Cespedes turns heads with final swing of batting practice

Cespedes turns heads with final swing of batting practice
February 17, 2013, 3:30 pm
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At 27-years-old, Yoenis Cespedes could be a game-changer for the A's this season. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

PHOENIX -- Yoenis Cespedes and his prodigious power arrived at Oakland Athletics camp on Sunday, and he saved his best for last. With A's manager Bob Melvin throwing batting practice, Cespedes took a mighty hack at the final ball, and practically sent one into orbit.

"It was probably the first time throwing BP to him that I saw the light at the end of the tunnel, that he wouldn't hit a home run off me," Melvin said. "Then he saved it for the last pitch and hit it over the backdrop in centerfield."

As Melvin delivered the final pitch, Cespedes swung so hard that he let out a loud roar, and spun all the way around on his backswing. When asked about the moonshot that sailed well over the highest part of the batter's eye, which is located 410 feet from the plate, Cespedes cracked a smile and stayed humble.

"The wind was blowing out," he said through interpreter Ariel Prieto.

Melvin didn't see it that way.

"No, he hit it pretty good," Melvin said. "I actually think the wind was going to other way to tell you the truth."

Later Cespedes laughed when I asked him who hit the ball further on Sunday -- he or Chris Young. He turned and pointed to where his ball went.

At 27-years-old, Cespedes could be a game-changer for the A's this season. In his rookie campaign he led the A's with a .292 average, .356 on-base percentage, and a .505 slugging percentage. He hit .345 with runners in scoring position, which was eighth best in the American League, and finished second in rookie of the year voting.

He did so while having to adapt to life in a new county, league, and while playing a new position in left field. It was also learned by the San Francisco Chronicle in January, that Cespedes had a lot more on his mind than simply fitting in. He feared for the safety of his family in the Domincan after a lawsuit was filed by his former agent Edgar Mercedes.

On Sunday, Cespedes said his family is safe on the island of Caicos now, and the legal troubles are almost completely behind him.

"They are waiting for the final verdict on March 15," Cespedes said of the lawsuit. "My family is still on the islands waiting for the immigration papers to get out of there."

He hit 23 homers and drove in 82 runs with all that on his mind. Imagine what he has the ability to do now that he can just focus on baseball.

"He wears his heart on his sleeve," Melvin said of Cespedes. "…It's difficult for him, and I was going to give him the day off, but he refused and he wanted to play. He's a good makeup kid on top of it."

Cespedes says he reported to camp five pounds heavier than normal by design. He lost eight pounds over the course of the season last year. At A's Fanfest last month he said he has been implementing a stretching program that he believes will keep him healthy.

"We did see last year that it was the first time he's played a 162 game year, and we did DH him some especially at the end to try to combat (fatigue and injury)," Melvin said. "He plays pretty hard, it's not like he goes out there and paces himself. He is a little more familiar with a 162 game season. If I can rest him without giving him a full day off DH is probably the best option for that."

Even though he hit .320 with seven home runs and 20 RBI in 26 games while serving as the designated hitter, he is determined to stay in the outfield. His manager loves the tenacity.

"I appreciate the fact that he's taking that attitude and I love that," Melvin said. "We want all of our guys to want to play and be out there in the field and so forth."

The A's first full squad workout started with a bang -- or bat crack, rather. With three years left on Cespedes' contract, there will probably be many more where that came from.

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