Céspedes 'thrilled' to get more ABs in AFL

October 22nd, 2021

When the White Sox signed Yoelqui Céspedes for $2.05 million in January, club officials noted the outfielder (now 24 years old) wasn't too far off from being ready for the Majors. But he also went two years without playing in official games after defecting from Cuba, and some visa issues limited his U.S. debut to 72 Minor League games this summer.

Céspedes' glaring need for more at-bats made him an obvious candidate for the Arizona Fall League.

"I was very happy and thrilled that the White Sox invited me," the No. 2 White Sox prospect said through an interpreter. "It's one step closer for me to being in the big leagues."

A half-brother of two-time All-Star Yoenis Céspedes, Yoelqui first played in Cuba's top league at age 17 in 2015 and was a member of its World Baseball Classic team two years later. He defected while playing on Cuba's team in the independent Canadian-American Association in June 2019 and became eligible to sign in March 2020. He elected to wait until the next signing period so he could join the White Sox, who have a nucleus of Cuban stars that includes José Abreu, Yasmani Grandal, Yoán Moncada and Luis Robert.

Céspedes' bat speed and strength create well above-average power, though some international scouts wondered how well it would play against more advanced pitching. He can get overly aggressive at the plate, and his right-handed stroke can get too long and uphill. He hit just .287/.351/.415 in four seasons in Cuba and only .253/.343/.316 in 27 games during two years in the Can-Am League.

Céspedes acquitted himself well in his pro debut, however, batting .285/.350/.463 with eight homers and 18 steals in 72 games between High-A and Double-A. He said the biggest adjustment besides playing games on a daily basis again was the quality of the pitching he faced.

"In Cuba, the velocity wasn't the velocity that we have here in the States," said Céspedes, who went 3-for-18 (.167) with a double and a steal in his first week with the Glendale Desert Dogs. "It was a big adjustment for me and another stepping stone for me. The velocity as well as the sharpness of the breaking balls were the two biggest adjustments I needed to make."

Céspedes has other attractive tools beyond his power. He can show plus straight-line speed in workout settings and has a chance to remain in center field, though his quickness plays closer to average down the line. He has one of the strongest arms in Chicago's system and earns plus-plus grades from evaluators.

White Sox hitters in the Fall League

Jose Rodriguez, SS (No. 9): The best prospect in Chicago's 2017-18 international class, Rodriguez signed for $50,000 out of the Dominican Republic and features at least average tools across the board with some sneaky pop. He batted .301/.338/.469 with 14 homers and 30 steals in 111 games between three levels this year, reaching Double-A at age 20.

Yolbert Sanchez, 2B/SS (No. 15): A Cuban defector, Sanchez earned a $2.5 million bonus in 2019 mainly on the basis of his middle-infield glove work. He produced more at the plate in his full-season debut than expected, hitting .308/.352/.419 with nine homers in 99 games between High-A and Double-A.

White Sox pitchers in the Fall League

Caleb Freeman, RHP (No. 21): Freeman battled his control at Texas Tech but has done a better job throwing strikes since signing as a 15th-rounder in 2019. He can run his four-seam fastball up to 98 mph and backs it up with a solid curveball and average slider, a repertoire that helped him record a 3.27 ERA with 55 strikeouts in 44 innings between High-A and Double-A in his first full pro season.

McKinley Moore, RHP (No. 25): Moore also had a live arm and control issues in college, and the White Sox took him one round ahead of Freeman in 2019. The Arkansas-Little Rock product hits 98 mph and uses a mid-80s slider as a second pitch, and he posted a 4.20 ERA with 59 strikeouts in 40 2/3 innings between Low-A and High-A.

Johan Dominguez, RHP: The lone starting pitcher in Chicago's contingent, Dominguez came from the Brewers as part of a 2018 trade for Xavier Cedeno and sports a pair of average pitches in a 92- to 95-mph fastball with late life and an 83- to 85-mph slider. He advanced from High-A to Triple-A this summer, logging a 5.30 ERA with a 118/26 K/BB ratio in 107 innings.

J.B. Olson, RHP: A 10th-round pick out of Oklahoma in 2017, Olson changes arm angles and will deliver sinkers from a low slot and four-seamers from over the top, peaking at 93 mph while mixing in a sweeping slider. He had a 6.28 ERA with a 33/7 K/BB ratio in 43 Double-A innings.