Céspedes Expands the List of 167 Cuban Big Leaguers

Oakland A’s rookie slugger Yoennis Céspedes has already surrendered his share of the Cuban League single-season home run record. But apparently not looking back, Céspedes has been busy enough making his own loud splash at the big league level during Major League Baseball’s opening week. After debuting with a ringing homer in his inaugural Arizona spring training contest (March 10), the former Granma slugger logged base hits during both ends of his pair of official opening weekend American League outings (March 28-29). Those two late-March games were staged in Asia as part of a brief MLB lid-lifter series at Japan’s Tokyo Dome. Then in his initial big league game on North American soil Céspedes kept up his torrid pace with a true tape measure home run shot (calculated at more than 460 feet) on April 6 in the Oakland Coliseum. Ironically the most recent Céspedes long ball came in the same stadium and on the same date as an earlier historic round-tripper by another pioneering Cuban big leaguer. Minnesota’s Tony Oliva had launched the first-ever homer by a DH in the same arena back on April 6, 1973.

Yoennis Cespedes is now Cuba's 167th major leaguer.

Readers wishing to see the complete (up-to-date) chronological listing of Cuban major leaguers, it is available at the following link:

http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=66793

The article is also available in a Spanish language version at the following link:

http://www.havanatimes.org/sp/?p=61831

Céspedes’ Cuban League mark (set last year) went by the wayside earlier this week in Havana when former Granma teammate Alfredo Despaigne upped the standard from 33 to 35 with more than two weeks still left to play in the current Cuban National Series campaign. Meanwhile Céspedes is already proving that he is a legitimate big leaguer bent on earning his hefty 4-year $36 million contract inked with the Oakland club. It is obviously far too early to begin anointing the Cuban ex-patriot as a surefire bet for American League rookie of the year honors—a prediction  recently proclaimed on the Oakland A’s official team web site but also something that no Cuban has accomplished since the aforementioned Tony Oliva back in 1964. Despite his several early power displays Céspedes hit only .229 over 11 games and 35 at-bats during his spring training trial. If some of the hype might be premature, there already appears to be sufficient evidence of the Cuban’s potential as one of the brighter offensive stars among the handful of Cuban Leaguers who have fled to the big leagues over the past decade. Nonetheless only a remarkable rookie campaign will surpass the 2009 season numbers posted by fellow countryman Kendry Morales for the Los Angeles Angels (34 HR, 108 RBI, .306 BA). Although Morales was already in his fourth big league season by the time he enjoyed his breakout year, he was only 26 at the time. Céspedes himself turned 26 last October.

As the only Cuban rookie on any big league roster for the season’s opening week, Yoennis Céspedes has now pushed the list of Cuban-born major leaguers to 167 and counting. The last islander to debut was Texas Rangers outfielder Leonys Martin, a late-season call-up last fall by the American League champions. Martin will begin the current campaign playing for the Texas AAA affiliate in Round Rock. The other ten Cubans on this season’s opening day rosters include the following: Livan Hernandez (Atlanta Braves), Yonder Alonso (San Diego Padres), Alexei Ramírez and Dayan Viciedo (Chicago White Sox), Kendry Morales (Los Angeles Angeles), José Contreras (Philadelphia Phillies), Yunieski Betancourt and Branyan Peña (Kansas City Royals), Yunel Escobar (Toronto Blue Jays), and Aroldis Chapman (Cincinnati Reds). Of this group, all but Alonso and Peña made at least brief Cuban League appearances. Céspedes is now the thirty-first ex-Cuban Leaguer (“defector”) to reach the majors, but of that number only a handful have enjoyed much big league success (Danys Báez, Orlando Hernández, Liván Hernández, Contreras, Ramírez, Morales, Betancourt, Escobar, and Rolando Arrojo topping the list). Céspedes already appears a strong bet to enter into that fraternity.

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