There are three certainties in life. Death, taxes, and the White Sox signing talented players from Cuba. The 2021 White Sox and MLB’s top international prospect Yoelqui Céspedes (see also: Yoelkis Céspedes) agreed in January to a $2.05 million deal, adding depth to the already strong Cuban Pipeline on the South Side of Chicago. After the agreement was completed, Céspedes became one of my top prospects to watch.
Yoelqui Céspedes, 23, is the younger half-brother to Yoenis Céspedes. Anyone that has followed baseball in the last few years is likely familiar with that last name, and with the addition of Yoelqui, it will only gain more notoriety in the years to come.
Céspedes is considered an above-average five-tool player. While in Cuba, Céspedes played for his country’s World Baseball Classic and Caribbean Series teams. He then starred in Granma in Cuba’s Serie Nacional from 2015 – 2017. While with Granma, Céspedes maintained .287/.351/.415 with 35 doubles, 10 triples, 12 home runs, 98 RBIs, 114 runs, and 14 stolen bases in 226 games.
2021 White Sox: Yoelqui Céspedes
Yoelqui Céspedes" 2019 Defection
In June of 2019, Céspedes decided to defect, leaving the Cuban National Team while participating in the U.S. Independent Can-Am League. At the time of defecting, he had only played 28 games in the 2018 – 2019 seasons. He has not played organized baseball since.
Why On Earth Would The White Sox Want Someone That Hasn’t Played Since 2019?
Just because he has not played in a game for almost three years does not mean he has not been putting in the work. It’s not uncommon for Cuban players to take a few years off from playing. However, agents are still arranging workouts for the players in a controlled setting, allowing MLB scouts to evaluate. Céspedes has improved his strength and bat speed over the last two years, and while it might be tough to speculate how that will transfer on the field, it would not be wise to doubt his ability.
What Does The Club Have To Say About Yoelqui Céspedes?
Marco Paddy, Special Assistant to the Senior Vice President/General for the White Sox has been running the club’s international operations since 2011. When asked about Céspedes he said "He can run, throw very good, disciplined hitter with good feel for the strike zone. He’s shown tremendous power to all sides of the field. We’re getting a guy that has the potential to have five tools in the majors."
Expanding further on the Cuban Pipeline, Paddy said "The success that these players have had with us in the past and are currently having with us, it helps. Every Cuban player in the market can see how well Jose and Moncada and now Luis have adjusted to our system and they like the city and the organization. It helps tremendously. So they’re excited to hopefully get an opportunity to be part of this organization."
White Sox assistant general manager/player development Chris Getz has been impressed with Céspedes while in Glendale, AZ for spring training. Céspedes has been able to compete against players expected to make the Opening Day roster.
"We’ve had a little mini-camp going on, and fortunately we’ve been able to get him some exposure with our major league guys – the Garrett Crochets and the (Michael) Kopechs and some of these other guys in live batting practices and just seeing how he goes about his work," Getz said of Yoelqui Céspedes on the Mully & Haugh Show.
"I’ve enjoyed watching him. I really have. He’s a determined kid. You can tell he’s on a mission. He’s got a real plan at the plate. He uses the whole field. He’s put together. He’s strong. He’s got a nice presence to him. He’s 23 years old, but he’s also in his first time coming over to the States and being part of the organization. So we want to go about this at the right pace. He’ll certainly let us know how much we can challenge him. We’re not scared to challenge these guys."
The White Sox Have Clear Success With Cuban-Born Players
On August 1, 2020, the White Sox became the first team in MLB history to have a Cuban-born player in each of the top four slots in the starting lineup batting order in one game. In a game against the Kansas City Royals, the White Sox started center fielder Luis Robert, third baseman Yoán Moncada, first baseman José Abreu and catcher Yasmani Grandal. (The quartet went 11-for-22 with 17 total bases in the game.) Later that month, the quartet also dominated against the Cubs with 10 total home runs and 16 runs batted in.
The White Sox also have the most wins above replacement (WAR) per 162 games generated by Cuban-born players for MLB teams in a single season, 1901-2020 at 20.2% in 2020.
As long as Céspedes makes it into a full-season club this year, he will be on the best trajectory for success. I know I’m excited to see what impact he will make in the minors and how soon he will get the call-up. After seeing his predecessors and his brother play in the majors, I can’t imagine this Cuban-born player will be anything less than a star in Chicago and beyond.
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Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images