Indians' Infatuation with Yoenis Cespedes?
By Sean Mahon
February 1, 2012
Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Bieber have more in common than you may think...
Well, both were ‘discovered’ by YouTube and became instant viral icons. If you have been M.I.A. of late, you can see the showcase and the encore of the Cespedes scouting satire here. Bieber was signed by musician Usher while Cespedes is rumored to ink with one of six potential MLB clubs. Though the YouTube video made “El Talento” an international phenomenon, scouts have long been waiting on the Cuban to defect to the States as he’s been considered one of their finest talents for several years now.
Next, both of these pop culture icons (in their own right) have incredible marketing teams. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, you can’t deny the power of their marketing: Bieber’s is self-explanatory while Cespedes’ majestic promo video has been labeled as the ‘greatest scouting video of all time’ among many in the baseball community. He has single handedly hushed conversations about other top Cuban prospects—some of whom may have even higher ceilings than Cespedes—thanks in large part to his super fame from these brandish videos.
Fortunately for the world, that’s where the similarities conclude...
Cleveland is one of the six teams “very interested” in Cespedes.
The Indians’ outfield needs include (but are not limited to):
-A right handed hitting power bat
What am I missing? If the Indians’ marketing department is looking for some big screen entertainment in-between-innings, Cespedes looks to fill in there, too. Cespedes has got all those on his side and Cleveland would appear a fine fit.
At 26 years old, he’d fit both the short and long term plans for the Tribe. The YouTube sensation is a centerfielder at the moment, though he can plausibly shift to either of the corners. With Sizemore’s contract expiring at the end of 2012, Cespedes could slide to center at season’s end, or even spell Sizemore there in 2012.
In 2011, Cespedes hit a corrupt .333/.424/.667 in the Cuban League—corrupt based less on his government and more on the fact that the Cuban batting numbers trend on the barbaric side. Despite that, Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldsteins suggests many scouts still rate Cespedes’ power as high as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. While he projects to be just an average hitter at this stage, he still offers the almighty five-tool player tag with good defensive abilities and speed included. The Cuban defector bombarded international pitching in the 2009 World Baseball Classic as he hit .458/.480/1.000 over Cuba’s six games. It’s no reason why they’ve tagged him “La Potencia.”
Cespedes’ potential is seemingly infinite and he could become a real impact player in the majors. With no centerfield-ready options on the farm with tremendous upside, signing Cespedes would fill a premium position for years to come and provide one of the finest up the middle trios in Santana-Lindor-Cespedes in the future.
Obviously, the major league friction between the Tribe and Cespedes will be about the Cuban Pesos Cespedes is seeking; the asking price for Cespedes ranges from the Aroldis Chapman deal of $30.25M over six years to even more fruitful figures. The Rangers signed fellow Cuban centerfielder, Leonys Martin, to a five year, $15.5M deal a year ago and though Martin is three years younger (presumably), he is considered a few levels below Cespedes’ ability, yet still got a big time contract.
Then again, Cleveland has been reserved all offseason when it comes to free agency (beyond passing out minor league contracts and spring invites like Halloween candy) and no one expected the other Ohio squad to sign the last Cuban star, Aroldis Chapman, two winters ago. If the Indians want to counter the Tigers — who are also still reportedly in on Cespedes according to ESPN’s Jim Bowden — they’ll have to pull the trigger on a high risk-high reward move like this. Antonetti showed he’s willing and able to with the Jimenez trade, so why not go one step further? Cespedes would instantly supplant Francisco Lindor as the team’s top prospect and would (again, presumably) be MLB ready.
Last Monday, Cuba’s newest missile was granted free agency in MLB with the Indians, Marlins, Cubs, White Sox, Tigers, and Orioles all reportedly in on El Talento.
Clearly, Cespedes is a physical specimen and can be a major league threat, but how sure are we that he’s worth the money? It feels like every player out of Cuba is more highly hyped than the last one, from Orlando Hernandez to Jose Contreras to Kendrys Morales to Alexei Ramirez to Aroldis Chapman. While this quintet has had success ranging from mediocre to substantial in the majors, the learning curve is always the greatest variable between the Cuban leagues and the majors. Just ask first baseman Leslie Anderson, Tampa Bay’s very own highly touted Cuban import whose career parallels that of Michael Aubrey more so than Kendrys Morales.
For comparison’s sake, let’s compare two of the finer Cuban hitters in MLB, Kendrys Morales’ and Alexei Ramirez, and compare their Cuban stats with their ML stats:
Ramirez hit to a tune of .332/.394/.503 in the Cuban League over six seasons.
He broke into the majors at age 26, and since ’08, has hit .279/.323/.421 in the bigs.
Morales, in two full seasons at age 19 and 20, hit .358/.445/.593 in the Cuban leagues.
He broke into the majors at age 23, and since ’06, has hit .284/.336/.502 in the bigs.
So what does this small sample size suggest? Cespedes won’t hit to the robust tune he did in the Cuban league, but we already knew that. And though its surely merited to a player's skill level, the track record suggests many of the Cuban players take 2-3 years to develop in the majors despite their age. Moreover, they often take longer to adjust their plate discipline and tend to hone low OBP’s—Alexei Ramirez walked a poultry 18 times in his rookie season (though a respectable 51 times in ’11).
With that said, Cespedes must be handled with care like any prospect; there is a possibility that Cespedes would be sent down to the minors and won’t be as refined a product as his outlandish advertisements suggest. Much to the curiosity of baseball scouts, Cespedes participated in winter ball and scuffled as he went batted .145 (5-35) with 10 K’s and a homer in a brief but questionable stint (as he couldn't feasibly 'improve' his stock).
This further begs the question, would he be able to help the Indians in ’12 and ’13, their two primed campaigns? The aforementioned is posed as a rhetorical question and with upwards of $35 million dependent on an even more indefinite answer, it certainly does not match the conservative approach the Tribe typically has taken in past seasons.
The other potential worry on Cespedes is his age. As the Tribe learned with Fausto “Roberto Heredia Hernandez” Carmona, you can never be certain of these things, especially when it comes to a country like Cuba with such a poor government and documentation. If the Indians find out Cespedes is 29 instead of 26, it really would make a world of difference in their long term investment in the player. At 26, Cespedes figures to be near his physical peak, but his tools should still develop at the major league level and his useful life is three years longer than that of a 29 year old.
Last, but likely not least, I personally see a potential in Cespedes' size. While he’s clearly a physical beast, to me, he merely resembles a 28-year old Andruw Jones. What happened to Jones over time? He accumulated a fashion for overeating and eventually ate himself out of centerfield and into a permanent bench role. It’s unfair to compare Cespedes to Jones, but from the look and sound of things—a 6’0, 215 lb strong centerfielder with power—I can’t help but parallel the two, especially if the Indians don’t sign him.
At the increasing rate north of $35 million, there’s a fat chance the Indians make a realistic offer to Cespedes especially with wealthier bidders in the auction. But, if they are able to sign Cespedes, they instantly boost their outfield and offense in one move which is more than they can say with the marginal minor league signings sprinkled over the offseason.
With the Tigers signing Prince Fielder along with the migration of major star power to the American League (Pujols, Darvish, etc.), now may be the time for the Indians to make a move to not only acquire a potential impact player, but also take away the competitive edge another team could gain with Cespedes. A move for the sake of a move isn't the right rationale, but with a real 'winning window' of just two years, desperate times call for desperate measures. Unfortunately, desperation can't resolve the financial constraint the Indians are in and thus makes it very unlikely the Tribe can invest in a risk this rich.
One thing we’ve learned through the Yoenis Cespedes experience is if Kevin Youkilis was deemed ‘the greek god of walks,’ then surely, Cespedes must be the greek god of (showboat) scouting videos.
Like any top prospect, we’ll simply have to wait and see if La Potencia’s showcase videos are pure propaganda or the foreshadowing movie trailer of the next big star. Cespedes hopes to finish his trilogy of ‘showcase’ videos with his third video this spring, being that it will be most important and telling of all: facing live major league pitching.
Follow Sean on Twitter @SMahon2Go for various Indians' musings and mentions.