02 December 2011

Cup of jO's (December 2, 2011): O's and Yoenis Cespedes

Taking a break from the Orioles Top 25 Prospect list, this morning I wanted to give a quick write-up on Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes -- the top international free agent currently on the market (technically, he will not hit the market until his residency is officially established in the Dominican Republic). Baltimore was recently linked to Cespedes by Roch Kubatko at MASN, who wrote on Wednesday that the O's were "interested in Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and will watch him work out in the Dominican Republic."

While Cespedes has been closely followed by international evaluators for the last five years, average baseball fans were made aware of his presence this November when his "publicity video" went viral on YouTube (a copy of the video available here), leading to drums of e-ink being spilled by sportswriters around the net. He has been a fixture on the Cuban National Team and was rated by Baseball America as the sixth best prospect at the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

Putting aside the likelihood of Cespedes electing to sign with Baltimore, is he a target Baltimore should consider? To answer that question as best we can we must look at two items: 1) his skillset and projection, and 2) his likely price.

Scouting Snippet

I haven't seen enough of Cespedes to stand firmly behind a full evaluation -- really my exposure has been limited to video feeds and television broadcasts from international tournaments. The following is my take based on about six or seven in-game views, so assign the requisite level of weight to these thoughts. Also, be sure to crosscheck this report with whatever you can find at BaseballAmerica.com, who routinely leads the pack in coverage of international talents.

Physical Description:
Listed 5-foot-10, 200-pounds. Thick, strong, athletic build. Broad chest and wide, strong hips and trunk. Agility and explosiveness to excess. Moves very well underway; can drag out of the box.

Cespedes's calling card is power and he has lots and lots of it. Because of his physical strength, particularly his monster core, he does not need much load or seperation to give his barrel time to accelerate. With a basic, fairly compact swing he is able to produce enough torque to drive the ball out from pole-to-pole. He doesn't need to sell out for homeruns, but his approach in the box can noticeably falter when he gets too focused on trying to force hard contact. This isn't evident in a loss of balance, head pull, or leak, but you will see some backside collapse at times and, more often, he'll extend early and come around the ball, creating holes and some lag in the barrel. There is significant bat wrap, but he seems to overcome it with his bat speed. Raw power grades at a 65, though his in-game realization could be closer to 55 against advanced MLB arms. Hitting could be anywhere from a 40 to a 55 depending on how capable he proves at making adjustments at the Major League level.

Cespedes has more than enough footspeed to cover gap-to-gap in center, and shows a very good drop-step back on balls. He isn't a natural fielder, but shows comfort in the outfield. He can try to do too much at times, and could possibly benefit from pro instruction as to how to play more within his tools -- not getting overly aggressive with his throws and setting up his routes a little better. His arm is an easy 60, though his accuracy can come and go due to his set-up and arm action. I would have no issue believing his glove can grade as a 60 if told so by someone who has spent more time sitting on him, but my limited views lead me to give a more conservative 50 grade.

Cespedes is a difficult assignment for evaluators. His physical tools are phenominal, and he has a track record of performing against high level competition (albeit inconsistent and varying talent levels from player to player) both in Cuba and through international tournaments. Still, there is a large degree of uncertainty as to how a player in his situation ultimately reacts to the change in culture, lifestyle, on-field pressure and media scrutiny when making the adjustment from life in Cuba to life as a professional baseball player in the United States.

The safest course of action is likely providing him the opportunity to spend at least half of a season at Triple-A, allowing him to adjust to the pro game outside of the national broadcasts and nightly highlight wraps that accompany MLB games. With limited looks, it is very difficult to wager a guess as to the likelihood that Cespedes is suited to make the transition to the Majors with his production intact. For purposes of this exercise, we'll slap a consertive grade report as follows:

Hit: 45
Power: 55/60
Speed: 60
Arm: 60
Fielding: 45/50
Feel: 45
OFP: 52-56

*Click here for primer on Grades

What we have, for purposes of this exercise, is a potential first division starting center fielder, with some risk that he will not make enough contact for his power to fully emerge at the highest level.

Price Tag

Aroldis Chapman currently holds the record for initial contract given to a Cuban defector, with the Reds handing him a deal $30.25 million over six years. Cespedes figures to easily eclipse that contract, and is rumored to be looking for more than $60 million over six years. At 26-years old, he is entering his physical prime, with his signing Major League team getting his best years for the term of their investment. Significant interest from some potentially big spending clubs (including the Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, Phillies and Nationals) would seem to all but ensure a big pay day for the standout Cuban outfielder -- for purposes of this exercise we will use a conservative estimate of $60 million over six years. Keep in mind that if Cespedes ends-up at Triple-A for three months, you are eating away part of the value of that first year -- in effect driving the annual price up to around $11 million a year.


Our "scouty" report projects Cespedes to a solid to above-average first division starter, and his upside is that of a five-tooled multiple all-star talent. A 6/60 deal for that type of player would seem to be a steal, particularly for a player entering his best four or five years of production and physicality. The sixty-million dollar question, however, is one of probability.

While evaluators can find comfort in Cespedes's successful track record in Cuba and on the international scene, it is a tall order to ask that evaluator to stake $60 million dollars, maybe more, on that production translating against the best competition in the world. Add to that an inconsistent track record for Cuban defectors and the larger issue of cultural adjustments and the ability to perform under the weight of the media scrutiny and expectations that accompany a record-setting contract, and the evaluator's task of filing a suggested price starts to more closely resemble a game of darts (skilled darts, but darts nonetheless).

Ultimately, for Baltimore, the likelihood is that so long as the big spenders remain interested the price tag will be problematic when considering the risk you are taking on. Additionally, the Orioles may be looking at a situation where they are forced to overpay the market in order to convince Cespedes to turn down a better competitive and higher profile situation in New York, or perhaps a more Cubano-centric situation in a city like Miami.

Cespedes is worth a long look from Baltimore, and the return on investment has a chance to be the type of "hit" that the Orioles will need to have if the organization hopes to turn things around any time soon. Unfortunately, the potential of having $10 million or so tied-up in a fringe-average regular (if things don't break right for Cespedes in his transition), in addition to the combined approximately $47.5 million owed to Roberts and Markakis over the next two seasons, and escalating prices for Baltimore's arbitration-eligible youngsters, could severely limit spending in any other areas, including extending some of the younger Birds.

Were Baltimore a more complete team at the Major League level, or a more wealthy team in terms of prospects in their system, this may be a risk worth taking. But the Birds need to focus inward on systemic changes before a high risk/high reward investment like Cespedes makes sense.


Jon Shepherd said...

The prediction on him comes to about 80MM. http://insider.espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/7298446/mlb-statistical-projections-yoenis-cespedes

Nick J Faleris said...

Interesting projection, but the $80 million would be straight value and not an offer discounted for risk.

Jon Shepherd said...

Right...on big ticket items teams typically pay about 75-80% of predicted worth.

Pujols on the other hand may be paid about 10% more than his predicted worth.