Originally posted on 1313 Sports  |  Last updated 3/28/12

The Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners opened the 2012 MLB season early this morning before a sell-out crowd of 44,227 in the Tokyo Dome, Japan. The two game series was held in Japan to raise money for relief efforts to assist with the rebuilding in Japan following last year’s earthquake and tsunami. Clearly the attraction of the series is Ichiro Suzuki, who didn’t disappoint the local crowd going 4-5 on the day hitting in the third spot in the Mariners line-up. He added an RBI and two of his hits came in typical Ichiro fashion…beating out infield hits, but my area of interest today had to do with Cuban defector, Yoennis Cespedes and for a couple of reasons. One, I actually took a chance and drafted Cespedes for my fantasy baseball team this year with the hopes of stashing him on my bench as a fourth outfielder until he proves he can handle the SHOW. I, started him this first week with the A’s getting an extra two games over most teams in the hopes that his counting stats would give me a slight edge.

Cespedes, the 5-10, 210 LB, starting center fielder was hyped up during the Hot Stove season due to the athleticism he illustrated on a viral You Tube video. During Spring Training I had the chance to catch a few A’s games on the MLB Network and like enough of what I saw to draft Cespedes late in the mixed league draft. With Felix Hernandez on the bump today for the Mariners, I though I would chart the plate appearances for the Cuban CF to see if any immediate tendencies would show up. Before getting into the at-bats, the first thing I noticed in the Spring was a striking similarity to Manny Ramirez in his stance. A little more open, but his hands and the starting position of his bat looked the same. His front shoulder seems to lean out over the inside part of the plate which combined with a long, yet fast bat makes him susceptible to any fastball with movement up and to the inside part of the plate. Would King Felix prove me right today?

1st At-Bat

Cespedes would start his MLB career today in the 7th spot of the A’s line-up. Looks like they will be easing him in, but King Felix would have none of that as he dusted Cespedes back on the first pitch. A running fastball that wasn’t that far off the plate, but as was said before Cespedes’ front shoulder leans in and he seems to have a propensity for diving out over the plate. The second pitch by Hernandez was a doozy of a 12/6 curve-ball that fell in for a strike at the knees causing Cespedes to buckle a bit. Clearly, tipping his anxiety in his first MLB game by gearing up for King Felix’s gas was a dead giveaway that he may not be able to keep his weight back. The third pitch catcher, Miguel Olivo called was another 12/6 curve and Hernandez dropped this hammer off the table causing the Cuban to flail and swing over the pitch. On the 4th and final pitch of the at-bat it looked like Hernandez threw a sinking fastball or a splitter that was in the low 90s and once again falling of the table into the dirt and Cespedes had zero chance, swinging and missing to end his first official AB in the Show with a strikeout. Hernandez looked very sharp early on in this game so I am glad that I arose for the tape delay on MLB around sunrise.

2nd At-Bat

King Felix stayed with the curveball theme in the first two pitches of the next AB against Cespedes, neither of which he was overly kind with. Both deuces were snapped hard, but the first one missed a bit off the outside corner. The second curve once again hit the outside part of the plate and resulted in Cespedes swinging early and over the ball. My next guess after this set-up was that Hernandez had him set-up and would drive another fastball up and in to see if he would chase and I was right, but the running fastball had too much movement. Cespedes almost swung but held up in time to receive his first HBP of his career. The HBP is something that I foresee happening often by Cespedes unless he can’t take the pain or is advised to move off the plate by his coaches.

3rd At-Bat

At this point in the game the score is tied 1-1 and King Felix has allowed just 5 hits and has 6 strikeouts through 6 IP. Cespedes finally adjusts his location and is standing a bit further off the plate which is exactly what Hernandez was trying to accomplish in the first place. Where do you go when a hitter backs off the inside part of the plate and took some cheese off the wrist in his last trip to the plate. Away, away, away. This time he was started with a 2-seam fastball that just missed outside at the knees for ball one. Again, Cespedes would be seen out on his front foot a bit trying to get some plate coverage. Hernandez and Olivo, who were on the same page all day obliged and another absolute master-lock type curve that broke hard to the knees and on the outside froze Cespedes for strike one. At this point, I am almost laughing to myself at the lesson Felix Hernandez is giving Yoennis Cespedes and I know in my head that another hammer is due. This time, however, Cespedes adjusted nicely, keeping his weight back and driving a curve-ball intended for the low and outside corner deep to the Right-center field gap and dropped in for a lead-off double. This was impressive to see out of the Cuban CF. Hernandez definitely went to the well too often, but can you blame him. What I liked here wasn’t necessarily the physical adjustment made by Cespedes as he was a bit off-balance and caught the ball near the end of his bat, but the mental approach taken here was great. He clearly showed he could think with one of the best pitchers in the game and stayed back enough to get his legs behind the swing thus providing enough pop to reach the warning track which was about 390 feet away.

4th At-Bat

Cespedes last at-bat would come with two outs in the bottom of the 9th with the game tied 1-1. A perfect script would not be had as he once again fell victim to curve balls that were dropping 4 inches or more. Seattle reliever, Tom Wilhelmsen, who I know nothing about and has just 34 IP in his career went curve-ball, fastball, curve-ball and curve-ball getting the CFer to swing and miss badly on the last two, but honestly I watched the whole game and it seemed the Mariners pitching staff threw it’s nastiest breaking stuff when Cespedes was at the plate and showed respect for his bat speed. Yoenis, saw just one hittable fastball in the strike zone of the 14 pitches he saw during the game.

I expect other pitchers to follow suit and if I were manager, Bob Melvin, I would strongly consider moving him up in the lineup. With the aggressive base-running of Jemile Weeks ahead of him having the chance to swipe bags with all those curves being thrown he will surely see more fastballs and this may help him get off to a good start in his debut campaign. In the end, Cespedes showed promise, good bat speed and the ability to make some adjustments. Plate discipline may be an issue as will be the aforementioned dose of plunking sure to come his way, but it’s hard to imagine a large majority of the curves he dealt with today will be snapped off with the same amount of nastiness.

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