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Cespedes' focus rises after his numbers fall

After taking step back in 2013, Cuban slugger determined to meet potential

PHOENIX -- It hasn't even been two weeks since Yoenis Cespedes last greeted reporters at a FanFest media session and spoke of a busy offseason consumed by adding muscle weight -- 15 pounds to be exact -- and shortening his swing for better contact in an effort to dispel a mostly disappointing 2013 season.

So there was little else for the Cuban slugger to say Wednesday when he reported to A's camp. He had plenty to tell his hitting coach, though.

Cespedes got right to work in the cages with Chili Davis, heading out to the back fields before 8 a.m., more than two hours before he needed to be at the park for his physical. Oakland's first full-squad workout is Thursday.

"I'm not really as concerned right now about how he looks," Davis said. "We had a conversation, and my biggest concern is what he's thinking coming into Spring Training. What does he plan on working on here? What type of year does he want to have? What's his objective this year? I didn't even have to ask him. He told me."

This is Davis' third camp with Cespedes, and never before had he heard the slugger freely open up about his goals. They include certain numbers, which were not divulged, but more importantly, a genuine desire to bring more focus to Cespedes' game. That was lacking during several stretches last year.

Cespedes has acknowledged that and vowed to do what he can to keep his frustrations out of the batter's box.

"Cespy performed so well in the playoffs last year that he realized, at the end there, the level of his focus was so strong," Davis said. "That was all he needed. You're going to give away some at-bats, but to minimize some of the at-bats he gives away over the course of the season is pretty much your objective. You have to hit pitches you're supposed to hit, but when you swing at pitches you're not supposed to, or try to do too much with the ones you are, you create outs instead of hits."

Cespedes told Davis he spent time this winter watching video from a productive 2012 and a less-productive 2013, discovering that the good swings he took in 2012 mirrored those he took in 2013. Consistency was the only difference.

When Davis asked about the bad swings, Cespedes responded, "I didn't want to look at the bad ones."

"It's about the focus and the intent," Davis said. "The bad swings aren't him necessarily swinging at bad pitches. It's getting good pitches and trying to do too much. The purpose is for good contact with that swing and not just home runs. You look at the guys like Miguel Cabrera who are just consistent hitters, their approach matches the way they think, and they think good contact first, and if they got it, it will go. They don't have to hit it 16 rows up. It might go three rows up, and that's fine."

That is why Cespedes has worked to shorten his swing. This is not exactly a new practice, though. In fact, Davis says it has been on the agenda since the 28-year-old arrived as a rookie in 2012.

He has simply struggled to make a habit out of it.

"We've seen it at times," manager Bob Melvin said. "I think last year he probably got caught up in some bad habits trying to do too much to play catch-up after a bit of a slow start and some injuries. I think it's more about trying to stay in a routine that's consistent, and obviously health will have a lot to do with that."

Cespedes, who batted .292 in 2012, hit .228 last April and .220 in May, improving only ever so slightly with a .232 mark in June, which was followed by a .237 showing in July. August was his worst month, at .216, but at the last minute he discovered a rhythm in September, batting .314. He hit .381 in the playoffs.

Davis believes Cespedes can easily be a .300 hitter every year, by virtue of his ability to hit the ball hard all over the field. And the home runs? Those will always be there, so long as he squares the ball up with that new short swing of his.

He had 26 of them last year, and 23 the year before.

"He could hit 30 or 40 easily," Davis said. "Offensively, the sky's the limit. He's in a position in the lineup to drive in a lot of runs, and if he's focused, he can drive in 120-plus runs. I see him as a guy that has the ability to be one of the top five players in the game if he wants to be. He understands if he wants to get there; he has to have the discipline."

Both in his work ethic and at the plate. Like virtually every other offensive category, Cespedes' on-base percentage dropped last year, to .294 from .356, in part because of a decrease in walks.

"Regardless of where you are in the lineup," Davis said, "you're still going to have to take the bases on balls when they're not going to pitch to you. He says he can steal 25-plus bases. Understand that if you're not getting pitches to hit, take the walk and become a run. It's going to help the team win.

"Along those same lines, he has to understand, 'Hey, I'm not going to get all three RBIs out there, but I am going to pick up at least one. Let the guy behind me pick up another. We want him aggressive, but under-control aggressive. When he loses his focus, he's out of control."

Jane Lee is a reporter for Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB.
Read More: Oakland Athletics, Yoenis Cespedes