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November 7, 2011

Future Shock

Yoenis Cespedes: The Showcase

by Kevin Goldstein

I knew I was in for something special once I saw the email.

It was forwarded to me by a big league exec with a simple “You're welcome.” The original email was sent to nearly 200 people, a veritable who's who of the international scouting community. It's from Edgar Mercedes, a Dominican-based agent who is often involved with Cuban defectors. The message, written in all caps, thanks the readers for coming to the showcase and links to a YouTube page with the video presented at the event. The video concerns Yeonis Cespedes, a 26-year-old outfielder who is currently in the Dominican looking to sign with a big league team. His resume from Cuba is significant as he hit .333 during the 2010-11 campaign while joining Jose Abreu in establishing a new league record with 33 home runs. He's a tremendous talent—arguably the best all-around player to come out of Cuba in a generation. He's a legitimate centerfielder with plus power and speed and is in his prime. Much like Aroldis Chapman was the best pitcher from the island, Cespedes is the best position player, and Mercedes will be expecting (and likely getting) a Chapman-like deal in the neighborhood of $30 million.

I was expecting a standard scouting video. A few minutes of hitting—shot from different angles—some shots of him chasing fly balls in center and throwing, and then some base running. Once I opened the video, however, I saw that it was over 20 minutes long, and knew I was in for something much different, but I could never imagine just how good it was.

Now if I was a nice person, I'd just embed the video right here, but I'm not going to do that. Before you watch it, I actually want to walk you through this majestic work. I want you to continue to read my description of what you are about to see, and figure out at what point you think I'm making some of this up. To be clear, I'm not.

Part I: The Credits
The video begins like a major motion picture, with the logos for Born To Play—Mercedes' sports academy in the Dominican—as well as the various multi-media companies that helped put the presentation together. Based on what I ended up seeing, I'm shocked that Entertainment 720 was not involved. The video has the simple yet dramatic title of “The Showcase: Yoenis Cespedes.” Before we can see Yoenis, however, we begin with dramatic music and words scrolling up the screen and disappearing in the virtual distance in full homage to the opening of Star Wars.

“A New Hope. It is a period of big change in Major League Baseball. Baseball players are leaving their countries from all parts of the world in hope of the dream to play in the majors. During these times, many players have tried and few have made it. But now, one player has left his homeland to show the world how they play baseball in Cuba. The owner of the home run record in Cuba, he sets out to show that he can perform at the highest level, the major leagues. Nicknamed 'El Talento or La Potencia' for his five tools and style of play. Teams from all over the world have waited for Yoenis Cespedes. Now he has chosen the Dominican Republic to showcase his abilities to the world. While the hopes and dreams of the Cuban nation look to Yoenis to fullfill [sic] his destiny . . . “

While misuse of quotation marks is among the most common grammatical errors, I greatly enjoy the one set of quotes around the two nicknames. I mean, how completely awesome would a single nickname of “The Talent or The Power” be? Who's making t-shirts? But forget about the nickname, just read that aloud (and trust me, it will be read for you, in Spanish, although I'm saddened to say Morgan Freeman is not involved. What? No ring to rule them all? No Highlander-esque “There can be only one?” Does he use the force? We need to know this stuff!).

Part II: Let's Watch Yoenis Play Baseball!
At the 2:19 mark, following a wipe from an aerial photo of the earth highlighting Cespedes's hometown of Granma, Cuba, we finally see the player, in an ultra-slow-mo shot of a home run hit in the World Baseball Classic against Japan. Then it's a mammoth opposite field bomb against Australia, with multiple replays, followed by shaky shots of blasts from games in his homeland, including one we need a Tater Trot Tracker on, as he admires the blast for what feels like a week. It's impressive stuff to be sure, but that's just what catches your eye. It's what catches your ear that is amazing. Playing in the background of every violent smash and during each tape measure home run is Christopher Cross's 1980 Grammy Record of the Year, “Sailing.” We see Cespedes's record-setting home run swing not once, not twice, but three times, and slowed down in time with Cross's memorizing piano solo. The bizarre juxtaposition of trying to excite potential teams with a player's incredible bat speed and leverage with the musical equivalent of sleepy time tea is the first of what will be a series of bizarre editorial choices made by Mercedes's production team.

Part III: Let's Learn About Yoenis!
A little past the 6:00 mark, we're back to our geography lesson. There is the little town on a big island just south of Florida and a line showing his short trip to the Dominican along with the phrase, “I've done it all in Cuba, now I must move on!” It's like Yoenis himself made this little PowerPoint presentation for us, and it's adorable. First up, it's Yeonis training, beginning with him running on a track, shirtless in what had to be a staged tracking shot while a camera on a dolly is right in front of him. At least we get some modern music with Chris Brown's “Look At Me Now,” which includes the lyrics, “Yellow Lamborghini/Yellow Top Missing,” so now we know what kind of car Cespedes will buy with his eight-figure bonus.

It gets better from there, as Cespedes moves to a training room, where he performs an eye-popping 45-inch vertical jump that has to be seen to be believed. In the background? Brown continues to rap about various girls being on his genitals and how he's even amazed at himself for rapping about girls on his genitals. Forget about Cespedes's bonus; I'd give seven figures to watch ten front office people of my choosing view this video for the first time with the volume turned up. Busta Rhymes enters to provide a little extra flavor to the song, and after watching Cespedes sprint and be informed of his 6.3 second times in the 60-year-dash, we finally get to see Cespedes in the field. With the first fly ball hit to him, we don't see him glide over or dive or do anything he'll do in games. Instead, we learn that he can catch a flyball behind his head with the glove on his back. It's impressive and, yet, a useless skill.

Busta continues to rap at blinding speed, luckily too fast for some to catch the words (don't get me wrong, it's a good song), as Cespedes moves to the weight room. We're told via a graphic that he can leg press 1,300 pounds, but it's hard to know exactly how much he's pushing towards the sky in the video, as while seemingly every weight on the island is on the bar, they are joined by two of Cespedes's training friends (I'm assuming they are close, but maybe it's just me) who are on the bar with the weights. He's not just strong, he's trustworthy, as his friends bounce up and down. Meanwhile, Lil' Wayne announces his presence in the background song with, “Man, f**k these bitch-ass n*****.” Somewhere in distance I can hear a scout who has never seen the kid in person or spent any time with him dinging his makeup. But if that didn't do it, Cespedea then does a T-Drill while Lil' Wayne rhymes 'jacuzzi' with a common term for the female genitalia. Then the song fades out, not before Wayne does this, but after. I'm not trying to be a prude here, and I listen to plenty of things that would turn many a face red, but it's still a fascinating song choice for a promotional video for your elite client. In the end, I kind of have to hand it to them. One of Lil' Wayne's next lyrics, coming just at the fadeout, is “I don't care what you say, so don't even speak,” and that's the attitude here. Here's my guy. He's awesome. Pay us.

Now it's time for something called a “Hack Squat,” which consists of Cespedes squatting at a 45-degree angle onto a giant yellow balloon with 510 pounds on his shoulders, but not before making the sign of the cross and striking a Usain Bolt pose. Our music has switched to “There It Go (The Whistle Song)” by Juelez Santana, which is far less interesting or lyrically salty.

Finally, just past the 9:30 mark, nearly a full half way through the most epic scouting promotional video in the history of the human race, Cespedes takes batting practice. His swing is fast, loose, and explosive. It's easy to block out the music and just watch this, and it makes me want to write a check even though I don't own a team. The video of him swinging a bat, doing the one most important thing in his repertoire, the thing that is going to get him paid, lasts all of 30 seconds. Equally long is the following shot of him back in the gym, jumping over a triad of steps with the overlaying graphic of “Explosive Ability.”

Because watching the guy actually you know, play baseball, needs to be difficult, the viewer is then treated to a grand total of 17 seconds of Cespedes in the field. Each time he runs about 50-60 feet, settles under a ball, catches it either lackadaisically or with a showboat move and then flips it to someone close. We learn nothing. What we do learn next, thanks again to a graphical overlay, is that Cespedes has “Core Power” as he does sit-ups that end with him standing up. I can't do one of these, but I don't care how many he can do either. Remember the 17 seconds of fielding? You know, the one we just saw? Well. we got 40 seconds of the sit-ups and the core power. I have no idea how good this guy can play baseball yet, but it's a 70-plus sit-up tool.

But wait! It's time to tease us with fielding video again! And again it's exactly 17 seconds of it. Three times, Cespedes drifts to ball, including another behind-the-back catch, but the best part of the video is the tease, as on the first catch, he lines up to throw and then does not let it go. I still have no idea if this guy is Adam Dunn or Gary Maddox defensively. He's a 20-80 outfielder with a 20-80 arm. To be fair, I'm told he's damn good in center, but they refuse to show me that. You want to know why? Because it's time for more proof of “Core Strength” with him in a push up pose and his legs in stirrups as he kicks. We get it; he's a crazy, tremendous athlete. There's this guy who lives near me, I'm assuming he's a college student, and he's in remarkable shape. I know this because he jogs around the neighborhood quite often with no shirt on. I don't care if it's 80 degrees or 30, he's running around topless. If I looked like him I'd never wear a shirt either. I have no idea what his name is, but I'm calling him Yoenis from now on. The real Yoenis goes from kicking backwards to kicking left and right, and with Jay Z in the background, the core strength demonstration is three times longer than the almost fielding segment.

Finally, at roughly the thirteen-minute mark, Yeonis Cepedes throws a baseball… I think. In the distance, there are people standing around an infield with palm trees behind them, and Cespedes is clearly throwing the ball towards them, but it's impossible to pick up the ball from the shaky handheld camera shot. In the background, Jay-Z exclaims, “Somebody bring me back some money please!”

More batting practice! Three whole pitches! He swings at two of them! The camera pans to follow the ball both times even though it's impossible to see. Whatever; can I watch him working out more? Of course I can! Did you know that Yoenis Cespedes can bench 350 pounds? You do now, and you'll see it again in slow motion. You know, that thing the producers haven't used on a baseball level since the opening montage of highlights from his days under Castro's thumb.

Finally, more than seventy percent into the video, we get an extended look at Cespedes with a bat in his hand as he launches bombs to left on a raggedy dirt field. Some kid shagging fly balls steals the show temporarily with a home run robbing leaping catch at the wall. Who is that kid? What's his name? Is he available? I have no idea who he is, but with roughly five and a half minutes to go, I know more about him as a defensive player than I do Cespedes. Jay-Z is talking to me about how he's switched his choice in champagne. I feel woozy.

Part IV: Let's Play Ball!
The music changes, and I'm told via another graphic that Yoenis is “Doing Whatever It Takes To Be The BEST!!!” We briefly keep Jay-Z but soon switch to the more musically fitting “Everyday A Star Is Born.” Should I read into the fact that in between the singing of the song's title, Jay-Z is saying, “Can you say New York City?” Go ahead, Yankees and Mets fans, get excited! Or not. Let's remember the previous musical choices. Maybe Cespedes wants to play in a more consistently warm environment, where he can go sailing. We just don't know. Equally ambiguous is the “Let's Play Ball” graphic that follows. Baseball? Negotiations?

Back to the map, as Yoenis begins in Santiago de los Caballeros, and a line begins to draw towards the United States. But where will it end? We don't know! As the Line of Cespedes burns towards the U.S. with accompanying jet sound effects, a giant question mark appears (get it?), although it looks like he ends up somewhere in Nebraska, so look out 2012 College World Series! Now that map changes to one with icons of all 30 teams in their respective cities along with the question mark firmly planted near Cherokee, Iowa—a town of just over 5,000 and home of the Sanford Museum and Planetarium, where I'm assuming it's “Written In The Stars”. There suddenly is no music. The silence is deafening.

Part V: Numbers
You've seen him work out, you've seen him play—well, kind of—so it's time for numbers. There are some basic statistics here, but it's mostly a scrolling biography of the kid. Killer phrases include “Teenaged flyhawk”, but then I realize that this text seems incredibly familiar. It's stolen (or lifted, or just copied) from his bullpen page at Baseball Reference. You have a staff of people making sure I know the kid can run and lift weights, but you can't write about him? In the end, I just assume that the remarkable Star Wars intro text took up their entire writing budget.

Part VI: Things Get Weird
The credits start to roll at the 18 minute mark, but YouTube clearly tells me I have two minutes to go. The credits are all of six people, including Mercedes and Cespedes's official agent of record, Adam Katz, along with his trainers, facilities, and the voice of the Star Wars text, who turns out to be Kevin Cabral, an outstanding broadcaster in the Dominican. From there, I get the feeling that either Errol Morris or David Lynch took over for the final 90 seconds, which includes:

1. A photo of his mother, who pitched for the Cuban national softball team, along with the words, “Thanks for all you've done for me, Mom!” A lovely sentiment to be sure, but the only reason I know that's what the words are is because I paused the video. They are on the screen for roughly one-tenth of a second and then replaced with the same text in Spanish as audio of children cheering is heard. We then get Mom's achievements, which helps with the bloodlines stuff for scouts.

2. A photo of a man sitting on a tree with the text, “Thanks for the push Ahman Green.” Some quick Google work tells me than Green is an ex-NFL running back of some renown. I'm baffled by this. I have no idea what a former Green Bay Packer star now has to do with a Cuban outfielder, but I showed this to a football friend, and he described it as among the greatest mysteries in sports while informing me that it will bother him in his sleep. A second Google search for both names shows only two links from the sports memorabilia industry. It's surreal.

3. A completely charming video clip and what I am assuming is his family dancing. It's this totally cool three-person dance than I'm spending the next week learning how to do, accompanied by the words, “Thanks You My Loving Family And Friends.”

4. A silent, star-lit sky, filled only with the words, Yoenis Cepedes.

5. The last 40 seconds of the video—the viewer's final look at Yoenis Cepeda—is of him stoking the fires under a roasting whole pig as blood oozes from the torso of the soon-to-be delicious animal. It's a stunning final image, worthy of Fellini, and like most of the Italian master's films, I'm not quite sure what to make of it, yet I'm awestruck.

Yoenis Cespedes is a fantastic prospect and a monster of an athlete who can play baseball. He's a name everyone should know, including non-baseball fans who should now enjoy the best 20 minutes of their life as I present to you, without commercial interruption, “Yoenis Cespedes: The Showcase”:

The video below has been removed by Mercedes, but a brave soul put it back up at . . . http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kREZHmOR1bg

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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