With two games already in the books for the Oakland Athletics and 160 more to go, there’s one thing already certain for the upcoming 2012 campaign: Yoenis Cespedes is going to be the American League Rookie of the Year.
That’s right. That Yoenis Cespedes.
True, he’s only played in a couple of games in the MLB. And, yes, he’s only been exposed to roughly five weeks of big league baseball, including spring training. But in that short time, one thing has been verified for sure—Cespedes is the real deal.
Which, for the A’s, is a big deal.
It’s not often that Cuban defectors find instant success in the United States. There are even fewer who are everyday position players. Livan Hernandez and Orlando Hernandez had their moments throughout their modest careers. But the list of lofty achievements by non-pitchers is somewhat short.
Thus, there was a shroud of mystery surrounding Oakland’s signing of Cespedes. After all, the A’s have widely been regarded as a desolate franchise in recent years, with a lame duck hometown and an Ebenezer Scrooge of an owner, who is so tight-fisted, he can turn pennies into coal.
So, why on earth would the Athletics jump into the Cespedes bidding war last offseason?
More importantly, how in the heck did they win that bidding war? Speculation arose as to whether or not Athletics management knew exactly what they were getting and getting themselves into with Cespedes.
Was it possible that the A’s set themselves up for failure? After all, this is a franchise that has been so morosely moribund over the past five seasons; it’s a wonder sometimes if the front office knows what it’s doing anymore—especially when it comes to player personnel.
Can fans trust a team that annually trades its best players away? What does owner Lew Wolff and general manager Billy Beane know about—care about—what’s best for the team, anyway?
When the A’s forked over $36 million for an unknown Cuban import, eyebrows were raised throughout the league. A team that stashes million-dollar bills underneath its mattress signed Cespedes to the second-largest contract in terms of guaranteed money in team history. Fans sure hoped the Athletics knew what they were getting themselves into.
There’s no doubt that on paper the 26-year-old Cespedes has the physical tools to be a solid ball player. BaseballProspectNation.com scouts Cespedes as a potential 20-20 (home runs, stolen bases) outfielder, with impressive raw strength, a solid arm and consistent speed down the line. He has the type of mold that could possibly result in an All-Star selection.
And in just a short time, Cespedes has so far shown that all the hoopla regarding his signing was totally worth it and that all the potential in his abilities is no longer potential—it’s here and present fact.
In his spring training debut, back on March 10th, Cespedes launched a home run in his third plate appearance. He obviously got off on the right foot in establishing his presence on the ball club.
Though he struggled a bit throughout the remainder of training camp, Cespedes’ progress and adaptability to the majors earned him a starting spot on Oakland’s Opening Day roster. In fact, somewhere along the way, Cespedes turned into a demigod, as he supplanted Coco Crisp as the Athletics’ starting center fielder.
Thank the heavens.
On March 28th, a mere three and a half weeks since his signing, Cespedes found himself patrolling center field in the Athletics’ Opening Day tilt against the Seattle Mariners in Tokyo, Japan. Clearly a significant media event, given the international interest of this matchup; Cespedes felt right at home. He doubled in his second MLB at-bat, during Oakland’s 3-1 extra-inning defeat. Not bad.
In the second game of the season the following evening, Cespedes did one better. In his sixth career at-bat, he homered to deep center field, solidifying the Athletics’ 4-1 victory.
Just on raw talent, he’s batting .333 with two extra-base hits. Imagine what he can do when he further acclimates himself to the majors, the American League and living in the United States. Can he carry that instinctual ability through the course of a 162-game season? Against pitchers he’s never seen? In ballparks he’s never played in?
Clearly, the A’s feel their prized outfielder will be a huge asset to the team’s offensive production. He’s even moved up in the lineup—hitting fifth in the batting order—so that his bat can help jump start the team’s hollow offense. He’ll obviously get the playing time and the at-bats to build his confidence and accumulate his stats—enough to out do the rest of the American League rookies.
Remember, Cespedes is 26 years old, so his experience level is significantly higher than most first-year ball players.
Much like Ichiro Suzuki’s rookie campaign in 2001, Cespedes totes with him a modest amount of international baseball experience and exposure, as he enters his first season in the majors. Though Cespedes will fail in a significant number of opportunities—strikeouts, caught stealing, errors—he will succeed more often.
He finds himself smack dab in the middle of a team that is starving for star power—that needs international attention because the local attention is waning so quickly—that hasn’t had a position player represent Oakland in the All-Star Game since 2003. Cespedes is their guy. He can live up to and meet the expectations.
He has already demonstrated in his brief tenure in the U.S. that he has power and natural hitting ability to make an impact on his club and throughout the league. And there’s no doubt that by year’s end he’ll have done enough to secure the American League Rookie of the Year award.
This is only the beginning—the best is yet to come.
Follow me on Twitter: @nathanieljue