Can We Be Confident That Yoennis Cespedes Is What He Seems?
A lot has been written on Yoennis Cespedes, and quite frankly a lot of it is absolute nonsense. His critics tend to rest their arguments on the assumption that Cespedes is older than he claims and may have been using steroids or other performance enhancing drugs while playing in Cuba. I’m not sure where these rumors and assumptions got started, but I am fairly sure that neither applies to Cespedes. When we look at the basic facts of his professional and international history, we almost have to conclude that Cespedes is exactly what he appears to be – a 26 year old outfielder with five tool potential.
Amateur players who lie about their ages to make themselves appear younger than they are do so, typically, when they are looking to sign with a major league club for the first time. They usually have virtually no baseball history, professional or otherwise. Their names haven’t appeared in local papers or any other public records that could allow MLB team officials to determine the real age. The only evidence a team has when evaluating their age is each individual’s own word for it.
None of that applies to Cespedes. His age doesn’t come from him, it comes from the published player bios of the Cuban baseball league. The only way he can lie about his age is if the Cuban baseball officials are in on a conspiracy that dates back to his professional debut in 2003. The Cuban leagues would not have had to rely on his word for when he was born, it would be a matter of public record. Furthermore, given that he is the son of a well-known national softball player, his birth probably sparked at least some remarks in the local press. It is all but impossible that he could have lied about his age during his professional career in Cuba without getting caught. Given that Cuba does not look kindly on defecting players, I sincerely doubt that the Cuban baseball officials and the Cuban government would have been sitting quietly all this time if they had evidence that his age was in fact other than what has been stated. Unless we buy into a decade long conspiracy between the Cuban officials and the Cespedes family, I don’t see any reason to believe his age is false. His case is in no way similar to that of a teenage prospect no one had ever heard of until he walked into an MLB training facility.
And as for the PED accusations and assumptions, remember that the Cuban national team consistently plays in international competitions, and that international competitions have much tougher drug testing standards than major league baseball. I’m fairly sure that blood tests for PEDs, including human growth hormone, are fairly standard at nearly all international competitions in any sport. Since Cespedes has been groomed for international competition since he first appeared on the Cuban baseball scene, I strongly doubt that he has been taking drugs that would cause him to fail a internationally standard drug test. If he has stayed clean enough to play for events like the Pan American Games in 2007 and the World Baseball Cup in 2009, I see no reason to think that he has been juicing during his career. If anything, because he has been subjected to international testing more frequently than most American prospects, we have more reason to believe that he is clean than we do the typical American high school or college kid.
Attacking Cespedes because he has never faced consistently elite competition is perfectly valid. Being skeptical that he can translate his game to the major leagues makes a certain amount of sense. But I don’t think the age and PED stuff has any basis in reality. Those are problems that crop up in Latin American recruiting time to time, but no where near as often as has been made out. And when when you look at the particular case of Cespedes, it is hard to find any compelling reason to believe that either has occurred. He has had neither the motive nor the opportunity to lie about his age, and it would be extremely difficult for him to have taken PEDs (at least before he defected).
At the end of the day, I think we have to evaluate Cespedes based on exactly what he is, and not based on some mythical, stereotype generated characterization of what some might wish he was instead. Cespedes is a 26 year old… not 28 or 32 year old… outfielder with plus power… not drug enhanced… a great arm, plus speed, and who plays solid defense. If he does not succeed in the majors, it will have everything to do with his attitude, work ethic and abilities and nothing to do with whether or not he should qualify for a senior citizen’s discount.