Getting beat by Yoenis Cespedes

(REUTERS/Robert Galbraith)

If you didn’t stay up late enough to catch the end of the game last night, the Yankees suffered a walk-off loss to Athletics when Brandon Moss singled off Cody Eppley with runners on first and second in the bottom of the ninth. Yoenis Cespedes scored the winning run and started the rally with a solid line drive single to center, his fourth hit of the game. He also hit a two-run homer off Freddy Garcia in the series opener and so far has gone 6-for-8 during these two games.

Cespedes has been molten hot since coming out of the All-Star break, going 17-for-29 (.586) with two doubles and three homers in the seven games. He’s been terrorizing everyone lately, not just New York. I do want to make a point about how the Yankees have been pitching to him these last two days, however. With some help from Texas Leaguers, here’s a look at the location of the pitches he’s swung at during this series (all plots are from the catcher’s perspective)…

That’s an awful lot of pitches — I unofficially count eight — right out over the plate and down the middle. You don’t need to know much about baseball to understand why he’s mashed against the Yankees when you see where these pitches have been. Furthermore, here are the pitches he didn’t offer at and instead took for a called strike (or ball)…

More pitches in the happy zone, he just didn’t bother to swing at these. Cespedes has seen 31 pitches in his nine plate appearances against the Yankees and approximately a dozen of them have been over the heart of the plate, at the middle of the zone and below. If you’re unconvinced this is a problem, check out his run value heat map courtesy of Baseball Heat Maps

You can read the nuts and bolts of what this graphic means right here, but in English the heat map shows that compared to the league average batter, Cespedes does most of his damage on pitches … wait for it … over the heart of the plate and at the middle of the zone and below. The darker the green (or red), the more damage he does on pitches in that location. Up-and-away is another happy zone. Combine this hitter with the pitches he’s been getting and well, you get a guy who’s gone 6-for-8 in the first two games of a four-game set.

Now I don’t think the Yankees have been intentionally pitching Cespedes over the plate like this; both Freddy Garcia and Ivan Nova were pretty shaky with their command these last two nights. Eppley lives down in the zone with his sidearm sinker and he just caught too much of the plate. These guys just have to do a better — much better, really — job of pitching the A’s slugger on the edges of the zone or even outside of it. Cespedes has swung at exactly one-third of the pitches he’s seen outside of the zone this year, the 43rd highest rate among the 203 hitters with 240 plate appearances. He’s a bit of a hacker and will expand the zone, but so far the Yankees haven’t given him anything to chase this series.

The problem now is just the team’s pitching staff and timing. Phil Hughes is pitching tonight and he’s a fastball-curveball guy, not someone who can run a slider away from a righty. Maybe that new 11-to-5 curveball can do the trick. CC Sabathia is starting tomorrow and he’ll have to rely on changeups away to Cespedes. Hiroki Kuroda is probably best equipped to deal with a guy like this, but he’s not scheduled to start this series. Garcia and Nova can bust out sliders to right-handers but they didn’t do a very good job of it in the first two games. Even if the Yankees can’t get Cespedes to chase those breaking balls off the plate, they have to get the ball out of the middle of the zone. They’ve given him entirely too many good pitches to hit.

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Mystery Team Strike Again: Cespedes agrees to join A’s

According to more reports than I care to count, free agent Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes has agreed to a four-year, $36M contract with the Athletics. He still needs to pass a physical and secure a visa, but those are considered just formalities. The Yankees were rumored to be hot after Cespedes earlier this offseason, but that talk eventually died down. I have a hard time thinking they would have beat that offer anyway.

Report: Yoenis Cespedes is now a free agent

Via Ben Badler, MLB has informed teams that 26-year-old Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes is now a free agent. He recently established residency in the Dominican Republic, which was step one of the process. By now you’ve seen the Michael Bay-esque promotional video (both of them), though I still prefer 19-year-old Jorge Soler at the point, based on the little bit we know. Cespedes went 5-for-35 with no walks and ten strikeouts in winter ball, which isn’t all that surprising given his long layoff. He did hit a homer though, which you can see right here.

On Cespedes and Soler

It’s been more than two months since Yoenis Cespedes burst onto our radar with the first of his two highlight videos, and we’re all impatiently waiting for him to be declared a free agent. That’s expected to happen sometime this month, and in an effort to boost his stock, the outfielder will play winter ball in the Dominican Republic according to Kevin Goldstein and Enrique Rojas. He’ll make his debut tonight, and this will allow teams to see him in actual game situations rather than a bunch of workouts.

We know the Yankees have some level of interest in Cespedes, after all you can see bench coach Tony Pena and pro scouting director Billy Eppler watching his workout at the 4:17 mark of the second video. However, lost among the Yu Darvish hoopla last month was a report from Marc Carig indicating that the Yankees are likely to pass on the outfielder’s services. He says they came away from the workout thinking he can be an everyday center fielder, but again price appears to be an issue. Cespedes was reported seeking an eight-year deal worth upwards of $60M earlier this winter.

Cespedes is not the only Cuban outfielder on the market though. There’s also 19-year-old Jorge Soler, another player who has grabbed the Yankees’ attention. Here’s what Jim Callis said about the kid a month ago (no subs. req’d) …

Six-foot-3 and 205 pounds, Soler has explosive bat speed and power potential. He also has plus speed and arm strength and profiles as a classic right fielder, though he runs well enough to play center. Because of his youth, he’ll need some time to develop, but he should be worth the wait.

[snip]

Soler is four years younger and more talented than Leonys Martin, another Cuban outfielder who signed a $15.6 million major league contract with the Rangers in April. Once Soler is cleared to sign with a major league team, he’s expected to top Martin’s deal.

A year ago John Manuel quoted a scout who said he has “explosive power,” and Callis said he would have been a top five pick had he been eligible for the 2010 draft. As far as I know there isn’t any video of him publicly available, so this is basically all we know about the kid. It’s not much less than we know about Cespedes, frankly.

The spending cap implemented by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement doesn’t take effect until July 2nd, so Soler will be able to sign for whatever he wants before then. Cespedes is not subject to the cap because of his age, so he can sign for whatever he wants, whenever he wants. I’m not totally in love with the idea of signing the guy though, but I am intrigued by Soler since he’s so young. Assuming the reports are legit and he has that kind of talent, getting him into the farm system at that age and allowing him develop normally can have some very real benefits, even if they have to wait a few more years for the return.

Mailbag: Yoenis Cespedes

Run like the Cuban government is chasing you. (Jeff Bottari/Getty Images)

Mark asks: Hi guys, just read the homegrown outfielder story and I was wondering if signing Yoenis Cespedes this winter and getting him to replace Nick Swisher next winter makes sense; perhaps in some sort of platoon with Zoilo Almonte?

Between my post on a homegrown outfielder for 2013 and Larry’s post on Swisher, we had a whole lotta comments focusing on Cespedes and his possible future role yesterday, so it’s worth a follow-up post. For what it’s worth, Kevin Goldstein reiterated yesterday that the Yankees continue to be the early favorites for the Cuban outfielder, at least as far as the consensus goes. Enrique Rojas reported that Cespedes is close to being granted residency in the Dominican Republic on Monday, which he must do in order to be declared a free agent. After the Office of Foreign Assets Control clears him and MLB gives their blessing, he’ll be free to sign. That’s expected to happen in January.

Now, assuming all that happens without a hitch, of course it would make some sense for the Yankees to sign Cespedes with an eye towards a full-time job in 2013. Considering the money he’s likely to get, I would hope they won’t need a platoon partner for him, whether it’s Almonte or someone else. Maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to “break him in” slowly, perhaps playing him three-quarters time rather than full-time at first, just to let him get his feet wet. But he should still play against both righties and lefties, especially since he’s a right-handed batter and would get the short end of the platoon stick.

Forgetting about the contract for a moment — just because we have no idea what it will take to sign him — let’s assume the Yankees sign Cespedes sometime in late-January or early-February, for argument’s sake. Based on these over-the-top workout videos, it’s pretty safe to assume that the guy is in “baseball shape,” meaning he can report to Spring Training on day one and not be behind the other players. In a perfect world, the Yankees would start Cespedes in High-A Tampa next season (mostly because of the weather) before moving him up to Triple-A Scranton later in the summer. It’s the same thing they did with Orlando Hernandez back in the day, and the same thing the Rangers and Angels did with Leonys Martin and Kendrys Morales. Alexei Ramirez is the best (and pretty much only) example of a Cuban position player stepping right into MLB and having instant success.

I don’t know why I’m wasting my breath saying this, but we have to be very careful to manage the Cespedes hype. The vast majority of us don’t know anything about the guy beyond those two fun YouTube videos, which were conveniently edited to make him look like a star. Ben Badler (subs. req’d) spoke to scouts who backed up the hype not too long ago, so that’s somewhat reassuring. I just get the feeling that a lot of people are expecting Cespedes to be the next Vladimir Guerrero or something, which is so ridiculously unlikely. In fact, the odds are against him even being as productive as Swisher, the guy he’d be expected to replace in 2013.

Yoenis Cespedes, The Encore

Kevin Goldstein has a breakdown of Yoenis Cespedes’ latest video, and you don’t even need a subscription to read it. The Yankees are supposedly the “clear frontrunners” for the Cuban outfielder, and at 4:17 of the video, you can see Yankees bench coach Tony Pena and pro scouting director Billy Eppler among those watching the workout. Goldstein says Cespedes’ free agency is likely going to be pushed back into January, though.

I wonder what kinda workout video Wily Mo Pena could have put together…

UPDATE: Yankees are “clear frontrunners” for Yoenis Cespedes

Monday (9pm ET): Via Frankie Piliere, the Yankees are currently seen as the “clear frontrunners” for Cespedes. Brian Cashman told Jack Curry that he’s unlikely to make a big money pickup this winter, including international players, but he’d say that even if he had $100M in the 2012 budget to play with.

Saturday (2pm ET): Via Jon Paul Morosi, the Yankees are one of three teams that have shown the most interest in Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. The Tigers and Marlins are also in the mix. Cespedes has not yet established residency in the Dominican Republic or been declared a free agent by MLB, but Ken Rosenthal says that could happen as soon as next week.

By now you’ve heard all about the 26-year-old, who had a private workout for the Yankees in front of some serious front office firepower. The new collective bargaining agreement is a non-issue; Cespedes will be a true free agent and not subject to the international free agent spending cap. In an Insider-only piece at ESPN, Dan Szymborksi and his ZiPS system projects Cespedes to be a .265/.330/.435 hitter with about 20 homers and seven steals on an annual basis at the big league level, roughly equivalent to the 2011 version of Edwin Encarnacion.