What if Yoenis Cespedes isn't as good as Oakland Athletics believe?

      February 23, 2012 @ 22:20:17 PDT


The Oakland Athletics scored a minor coup last week when they inked highly coveted Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year, $36 million contract.

In 90 games in the 2010-2011 season of Cuba's baseball league, the Serie Nacional, Cespedes batted .333 with 33 bombs (a league record) and 99 RBIs. In six games in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, he belted two homers and three triples, for a 1.480 OPS.

Did you see him hit his first professional dinger, in the Dominican Winter League? Last month, FanGraphs analyst Jack Moore contemplated Cespedes' potential impact and concluded that it'd probably be pretty large. (Click on the link for a look at his body of work in his native land, too.)

He's undoubtedly a phenomenal talent. Judging from the news blurbs that sprang forth from various sources following Cespedes' workouts, most, if not all, observers agree with that assessment. From Baseball Prospectus prospect guru Kevin Goldstein: "You can dream on him all day." The A's, publicly at least, expect him to be in their lineup on opening day.

The kind of hype that comes with such a bio excites fantasy baseball players. It should. But before they go spending a 10th-round mixed-league pick or their first keeper-league choice on him, they should become more familiar with the player, and the context.

Ozzie Guillen, the Miami Marlins' new skipper, was a member of his club's party that watched the outfielder display his skills. He acknowledged that Cespedes, 26, has a lot of ability. But, as he was quoted as saying in ESPNChicago.com: "Whoever signs him is gambling."

"Sometimes, you're relegated to buying that lottery ticket," Billy Beane told The New York Times last August. "Anybody will tell you that the lottery is not a great way to invest your money." Although Oakland's GM must see value where others don't, he also believes that he must go out on a limb on occasion.

Rotisserie managers can get on board with big risk. They need to know what kind of risk is involved, however.

In nine games in the DWL, Cespedes was 5-for-35 (.143) with that lone digitally documented round-tripper. He struck out 10 times and didn't take a base on balls. The limited data won't dampen spirits much, but it should prompt studious fake-ball players to dig deeper.

Prospective fantasy owners of Cespedes need to learn a bit about Cuba's player development process. National team athletes receive no noteworthy individual instruction. In baseball academies, coaches drive home fundamentals, but Cubans are generally aggressive. The cream of the crop rises to the top, but they rarely, if ever, face competition outside their country. Most have never seen a big-league-quality breaking ball.

In the Serie Nacional, Cespedes walked nearly as often as he fanned. He was particularly in control in his final season, but as the FanGraphs piece acknowledges, there's no telling how many walks were the result of intentional free passes; he was on his way to setting a record (which, if you read on, isn't thoroughly impressive) for home runs. (Check out the leaderboard from this season's campaign for more documented explosiveness.)

That's why scouts consider the Serie Nacional roughly the equivalent of Single-A ball - the New York-Penn League, to be more precise, according to an MiLB.com article. Or, its talent pool is about as good as that of advanced Class A ball in the U.S., per an ESPN.com blog post by Christina Kahrl. As David Heck suggests (and I dramatize), at age 25, Cespedes better destroy in Serie Nacional if he dares to dream about playing Major League Baseball.

When Kendrys Morales (then known as Kendry, of course) defected and then signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, he received plenty of attention for his accomplishments, too. Perhaps he wasn't quite the talent that Cespedes is, but he was only about 21 years old. Although he enjoyed plenty of success in the minors, he struggled to find it in the first three years in which he was exposed to the bigs.

In Cespedes' montage, do you see him hammer anything besides a mistake or a BP toss? The 26-year-old hasn't quite reached his prime, but he's close to cementing his profile. He has some speed. He's a thumper. But he has holes to exploit, and it'll take time - maybe a long time - to smooth the edges. Before the A's reach for the belt sander, they're probably going to need a file, and maybe even a chisel.

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About Nicholas Minnix

Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.

The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570.

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