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With everyone watching, Cespedes homers in first game for A's

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider
PHOENIX -- Yu Darvish gets more attention, but there's a curiosity factor about Yoenis Cespedes that's like nothing else in this spring training.

We want to see him, because of what we know, but more because of what we don't know.

The A's are the same way.

"We know less about him than we do about anyone in camp," manager Bob Melvin said Saturday morning.

They know a little more now. We know a little more now, because the 26-year-old Cuban center fielder faced major-league pitchers for the first time Saturday, and it went well.

Better than well.

He had three plate appearances in the A's 6-3 win over the Reds. He walked. He singled. And then, after fouling off four straight offspeed pitches, he ripped a Jeff Francis fastball on a line over the left-field fence.

"I think he's going to be a player," declared Phil Garner, the ex-big league manager who is in camp as what Melvin calls his "consigliere."

That's certainly the A's plan. They surprised much of the baseball world by giving Cespedes $36 million for a four-year deal.

"I thought the A's didn't have any money," Reds manager Dusty Baker said.

They don't, but they figured that if Cespedes skills ("freakishly talented," A's pitcher Brandon McCarthy calls him) translate from Cuban baseball to major-league baseball, they'll have gotten a Moneyball-like bargain.

Remember, this is the guy who scouts have compared to Bo Jackson, because of the rare combination of power and speed. This is the guy who jumped over boxes in that YouTube video.

"I tried to watch it," Coco Crisp said. "And then it got slow-motiony, and I got motion sickness."

But along with the skills, there were questions about how Cespedes would do facing the best pitchers in the world day after day. The questions are still there, even for the A's players who crowded into the dugout to see his first spring at-bats Saturday.

"If on his first at-bat [Reds pitcher Johnny] Cueto throws him a curve or a slider and he doubles off the wall, then give him a number and we've really got something," McCarthy said.

As it turned out, on his first at-bat Cespedes looked at six straight pitches without swinging at any of them. He said later that he was just trying to recognize pitches, but the walk impressed Melvin even more than the home run.

"For someone who wants to show he can hit to go up there and take a walk on his first at-bat, that's impressive," Melvin said.

Melvin pointed out that this was no normal spring training start, because Cespedes had to realize how many eyes were on him.

"To do that with the spotlight as bright as it was, that shows something about his makeup," Melvin said.

Many scouts who loved Cespedes believed he'd be best served by spending at least a few months in the minor leagues, but the A's are determined to keep him in their opening day lineup. Melvin batted Cespedes second on Saturday, to make sure he had enough at-bats, but he'll hit third on Sunday and Melvin said he could hit there with regularity.

"He looks to be a middle of the order bat, third, fourth or fifth," Melvin said.

But Melvin doesn't really know, and we don't, either. Cespedes can't know, even as much confidence as he has expressed in himself.

He admitted Saturday that the pitching he faced in Cuba simply isn't the same as what he'll face here.

"In Cuba, you can find some good pitchers," he said, through interpreter Ariel Prieto. "But here there are many more."

There's more of everything. Cespedes' debut didn't attract the media turnout that Darvish got on Tuesday, mostly because Cuba doesn't have the number of newspapers and television stations as Japan (and they weren't here, anyway).

But even having a dozen reporters crowded around him after a game was a new experience for Cespedes.

He said he was happy to see some results, happy that he was able to adjust within the fourth-inning at-bat that resulted in the home run off Francis.

"I don't want fans to worry," he said. "I'll put my best on the field, do my best."

You can be sure that A's fans aren't worrying about Cespedes right now. You can be sure they're thrilled with what they saw on his first day, in a game that conveniently was televised back to the Bay Area.

You can be sure the A's are happy, too.

"All in all, a nice little start for him," Melvin said.

It was a spring training game, a meaningless spring training game. But for the A's and Cespedes, it was more.

It was a first look, a first chance to see for themselves.

And it was good enough that now they no doubt want to see more.
 
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