PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- When Yoenis Céspedes defected from Cuba in 2011, his half-brother, Yoelkis, was 13 years old. Yoenis was raised by his mother, Estela Milanés, who traveled from Cuba with him. Yoelkis was raised by his father, Cresencio Céspedes, who stayed behind. Despite their different upbringings and
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- When Yoenis Céspedes defected from Cuba in 2011, his half-brother, Yoelkis, was 13 years old. Yoenis was raised by his mother, Estela Milanés, who traveled from Cuba with him. Yoelkis was raised by his father, Cresencio Céspedes, who stayed behind. Despite their different upbringings and 12-year age difference, the brothers spent plenty of time together.
That changed when Yoenis Céspedes established residency outside Cuba to begin an American baseball career. Legally unable to return home, Céspedes went eight years without seeing his brother and five years without talking to him. It was not until Yoelkis joined the Cuban national team that the younger Céspedes received his first cell phone, using it to call and video chat his brother a couple times per month.
“It was really difficult,” Yoenis Céspedes said this week, speaking through an interpreter in his first public comments about his brother’s impending free agency. “It wasn’t just not being able to talk to him, but I wasn’t able to talk to my father, and also another sister that I have, and also other family members that I still had in Cuba.”
Last year, Céspedes finally received clearance to visit Cuba, where he reunited with his brother.
Their relationship has since blossomed. Defecting while participating in the Can-Am League in New York last June, Yoelkis Céspedes subsequently traveled to the Bahamas, where he worked out with his brother while waiting for Major League Baseball to declare him a free agent.
According to MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez, that will happen on March 18. When he is eligible to sign, Yoelkis, who is now 22 years old, will hold showcases for all 30 teams in Arizona and Florida. His brother plans to attend the latter showcase.
“I think I’m even more excited for him than I was when I first signed,” said Yoenis, who inked a four-year, $36 million contract with the A’s when he was 26. “I think at the age he is right now, and the resources, the conditions that he has to be able to play -- I think they’re much better than what I had when I first signed. So I’m really excited.”
This offseason, Céspedes traveled multiple times to the Bahamas to see his brother, usually for about a week at a time. At first, the elder Céspedes could only watch, as he recovered from multiple heel surgeries and a fractured right ankle. Eventually, he joined in the exercises, teaching his younger brother how to become more of a home-run threat. Playing for Cuba in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, Yoelkis hit .250 with a double.
“When he first got here, he was a four-tool player,” Céspedes said. “He could hit for average, he could do it all, but he just didn’t have the power at that point. But once he started working with me -- I’ve been working with him since October -- he [developed] the power. So for me, he’s a five-tool player.”
Yoenis recently bought Yoelkis a home, above a five-minute drive from “La Potencia” ranch on Florida’s Treasure Coast. He describes his brother as “a good kid, really calm, doesn’t go out to parties, doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke.” When they are together, Yoenis said, Yoelkis likes to help with farm work and play dominoes.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations about not just about baseball, but also about life,” Céspedes said. “The lifestyle that we come from [in] Cuba, it’s a different lifestyle completely. But we have spoken a lot about it, and up until now, it’s been good.”
What the future holds for the Céspedes brothers is not entirely clear. Yoenis continues to work closely with the Mets’ health and performance staff in Port St. Lucie, Fla., with the goal of making the Mets’ Opening Day roster. He is entering the final season of a four-year, $110 million contract, which the Mets renegotiated following his ranch accident. (Céspedes is due to make $6 million guaranteed in 2020, but that base salary will rise to $11 million prorated once he makes the big league roster. His new contract also includes millions more in incentives.)
Since joining the Mets at the 2015 Trade Deadline, Céspedes has appeared in 308 games, batting .282 with 74 homers and an .890 OPS. But he has not played in 19 months.
As for Yoelkis, the showcases in Florida and Arizona will determine which teams bid on him -- and how much they bid. Yoenis has spent much of his recent time with Yoelkis, giving his younger brother advice on life in the big leagues.
“When he does get here, he may not start off in the Major Leagues,” Céspedes said. “So [he needs] to just work and play hard in whatever league they put him in, so he can prove he is a Major League player.”
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.