For as well-rounded as much of the White Sox roster is, the right field position seems to be a continuing black hole of production for the team. Nomar Mazara was a nightmarish disaster at the dish as the team’s right fielder in 2020, and the timeshare between Daniel Palka, Jon Jay, Ryan Cordell, and Charlie Tilson was no better.
The foursome from 2019 slashed .220/.277/.288, which ranked 23rd, 29th, and 30th, respectively in baseball. Mazara sported a 68 wRC+ and hit just one home run in his 149 plate appearances in a White Sox uniform this past season.
Now, with the team fancying themselves World Series contenders, they’ve made a feeble attempt to plug the gaping hole in right field by investing $7 million in a 32-year-old Adam Eaton. Since the White Sox flipped Eaton to Washington in December of 2016 in exchange for Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and the now-departed Dane Dunning, Eaton has only played in 310 of a possible 546 games for the Nationals.
In those 310 games, Eaton accumulated just 4.3 fWAR, more than a full point less than his 2016 total in his final season in Chicago during his first tour of duty with the White Sox when he accumulated 5.9 fWAR.
The club has said that they’re adding Eaton because of his grit and hustle, and allegedly received the blessing of clubhouse leaders to overlook personality and character issues in the clubhouse that have followed him around throughout his career. But let’s not kid ourselves, Eaton is here because he was cheap and the White Sox have a long-running affliction with re-treads and reclamation projects. For one reason or another, the White Sox always seem to think that they’re smarter than the field and that they can fix someone hanging out in the bargain bin.
With that being said, the White Sox also have success on the international market. During the tenure of the current front office, notable international signings have produced guys like Alexei Ramirez, Jose Abreu, and Luis Robert.
According to Ben Badler of Baseball America, the White Sox have gone to that well once again, this time possibly for their long-term fix in right field. Badler reported on Tuesday that the White Sox will sign Cuban outfielder Yoelkis Céspedes — the younger brother of Yoenis Céspedes — to a $2 million bonus on January 15 when the 2020-21 signing period opens.
Unless you’ve become a White Sox fan in the past few years (welcome if so), you surely remember the failed pursuit of the elder Céspedes brother in the winter following the 2015 season. They also failed to land Alex Gordon that winter, but now they’ve landed a Céspedes to play right field five years later.
This Céspedes, Yoelkis, just turned 23-years-old in September — so he’s probably not the 2021 answer, but he’s also not far off. Céspedes defected from the Cuban National Team in June 2019 while participating in the Can-Am League in New York and he eventually established residency in the Bahamas.
He’s ranked No. 1 by MLB Pipeline when it comes to international prospects in the 2020-21 class, and checks in at No. 12 on Baseball America’s version of those same rankings. Some consider Céspedes to be a five-tool player, while some have shown concern about his five-foot-nine, 205-pound frame.
MLB Pipeline reports that Céspedes has added 15 pounds of muscle since establishing residency with big brother Yoenis in the Bahamas, and now models Yoenis in both stature and power potential from the right side of the dish. Prior to that, Yoelkis was viewed as a plus defender and runner who had a line-drive hitting profile with the ability to hit to all fields.
MLB Pipeline has Céspedes graded out with a 60-grade run and arm tools, 55-grade power and field tools, and a 50-grade hit tool. Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen said that Céspedes possessed an “80-grade arm and erratic at-bats,” in a July 31, 2019 story on a deadline deal between the White Sox and Rangers that sent Nate Jones and international bonus money to Texas.
With all international prospects, you’ll have varying reports, but if you sift through them all, the consensus seems to be this;
- Has a plus/plus-plus arm that will work just fine for the White Sox in right field.
- Features plus speed on the basepaths and in the outfield.
- Traditionally a line-drive hitting profile can work the entire field.
- Has added considerable muscle since defecting from Cuba and training with his elder brother Yoenis.
- While probably not major league ready immediately — or in 2021 at all — his sharp developmental curve should have him ready to make his big league debut sometime in early 2022.
With very few impact prospects behind Céspedes in the White Sox farm for that right field position, and the team’s never-ending refusal to play ball at the top of the outfield market in the traditional free agent pool, Céspedes seems to be the best bet when it comes to finding a long-term solution in right field.
The White Sox, who have roughly $5.3 million in bonus pool money to spend in the 2020-21 international class next month, have also been linked to Cuban outfielder and pitcher Oscar Colas.
Colas, 22, became an international free agent on December 2, and hit .290/.351/.497 with 16 home runs, three steals and a 21.3 percent strikeout rate in 87 games as a 20-year-old in 2019 with the Softbanks Hawks in Japan. Colas, like Céspedes, profiles as a near major league ready prospect who should arrive at the MLB level in 2022.
However, with Céspedes getting a $2 million bonus from the White Sox, and Cuban right-handed pitcher Norge Carlos Vera reportedly receiving a $1.5 million bonus, the White Sox only have around $2 million to work with in this 2020-21 international class. The White Sox have also been heavily linked to international infielder Victor Quezada in this class. Quezada is a right-handed power bat who is listed as a shortstop but can play either position on the left side of the infield.
Considering the fact the Céspedes and Colas are nearly the same age, play the same position, and cost somewhere in the same ballpark, it seems likely that the White Sox have either chosen Céspedes over Colas or Colas is intends to sign elsewhere. Regardless of the reason, I don’t see the White Sox signing both Céspedes and Colas next month.
The question as to whether Céspedes will, in fact, turn out the long-term solution is one that we will have to revisit a year or two from now, but, one thing I will say is that if he’s anything close to what his brother was in his prime, Marco Paddy and the White Sox have hit another home run on the international market.