Rangers outfield prospect Leonys Martin, who played with Cespedes on Cuba's national team, said his former teammate can be shy at times, but opens up around his good friends. Cespedes likes to clown around, Martin added. He loves baseball and he adores his mother, Estela, a former softball star in Cuba.
"Cespedes has the characteristics of a lot of Cubans," said Martin, who defected from Cuba last year. "He's humble. We don't come from a lot of material things, but we have a set of values we learn at home, and baseball has taken us everywhere in travel, so he knows the world."
The words used to describe Cespedes' prowess on the field usually start with "five-tool player." The description often includes some combination of the words "Cuban" and "sensation," a mention of his 20-minute workout video that has gone viral, and it almost always ends with the term "Major League ready."
Scouts have called him a stud and a baseball-playing freak of nature.
"Cespedes is legit," is a phrase heard often during the last two weeks.
It's time for another description: "Coming to a stadium near you." Many teams, including the Cubs, Red Sox, Phillies, Indians, Blue Jays, Pirates, Rangers, Tigers, Nationals, Athletics, Marlins and Yankees, are reportedly interested in signing Cespedes. The outfielder, who is in the process of becoming a free agent, had a private workout for the Marlins last week, and was set to display his skills in another private workout for the Cubs in the Dominican Republic on Thursday. Cespedes can play all three outfield positions, but is a natural center fielder.
"We think we're a great fit because we're Miami, and we're a natural destination for any Cuban player, any Latin player," Marlins president David Samson said. "We are the Gateway to the Americas. We're the Miami Marlins. I think that he agrees, but we have to make a deal that makes sense for both parties."
What type of contract Cespedes will command remains uncertain. What is certain is that when he signs, Cespedes will be the latest in a long list of players from Cuba to make the jump to the Major Leagues in the past three years.
"It's really touchy feely," Cespedes' agent, Adam Katz, said. "He's an unusual guy. He's 26. He's Major League ready. People are going to be evaluate. A value will be established. People will bid competitively, and it will be what it will be."
The Reds made a splash when they signed left-hander Aroldis Chapman to a six-year, $30.25 million deal in January 2010. Three months after Chapman, infielder Adeiny Hechavarria signed a four-year, $10 million deal with the Blue Jays. Pitcher Yunesky Maya signed a four-year, $8 million deal with the Nationals that July.
Before the start of the 2009 season, Dayan Viciedo signed a four-year, $10 million deal with the White Sox, and shortstop Jose Iglesias signed a four-year, $8.25 million contract with the Red Sox near the end of the season. Last May, the Rangers signed Martin to a five-year, $15.5 million deal, including a $5 million signing bonus.
Only Hechavarria, who finished last season at Triple-A for Toronto, has not appeared in the big leagues.
"Cespedes is a very talented guy, and the team that gets him will be awfully happy," said Reds senior director of scouting Chris Buckley, who signed Chapman. "He can do a lot of things and he's seen a lot of quality competition."
It's easy for Cespedes to stay silent. His numbers do all the talking for him. He hit .333 with 33 home runs, 99 RBIs and 11 stolen bases over 90 games in Cuba during the 2010-11 season, and many believe he can be inserted into the 2012 Opening Day starting lineup for the team that signs him.
"There's not a lot he has to learn -- maybe just a few details on the style they play here -- but he will be fine," Martin said. "Scouts have seen him play and they know who he is. I really hope he gets a good deal and comes to the United States like I did. It will work out for him like it has for a lot of us."
Martin knows firsthand how difficult the transition to life in the United States can be. Cespedes will miss his family in Cuba, Martin said, and he'll need someone, perhaps a coach or teammate, to show him how to operate in the clubhouse and how to live a balanced life off the field.
Baseball? That's the easy part.
"My advice is to learn the language -- it's the hardest part," Martin said. "The cultures are different, but we are used to different cultures when you play in different places. But the language every day is a challenge. I didn't know a word."
Buckley, who has seen Cespedes several times in international competitions, has watched Chapman adjust to life in the United States and expects a smooth transition for Cuba's next star.
"These players come from a strong school system in Cuba and are well-educated," Buckley said. "They don't speak English and they don't know much about the United States, but they have been all over the world. That means something.
"It will still be a big transition for Cespedes, because he'll be able to come and go wherever he wants for the first time in his life. He'll have a lot of money, and it takes a while to get used to living in the United States, but it's just like the adjustment for a high school player who has never been away from home or seen that level of competition. Every player has to adjust to life in the big leagues."
The style of play will also be an adjustment for the outfielder. Gone are Cespedes' days of staring too long at a home run or taking too much time to run the bases. What Martin referred to as "Cuban flair and passion for the game" can be misinterpreted on big league fields in the United States, and Cespedes will learn that, too.
In other words, showboating will not work in The Show.
"He is going to be great," Martin said. "The baseball is the same. You throw, hit and catch like you do in Cuba. If he does here what he did there, he will be a star here, too."