you were a prospect stuck in A ball for 8 straight years, how much better and much more focused can you possibly get over a span like that? It is very possible for him to learn and continue to get better when he finally gets challenged by a more comparable talent level.

        I’m not saying that he will reach his “upside”, but the fact that he was ripping apart Cuban pitching at his youngest of ages, says that the “upside” was always there. It might not be as easy to reach it now, but it’s there.

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  6. baty says:

    The article has a little bit of a Sidd Finch taste to it.

    Also, I once faced a rehabbing A ball pitcher when I was 27 during a summer league, and I did put that ball in play… BABIP .000, so the possibilities for my next at-bat could have been endless.

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  7. Anthony says:

    If Cuba is only A+ball why do they play so well in international comp tourneys against American/Japanese, Venezuelan and Dominican Pros?
    Even if it were, if a player of any age hit 33 HRs in 89 games in A+ or AA he would be considered quite the prospect. The number of major league batters who could reasonable be expected to hit that number of HRs in that few a number of games in even a minor league season at 24-25 can be limited to a pretty small.

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    • Paul says:

      Fair question considering the multitudes of Cuban players who have come over and established themselves very early, including hitters. I don’t care to count it up right now, but I’d venture to guess that there have been more Cuban born MLB players than Japanese, which is usually compared to AAA.

      If you think about it that way, Cespedes is essentially one of the 30ish (agewise) guys that dominate the PCL every year while having no ability whatsoever to hit quality offspeed. But then he’s never played in MLB. He could very well be Nelson Cruz.

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  8. Nats Fan says:

    Cespedes has a shot to be very very good. He had the greatest offensive year in Cuban ball history, he clearly is super athletic, and he he is looking good in spring so far. Legend? not yet! But his ceiling seems very high. Harper high!

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    • Jared says:

      I am an A’s fan, and there is hope, but no, it was not the greatest year in Cuban history. In fact, it was about the 3rd or 4th best offensive season this year. Jose Abreu tied his 33 home runs in over 100 fewer plate appearances, and a bunch of other hitters went over 20. It was just a sillyball season this year.

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  9. ezb230 says:

    Made me think of Fukudome debuting by tying the game in the 9th with a dinger off Gagne. I’m not implying that Cespedes will underwhelm like Fuku did. That was just a cool moment. Watched it from a bar on a beach in Mexico.

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  10. Simon Orr says:

    JPA, a catcher (well kind of), had probably the greatest offensive debut in history. But he’s not very good at baseball. And that was an actual regular season game.

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  11. Anthony says:

    That is an ugly swing though.

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  12. CircleChange11 says:

    Cespedes’ created strong backspin on his throws leading to very little arc and low, playable hops for infielders to handle.

    As oppossed to the outfielders that throw with topspin? *grin*

    My favorite are the outfielders that throw knuckleballs … much more exciting.

    Also, spin creates the arc? Do javelins spin?

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    • Mike Newman says:

      CircleChange11,

      Just to be clear, the “zip” and ability to throw a ball on a straight line over long distances by the game’s strongest throwers comes from wrist snap, leverage and the ability to create more backspin rotations

      Maybe it’s just a shot at being funny, or overly smart, but there’s a reason the scouting scale is 20-80 and that some players have arms on the low end of that scale while others rate as pure 80’s.

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  13. CircleChange11 says:

    If we have no idea who he is, and we watch the video … what impression are we left with?

    My impression from non-slow-mo video clips is that he’s an upper body hitter that gets little push off the back foot, very little leg kick with resulting minimal weight transfer … arms that straighten too quickly resulting in front arm bar , ‘knob pulling’ (Yes, it’s funny) swings … and he must be strong as hell to hit effectively that way.

    I think we’re going to see a high K, medium power guys that’s far too aggressive at the plate. Maybe something like Miguel Tejada 2001?

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  14. Rob says:

    Isn’t that pretty close to an average strikeout rate for a hitter (Tejada 2001)? Honestly I have no idea. From looking at baseball cards all my life I have a hard time imagining that’s anywhere close to a high K hitter season.

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  15. jn says:

    @ circlechange

    The A’s would be doing backflips if Cespedes equals M. Tejadas 2001 season.
    26 year old > .800 ops would be considered a success.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      @ jn

      In 2001, Tejada was worth 9.4 batting runs.

      @ Rob

      He’ll strike out more than Tejada, IMO. By comparing him to Tejada I was looking at BA, HR, bat value. I think he’ll be in ~18% K range, and hit around 20-25 homers. I would only be surprised if he hit more than 25, and would find 15-20 reasonable expectation.

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  16. Edgar says:

    Céspedes is the Cuban vertion of Bo Jackson,he can do anything in a Baseball field!

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