Tuesday night, Yoenis Cespedes threw a runner out at home in an act of intolerable awesomeness. It was instantly hailed, and rightfully so, as one of the most magnificent defensive plays in recent memory. The statistics of the throw are unbelievably cool as well. Physicist and baseball genius Alan Nathan estimates that the throw went about 318 feet, and it left Cespedes' hand somewhere between 97 and 99 miles per hour. It was also an unbelievable, perfect strike.
You've probably already watched the video of the throw, but you should go ahead and watch it again. It is epic.
Whew. Okay. Now here's another reason why the play was fascinating to me: Yoenis Cespedes is currently living a weird sort of baseball existence.
He is the Proto-Puig.
You may not believe this, but there was a time, before 2013, when Yoenis Cespedes was the most interesting thing to have come out of Cuba in baseball. Before Yasiel Puig, before Jose Abreu, there was the first* of the most recent wave of imported Cuban hitters.
* - Sorry Kendrys Morales. You don't even rate in this article. But nice hitting yesterday.
Before the 2012 season, the low-budget Athletics shocked baseball by opening up their wallet and paying a princely sum to Yoenis Cespedes, despite being much of an unknown in MLB circles. Yoenis's four-year, $36 million deal was especially big for the A's, and belied a high-risk, high-reward signing. Possessed of unbelievable physical talents, adding Yoenis was like adding a mainline injection of adrenaline and hope to the team. He had the potential to be a 40-homer guy or a physical savant, instead of just another warm body in the outfield.
Yoenis debuted, time passed, and it turned out that he was more of a starting-caliber outfielder ... and that was it. He had his flaws (OBP, defense), and it wasn't long after starting his career that the shine had worn off. A good 2012 debut season gave way to a disappointing sophomore year in 2013. Cespedes got worse in one critical area (hitting), and all of a sudden, he dipped from the national radar, and other, more Puig-like outfielders took the spotlight.
What's happened to Yoenis is sometimes called "post-hype" in prospect circles. Everyone makes a huge deal about the hot new prospect with the unlimited potential and the infinite future. It's actually happening with Gregory Polanco, if you want to see it happen in real time. Yet, eventually they debut and the shine wears off. They succeed a little, or they succeed a lot, and they just become another cog in the machine.
So, Yoenis is that hot prospect from two years ago -- but it's really only now that he's starting to make good. He's likely to never be a hyperstar, but he's a bit like Matt Wieters or Jason Heyward, the type of guy who's doing good work, playing above-average ball, but not exactly a Puig-level talent.
Actually, Yoenis isn't exactly a Puig-level talent in a couple of positive ways, too. The Athletics' import is actually a more effective baserunner than Puig, whose mental miscues have caused him no shortage of hot takes and negative comments. Cespedes isn't much of a base thief -- he's got a career total of 24 stolen bases in 36 attempts -- but he's a solid runner by UBR, which measures all the non-SB baserunning things a player can do. Where Yasiel hasn't been good at any aspect of baserunning in his nascent career (-4.8 baserunning runs), Yoenis has 3.1 runs to the positive.
And Yoenis, as I mentioned earlier, is starting to garner a reputation for defensive excellence. Like Puig, Yoenis has a tendency to make flashy plays (see the past two nights' worth of throws) but not be terribly solid overall defensively. Yet, after moving out of center field in 2012 -- which was the defensive equivalent of a chemical toilet fire for Yoenis -- he appears to have turned himself into something like a scratch defensive outfielder, based on advanced metrics like DRS and UZR.
Since coming to the States, Cespedes has shown a pronounced ability to put the ball over the fence, already racking up 61 homers in two-and-a-half seasons, so take that "death of right-handed power." But despite that, Yoenis isn't much more than "above-average" as an offensive player. And that's because he has such trouble reaching base regularly.
Cespedes doesn't walk, and he doesn't have a high batting average on balls in play, let alone one at the insane levels of Yasiel Puig. Puig is a BABIP savant at this point in his career. He hits far more ground balls than Cespedes, which normally might not be a good thing, except for the fact that Puig still hits for serious power, and he manages to get hits on many, many of those grounders. Yoenis, unfortunately, pops a lot of balls into the air, and can't manage an OBP much north of .300. His power plays, but he's hardly a complete hitter. Meanwhile, Yasiel already looks like a complete hitter, he's also improving at a ridiculous rate, and -- oh yeah -- he's got five years of youth on Cespedes.
Yoenis Cespedes isn't Yasiel Puig ... though I think more people thought he would be what we know now to be Puig than Puig would eventually be. Instead, Yoenis is just Yoenis -- a good, but flawed player on a team full of good, but flawed players (and also Josh Donaldson). But now, we're seeing some of Cespedes' post-hype ability starting to show up, in part because he can do ridiculous things with his arm. It's nice to see the guy get some credit, because it's hard to be seen when you're being overshadowed by a guy like Yasiel.
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All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.
Bryan Grosnick is the Managing Editor of Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @bgrosnick.