Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -
It really is a great time to be alive, especially if you're a sports fan.
Though meme culture and social media over-saturation definitely have their drawbacks, YouTube truly is a remarkable invention. Without it, how could we revisit iconic sports moments like Kirk Gibson's famous World Series home run or Michael Jordan's fade-away jumper to win the NBA Finals?
Before the Internet, our only access to these treasured sports memories was through VHS tapes and old newspaper clippings. Now I can watch Boise State lateral its way to the biggest upset in BCS history anywhere that has Wi-Fi.
I bring this up because Oakland's Yoenis Cespedes practically broke the Internet Tuesday by gunning down Howie Kendrick at home plate. The 300-foot laser is already being hailed as one of the greatest throws in the history of the sport.
I've seen the clip almost 50 times and I still can't get enough of it. The fact that Cespedes made this play on a Tuesday in June instead of the World Series shouldn't detract from its degree of difficulty. The throw was poetry in motion. Even a gunslinger like Brett Favre would have to be impressed by the outfielder's freakish display of athleticism.
But it didn't stop there. The throw carried a certain metaphorical significance not often seen on a baseball diamond. Cespedes initially botched the play, allowing Mike Trout's line drive to bounce off his glove and roll into foul ground. But instead of abandoning it, Cespedes recovered and made the throw of a lifetime, preserving a 1-1 score in the process. Cespedes acknowledged the play's absurdity by giving a sheepish grin as Kendrick jogged off the field.
It's not the first time Cespedes has wowed us. Eleven months earlier, Cespedes stole the show at the Home Run Derby by blasting 32 balls out of Citi Field. Not only did Cespedes become the first player to win without appearing in the All-Star Game, but he was also the Derby's third-most successful participant behind only Bobby Abreu (41 HR in 2005) and Josh Hamilton (35 in '08).
Though Cespedes has a decent chance of making the All-Star team on the strength of that play alone, the question remains, does Cespedes have what it takes to be a legitimate superstar? Cespedes certainly has a knack for making heroic, highlight-reel plays but so do lots of players. Andrelton Simmons and Brett Lawrie produce plenty of web gems but neither one is a star.
Cespedes is no doubt a mythical figure, one of the game's urban legends. But we're not looking for novelties. Baseball is a result-driven sport. And so far, the results just haven't been there for Cespedes.
That's not to say Cespedes has performed poorly during his first three seasons. He's homered at a rate of once every 20.7 at bats, which is well- above average for a corner outfielder. But in some ways, it seems like Cespedes has actually regressed since his rookie season.
That year, Cespedes launched 23 HR in 129 games while hitting .292 and swiping 16 bases. In 2013, that average fell to .240 while his stolen base total dropped to just seven. And that came with Cespedes logging 42 more at bats than the year before.
Sophomore slumps happen all the time but that's not what worries us. The concern is the date on Cespedes' birth certificate. He'll be 29 in October, which makes Cespedes far older than the average third-year player. It also makes his ceiling significantly lower.
It's possible Cespedes, a prolific slugger in his native Cuba, may have peaked before coming to the United States. Who knows, maybe Cespedes is destined to always be a mildly successful player capable of the occasional super-human feat.
Cespedes' career may have an expiration date but he's far from washed up. In fact, Cespedes seems to have turned a corner. He doesn't steal bases anymore and his average isn't all the way back to where it was in 2012, but Cespedes is making better contact and hitting for more power than he did in either of his first two seasons. Cespedes has been particularly successful over the past month, compiling a.333 average in his first 45 at bats in June. That's his highest average for a given month since July of 2012.
Cespedes, who recently had his third career multi-home run game, has quietly moved into the top-11 in the American League in home runs (12), RBI (42), slugging percentage (.506) and wins above replacement (2.4). His 80.2 percent contact rate represents a sizable improvement from last year's 73.7. Cespedes' current pace calls for 29 homers and 103 RBI, which would both be career- highs.
He's no Giancarlo Stanton but Cespedes remains plenty useful on the fantasy side of things. And his right arm ... well that goes without saying.