Well, if there was any doubt as to whether the Oakland Athletics got their money’s worth by signing free agent Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes this past offseason, he proved right away that the answer is yes.
On Saturday, in his spring training debut—his first game against MLB pitching—Cespedes smacked a solo home run in his third at-bat of the spring, propelling the A’s to a 6-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds.
It wasn’t quite like the Atlanta Braves’ Jason Heyward fulfilling his hype by homering in his first major league at-bat in 2010, or the first major league start by Boston Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2007, but it was close enough.
Still, the fact that Cespedes handled himself so well in his first big league action is a sign of more positive things to come for the young outfielder. He finished the day with two hits and a walk.
Clearly, Cespedes has the natural talent to reach the expectations that have been laid out for him. Considering that the A’s paid a handsome amount for his services for the next four seasons ($36 million), Oakland would like that Cespedes is the real deal to know sooner rather than later.
Saturday afternoon, he proved just that.
This bodes well for the 26-year-old Cespedes, and it certainly is a big boost for Oakland. It’s not often easy to evaluate an international player’s ability against inferior leagues of other countries, which is why Oakland had left the door open when it comes to whether or not Cespedes will start the 2012 season in the minor leagues.
After all, not many players can come to the United States and just make a big league roster with just a month or so of spring training experience.
And yet, Saturday’s performance shows that Cespedes may indeed be more ahead of schedule than Oakland had expected. He certainly is in great physical condition, and his athleticism will not be an issue. The first question management will have in the upcoming few weeks is whether Cespedes can handle everyday big league pitching.
So far, he has demonstrated that no matter who’s pitching—a pitcher in Cuba or a pitcher in the U.S.—Cespedes can flat-out hit.
That he is off to such a storybook start in his first spring training only means that the next issue regarding Cespedes is if he’ll supplant last year’s starting center fielder Coco Crisp. It was assumed that until Cespedes further gets his feet wet facing some Triple-A pitching for the first couple of months of the season, the incumbent Crisp would continue to patrol the center outfield spot.
However, if Cespedes is exhibits an accelerated ability to rake major league pitching this spring, he might find himself manning center field in the Oakland Coliseum come Opening Day. Make no mistake: though Cespedes was immensely impressive in his spring debut, the best may be yet to come.
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