This guest article was written by Lukas McKnight.
Recently, the Chicago White Sox introduced their latest international signing, outfielder Yoelqui Cespedes, who reportedly agreed to a bonus in the range of $2.0 million. If you recognize that last name – yes – Yoelqui is, in fact, the younger half-brother of former All-Star outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. However, make no mistake, the 23-year-old has forged a reputation of his own, having long been on the radar of both scouts and prospect enthusiasts. When MLB Pipeline ranked Cespedes as their number one international amateur prospect for 2020, that call was based more on his vast potential rather than any recent statistical achievements.
In late June of 2019, while participating in the U.S. Independent Can-Am League, Cespedes left the Cuban National team after deciding to defect. At that time, Cespedes had only appeared in a total of 28 games (98 PAs) during the 2018-19 seasons.
Upon establishing residency in the Bahamas, Cespedes began training full-time with his brother Yoenis. With the primary goal of adding power to his game, the younger Cespedes waited for MLB to declare him a free agent eligible to sign with a Major League team. Where most players would have played a full slate of minor league game in that interim, Cespedes has gone from defecting in June 2019 until now without having seen a pitch in an official professional contest. As with many Cuban defectors, it’s not uncommon for these players to have multi-year layoffs between sanctioned competitions. In lieu of games, their agents will organize workouts – often in a controlled setting – in order for MLB scouts and front office personnel to evaluate their players. This is where the value of a team’s history of having previously scouted that player in game competition comes into play. The White Sox, under the leadership of Special Assistant to the Senior VP/General Manager Marco Paddy, have done as good a job as anyone in the industry scouting the Cuban market.
“He can run, throw very good, disciplined hitter with good feel for the strike zone. He’s shown tremendous power to all sides of the field. We’re getting a guy that has the potential to have five tools in the majors.”– Marco Paddy on OF Yoelqui Cespedes
While Cespedes (now 23) has certainly improved his strength and bat speed over the past two years, because of this lack of competition, it’s still not known whether all the work will translate into actual, on-field, power production. Prior to his defection, Cespedes’ last full-time game action came in the Cuban Serie Nacional 2017-18 season when he was 19 years old. While he more than held his own that season (.272/.352/.398 line with a solid K% just under 15%), he was even better as an 18-year-old (.298/.360/.456). His 2017-2018 power numbers stalled (.126 Isolated slugging on 6 HR) and his speed (7 SB, 0 3B) left some room for needed development. While it’s not surprising to see teenagers fail to dominate what is considered an older league, Cespedes’ potential began coming into question.
Still, there are reasons to be bullish about Cespedes’s future. It’s not without precedent to see quality young hitters come into more power as they aged (see Christian Yelich and Aaron Judge). Both Yelich and Judge serve as examples of hitters that didn’t drive the ball consistently when they were younger but have matured into upper-echelon impact hitters.
While Cespedes’ 5’9”, 205-pound frame doesn’t portend much future growth, his swing is short and quick. In the limited number of in-game at-bats I was able to view, it’s evident he’s adept at driving the ball to the RCF gap. His flatter bat path doesn’t allow him to elevate the ball much to the pull side, which often is a limiter in projecting significant HR numbers. Cespedes does identify and sit back well on off-speed pitches and he generally is able to limit his swings and misses.
Though Cespedes is touted as a plus runner, he played RF for Granma in Cuba, where he featured a plus to plus-plus arm. Scouts bullish on his speed will envision a player that can slide over and play an adequate-to-average CF. The development of his reads and breaks in the outfield still looked like a work in progress on video.
Those who believe in his power and speed playing well will envision a solid regular along the lines of Marlon Byrd with future slash lines of .275/.330/.450. Those who question his power potential along with his ability to stay in CF are more likely to consider him as a 2nd division regular or a 4th outfielder on a contending team. Either way, he’s a valuable addition to the White Sox organization and will be a relatively quick mover through a team’s system, likely capable of beginning his U.S. professional career at the AA level.
Click here to read about another highly-touted Cuban prospect the White Sox are rumored to have interest in acquiring.
This guest post was written by Lukas McKnight. Lukas is the Managing Editor & Lead Contributor at PeloterosInternational.com, a website dedicated to highlighting international baseball. Peloteros International was created by two long-time MLB scouts who, through their network of industry insiders, provide readers with unique news, rumors and scouting reports on international baseball prospects. You can read more about the site here.
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