Take your standard super-prospect. Take someone like, say, Bryce Harper. Bryce Harper has a borderline unparalleled set of skills. He played in high school, he played in college, he played in single-A, he played in double-A, and he played in triple-A. Now, at least for the time being, he's up in the majors. With every step, Harper has seen incrementally better competition. So with every step, Harper has grown more prepared for the highest level. He began fairly raw; he's become more refined.
Of course, as Harper was learning about opponents, opponents could learn about Harper. Not that the minor leagues feature much in the way of advanced scouting or what have you, but because of Harper's performance in the minors, teams have some idea of what kind of player he is. What pitches he loves to hit, what pitches he doesn't love to hit so much, where he hits the pitches, and on and on. The learning goes both ways. Harper gets prepared to deal with major-league pitchers, but major-league pitchers can get prepared to deal with Bryce Harper.
Now take your non-standard super-prospect. Take Yoenis Cespedes. In general, just as Harper is a freak, Cespedes is a freak. He is approximately as many standard deviations above the norm. People drooled over Bryce Harper YouTube videos, and then later on, people drooled over Yoenis Cespedes YouTube videos. The videos were very different, and none of them featured Cespedes in Tropicana Field, but the messages were the same: this player is unbelievable.
There's a difference between Harper and Cespedes, though. Harper has risen quickly, but he's risen along a familiar course. He's climbed the ladder. Cespedes hasn't climbed the ladder. He's gotten from the bottom of the ladder to the top, but there was no climbing. Maybe there was teleportation. Maybe, knowing Cespedes, there was one really high jump.
Cespedes was in Cuba. Then, very briefly, he was in the Dominican. Then he was in the States, playing in spring training and then in the regular season. The major-league regular season. The A's had the option of sending Cespedes to the minors, but they were like, no, we want him now. So they put him in center and bumped an annoyed Coco Crisp to left field.
Cespedes didn't get to do much in the way of incremental preparation for big-league opponents. Big-league opponents didn't get to do much in the way of incremental preparation for Yoenis Cespedes. So all of the learning is taking place very quickly, on both sides, which can make for some fascinating statistical trends.
I'm writing this before Cespedes' game Monday night, so I'm looking at his first 22 games. I'm going to split those 22 games into halves, arbitrarily but symmetrically. Splitting into halves reveals some truly stunning splits:
First 11: 36%
Last 11: 15%
First 11: 61%
Last 11: 68%
First 11: 36%
Last 11: 21%
First 11: 25%
Last 11: 47%
Maybe some of this is regular sample-size fluctuation, but the numbers above paint the picture of rapid improvement on Cespedes' part. He's been making more contact, and striking out far less often. At the very bottom, you can see that he started off putting the ball in play with a quarter of his swings. Later, he started putting the ball in play with nearly half of his swings.
That's the Cespedes side. As for the other side:
First 11: 52%
Last 11: 66%
Cespedes started out getting a ton of offspeed pitches, presumably because opponents wanted to make him prove he could hit them. Cespedes punished a few of those offspeed pitches, and because of that or not because of that, he's started seeing more fastballs. Teams now might be trying to figure out just how quick his bat really is.
Beyond that, here are some charts. I wish I could present these better, but this is the best I can do, with images coming from Texas Leaguers. On the left are pitches at which Cespedes swung; on the right are pitches Cespedes took.
There's what I feel is a pretty distinct shift from the inner half to the outer half. Lately, Cespedes has been getting worked more outside, perhaps because teams don't want to let him pull the ball. Of course, about that:
That's Yoenis Cespedes getting a pitch outside off the plate and pulling it for a home run. Dude's got long arms and a long bat and he's not afraid of getting extended.
I don't have conclusions here, because I don't think the learning is done. Yoenis Cespedes is still figuring out major-league competition, and major-league competition is still figuring out Yoenis Cespedes. But what we're seeing is like fast-forwarded development. The Oakland Athletics took a guy who probably could've used minor-league seasoning and made him a major-league center fielder. He's having to make adjustments quicker than usual, and opponents, in turn, are also having to make adjustments quicker than usual. My conclusion? This is super interesting. Yoenis Cespedes is inarguably interesting. That's not all the A's want him to be, but that's a big part of it.