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LYNN HENNING

Henning: Cespedes aids Tigers even if power drops

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Tigers third baseman Jefry Marte can’t stop the Nationals’ Emmanuel Burriss from turning the double play.

Viera, Fla. — Notes, thoughts, items after the Tigers and Nationals decided a 10-inning, 0-0 tie might rank as one of the Grapefruit League season's more curious events:

Yoenis Cespedes is a slight plus for the Tigers. And that isn't likely to change in 2015.

Cespedes was 0-for-4 in Wednesday's tribute to sharp pitching and (mostly) bad hitting at Space Coast Stadium. He now is hitting .240, with a .669 OPS, in nine games.

It's worth noting Cespedes hit .240 in 135 games for the A's in 2013 and followed last season with a combined .260 and .751 OPS in 152 games for the A's and Red Sox.

He is 29. He will become a free agent in October. He has not had big numbers since his rookie year with the A's, in 2012, when he hit .292 with a tall .861 OPS, which made him 10th in voting for the American League's MVP.

He could always surprise and stitch together a season that more resembles 2012. But trends are tough to ignore for a player seven months shy of 30.

Cespedes hit 23 home runs in 2012 and followed with 26 in 2013. Last season? He had 22. Only five of those 22 came during his 51 games with the Red Sox, which isn't a typical ratio for right-handed batters with crunch who work at Fenway Park.

The Tigers will sidestep any numbers projections for a player they view as a two-way gain. Cespedes is fast and has a fine glove and thus will be assigned left field at that continent-unto-itself Comerica Park. For the distances he'll be expected to cover this season he ought to get mileage.

But because he projects as a defensive bonus, the Tigers will happily live with offense that perhaps won't scorch opposing teams to the degree Cespedes torched pitchers in 2012, months after he fled from his native Cuba and qualified for big league bids.

This was a time, some will remember, when the Tigers were aching to sign Cespedes. This was the same year Victor Martinez's torn knee diverted owner Mike Ilitch's checkbook from what was to have been a courtship of Cespedes and instead became a desperation marriage with Prince Fielder.

Cespedes is a blessed athlete. But in plotting his recent performances, nothing he has done as a hitter moving deeper into his prime, nothing he has shown in Florida, suggests the Tigers can count on more than adequate offense from their new left fielder.

A full season at Triple A will be Steven Moya's best friend.

Seldom in the annals of Tigers player development has there been such division of opinions on a top prospect.

But that's what you get when you're 6-foot-6 and 235 pounds, and power more than a sexy batting average is your hallmark.

Moya will be arriving in Toledo in a couple of weeks for his next phase as a Tigers apprentice outfielder. He will work this season as a right fielder for the Mud Hens.

The job assignment is firm: Swing at strikes. Lay off the ugly stuff. Get ahead in counts. Unleash that ungodly power on hitters' pitches, not on junk and eye-high fastballs the Triple A guys will fling at him in a bid to turn a giant-sized talent, only 23, into one more frustrated, defeated top prospect.

Moya is hitting .148 in his Grapefruit League audition, which is not such a big deal. The Tigers never planned on him being a serious contender for a job. Not this season.

But a year from now, yes. Moya is in Detroit's full-time plans. Cespedes has a contract through this season, only, as does Rajai Davis. Moya is expected to start in right field in 2016.

The Tigers don't buy outside scouts' headshakes over Moya. Many opposing sleuths believe he never will lay off pitches designed to kill hitters whose pitch-recognition is no better, today, than Moya's. Some worry about his size and the length of his swing.

The Tigers have been saying for years that Moya will be a star slugger. They watched last season as he hit 33 homers at Double A Erie. And they're not backing away from convictions he'll be a middle-of-the-order hammerer when he finally settles in at Comerica Park.

They'll be patient as Moya gets a taste of Triple A pitching and the dipsy-doodling off-speed stuff he'll see in greater proportion there.

So far, the Tigers are winning the argument. That doesn't mean they ever foresaw Moya skipping Triple A. He needs 130 games there. And then we'll know whether a kid who can hit a ball into Windsor has the moxie to play in the majors.

lynn.henning@detroitnews.com

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