As we rejoice now that pitchers and catchers for all 30 teams have reported to Spring Training, let’s celebrate with some fantasy baseball player prospect talk. This series on prospects will cover a wide range of players as well as positions. We’ll cover sleepers and some of the more obvious stars of the future.
The next prospect in the series is one of two big-time imports in 2012, outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, signed by the Oakland Athletics. The high-profile Cuban defector is attracting attention as the next coming of Gary Sheffield or Manny Ramirez. However, why didn’t a big money team throw down the bucks to land him? Unfortunately, media hype doesn’t necessarily guarantee superstardom. There is potential here, but considerable risk as well.
Cespedes may just be another average Cuban ball player who has come to the United States looking to make his mark. Many have come and some have even become stars, but some don’t end up fitting in very well. They are seen as show offs or guys with bad attitudes. Of course none of this matters to your fantasy team, until they are shipped off and bounce around the league.
In all likelihood, Cespedes needs seasoning in the minors and should be treated as a prospect, but it appears the A’s plan to start him in centerfield from Opening Day. He has a lot of potential and could be an impact bat at an up the middle position, with the hope for the A’s he ends up being a player that a team can build around.
On the plus side, his body resembles a Greek god and he has all the tools scouts look for. He was a star in the Cuban league, posting a .923 OPS in each of his seven seasons and four times surpassing 1.000. He has a quick first step and good overall speed, meaning he is likely to stick in centerfield. He shows the arm strength to shift to right field without problems as his body ages.
He has excellent bat speed and has repeatedly shown the ability to smash a fastball, so there isn’t much doubt about his ability to handle MLB velocity. He has a balanced swing and very quick hands. His lengthy swing, reminiscent of Sheffield, generates impressive bat speed.
The biggest concern with Cespedes, especially this season, is his ability to transition to Major League pitching. His batting average was .333 in 2011, but he finished thirty-third in the league in that category, putting into question the quality of Cuban league pitching. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was 40-to-49, but that is likely to take a dip as he faces much better pitching this season.
He hasn’t consistently faced quality breaking balls and has shown some signs of being susceptible to chasing pitches out of the zone. He doesn’t project to work counts, so expect to see an aggressive hitter with a fringe batting average.
Cespedes’ one plus tool is his power. His strong wrists and body will generate enough power to hit it out of any part of the ballpark. His 33 homers in 2011 broke the Cuban league single season record, but we still want to conservatively project his power numbers at this level.
Though he has very good speed to play centerfield, Cespedes isn’t much of a base stealer. Even worse, he was 52 of 81 in stolen base attempts in Cuba, so he won’t get the green light very often for the A’s. His top season of steals in Cuba was only 15, so any season with double digits looks like a long shot at this point.
If he starts in Oakland right away, he will probably post something like a .260 batting average with 15 homers while in his prime he could be a .275-25 hitter with a ceiling of .290-35 if all the stars align.
As Cuba’s centerfielder during 2009’s World Baseball Classic, he slashed .458/.480/1.000 with two homers in six games, but beating up on Australia, South Africa and Mexico in the first round is hardly noteworthy. In the second round, he faced stiffer competition against Japan and Mexico and posted an unspectacular .363/.416/.727 with two RBI and no runs scored against pitchers like Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jorge Campillo and Hisashi Iwakuma, none of which have done much since the 2009 WBC.
He has the raw talent to handle most anything, but he has to show the ability to handle the daily grind and perform against the very best before we get too bullish on his long-term prospects. Questions of cultural assimilation and natural hitting ability will remain until he proves them unfounded.
The risk to the Oakland A’s and your fantasy squad is very high. Though heavily scouted, Cespedes will have to make rapid adjustments to a higher level of competition as well as an entirely new cultural world. The A’s outfield has openings in 2012 and Cespedes will be given every chance to make the MLB club out of Spring Training.
If he struggles adjusting to a higher caliber of competition, he could spend two to three months in Triple-A before coming to the big leagues. He is entering his projected peak seasons and the A’s could suddenly have a middle of the lineup hitter around which to build over the next few years.
Cespedes has a ton of potential and comes with an equal amount of risk. Let someone else draft him early in your league draft, but if he starts to slide, he could be payoff handsomely. He is a better keeper than a 2012 re-draft candidate, so draft with caution.