3

Yoenis Cespedes homers in impressive exhibition debut

Yoenis Cespedes showed what all the hype was about in his A’s debut Saturday. The outfielder from Cuba lined a homer over the left field wall and added an RBI single and walk in three at-bats against the Cincinnati Reds at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.

Batting second and playing center field, Cespedes walked on six pitches — without swinging the bat — in the bottom of the first. He came up in the second with runners on the corners and knocked a single up the middle to score Josh Donaldson. Then in the fourth, facing lefty Jeff Francis, Cespedes fouled off four straight breaking balls before hammering what appeared to be a letter-high fastball over the left field wall.

He also handled two routine fly balls in center — an all-around impressive performance for the outfielder who defected from Cuba and signed a four-year $36 million deal with Oakland on Feb. 13. Cespedes missed two weeks of camp while awaiting his worker’s visa and made his Cactus League debut Saturday.

4

Yoenis Cespedes set for A’s debut, but what’s it mean for rest of outfield?

If you’re eager to see Yoenis Cespedes in a legitimate big league ballgame, so is A’s manager Bob Melvin. “We know less about him than we do anyone else in camp,” Melvin told reporters Saturday morning. Cespedes will play center field today in his Cactus League debut. He’ll bat second just so he can possibly squeeze in three at-bats before coming out of the game, Melvin said. The highly touted Cuban outfielder will DH on Sunday, but beyond that, Melvin wasn’t offering much about his outfield plans. If the A’s play Cespedes in center field – the spot where he’s most comfortable – that means uprooting incumbent Coco Crisp and likely moving him to left field (with Josh Reddick in right). But Melvin wasn’t tipping his hand on where Crisp will play once he and Cespedes are starting in the same outfield.

“I just wanna see what (Cespedes) has to offer in center field here for a few games before I go down that road,” Melvin said.

We can glean from that that Crisp is likely to play some left field in the coming week as the A’s evaluate Cespedes in center. It’s a delicate issue, and I’m not surprised Melvin is playing it close to the vest right now. There’s one theory that says Crisp is a proven veteran who has earned his stripes in center and deserves to stay there unless he’s clearly out-played at the spot. The other school of thought says Cespedes already has enough to cope with coming to a new country and adjusting to the majors, so let him play where he’s most at ease. And let’s not forget which of those two is getting $36 million. The A’s want to get the most out of that deal, so they’ll slot Cespedes where they think he’s most likely to succeed. The only thing I know for sure: All parties involved will soon grow tired of being asked questions about this. But it’s a hot storyline and it’s not going away, so we’ll keep hammering away at it.

–Melvin gets his first look at Bartolo Colon today. Colon pitched in Mesa on Monday in a split-squad game while Melvin stayed back to watch the game in Phoenix. I’d expect Colon to work four innings or so if all goes well, much like Brandon McCarthy did Friday, since Colon will pitch the A’s second regular season game March 29.

–Last but not least, here’s today’s lineups:

A’s: Pennington SS, Cespedes CF, Smith LF, Ramirez DH, Reddick RF, Suzuki C, Allen 1B, Donaldson 3B, Rosales 2B; Colon RHP.

Reds: Phillips 2B, Valdez SS, Heisey RF, Ludwick LF, Francisco 3B, Frazier 1B, Jones CF, Cozart DH, Hanigan C; Cueto RHP.

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A’s live chat set for Saturday at noon, as Yoenis Cespedes makes his debut

Curious to know how Yoenis Cespedes fares in his first game? Find out during our live chat Saturday at noon. We’ll be going for an hour, just as the A’s-Reds game is getting underway and Cespedes plays in his first exhibition. Bring all your questions about him, the outfield in general, or anything A’s-related. Lots of good storylines with this team as spring training unfolds and the Tokyo season opener approaches.

How do you participate? Just click this link at noon http://www.mercurynews.com/ci_20141047 and you’ll be guided directly to the chat.

Talk to you tomorrow …

1

Barring something unexpected, Cespedes will play first spring game Saturday; Powell released

Pre-game blogging has been taking a beating this week as I chase around the Cuban phenom, Yoenis Cespedes, and then hit the road around the greater Phoenix Metro area to A’s road games. I’m just about tapped out on simulated games, and fortunately, this may be it for the season. First, Cespedes should take the next step by playing in a game Saturday. Second, I turn the reins back over to Joe Stiglich Saturday for Cespedes’ debut while head over to the Giants for a few days.

 After two days of detailing Cespedes as the second coming of Roberto Clemente, there was a bit of a comedown Friday. Cespedes played in his third simulated game and looked decidedly human. He struck out twice, grounded into a double play to short and managed to beat out a slow chopper to short for a 1-for–4 performance. He ran the bases and played some centerfield, and the only real chance he got was a Manny Ramirez rocket which made it to the CF wall before Cespedes did. But I’m not sure anybody would have caught the ball Ramirez hit unless they were standing on the warning track to begin with.

 A’s general manager Billy Beane’s curiosity got the best of him Friday. He said Thursday he was afraid to watch any of Cespedes’ sim performances because he was going so well and didn’t want to jinx him. But he showed up anyway, along a whole host of A’s brass, including owner Lew Wolff, only for the whole thing to be devoid of Cespedes fireworks. Even director of player personnel Billy Owens, who had been here the past two days, took a jab at Billy, saying he’d jinxed Cespedes.

After the sim game, I chatted briefly with Cespedes through coach Ariel Prieto and he said he was ready to play in a game. He added that one of the reasons he had such a tough day is that he did some leg lifting in the weight room on Thursday and that he was feeling “weird.” He said he had some minor tightness in his leg, but that it didn’t affect his running. He said he’d be fine physically to play in a game Saturday, but Melvin said it’ll ultimately depend on the final go-ahead from the training staff. Melvin also stopped by Papago Park briefly to watch Cespedes session. Melvin said this morning that he should have a definitive answer on whether Cespedes would start Saturday after today’s game against Colorado.

Elsewhere,  Landon Powell, the switch-hitting backup catcher who caught Dallas Braden’s perfect game in 2010, was released by the A’s.

 Powell, 30, hit just .171 last season in 36 games with the A’s and .207 in 123 games over three seasons with Oakland. He was originally a first-round draft pick by the the A’s in 2004 and the 24th selection overall in the June draft. He was actually taken ahead of starting catcher Kurt Suzuki, who was a second-round pick in the same draft.Powell was a non-roster invitee this year, but Oakland has still six catchers in camp even after his release.
 
 It’s likely that Anthony Recker will assume Powell’s role as Suzuki’s backup in 2012, but the A’s also have Derek Norris, Ryan Ortiz and Max Stassi in camp, as well as Josh Donaldson, who is currently working at third base.
 
“We just feel like the guys that we have are better options,” said manager Bob Melvin. “We wanted to do it early enough so that (Powell) could go and potentially catch on with another team. That’s not the end-all, be-all reason for it, but it played into it, because he’s been here awhile and we respect him.”

First baseman Daric Barton, who hit against live pitching for the first time Thursday, was began throwing for the first time since shoulder surgery last August.

 Noteworthy: Manny Ramirez looked like Manny Ramirez in the simulated game, crushing a pair of doubles and showed some good speed running them out. See ya on May 30, Manny.

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Don’t want to over-hype, but Cespedes looks like the real thing

 

You hate to make a snap judgment after two simulated games against low-minors pitching, but Yeonis Cespedes very likely will take the Bay Area by storm this year. That’s my first bold prediction of spring training. Cespedes not only looks like the real deal, he looks like he could be the A’s best player right ouf of the gate.

It’s not just that he went 7-for-12 over the past two days with a pair of homers and a string of laser hits. It’s just the way the guy carries himself. He doesn’t act like a rookie. Doesn’t get overexcited. Looks supremely cool and confident, in and out of the batter’s box. Manny Ramirez may be Cespedes’ godfather off the diamond, but when he has a bat in his hands, Yeonis doesn’t look like he needs a whole lot of pointers.

They say he plays the outfield with a similar calm and coolness. Can’t wait to see it. This weekend, it appears we will — finally — see Cespedes in a real spring training game. A’s fans should salivate. They haven’t had a potential star outfielder since in awhile, but they may have one now. We’ll see. Cespedes hasn’t seen a steady diet of maj0r-league changeups, sliders and curveballs yet. But it’s pretty apparent he has no problem with a fastball.

What I liked was that he hit virtually ball in the simulated game with authority. Even the outs, save one chopper to third, were hit hard. And the home run wasn’t a floater. It was a low missile that cleared the left field fence just inside the foul pole. Yesterday’s blast was higher, but equally well tattooed. The outs showed something, too — Cespedes can get down the line, which adds just a little more speed to the lineup. If he winds up hitting third, you’ve got Jemile Weeks, Coco Crisp and Cespedes setting the tone at the top of the lineup.

OK, enough hype. Should probably tone it down before the guy plays his first major-league game. But I’ve already seen enough to know Cespedes is going to be a guy worth going to the ballpark to watch.

————

Not a great start Thursday for the highly touted Jarrod Parker, acquired in the deal for Trevor Cahill from Arizona, but it could have been worse. Parker went two innings and surrendered two runs against the Dodgers’ A lineup, but it was not without a few highlights despite 3 hits, 3 walks and a hit batter.

 With two runs in and the bases loaded in the first, Parker got Juan Uribe to hit into a double play to end  the inning. In the second, after hitting the first batter and giving up a single to the second, he got out of the inning unscored upon, and finished his stint by striking out the shoulda-been-NL-MVP Matt Kemp looking. So at least he ended up on a positive. Manager Bob Melvin says Parker is definitely in the mix to make the rotation. 

———-

Not much news today. In addition to Cespedes, both Manny Ramirez and Daric Barton hit in the simulated game. Barton hit one nice ball to the warning track. Manny didn’t do anything special, but at least he was back on the field after being scratched from Wednesday’s game due to back stiffness.

Adam Rosales, who has been set back by left shoulder tendinitis, saw his first game action Thursday. It remains to be seen if he can get into the third base competition. Probably doubtful.

———-

The A’s announced their first two regular-season games in Japan will be televised on the MLB Network tape-delayed on March 28-29. Each game will be shown twice, at 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. The games will be broadcast live at 3:10 a.m. on 95.7-FM The Game.

The A’s will also bring back Spanish radio broadcasts this year, at least for 69 weeknight and weekend home games. The games will be aired on KIQI (1010 AM), KATD (990 AM) and KWRU (1300 AM) during the 2012 season.  The broadcast schedule kicks off with Bay Bridge Series exhibition game against the Giants Tuesday, April 3, followed by 68 regular-season games, with Amaury-Pi Gonzalez and Manolo Hernandez-Douen at the mike.

Yes, that was the only official statement from the A’s offices today. But hey, it’s still early.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cespedes impresses in live debut, A’s strange official statement, 7 p.m. live chat reminder

   Wild and crazy morning here with A’s ownership firing a shot over the bow of the media with an official statement on their territorial rights standing and much-ballyhooed Cuban acquisition Yeonis Cespedes launching a shot over the wall at Papago Park in his first at-bat against live pitching.

   The A’s statement, which can be read here http://bit.ly/ythW9Q, is about as coherent as the link. It came out of the blue, although clearly it was directed at the loosely written report in the New York Daily News over the weekend by columnist Bill Madden that Major League Baseball is on the verge of reinforcing the Giants’ territorial rights to San Jose and the South Bay, which prevent the A’s desired move there.

The statement really had nothing to offer other than to maintain they’ve been reassured by MLB that no decision has been made and no vote has been taken, something MLB already did in the wake of the NY Daily News story by columnist Bill Madden. The statement went on to reiterate all the things they’ve been saying for three years about why they need to move. Very cryptic.

So what’s to read from this? Good question, but there’s no doubt there is a hint of desperation simply in issuing this kind of statement.  The A’s were clearly disturbed by the Daily News report, especially after Madden defended his piece by saying he talked to several sources on the Bay Area territorial rights issue. As our columnist Tim Kawakami  remarked on Twitter, the random release was very “Raider-like.” Exactly.

Because I had to craft a quick story on the statement, I missed the first couple of at-bats by Cuban phenom Yeonis Cespedes over at the Papago Park minor-league facility. But Cespedes apparently put on a show. He homered in his first AB of a simulated game, looking at a handful of pitches before taking T.J. Walz, an A’s middle-round draft pick in 2011, over the left-field wall.

 In his second at-bat, Cespedes lined a sharp single to left, and in his third, took a called third strike against Walz. In his fourth AB, he singled through the hole between third and short against another farmhand, Jonathan Joseph, and finally, hit two mile-high pops in his final plate appearance, one which dropped between two outfielders and the second caught off first base. So for lack of an official scorer on the premises, Cespedes was either 3-for-5 or a cheaper 4-for-6. I’d go with the former. Whatever, it was impressive, even for a simulated BP session.

Cespedes looked very happy with his session. He was smiling broadly and accepting high-fives from coaches and teammates, among them Manny Ramirez, who also took some live hacks. Ramirez was supposed to play in Wednesday’s afternoon game against the Dodgers at Phoenix Muni, but scratched just before gametime with back stiffness.

Manager Bob Melvin said Cespedes may have two or three more sessions against live pitching and probably wouldn’t play before the weekend, but that could be accelerated based on what the young man showed Wednesday. We’ll see.

 

Elsewhere, just some minor stuff. Adam Rosales (shoulder tendinitis) took BP for the first time and could play in a game Thursday. Possible he may have stated this already before I got here, but manager Bob Melvin said Josh Donaldson will get the first crack at winning the third base job.

 Just a reminder, I’ll be conducting a live chat on all things A’s tonight at 7 p.m. Go to any Bay Area News Group site or simply click on this link  bit.ly/wNh58X to be guided to the chat.

 

 

 

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Bring your knowledge, test mine on A’s live chat Wednesday night, 7 p.m.

Everything will be on the table … the team, the direction of the team, the ownership, the Oakland/San Jose question. And if you want to talk about the weather in Arizona, we can do that, too. Can’t promise that I’ll have all the answers, but count on a stirring give-and-take. You’d rather watch American Idol?

How do you participate? Just click this link at 7 p.m.http://bit.ly/wNh58X and you’ll be guided directly to the chat.

2

Savoring spring, learning faces, Cespedes update, Anderson throws and a nugget on Sonny Gray

   Yes, I’ve arrived at spring training. Excuse my zeal, but the first day in Arizona is always quite a euphoric experience — the sound of the BP bats, stretching, 80 degree temps, girls in shorts, all that good stuff. If you can’t get stoked for spring training, you aren’t human, even if you are an embittered A’s fan right now. C’mon, cheer up. Baseball. It’s baseball. Snap out of it. Doesn’t matter who’s playing it.  It’s the greatest game, and as they say, hope springs eternal — even in Oakland.

 I took my tour of the A’s clubhouse this morning, linking faces with names and pretending not to be too clueless about who everybody is. As it’s going to be for fans, it’s going to take awhile, and I only have four days to get to know everybody as I fill in for Joe Stiglich, who’s taking a little R&R. Weird vibe with no Japanese media around. Weirder still to see Manny Ramirez huddling with young Yoenis Cespedes in the clubhouse so intensively.

 As I predicted a week or so ago in a column, Ramirez is really the only player who can counsel this guy on what he’s in for. Yes, Ariel Prieto is here as a pseudo personal coach/translator/cultural assimilator, but Ariel never hit. He never played the outfield. Ramirez has to be a legend to Cespedes, and the way Manny has been comporting himself so far, that may not be such a bad thing. Almost like having an older brother or maybe an uncle to provide guidance.  Better than nobody as far as getting this guy’s mind right about finally being in America to play baseball. 

Cespedes is still probably 5-6 days away from playing in a spring training game with the A’s, but that could be accelerated depending how he fares against live pitching in the next couple of days.  As casual as the A’s are pretending to be about getting him in a game, you can bet Billy Beane, Bob Melvin and Co. are just as anxious as the rest of us to see this guy in action. He’s been all-world in batting practice, but it’s batting practice. We’ll see how he looks against live pitching in the next day or so, and then go from there.

   Melvin said Cespedes is in great physical shape, but added, “He’s not in baseball shape, in my opinion.” Cespedes hasn’t played in a live game since December, when he logged eight games in the Dominican Republic.

Cespedes was scheduled for another day of routine batting practice and conditioning, and may face some live pitching in the next day or two. Depending on how he looks, he could be in a game by the weekend.

   “Once we feel comfortable where he is physically that he can go out and run around for five innings or so, then we’ll get him in,” he said. “There will certainly be a couple of days where he’s facing pitchers, but whether it’s two or three days of that, he’ll be in a game closely after that.”
 
    Elsewhere, the A’s will take a look at rotation candidates Tommy Milone and Graham Godfrey today when they play Milwaukee in Maryvale. Melvin said he is uncertain when lefthander Dallas Braden will get in a game, although he is progressing nicely, and doesn’t want to Braden to feel pressure that he needs to be ready once the season starts.
 
    ”I’m treading that one lightly because I don’t want to push him,” Melvin said. “(Dallas) is the kind of guy who if he reads something like that, he’s going to try to push to it. He’s going to have to start throwing breaking balls. It’s basically been fastball-sinker. He hasn’t even thrown his change off a mound yet.”
     
   Talked with LHP Brett Anderson, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Anderson cleared a major hurdle Tuesday morning when he threw off a mound from the full 60-foot, 6- inches. Anderson threw 25 pitches, all what he said was 60-70 percent velocity, and came out of it sounding enthused.
 
   “The ball came out of my hand really well,” he said. “It’s weird not having any pain. I kind of see the light at the end of the tunnel. You don’t want to get ahead of yourself, but I feel unbelievable.”
 
 ”Everyone was envisioning potentially August (for Anderson’s return),” Melvin said. “I would caution to say it could be before that, but he’s had no setbacks.”
 
    Melvin said he has impressed with the performance of the team’s top draft pick, righthanded pitcher Sonny Gray, so far.
    “I don’t envision him starting with us,” Melvin said. “But boy, they say he could be a quick mover.”
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Injuries hurting Daric Barton’s chances at A’s first base job

Checking in on the A’s first split-squad day. I’ll be watching their game in Phoenix against the Angels. Looking forward to seeing Brad Peacock on the mound for the first time. He’ll have to deal with Albert Pujols, who is hitting third for the Angels. …

Daric Barton will be shut down for three days after getting a cortisone shot in his right biceps, and manager Bob Melvin acknowledged it’s going to be tough for Barton to win the first base job as things are playing out. “Certainly he’s going to have to be able to throw and play first base, and it’s going to be a little bit longer to come,” Melvin said Monday. “I don’t want to rule anything out at this point, but you can count the days.” It appears the first base battle is a three-man race between Brandon Allen, Chris Carter and Kila Ka’aihue.

In other injury news, utility infielder Adam Rosales has been slowed by a sore left shoulder after losing his balance and falling last week at the team’s practice facility. He has yet to play in a game but Melvin said Rosales should see a couple of innings of action Monday. Rosales was not on either lineup sheet for the games against the Angels and Cubs.

Melvin isn’t revealing much about his outfield plans, saying he’s waiting until Yoenis Cespedes is closer to playing in his first game. That’s likely to be in five days or so, according to what Cespedes said Sunday. Melvin said he doesn’t see any urgency in getting Coco Crisp time in left field. If the A’s decide Cespedes will be their opening day center fielder, Crisp likely would move to left. “I’m confident if we had to do something with Coco in left that he’d be able to handle it very quickly,” Melvin said. “But we’re not close on that yet.”

I’m not ruling out the possibility of Crisp staying in center and Cespedes playing right field, with Josh Reddick or Seth Smith in left. So far, Smith has played left and Reddick has been in right. But Melvin said he wants them to get time in both corner spots.

2

Yoenis Cespedes takes batting practice, meets media; will he be ready for start of A’s season?

The A’s introduced outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to the media on Sunday, but they are not saying whether he will be on the team’s opening day roster. Cespedes’ four-year contract became official Saturday, and there’s just three-plus weeks before the A’s open the regular season in Japan against the Mariners. That’s earlier than typical seasons.

Cespedes, speaking through translator Juan Navarrete, said he can be ready to play in exhibitions in five or six days. He was scheduled to do conditioning and take batting practice and do some outfield drills Sunday. “I expect he’ll see quite a bit of activity before the Japan series,” A’s general manager Billy Beane said. “Whether or not he’s on the active opening day roster remains to be seen. We’ll play that by ear.”

Cespedes said he’s eager to prove he’s up to the challenge of succeeding in the majors. One player he looks up to in particular is A’s teammate Manny Ramirez. The two talked extensively while hitting in the same batting practice group and then chatted more in the outfield.

Beane talked about the A’s willingness to give Cespedes, 26, a four-year $36 million contract. “He is a pretty unique physical talent,” Beane said. “You don’t see guys like this come along too often.”

Beane did not say whether he envisioned Cespedes or Coco Crisp playing center field.