The Foreign Exchange will chronicle the individual seasons of Yoenis Cespedes, Aroldis Chapman, and Yu Darvish, keeping you updated on their progress throughout the MLB season as they continue to adapt, and hopefully improve, amidst new surroundings and a new style of play.
I have an inexplicable love for international players. Maybe it’s because everyone is so quick to assume that they’re going to fail once they make it to the grand ol’ US of A, and I always find myself rooting for them. It’s probably the sense of satisfaction I get when one of these mystery players makes their way over here, the consensus is that they’ll be a bust, I predict that they’ll be great, and they actually end up being pretty good. I pride myself on this uncanny ability to evaluate talent based on next to nothing (usually a mix of instincts, gut feelings, and whether or not the player seems pretty cool), and the current apple of my eye is Yu Darvish.
He looks like a Japanese pop star (or if he wants, Tom Selleck) but pitches like Roy Halladay, and in 2009, I pushed my chips forward and was all-in. From that point on, I was convinced that Darvish would end up on my Yankees. When the Kei Igawa experiment blew up bigger than…something that isn’t Hiroshima because that would be in poor taste, I should have known that the Yankees wouldn’t take a gamble on another Japanese export. Just as I expected, the Yankees didn’t budge, and Darvish signed with the Texas Rangers, but I’m completely cool with it. Under pitching coach Mike Maddux, I think Yu will flourish and adapt to the major league game quicker than Yu think (yeah, I just did that).
But keeping track of just one player is a little obsessive, so I decided to add two other intriguing prospects into the mix. My choices were two young players who recently defected from Cuba: Yoenis Cespedes (Oakland Athletics), a power-hitting rookie built like Ronnie from Jersey Shore, and Aroldis Chapman (Cincinnati Reds), an ultra-talented second-year flamethrower who is still trying to learn to control his own abilities. Chapman, like Darvish, is one of those international players I predicted greatness for, but the verdict is still out (and he’s still not on the Yankees…). Yoenis Cespedes is a much different case. Even after killing it at the World Baseball Classic (where I found Darvish), I never enveloped myself in his story that much. That’s not to say he won’t end up a superstar like my foresight for Darvish and Chapman says, but I just never really got a good read on him. He was touted as the Cuban Bo Jackson, but for some reason the hype never really stuck with me. Whether that’s good or bad for his future as a major leaguer, only time will tell, as my clairvoyant ways will be proven by the end of this MLB season, mark my words.
Yoenis Cespedes (HR/RBI/AVG/OBP/SLG)
2012 Season Stats: 3/7/.222/.364/.778
Bill James Projects: 19/77/.267/.321/.450
After everyone expected mediocrity at best, Yoenis Cespedes has actually gotten off to a surprisingly solid start. The A’s rookie already has 3 HR in his first seven games, one an absolute bomb to right-center (462 ft, to be exact) reminiscent of Oakland’s Bash Brothers. His absurd .778 SLG% is overshadowed by the fact that he’s only hitting .222, having racked up 10 K’s in just 22 AB. The 26 year-old Cuban phenom should still have plenty of time to prove that he’s worth the 4-yr/$36 million contract the Athletics gave him in the off-season. As he learns a little more of the English language everyday, he’ll also learn the plate discipline to face major league pitching, and could grow into a dangerous hitter in the middle of an A’s lineup that is devoid of any real talent.
Aroldis Chapman (W-L/IP/K/WHIP/ERA/FIP)
2012 Season Stats: 2-0/5.0/10/0.40/0.00/-0.66
Bill James Projects: 6-5/101.0/137/1.40/3.39/3.36
I’m really excited for Aroldis Chapman’s 2012 season. The Cuban Missile has been absolutely dealing so far. With a fastball consistently in the high 90′s, occasionally breaking 100 mph, Chapman has accumulated 10 K’s in just 5 innings of relief work. Last night, he struck out David Freese on a fastball so nasty that it actually spun him around. It isn’t all fastball though, as he’s been impressively working in split-fingers and breaking balls with great command. Even more impressive is the fact that Chapman is yet to register a walk, after struggling so much with his control last year. To Chapman’s probable dismay, injuries in the Reds bullpen will have him serving as a reliever for the foreseeable future.
Yu Darvish (W-L/IP/K/WHIP/ERA/FIP)
2012 Season Stats: 1-0/5.2/5/2.12/7.94/3.56
Bill James Projects: 16-8/209.0/207/1.11/3.27/3.08
YUUUUUUUUUUUU….The 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner (basing this off nothing) started off his Cy Young campaign in rather mediocre fashion. Darvish surrendered 4 runs in his first major league inning, laboring through a pretty lackluster Seattle Mariners lineup. Eventually he settled in, and managed to pitch his way into the 6th inning where he was pulled due to a high pitch count. At times, you could definitely see why the Rangers shelled out $110 million for the future ace. The resiliency required to give your team a solid outing after such a horrendous first inning was almost impressive enough. Darvish ended up keeping his team in the game long enough to pick up the win, going 5 2/3, with 5 ER, 8 H, 5 K, and 4 BB. I expect “Yu” puns to eventually overcome “Lin” puns, and I also expect a much better start out of Darvish after getting that first bad inning out of the way. Cooperstown, here we come.