PHOENIX -- When I asked Yoenis Cespedes if he'd jump up on his chair for me, like he did in his amazing video, he politely declined. But word is, he's done everything (reasonable) that's been asked of him. He's impressed the A's enough to wrest the starting center field job from excellent veteran defensive center fielder Coco Crisp, and he's impressing everyone out here, it seems.
"He's got big-time power, and his other tools are good, too. I'd bet on him,'' one American League scout said. "He might have trouble with the breaking ball initially, but then a lot of guys do. He's going to be a good player.''
It is said Cespedes, a Cuban refugee, came to Oakland in part because he was leery of the pressure and attention he might draw in Miami ("too close to the island,'' A's hitting coach Chili Davis said with a smile). But whatever the reasons behind his decision, it looks like a wise one. For a mysterious power-hitting phenom, he goes remarkably unnoticed with the A's, where much of the spotlight goes to controversial Manny Ramirez and star GM Billy Beane.
"I am excited to be here,'' Cespedes said through interpreter Ariel Prieto. Prieto does a nice job translating and was the A's' first Cuban import, or what one A's person described as a "bust'' as a pitcher (Prieto, who came in 1995, was 15-24 with a 4.85 ERA in his big league career). The A's have put down $36 million over four years for Cespedes, which is a pretty sizable bet of their own that Cespedes will far outperform his interpreter as a player. Oakland's bid was the same as Miami's in terms of dollars but the Marlins' offer was for six years, according to a source, making the A's bid better.
"It's one step closer to a dream come true,'' Cespedes said of spring training.
He hasn't been here long but he knew to interject a comment about his "respect'' for Crisp in light of him taking the veteran's job. A's manager Bob Melvin said a reason for moving Crisp to left field regarded the comfort level of the other two players, meaning Cespedes in center and yet another import, Josh Reddick from the Red Sox, in right field. One scout said Crisp is "still a plus defender,'' expressing surprise the A's would move him for a rookie. One other possible reason is Cespedes' stronger arm.
Cespedes opened with a bang, homering in his first spring game. He entered today 3 for 20 overall, though his .150 batting average has yet to dampen the enthusiasm scouts and especially the A's have for him. A's people say they love how "youthful'' and "energetic'' he seems for a veteran of 26. His attitude seems right, too. Cespedes, 26, is behaving like a rookie, not a jaded veteran.
Davis said he really "hit it off'' with Rickey Henderson and his happy-go-lucky way when the Hall of Famer was in camp. He worked on his basestealing with Henderson, and Davis asked Cespedes whether he was going to be a bandit on the bases. "Bandito,'' Cespedes agreed with a laugh. He may still a few bases, but his biggest feats are supposed to come with the bat. The right-handed hitter's power is enormous to all fields, and it's especially noticeable to center and the other way.
Another positive sign: Cespedes understands he doesn't have it all figured out yet.
"From the time I came from Cuba I played a little bit in the Dominican. It's completely different baseball,'' Cespedes said of the ball played away from Cuba, where he starred. His big hit was the vide that was used to advertise his incredible athletic ability. He reminded some of Bo Jackson in the video.
A good attitude is important. But the key are the tools, and the scouts say his are up there with anyone's.