The Orioles were expected to have a contingent, including manager Buck Showalter and new international scouting guru Fred Ferreira, in the Dominican Republic this weekend to scout Cuban-born Yoenis Cespedes.
Cespedes is a 26-year-old right-handed hitting outfielder who defected from Cuba in 2011. He batted .333 with 33 home runs and 99 RBIs during the 2010-2011 season with the Cuban national team.
He has yet to officially establish residency and become a free agent, but that could happen any day now. Some speculate that Cespedes will be signed to a free agent contract in the $35-$50 million range.
Baseball America’s Ben Badler, a writer who is well connected on the international front, is pretty high on Cespedes.
“He’s probably, after Yu Darvish, the best baseball player available that hasn’t played in Major League Baseball yet,” Badler said. “He’s definitely one of the best Cuban players that has ever come over. He’s different from some of the other guys that came over when they were younger and needed a lot of minor league time.
“If he’s not big league ready, he is very close to being big league ready now. I think that he is a guy that should make an impact in 2012 whether he starts out in the majors or possibly in Triple-A just to start the season.”
Badler says Cespedes has not played regularly since the end of the Cuban season months ago and could need some Triple-A time in 2012 to knock off some rust. He is a player that scouts have seen in many international competitions, including the 2009 World Baseball Classic, the World Cup in 2009 and the FISU World Championship in Japan in 2010.
“He’s been seen in international competitions quite a bit. Scouts have had the opportunity from 2009 and 2010 to see him in live game situations several times,” Badler added.
Badler said Cespedes is a player with a lot of skills and tools.
“The athleticism stands out. He’s gotten himself into excellent shape in the Dominican Republic where he has been training. He’s a guy that has a lot of tools. He led Cuba’s top league in home runs. He has plus-plus power and great bat speed,” he said.
“That is not his only tool. He’s either a center fielder or possibly a right fielder down the road. He is a plus or better runner with a plus arm as well. If anything his bat might be his worst tool (in terms of batting average). I think a lot of scouts think he will hit, but he’s not going to be a guy to hit .300 but maybe between .260 and .280. Won’t be a huge on-base guy but has the power and speed to give you a lot of value, especially if he is in center field.”
Badler said teams that have scouted Cespedes and might be most aggressive pursuing him include the Yankees, Marlins, Tigers, Cubs, Nationals and Red Sox.
MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko was the first to report the Orioles’ interest in Cespedes. Just how interested they are and whether they would throw some big bucks at this player are very uncertain at this point.
“You know it’s hard to say (about the O’s interest). When he had his first workouts in early November, I think it was before Dan Duquette took over (Nov. 8). With the new GM coming in and a new group of international scouts coming in, I’m not really sure. It sounds like they are probably doing their due diligence, but with a new front office, it’s hard to guage if they will be a realistic player for him,” Badler said.