Cespedes making quick impression in big leagues
By JANIE McCAULEY
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) With one monster 462-foot home run, Yoenis Cespedes showed off a power stroke reminiscent of Oakland's Bash Brothers back in the day.
That swing spoke volumes to those who questioned whether the prized Cuban defector could dominate in the major leagues for the Athletics as he did in his Caribbean homeland.
Cespedes shrugs off his impressive start with a welcoming smile and a vow to be more patient at the plate in order to cut down on a strikeout total - nine through his first five games - that is too high by his standards.
He is determined not to get too high or too low along the way, knowing full well his rookie season with the A's will have its share of ups and downs.
Cespedes is working furiously to learn two new English words each day under the direction of former A's pitcher and fellow Cuba native Ariel Prieto, who was called away from his minor league coaching assignment to work with Cespedes as an interpreter and mentor this year. Cespedes also is studying opposing pitchers and trying not to put too much pressure on himself after Oakland outbid the Marlins and others by giving the center fielder $36 million over four years with a chance to start his career in the big leagues - even if he is far from polished at age 26.
His batting practice has become a downright spectacle.
"A good batting practice is a way to know if you're going to do well that day," Cespedes said Monday in Spanish. "I need to have more patience. I'm striking out a lot, but I'm working to resolve it. I'm a little bit impatient. I like to swing at the ball. I'm still a little bit anxious at the plate. Playing every day should take care of it."
Cespedes is flattered by the immense interest in his pregame cuts, swing sessions that quickly began drawing comparisons to former Bay Area sluggers Barry Bonds with the Giants, and ex-Oakland stars Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire.
Even his teammates - not to mention his manager - regularly pause to watch.
"As far as the team goes, no one looks away when he takes batting practice," Melvin said. "We've seen him take batting practice many days and it's still a nice little show to watch."
It took all of four games for Cespedes to prove to the A's they had found a much-needed, reliable power man for the middle of the order. He homered in Game 2 against Seattle in Tokyo, then added two more against the Mariners as the teams' series resumed stateside in Oakland last weekend.
Melvin has already watched pitchers change their approach when Cespedes steps in to hit. He was batting .250 with the three homers and seven RBIs heading into Tuesday night's game with Kansas City.
"After his first couple at-bats and the success he had, they started pitching him differently right away," Melvin said. "He's made some adjustments. It's an ongoing battle with anybody as far as longevity and how long you stay in the big leagues and how well you do is the adjustments that you make."
Cespedes wasted no time gaining the confidence of his teammates, who were thrilled to add an offensive spark after a rather depressing winter in which the low-budget franchise traded away three top pitchers: former All-Stars Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey.
"He's doing a lot better than a lot of people anticipated, and that's a good thing for us," A's first baseman Daric Barton said. "He gets big hits at the right time so far. I think he'll have a great year and a good career. It will be fun playing with him and picking his brain. He's a good hitter. He's a quiet assassin for sure. That's one of those qualities that we like about him. He's a good dude. He comes to play, he plays hard and he plays right."
In Friday night's home opener against Seattle, Cespedes crushed a fastball that slammed off the second-deck cement facade above the Coliseum's suite windows in left-center.
Some are already pegging him to take part in the Home Run Derby at this summer's All-Star game festivities.
While the A's expected Cespedes to eventually assume the role of cleanup hittery, he has taken hold of that spot right away. Still, shortstop Cliff Pennington doesn't believe in comparing his new teammate to any of the game's great power hitters just yet.
"Oooh, I don't know. Way too soon," Pennington said. "I don't want to put too much pressure on him. Let the guy play. If the numbers say that at the end, the numbers say that at the end. No doubt there's a talent. He's very talented with a lot of potential."
Cespedes starred for Cuba in the 2009 World Baseball Classic and hit .458 with two home runs and five RBIs in six games. Yet nobody knew if he could put up similar numbers in the majors.
Brayan Pena, a Cuban with the Royals, knows how big an adjustment it can be during those early days in the big leagues.
"It is. That's why they pay him the big bucks, right?" Pena said. "Everybody knows about his talent. The only thing for him is just to adjust to the big league level. So far he's been doing a great job for them."
During games, Melvin communicates with Cespedes through hitting coach Chili Davis. The A's aren't worried about the outfielder doing the necessary preparation.
"He studies the game. It's not like he just sits on the bench and doesn't watch," Melvin said. "Everything he does is measured. It's not like he's just out here on ability alone. He's looking to shorten the gap. He's learning English. There are a lot of things that he's dealing with and he's very serious about every aspect of it."
Kansas City's Yuniesky Betancourt, another Cuban, is thrilled about Cespedes' contributions at this level.
"I'm very proud when my countrymen come out like this and make a good baseball name for my country," he said. "I know he's a five-tool player and he's going to be very successful."
The A's know it will be a while before Cespedes is a finished product, but that's OK. They like what he is doing against all types of pitchers.
"It's not like they don't throw breaking balls in Cuba," Melvin said. "He's going to get better as we go along. He's going to learn the opponent and he'll start seeing guys for the second and third time and he'll have a better idea what they're going to try to do to him. What he's done to this point has been terrific."
Added Pennington, "If he touched the ball, then he's doing better than some of the skeptics said, right?"
Updated April 10, 2012