Sox signee Yoelqui Céspedes ‘close to the major leagues'


Luis Robert signed with the White Sox in May 2017. He didn't make his big league debut until July 2020.

A lot went into that of course. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed his Opening Day appearance with the White Sox last season by a few months. And prior to that, had the White Sox been in a different point in their rebuilding process, perhaps he would have debuted at some point in 2019. Remember, too, that his development was slowed by an injury-filled 2018 season.

Regardless of all that, however, Robert was not signed to be an instant addition to the major league roster.

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The same goes for the White Sox latest Cuban import, Yoelqui Céspedes, the top ranked player in this year's international free-agent class who signed with the South Siders on Friday.

But that doesn't mean the 23-year-old outfielder isn't close.

"When you're talking about a player, you never want to put a timetable on his arrival. But from a baseball standpoint, he's very close," said Marco Paddy, the White Sox special assistant to the general manager for international operations, during a Friday conference call. "He's advanced, he knows how to play the game. Since he was 19 years old, he's been on the Cuban national team with a lot of international experience.

"Combined with his Cuban experience, he's very advanced. It's just a matter of him getting adjusted and doing the things he needs to do to advance. But he's very close to the major leagues."

Paddy's explanation brought to mind the White Sox last three first-round draft picks: Nick Madrigal, Andrew Vaughn and Garrett Crochet. With each pick, the White Sox selected advanced college players who perhaps wouldn't need quite as much minor league seasoning and could make major league impacts sooner than the alternatives.

Madrigal made his debut in 2020, just about two years after he was taken with the No. 4 pick in the 2018 draft, and that would've been less than two years if not for the pandemic. Vaughn, the No. 3 pick in the 2019 draft, has yet to debut but is already being discussed as a potential everyday solution at designated hitter on a 2021 White Sox team with championship expectations. And Crochet famously debuted just a few months after being drafted with the No. 11 pick last summer, blowing big league hitters away after not pitching much at all in 2020.

So perhaps Céspedes could be looked at similarly, not ticketed for the majors right away, but not destined for a lengthy minor league stay, either. We'll see.

"I can’t tell you exactly how close or far I am to the majors because I never played here. I know the baseball, the quality, is higher than the baseball I used to play in Cuba," Céspedes said through team interpreter Billy Russo on Friday. "But I think, with time in the minors, I’m going to be able to develop and show what I can do, and we’ll see how long it’s going to take. But I’m confident in myself."

When projecting how Céspedes could fit in among the White Sox current big leaguers, many of whom are signed to long-term contracts, all eyes have to be on right field. While Paddy described Céspedes as a natural center fielder Friday, Luis Robert's presence there could create some blockage. Right field, however, could be vacant relatively soon.

The White Sox signed Adam Eaton to a one-year free-agent contract this winter with an option for the 2022 season. Who knows if Céspedes would be ready for primetime by this time next year, or even two years from now, but Eaton's contract allows the White Sox to line things up nicely, should things work out that way.

Of course, that's all down the road. But Céspedes was's No. 1 player in this international free-agent class for a reason. And the White Sox, with their long-term planning still in effect, even as they eye a championship chase in 2021, are looking forward to seeing that on the major league field someday.

"Since I was in Cuba, people have told me I’m a five-tool player, even though I didn’t have much power when I was playing there," Céspedes said. "But now that I am stronger, I think I am a five-tool player. And that’s what brought me to the White Sox."

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