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Perhaps the Athletics’ most exciting move this past offseason was the out-of-nowhere acquisition of hot free agent Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes. For a team that had spent the entire month of December cleaning its inventory of talented players, the signing of Cespedes was surprising—almost shocking.
What on earth would a team that was seemingly intentionally tanking its roster want with Cespedes? Furthermore, what in God’s name would Cespedes—who had other suitors—want anything to do with the woebegone Athletics?
Who knows, really, why Cespedes opted to sign with Oakland? Maybe he just loves green and gold colors. Maybe his favorite animal is an elephant. Maybe simply doesn’t care about winning. It doesn’t matter to A’s fans. The excitement and curiosity following Cespedes are like nothing Oakland has felt for a singular player in some time. How will he fare this season? Will he start the year with Oakland? What the heck is all the hype about? What would make Oakland of all teams outbid everyone else in baseball at a tune of four years, $36 million?
One thing’s for sure, the A’s have become relevant in spring training—if only because of the fanfare regarding this Cuban superstar. So far, in his short playing time this spring, Cespedes has been impressive. In his first game as an MLB professional, Cespedes knocked out two hits, including a solo home run, against the Cincinnati Reds last Saturday.
Questions remain, however, as to whether he’ll be up to full speed in time for Opening Day. After all, facing major league pitching for only a couple of weeks does not make one a bona fide big leaguer just yet. Will he be able to demonstrate in a small sample size that he’s ready to become the everyday player the A’s hope he’ll be?
And if so, where will he play?
Cespedes is a natural center fielder—or at least that’s the position he’s accustomed to playing during his days in Cuba. Problem is, the A’s already have a legitimate center fielder in Coco Crisp, who happens to be a 10-year MLB veteran and a pretty darn good outfielder in his own right.
Spring training will be the audition for Cespedes to show that he can hit major league pitching. Because if he’s able to produce middle-of-the-order numbers, then Cespedes will be the one patrolling center field this season.
2012 outlook: Barring a perfect spring training, Cespedes should see start his season in Triple-A Sacramento. But only for a short period. Because Oakland starts the MLB season a little bit earlier than normal, due to an Opening Day series in Japan on March 28th and 29th, Cespedes will need a bit more grooming than everyone else at camp. However, because the A’s are paying him more money than a normal rookie, he’ll likely see action with Oakland before the end of April. He’ll finish the season with adequate numbers, but not good enough for Rookie of the Year consideration.