Talented Cuban defector Cespedes is an odd sight
Cuban center fielder Yoenis Cespedes, who defected mid-summer and expects soon to be cleared for free agency, is being billed by his agents as the hitting version of Aroldis Chapman(notes) and is seeking a contract similar to the $30 million the left-handed pitcher received in 2010, according to two sources familiar with the asking price.
The New York Yankees are particularly hot for the right-handed Cespedes, according to one source who attended an open workout Friday in the Dominican Republic, where he compared Cespedes to Los Angeles Angels top prospect Mike Trout(notes) for their similar size, speed and potential.
Just in case Cespedes’ showcase wasn’t convincing enough, his handlers produced a promotional video so hilarious, ostentatious and downright odd that, at very least, will ensure teams know exactly who he is.
In an email obtained by Yahoo! Sports, Edgar Mercedes, the Dominican trainer who along with agent Adam Katz represents Cespedes, circulated a link to the video that starts with a “Star Wars” rip-off and includes Christopher Cross’ 1980 hit “Sailing.” It shows Cespedes giving what could be the longest stare at a home run ever and making two blind, behind-the-back catches. It name-drops Ahman Green, showcases a giant shirtless man dancing and ends with a whole hog roasting on a spit.
The 20-minute video, which went viral upon the publication of this story and then a 4,000-word opus at Baseball Prospectus, was taken down Monday afternoon. It will live on nonetheless as the public introduction to Cespedes, who claims to be 26 years old (though ages of Cuban defectors have been notoriously inaccurate). Cespedes tied the single-season home run record in Cuba’s top league, Serie Nacional, during the 2010-11 season with 33 in 90 games and, according to a scout who attended the workout, “is going to be a star.”
The 6-foot, 215-pound Cespedes, another source said, “is a legitimate center fielder with power, so I understand why they think they can get $30 million. They might get more.” In June, the Texas Rangers signed Cuban center fielder Leonys Martin(notes) – considered a second-tier player to Cespedes but also three years younger – to a five-year, $15.5 million deal.
[Related: MLB’s ultimate free-agent tracker]
Cespedes, whose first name was spelled Yoennis when he played for Cuba at the World Baseball Classic in 2009, is the latest in a long line of defectors. Besides Chapman, the Cincinnati Reds’ 100-mph-throwing left-hander, Kendrys Morales(notes) finished fifth in the American League MVP voting in 2009, Alexei Ramirez(notes) is among the best fielding shortstops in the major leagues, Livan Hernandez(notes) continues to pitch and Jose Iglesias(notes), Dayan Viciedo(notes) and Martin represent the next generation of potential standouts.
None has quite the potential of Cespedes, a fact that on occasion surfaces during the video. At one point, Cespedes hits eight consecutive batting-practice home runs (though it is three clips spliced together). His in-game, opposite-field power is monstrous, the sort that teams hope their home-grown talent can develop.
Hope is the great theme of the video, hammered home at the beginning, when the first words on the screen read: “A New Hope.” They proceeded to creep backward at an angle like in “Star Wars,” all in English with a Spanish voice dub, and explain that Cespedes is “[n]icknamed ‘el talento or la potencia’ for his five tools and style of play.”
While the rest of the video is set to Jay-Z, Chris Brown and Juelz Santana, the initial song that accompanies some of Cespedes’ biggest Serie Nacional home runs is “Sailing,” an aural wrecker of the highest degree. It strains in the background at the video’s 3:53 mark, when Cespedes mashes a home run and takes eight full seconds before starting his trot by tossing his bat toward the batboy. Despite the video switching to an increased speed, Cespedes still looks like he’s taking a leisurely stroll around the bases.
The embellishments don’t come close to ending there. The video replays the swing from Cespedes’ 33rd home run three times. It shows a bare-chested, compression-shorts-clad Cespedes running down a track at regular speed, then in slo-mo. About seven minutes in, Cespedes jumps an alleged 45 inches and runs a 6.3-second 60-yard dash, though the scout at the workout clocked him at 6.5 seconds, still a superb time. The scout’s comparison to Trout, the young center fielder, is due to their similar height and weight, speed (Trout is faster), power (Cespedes has more) and arm (Cespedes’, the scout said, “is excellent”). The video goes on to claim Cespedes can leg press 1,300 pounds – he lifts a set with two men sitting on top of the weights – and bench 350 pounds.
Impressive? Not compared to Cespedes’ glovework. At the eight-minute point, Cespedes catches a fly ball. As the next one heads toward him, he sticks his glove behind his back, lets the ball barely go over his shoulder and catches it while still looking toward the infield, baseball’s answer to a trick-shot video.
It only gets more amusing. There are the sit-ups that tout his “core power,” another behind-the-back catch and his thank yous, which last about two minutes and range from sweet – giving the first and longest round of appreciation to his mom, Estela Milanes Salazar, a pitcher for Cuba’s 2000 Olympic softball team – to weird.
After his mom, the next shout out goes: “Thanks for the push, Ahman Green.” Whether this is the former Green Bay Packers star or a random Ahman Green is unclear. Following that, Cespedes thanks his family and friends, represented by a shirtless man with a plumber’s crack dancing with two women.
To close, Cespedes appears alongside a roasting pig. He tends to the coals before leaving the video frame. For the final 10 seconds, the camera gives the dead, spinning hog a few final moments of glory.
Cespedes, too, will be put out for public consumption soon enough. One source said Major League Baseball is ready to declare Cespedes a free agent but is awaiting the go-ahead from the Office of Foreign Assets Control, which clears Cubans to play baseball in the United States.
Katz, two sources said, expects that to happen within a matter of weeks, at which point Cespedes would become one of the most coveted free agents in a strong market. Soon thereafter, $30 million could be a whole lot more than hope.
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