03/04/12 5:32 PM EST
Cespedes takes BP with Manny, meets media
By Jane Lee / MLB.com
That very process started Sunday, when Beane stood by Cespedes' side as he was introduced to the media for the first time inside a compact room at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, his perfectly white A's jersey accompanying a gracious smile and quiet confidence as cameras followed his every move. Two seats to the left of him sat agent Adam Katz, who calls his client calm, kind and charming.
Cespedes exuded all three in his lengthy chat with reporters -- he spoke for nearly 20 minutes -- and said through translator Juan Navarrete that he is "happy to be able to take my first step of my dream to play in the Major Leagues."
Soon enough, he was on the field making friends with Manny Ramirez, whom he admired from afar while growing up before a four-year, $36 million deal with the A's brought him to the United States. The intriguing duo drew quite the crowd and plenty of chatter while taking batting practice together, before taking their conversation to the outfield for nearly half an hour.
Soon enough, though, the focus will turn to the questions that surround Cespedes' ability to be a success in the Major Leagues. He anticipates being game-ready in five to six days, but whether he starts the year in Oakland remains to be seen, with less than three weeks remaining before the team jets to Tokyo to open the regular season with the Mariners.
"I expect he'll see quite a bit of activity before the Japan series," Beane said. "I think we all just kind of want to get him out there. Based on the contract, the sooner [he gets to the big leagues] the better. I think we're going to be open-minded, but I think we also don't want to immediately say, 'He's going to be here on Opening Day.'"
"I haven't seen him out on the field doing baseball drills, and that's what you wait for," manager Bob Melvin said. "We hear he's a heck of an athlete. With a lot going on, coming in to a situation like this can be uncomfortable, so sometimes the solace is getting on the field and playing baseball, where those are instinctive things."
Cespedes, 26, is most comfortable in center field, where veteran Coco Crisp currently resides. It's plausible that the A's choose to keep Cespedes in his natural position and move Crisp to left field, but Beane and Melvin reiterated that the situation will work itself out in due time.
"It's not an issue right now, but ultimately, I think Bob's going to put the best center fielder in center field and the best left fielder in left field, whoever that may be," Beane said.
Cespedes said he will "play where they want me to play" and called his transition to the big leagues "a process."
"It will take time," he said. "I'll adjust and perform the way people expect me to play."
Expectations are high. The 6-foot, 215-pound Cespedes played eight seasons for Granma in the Cuban League, tallying a record 33 home runs to go along with a .333 average and 99 RBIs in 90 games during the 2010-11 campaign. He was also Cuba's starting center fielder during the '09 World Baseball Classic, batting .458 in six games.
The A's, though, are aware that plenty of cultural, social and baseball adjustments lie ahead of him and plan to help make the transition as seamless as possible without placing too many expectations on him in the early going. Ultimately, they're expecting his right-handed power bat to slot in the middle of a lineup that hasn't contributed to a winning record since 2006.
"Really, to find a potentially center-of-the-diamond player in the prime of his career, those players usually aren't available," Beane said. "Any time you're putting out that kind of money there's a risk."
"It's a risk, no doubt about it, but it didn't surprise me that Billy was interested in this sort of thing," Katz said. "It makes sense because it's hard for these guys to get that quality of a player."
The Cuban defector says he's been working out in the Dominican Republic for seven months and will give his new team "101 percent every day." Katz believes that's no exaggeration.
"He's laser-focused, and I've never seen anything like it," the agent said. "He's done everything we've asked with enthusiasm and passion and intensity. It's really just been a journey to get here."