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How the mighty have fallen.
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2024 South Side Sox Top Prospect No. 49: Yoelqui Céspedes

Sadly, his stock is plummeting

Yoelqui Céspedes
Center Fielder
205 pounds
Age: 25
2021 SSS Top Prospect Ranking: 7
2022 SSS Top Prospect Ranking: 3
2023 SSS Top Prospect Ranking: 11
2023 High Level Charlotte (AAA)
Age relative to high level -1.3 years
SSS rank among all center fielders in the system 6
Overall 2023 stats 121 games ⚾️ 10 HR ⚾️ 37 RBI ⚾️ .230/.319/.350 ⚾️ 45 BB ⚾️ 142 K ⚾️ 16-of-23 (69.6%) SB

The younger half-brother of Yoenis Céspedes, Yoelqui Céspedes played from 2015-19 with Alazanes de Granma in Cuba’s Serie Nacional, where he slashed .287/.352/.416 over 226 games. He also played for Cuba at the 2017 World Baseball Classic, and defected two years later while playing on Cuba’s team in the independent Canadian-American Association. He added about 20 pounds to his 5´9´´ frame while training with Yoenis in advance of joining a big league club, boosting his raw power and his prospect stock.

Yoelqui became eligible to sign in March 2020, but elected to wait until the subsequent signing period to accept a $2.05 million bonus from the White Sox in January 2021. At the time of the signing, he was ranked the best international prospect per MLB Pipeline, but was listed a bit lower by both Baseball America and FanGraphs.

Due to visa issues, Céspedes didn’t get to start his 2021 season for Winston-Salem until June 19. After shaking off some rust for his first month, he began hitting with authority around mid-July and never really stopped. In 45 games for the Dash totaling 176 at-bats, Céspedes slashed .278/.355/.494 with 17 doubles, seven homers, 10 stolen bases, 13 walks (6.5%), 56 strikeouts (28.1%) and 127 wRC+. He didn’t lift his foot off the accelerator after being promoted to Birmingham on August 17, as he slashed .298/.340/.404 for the Barons with three doubles, two triples, one homer, eight stolen bases, three walks (3.0%), 27 strikeouts (27.0%) and 108 wRC+. Combined with both teams, he slashed a solid .285/.350/.463 in 72 games with 20 doubles, two triples, eight homers, 27 RBIs, 18 stolen bases, 16 walks (5.4%) and 83 strikeouts (27.8%).

While the numbers were quite good, Céspedes did show himself to be a free swinger, as evidenced by his high strikeout and low walk rates To gauge his progress, Céspedes was assigned an Arizona Fall League roster spot, where he struggled against advanced pitching by slashing just .181/.244/.222 in 19 games for the Glendale Desert Dogs. Ultimately, this experience should ultimately help Céspedes gain better knowledge of the strike zone.

The problem with a free-swinging approach in the lower minors is that it leaves a hitter wide open to be exploited ny more advanced pitchers, who will take advantage of such aggressiveness. And that’s exactly what happened in 2022, as Céspedes encountered his first speed bump on his way to the majors. The hole in his swing broke wide, for an almost-incomprehensible 154 Ks; no matter how much pop you promise (and Yoelqui is not looking like a future Joe Morgan), a speed merchant cannot be so allergic to contact.

Thus in spite of a wide-open route to the South Side outfield, crowded perhaps only by countryman Oscar Colás in the upper minors, Céspedes instead treaded water all season at Double-A.

Somehow, in 2023, it got worse, as what power Céspedes had flashed was gone, his on-base suffered, and the hole in his swing wasn’t sewn up a stitch. The fact that he fell only 39 spots in this year’s rankings qualifies as a bit of a minor miracle.

Céspedes’ Baseball Cube player ratings
Speed 81
Durability 78
Power 71
XBH 64
Hitting 60
Runs 56
RBIs 32
Contact 30

Believe it or not, there is some hope for Yoelqui, as a September call-up (need-based, rather than merit) saw him explode over 11 games: .362/.362/.553, although with seven Ks and no walks. IF the White Sox see fit to challenge him in a bit of a 2023 Yolbert Sánchez make-or-break year and IF Céspedes can think only soothing Charlotte thoughts and forget he ever played in Birmingham, perhaps he will see some time on the South Side. For now, 11 garbage games to end 2023 aside, the possibility seems implausible.

[Note: The makeup of the White Sox minors changes over the long course of this project, shifting ratings. The February 3 trades with Seattle and Arizona have added three highly-rated prospects to our list, sliding players ranked No. 57-100 down a couple of spots. The list below represents our updated rankings, although the stories they link to will retain original rankings (example, No. 56 Troy Claunch originally was our No. 55 prospect).]

2024 South Side Sox Top 100 White Sox Prospects

49. Yoelqui Céspedes, CF
50. Christian Oppor, LHSP
51. Michael Turner, C
52. Tristan Stivors, RHRP
53. Caleb Freeman, RHRP
54. Jake Peppers, RHSP
55. Shane Murphy, LHRP
56. Troy Claunch, C
57. Edrick Felix, 2B
58. Gabriel Rodríguez, RHSP
59. Edgar Navarro, RHRP
60. Lucas Gordon, LHSP
61. Andrew Pérez, LHRP
62. Javier Mogollon, 2B
63. Aldrin Batista, RHSP
64. Ryan Castillo, 1B
65. Bryce Willits, 3B
66. Colby Smelley, C
67. Wes Kath, 3B
68. Alsander Womack, 2B
69. Jordan Sprinkle, SS
70. Connor McCullough, RHSP
71. Luis Rodriguez, RHRP
72. Jonah Scolaro, LHRP
73. Ben Beutel, LHRP
74. Stiven Flores, C
75. Adrian Gil, 1B
76. Yohemy Nolasco, RHRP
77. Ben Norman, LF
78. Josimar Cousín, RHSP
79. Juan Gonzalez, C
80. Chris Lanzilli, LF
81. Alex Speas, RHRP
82. Fraser Ellard, LHRP
83. Garrett Wright, RHRP
84. Duke Ellis, CF
85. Mathias LaCombe, RHRP
86. Godwin Bennett, RF
87. Rikuu Nishida, LF
88. Caden Connor, LF
89. Zach Franklin, RHRP
90. Jeremy González, LHSP
91. Jerry Burke, RHRP
92. Frankeli Arias, LHSP
93. Mikey Kane, 3B
94. Carlton Perkins, RHSP
95. Tyler Neslony, LF
96. Drew Dalquist, RHSP
97. Jason Matthews, SS
98. Jonathan Stiever, RHSP
99. Tommy Sommer, LHSP
100. Daniel González, LHRP

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