The Oakland A's had a busy winter stocking up on talent in order to defend their AL West title. They acquired outfielder Chris Young, shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima, catcher John Jaso and infielder Jed Lowrie to bolster the squad.
The A's did lose shortstops Stephen Drew and Cliff Pennington, outfielder/desginated hitter Jonny Gomes, first baseman Chris Carter, starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy and catcher George Kottaras. Time will tell if the new additions can provide more value this year than the departures did last season.
Regardless of how well Young, Nakajima, Jaso and Lowrie perform, the biggest source of improvement from last season is likely to come from within.
Brett Anderson should more than make up for the loss of McCarthy in the rotation this year after making six impressive starts down the stretch last season to complete his recovery from Tommy John surgery. Anderson's rotation mates Jarrod Parker and Tommy Milone should continue to improve upon their stellar rookie seasons from last year as well.
Offensively, Josh Reddick showed what he was capable of in the first half when he hit .268/.348/.532—which should have earned him All-Star honors—before slumping to .215/.256/.391 in the second half. A full season at his first-half pace would go a long way to helping the A's defend their crown this season.
Yet no Oakland player—and very few players in all of baseball—have the tools that Yoenis Cespedes possesses. Cespedes has the natural talent to take a giant leap forward in 2013 and contend for the AL MVP award.
He can hit for average, hit for power, run and throw—giving him four of the five tools scouts look for. The fifth tool, his defense, improved after he moved from center field over to left.
Cespedes improved drastically as the season wore on.
When I saw him in spring training, he was hacking at every breaking ball in sight. Then, he got off to a slow start in April—hitting only .244. He continued to struggle in May—hitting only .227 with a .534 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS).
He took off from there. His OPS improved to 1.016 in June, .961 in July, .788 in August and .874 in September. In the postseason, he hit .316 with a .381 on-base percentage.
The adjustments that he made throughout the season at the plate were impressive.
He became a more patient hitter as the season went along, which allowed him to get better pitches to hit and unleash his impressive power. He improved from a .465 slugging percentage with nine home runs in the first half to a .533 slugging percentage and 14 home runs in the second half.
All the more impressive is that he did this while transitioning to the United States from Cuba, learning a new position and battling through injuries. He missed 31 games with hand and hamstring injuries.
His at-bats became must-see events last year.
At 5'10", 210 pounds, he's built more like an NFL running back than a baseball player. He has tremendous bat speed, and he doesn't get cheated at the plate—taking controlled but vicious hacks. He does an outstanding job of getting his stout lower half into his swing via his quick-twitch weight transfer and hip rotation.
He's a physical specimen with four plus tools. His natural power is right up their with the best sluggers in the game.
He finished his rookie year with 23 home runs, 25 doubles, five triples, 16 steals and an .861 OPS despite playing in a pitcher's park and skipping the minor leagues entirely. His tools and physique, combined with his ability to adjust to major league pitching, are going to lead to an even bigger breakout this year.
With a year to adjust to a new culture and a new position under his belt, Cespedes is ready to become an MVP candidate in 2013.