As a noun, a ‘defect’ means to impair worth or utility. When used as a verb, it means to leave one’s current situation for another. Yoenis Céspedes Milanés, the Cuban-born slugger known as “La Potencia,” epitomizes the latter. Having defected from his homeland in the summer of 2011 by way of the Dominican Republic, Céspedes – who splashed on to the world stage for the Cuban national team in the 2009 World Baseball Classic – was signed to a four-year, $36 million deal (the largest ever for a Cuban defector) by the Oakland Athletics in 2012 and was their starting center fielder. While Céspedes and 10 other relatives successfully left Cuba, other family members including his mother faced significant challenges and near-death to get to the U.S.
To cope with the separation from his loved ones, including his 4-year old son Yoenis, the powerfully-built Céspedes used baseball as his oasis. He quickly lived up to his billing as an offensive force by hitting .292 with 23 homers, 82 RBIs in 129 games and finishing second in the 2012 American League Rookie of the Year voting. Considered a five-tool player with his speed, arm strength, hitting power, hitting average and fielding talents, Céspedes was instrumental in the A’s playoff push after his arrival ending their five-year postseason drought. In the 2014 season, Céspedes hit a combined 22 homers, drove in 100 RBIs (then a career high) and posted a .260 batting average for the A’s and the Boston Red Sox on route to his first AL All-Star appearance as a reserve. Céspedes not only shared the stage with the world’s best, he seized it by demonstrating the raw power that earned his nickname and winning the ever-popular Home Run Derby in 2013 and 2014.
On July 31, 2015 the Mets acquired Céspedes from the Detroit Tigers. Trailing the Washington Nationals by two games in the NL East and lacking muscle in the middle of their lineup, he delivered the offensive punch they desperately needed and was the key cog in turning a tight NL East race. Céspedes rewarded Mets fans and their brass with a .287 batting average, 17 home runs and 44 RBIs in 57 games and propelled them to their first playoffs since 2006 and first World Series appearance since 2000. Though he struggled offensively in the postseason and at times appeared overwhelmed by his first World Series, Céspedes fueled a playoff run that brought resurgence to a moribund franchise mired in financial woes and a faithful fan base that has been waiting to erupt.
Having reached new personal bests of 35 home runs, 105 RBIs and 159 regular season games (all in 2015), Céspedes – a free agent – will undoubtedly command lucrative, multi-year offers from a number of would-be suitors. The only question is where will “The Power” be turned on next?
Image credit: Kevin C. Cox