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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.