A couple of weeks ago, Yoennis Cespedes officially became a free agent able to negotiate a contract with major league teams. Last week, Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus held the most interesting of articles regarding the Cuban free agent and current heated interest of the Miami Marlins. The question was simple: who would you rather?
I polled big-league executives, many with extensive international experience and in-person looks at Cespedes. I didn’t expressly ask about tools or projection; I asked whether the exec would take Cespedes over a series of five 20-something, ultra-toolsy outfielders who have yet to fully break through. I offered a simple proposal: You can either have Cespedes or each of these five outfielders for the remainder of their career for free—so cost should not enter into the decision.
It's a pick'em game for the rest of the players' respective careers. Who you got between Cespedes and these five outfielders? I figured I'd play as well and post my thoughts as well.
Scouting Report: Rasmus was once one of the top outfield prospects in baseball. He seemed to be growing into stardom during his second full season, but clashes with Tony La Russa led to a 2011 trade to Toronto. Things were no better north of the border; Rasmus limped to a final batting line of .225/.298/.391.
Once upon a time, in 2010, Rasmus was an All-Star and had a bright future ahead of him. Yet somehow, he ended up on the bench more often than not, and in 2011 he had a horrific third season. When looking at Rasmus, you are fairly certain you will get power (career .181 ISO), but not certain about his strikeout problems (career 22.7 percent rate). He has a lot of tools, but there are definite concerns about whether he can handle center field long-term.
In fact, a lot of that sounds a lot like Cespedes himself! Like Rasmus, Cespedes appears to have undeniable power, but may lack the plate discipline to succeed long-term. He also has some questions about his defense in center field. The two players are very similar, but the nod should go to a player who has physical potential much greater than the other. I'd give a slight not to Cespedes here.
Pick: CespedesDrew Stubbs
Scouting Report: Stubbs is one of the best athletes in the game. He combines elite-level defense with power and speed, but severe contact issues led to 205 strikeouts in 2011 and a more than 100-point decline in OPS; his overall line was .243/.321/.364.
Stubbs is an elite defender in center field, which is something Cespedes will likely never develop. But in watching Stubbs and looking at his numbers, it seems as though you cannot suspect much better than what he has already done. A .155 ISO seems like an appropriate guess at his power, and his strikeout issues are also going to be evident. Cespedes is likely at worst a more powerful version of Stubbs at the plate, and so I think there is a chance that Cespedes's average upside can get him to overcome their gap in defensive prowess.
Scouting Report: Many once saw Upton as the top prospect in the game, but his big-league career has been marred by inconsistency and questions about his effort. However, he had 23 home runs and 36 stolen bases in 2011 as part of a .243/.331/.429 season.
Upton has always tantalized with his tools, much like Cespedes has wowed us so far. But at this point, we know who Upton is: a good defender in center field and a slightly above average bat. He has the same problems as the previous two players, though his walk rate is higher. With Cespedes, I believe there is still enough upside to overcome the very known quantity that B.J. Upton has shown himself to be, but it is a tough choice. The two players have similar problems, and it will be Cespedes's power versus Upton's defense. For now, I have Upton's defense by a hair.
Scouting Report: While he's averaged 23 home runs and 20 stolen bases in his five full seasons as Arizona's center fielder, he's also yet to have the breakthrough year many have projected for him.
Young is an underrated player, especially when compared to some of the names listed here. He has established himself at around the talent level he set up in 2011, so his performances should not surprise anyone. Of the five players listed here, he has the best plate approach, having drawn walks in 10 percent of his career PA and struck out only in 22.8 percent of those appearances. His strikeouts have improved enough to make him a good known commodity, and a better one than Cespedes as of right now.
Scouting Report: Jones’ overaggressive approach is still a turnoff, but he might finally be harnessing what are unquestionable tools. He set career highs in 2011 with 25 home runs and a .466 slugging percentage.
There are a lot of question marks about Adam Jones. He did hit 25 homers last season, but his offensive campaign was only 10 percent better than the league average according to wRC+. He is supposed to be a tremendous defender, but for some reason the numbers and the eyes don't bear that out. Again, we are left with the uncertainty of two five-tool athletes with very similar skillsets, as both Jones and Cespedes are supposed to have decent contact and terrible plate patience. In a situation where both players are even in terms of tools, upside, and production (theoretically), I think taking the one that has proven himself is a better call. It's another close selection, but I have Jones by a hair.
So in this case, Cespedes looks like he is an easy pick over Stubbs, a nod over Rasmus, a nod below Jones and Upton, and decently behind Young. In another words, as of right now, we suspect he is somewhere in between the five of these players.
What do you guys think? Would you take Cespedes over these major leaguers? Which ones and why?