The Tigers may or may not be the front-runner on 26-year-old Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes. They are, however, undoubtedly one of the more interested teams in making his next couple of years in the United States a richly rewarding experience.
So I'll provide you a quick biography and some links to follow if you're interested in reading more.
Cespedes isn't some flash-in-the-pan ballplayer than suddenly appeared out of Cuba, although you could get that impression. The Tigers say they've been following him for a few years. He represented his county in the World Baseball Classic in 2009, and hit a couple of memorable home runs. Last season, he set a Cuban record for home runs in a single season at 33.
However, what spurred all the mentions was Cespedes deciding to leave his home county for the Dominican Republic this year, and his decision to sign on with an agency that managed to produce the most memorable video you could ask for. (I'll post that at the end of the story. It's 20 minutes. It's not real informative. However, it's entertaining as heck if you've got 20 minutes and the speakers turned off in polite company.) As you'll see in the video, he's a muscular, athletic player. I've seen him listed at 5-11 or 6-0 and about 215 pounds. In the video, you'll see some incredibly athletic stuff. And also a rather beautiful swing resulting in the ball flying long distances.
Before we get too far into this though, let's just start with the pronunciation. As you might know, oftentimes the "E" in Spanish takes on the "Ay" sound. So it's quite possible you've been saying the name wrong -- in hilarious fashion. After consulting a couple of Spanish-lanaguage video reports on him, I feel most comfortable saying it's pronounced something close to "Yen-niss Cess-pehd-ess." Just say it really fast and forget the "o."
As long as we're clarifying things here, although the first name has been spelled with both two N's and one N, it only has one N.
So here's what a couple of prospect watchers had to say about Cespedes:
He's a tremendous talent, arguably the best all-around player to come out of Cuba in a generation. He's a legitimate centerfielder with plus power and speed and is in his prime.
Cespedes is without hesitation a potential impact Major League player; a potential superstar. He is an absolute physical specimen that has transformed his body into something spectacular. His raw strength allows him to generate at least above-average to plus bat speed. He has the potential to slug 25-30 home runs annually.
Some scouts do question how much he will hit for average, but many scouts I have spoken with are comfortable projecting him to hit .280-plus as a big leaguer. He has a more patient approach than many Latin American players and should draw some walks.
Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com quotes scouts saying:
"Does he have home run strength? Yes. Does he have running speed? Yes. Is he explosive? Yes. He has a good first step, and it looks like he can field at an above-average level. The arm is good, not great. It's going to come down to his ability to hit for average, because that's going to allow some of that raw strength to come into play.''
He's a five-tool, high-ceiling guy with some concerns about his swing and miss,'' the executive said. "He's more likely to hit 30 homers than hit .300 and probably compares best to somebody like Cameron Maybin, but with more power if less range and speed. He's stronger and more stocky and may end up on an outfield corner in a few years, but for now he can play center field
So, it's hard not to get excited when you hear all those accolades. Of course, that could be said for a number of prospects and not all of them turn out. Also, those prospects probably weren't demanding remotely near what Cespedes is.
How much money you ask? The $30 million starting figure seems long gone now. It sounds like he'll sign north of $50 million, and his agent has talked about $60. Now that's over a period of 6 years, likely. But it's still a large commitment, both yearly and overall, for a guy who has not faced major league pitching on a regular basis.
In the end, every contract is a risk. Your high priced pitcher could end up with a catastrophic arm injury. You could get stuck with Adam Dunn or Chone Figgins. If Cespedes plays up to scouts' visions, he'll be worth it. If he doesn't, well ... So the real question is, are you comfortable with the risk and in case of failure, can you absorb it?
The Tigers sure seem to be comfortable enough, now they just have to wait for Cespedes to be declared a free agent. They just have to outbid the Yankees and Marlins first.
Now, on to the show!