Céspedes' mindset: 'I want to get there and stay there'

February 24th, 2022

CHICAGO -- Yoelqui Céspedes had a lofty goal last year of reaching the Majors during his first season as part of the White Sox.

The 24-year-old outfielder and one-time No. 1 international prospect understandably didn't hit that mark, but he hasn't altered his big league target for the 2022 season. He's solidified that idea in his mind.

"My approach right now is just to get to the Majors this year, but not just to get there and be demoted. I want to get there and stay there," Céspedes said through interpreter Billy Russo during a Thursday Zoom session following mini-camp workouts at Camelback Ranch. "That's the plan. That is where my focus is right now. That is why I'm working hard, to accomplish that. That is the mindset right now."

Céspedes had a late start in 2021 due to some visa issues, but the club's No. 2 prospect had a pretty good run once he reached the field. Between stops at High-A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham, the right-handed-hitting Céspedes slashed .285/.350/.463 over 72 games and 270 at-bats. He knocked out 20 doubles, two triples and eight home runs, with 18 stolen bases, 48 runs scored and 27 RBIs.

Patience wasn't necessarily a virtue at the plate for Céspedes, who fanned 83 times against 16 walks. But offensive selectivity has been an offseason focus for Céspedes, who also was at the team's hitters' camp in Glendale, Ariz., in January.

"I'd say it's really being under control in the box, being more selective," White Sox assistant general manager/player development Chris Getz said of Céspedes. "There are certain types of pitches right now he tends to want to chase and even miss. We need to tighten that focus a little bit, keep him under control."

That first season became an overall learning experience for Céspedes going deeper than offensive adjustments, and José Abreu was one of his unofficial instructors. The White Sox team leader and fellow Cuban countryman pulled aside Céspedes when they first met in Spring Training and told him if he needed anything or had any questions to let him know.

Not surprisingly, Abreu followed through on that promise. The best advice provided by Abreu was to work hard, regardless of the moment being good or bad.

"You just need to keep working hard on the things you need to know and the things that are going to put you in a good position and give you success," Céspedes said. "When he told me that, I right away agreed with him and I applied that, because in the sport or regular life, you're going to pass through good or bad moments. The things that are going to keep you moving forward is that work. That is where you're going to find the tools to keep moving.

"When you are a kid and you have your dad that you are trying to follow him and follow the stuff that he does, it's kind of the same here with José and me. I see all the things that he does and it's good to have that reference. It's good to have that figure you can follow."

Learning English has been an ongoing process over the past two or three years for Céspedes, who admitted English as a second language made last year's adjustment a bit more difficult. But Céspedes feels in a good place with the language, smiling while he answered a few questions Thursday without Russo.

"Baseball here is way different than in Cuba. You can see the level [of play] here is higher," Céspedes said. "But what is good is here I have a lot of Latino players, too, and we all help each other. That has been a plus for me, that has been an advantage to get used to it and the level here."

"Nothing has really changed in regard to our excitement for what he's able to do. He's got solid tools across," Getz said. "Based on the work that he puts in and the conversations we have on a daily basis, he's going to be able to close those gaps and make the proper adjustments for future success."

One of the questions Céspedes answered in English on Thursday dealt with interests off the field, which were basically going to restaurants and watching movies. It's baseball "all the time," according to Céspedes, who is presently processing what he previously learned for a future Major League chance.

"I started the ['21] season not in the way that I wanted to, but I worked some things out and I was able to get better as the season progressed," Céspedes said. "It definitely put me in a better position for this year, and I learned how to be more consistent and how to get out of those struggles. Definitely, I'm in a better position for this year."