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WBC Non-MLB Top 10: #5 Yoelkis Céspedes

The young Cuban outfielder will have all of the spotlight (and all of the pressure) that comes with the name on the back of his jersey.

The Cuban team has been sapped of a lot of its star power over the years, with former national steam standouts like Aroldis Chapman, Yoenis Céspedes, Jose Abreu and Yulieski Gurriel all now playing in the big leagues and unable to don the national reds. Consequently, for this year’s team Cuba, a lot of eyes will be on some of the younger players, but no one is likely to draw more attention than RF Yoelkis Céspedes.

It all seems so familiar. Team Cuba in another WBC. The team takes the field. A promising young player from Granma trots out to right field, wearing #51. The crack of the bat is followed by a dazzling grab in the outfield, or a rifle throw to third. The young man trots back to right field with another highlight reel play in his pocket, the name clearly legible across his back: Céspedes.

No it’s no flashback to 2009, but rather a preview of 2017 when team Cuba will be bolstered by the addition of Yoelkis Céspedes, the 19-year-old younger brother of 2009 star Yoenis Céspedes. Céspedes the younger has had the eyes of the nation on him since he broke in as a 17 year old with Granma in 2015, just as his brother had done 12 years prior in 2003. But whereas Yoenis had starred right from the first pitch, batting over .300 and starting in the outfield, Yoelkis had a more modest debut. He appeared primarily as a backup and defensive replacement, seeing only 79 PAs across only 44 games. He nevertheless displayed his potential, batting .257/.304/.311 and nailing two runners for outfield assists.

In his sophomore season, now established as the regular starter in right, Yoelkis put up the kind of season folks in Granma had come to expect from a Céspedes. He batted .297/.362/.460 while playing in all 90 games for his Alazanes club in both right and center field. Céspedes drove in 45 runs, tied for 4th in the Serie Nacional with 58 runs scored, and, while he didn’t display the same power Yoenis had in his age 18 season (15 HR), he still managed to crack 6 long balls. In addition, he led the league in triples (9), and tied for 7th in total bases (144). In the postseason, Céspedes continued his solid play, batting .256, and, in the 7th game of the semifinal series against Matanzas, he put the nail in the coffin with a back breaking grand slam.

Grand Slam de Céspedes!!! Momento cumbre de la ofensiva granme...

Grand Slam de Céspedes!!! Momento cumbre de la ofensiva granmense en el partido!!!

Опубліковано ZONA de STRIKE 15 січня 2017 р.

With the Alazanes winning their first ever Serie Nacional Championship, they would represent Cuba in the 2017 Serie del Caribe, which would be Céspedes’ first big opportunity on the international scene. In Granma’s first game, he announced himself big in the 3rd inning. With a runner on 1st, the Dominican Republic’s Engel Beltré roped a Lázaro Blanco slider into right field. Céspedes charged hard to make a tumbling, diving catch and and a strong throw to first to double off Diory Hernández. Cuba dropped a tough semifinal game to Mexico 1-0, but Céspedes had a strong showing, batting .313/.313/.375. Shortly after the Serie del Caribe ended, Yoelkis was named to the Cuban team for the WBC, becoming the youngest player ever named to the national squad, breaking the record held by, who else, his brother Yoenis.

On the field, Yoelkis cuts a similar figure to a young Yoenis, standing at 5’9’’ and weighing in at the past Serie del Caribe at 187 pounds, the same weight his brother played at in the 2009 WBC. He displays some of the same raw physical skills as his brother, including the flat out running speed, and the rifle arm which seems to be a Céspedes family heirloom. While he has not, as yet, displayed the same power which Yoenis showed to the world in the 2009 WBC, his youth, as well as his quick developmental curve have many scouts assuming he will develop significant power.

Cuba’s manager Carlos Martí, has not yet announced his formal starting lineup for Cuba, but has suggested that he may favor Victor Mesa Jr., an older player at 21 and an outstanding prospect in his own right, for the right field spot. But Yoelkis seemed undaunted by his manager’s pronouncement, telling the Cuban Sporting Press, “I will fight to be the starter in the Classic.” For a Cuban team which is reeling from the departure of many talented players, among them the presumed starting right fielder for this event, Luis Robert Moirán, the future would appear to be now. And there is no player in Cuba with a brighter future right now than Yoelkis Céspedes.