Minor League Notes, February 13, 2012: Yoenis Cespedes Edition
** I have three long-form articles in the works (the two smackdowns and the draft sleeper thing), plus I'm researching the 2012 draft. None of this is ready to post yet, but there are still several items worthy of note on a Monday afternoon.
**The big news in baseball today is Oakland's signing of coveted Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.
The Athletics reportedly gave him a four-year contract with $36 million. This was a bit of a surprise, to say the least. Although Oakland was rumored to be among the teams interested in Cespedes, the Tigers, Rangers, Yankees, Cubs, Orioles, White Sox, and especially the Marlins were all linked to the chase at various times over the last few months, with Miami supposedly the front runner according to many sources.
What are the Athletics getting with Cespedes? He's a 26-year-old right-handed hitter and thrower, born October 10, 1985, listed at 5-11, 215 pounds. He's rated as a complete talent: power, speed, glove: he has it all, at least in raw form. He has been a Serie Nacional star in Cuba for the last eight seasons, and owns the single-season home run record. Scouts on the international circuit have been following him for years, so he's not an unknown quantity who came out of nowhere.
Power is his best hitting attribute: rated 70 on the 20/80 scouting scale by most who have seen him in person. Reports on his pure hitting skills are a bit more mixed, and not everyone is sure how he'll handle the strike zone against major league pitching, or what his batting average and OBP will look like. He is an excellent overall athlete, with the speed for center field and a strong throwing arm.
Is he ready for the majors now? Unless he totally bombs in spring training, he should be in the Opening Day lineup. Will he be worth the money and live up to the hype? Cespedes has the natural ability to be at least a 20/20 player with impressive center field defense, but beyond that it is hard to say. Is he a .300 hitter? A .250 hitter? Will he draw walks or will he be impatient? How much OBP will you get out of him? Will he strike out a lot or make good contact? How will he adjust mentally and emotionally to North America? Is he a Cuban Adam Jones (a common comp), or Chris Young, or Colby Rasmus, or Matt Kemp?
I don't know, but it will sure be interesting to watch. If I had to rank him on my Top 50 hitting prospects list, he'd probably be ninth.
**The other high-profile Cuban prospect, outfielder Jorge Soler, isn't an official free agent yet but has been consistently linked with the Cubs.
**The Royals dipped into the Cuban defector pool last week, signing 24-year-old right-handed hitting outfielder Roman Hernandez for $550,000. His best attributes are power and a strong throwing arm, but there's mixed opinions about the rest of the game. The Royals also picked up a 17-year-old Dominican right-hander named Branly Cristomo. He features a good changeup and curveball but velocity reports vary.
**Sticking with our Latin America theme, Ben Badler over at Baseball America reports that the St. Louis Cardinals have signed 17-year-old Dominican left-hander Erick Hurtado for undisclosed terms. He's a raw lefty with good size and a chance for three major league pitches. The Red Sox were reportedly interested in him as well. The Cardinals also signed a right-hander named Andres Serrano for $750,000. Another Dominican, he is 17 years old, has a projectable frame, and a low-90s fastball.
**By popular demand, I will include both Cespedes and Yu Darvish on my Top 100 prospects list (combined hitters and pitchers), which will come out next week sometime.
**There are still some print copies of the 2012 Baseball Prospect Book remaining, but they are going fast and it is first-come, first-serve if you want a print copy. The E-book .pdf version will be available forever, but if you want an actual book, don't wait much longer.