There has been plenty of talk about the newest Red Sox' mystery man, Rusney Castillo. Rightfully so. The guy hasn't played competitively since Bobby Valentine was this team's manager.
But there is also another player -- one who currently resides in the Sox lineup and presents almost an equal amount of intrigue. The riddle of Yoenis Cespedes, the 28-year-old who is in his third major league season, has yet to be solved.
Some see the muscle-bound outfielder and envision a roster building block, a two-time Home Run Derby champ who can run with best of them while presenting the kind of power threat so rare in this day and age of baseball.
Others look at Cespedes as an easily pitched to commodity, someone who doesn't get on base enough while exhibiting insecurities in the outfield.
For the Red Sox, this will be an important puzzle to piece to together.
To unravel this conundrum, this question must be asked: How good can Cespedes be?
Let's start with somebody who knows him better than most, ESPN analyst Eduardo Perez.
"You saw what he does in the Home Run Derby. A lot of guys get nervous. Not Yoenis, that's where he shines," said Perez, who has known the outfielder for more than eight years. "I told everybody, Yoenis Cespedes is a legit player with legit power. I don't want him to hit for average. If he can hit .270 and hit 30, 35 home runs, that's the projected Yoenis Cespedes. But one thing he does do when there's a runner in scoring position, that's the guy you don't want to let beat you. In a lineup like this, you'll have Allen Craig, you don't want him to beat you, Big Papi, you don't want him to beat you. It takes the pressure off everybody. That's why I think he'll shine here and do a lot better than people expect."
The analysis from Perez is noteworthy, with the former major leaguer having befriended the former star of the Cuban national team while Perez's Puerto Rico club was traveling with the Cubans.
"We got eliminated when I was with the Puerto Rico team and I spent a lot of time with the team at the hotel," Perez remembered. "They were sequestered at the time in Puerto Rico, but everything I had I would send over to the Cuban team because all my family is Cuban. Then in 2009, again at the World Baseball Classic, I was coaching and after that for the World Cup in Europe. We actually traveled and everything to Puerto Rico, and that's when we ended up getting closer. My wife then got close with the Cespedes family. Our daughters are older than his baby so all the clothing we had we would send to Cuba to help out. It was something of need and he extended himself to.
"When sending stuff to Cuba, it was only be Yoenis. When I was with the Marlins and he was doing his tryouts in the Dominican, I was telling the Marlins, 'Listen, I know him,' and they were like, 'Sure, come with us to do the private workout.' He was getting loose in the outfield and we stopped in and he came in a hurry and gave me a hug. They were like, 'Really, you do know him.' And I was like, 'I'm telling you this guy is legit.' Between him and Jose Abreu, we got to get real close. All of the Cubans players to me are like family and they're people I respect so much and they respect the game and all they want to do is do well and make a better life for themselves here and make a better life for their families here. I think that they've accomplished that hopefully soon we'll see more of their impact on this game."
And therein lies the mystery.
Cespedes has played in 380 major league games, hitting 70 home runs to go along with a .263 batting average and .787 OPS. During that time the major league average for outfielders is .262 with a .743 OPS. He has been solid, with the bonus of that rifle arm, blazing speed, long ball potential and knack for driving in runners.
But can the entire package get to another level, one that suggest a middle-of-the-road major leaguer in some respects? Perez, for one, thinks so.
"The athleticism. What I saw was, you look at his body itself, it's a work of art. Great arm, good instincts. He's cut down his swing, believe it or not," he said of his initial impressions of Cespedes. "When he was in Cuba he had a lot more holes and he's made himself a better baseball player.
"You also take into account that there's no fear, and Cubans are all educated players. Everybody is literate in Cuba because the education system is very good. So they're all smart individuals. They're all prepared and they all understand how to be coached. They're observers and students of the game and students of life, so having that into account, they're very disciplined also. For them, it's easy because they observe so well and learn so fast. There are players that get it right away and there are players that can't. But when you talk about Cubans, they get it. They don't have to understand the language because the common denominator for them is baseball."
It is Cespedes' attention to detail, and self-awareness, that might lead him down the path the Red Sox need him to go.
They're traits Red Sox assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez became keenly aware of early on.
Immediately after the non-waiver trade deadline deal securing the slugger's services, Oakland hitting coach Chili Davis called the Sox instructor to offer a scouting report on where Cespedes needed improvement. Upon meeting the new Sox acquisition, Rodriguez wasn't going to introduce the notes passed on by Davis, more than willing to let the outfielder ease his way into the new surroundings. As it turned out, he didn't need to.
"He's very focused," Rodriguez said. "He doesn't go to the cage and waste his time. Everything he does is with a purpose. He's always asking questions. He came in right away and told me, 'This is what I want to do.' "
But intentions and execution are different things, which Cespedes has reminded the Red Sox over the past month.
It's no secret what remains the righty hitter's Kryptonite. He has a devil of a time hitting above-average fastballs, particularly the ones elevated in he strike zone. The recent Toronto series offered some perfect examples of the perceived hole in Cespedes' swing, with the Blue Jays consistently pounding the outside part of the zone with heaters. (It was why everybody on both sides of the diamond couldn't believe hard-throwing rookie Aaron Sanchez mixed in a breaking ball during Cespedes' pivotal at-bat in the Red Sox' Monday night win at Rogers Centre after previous 96-97 mph fastballs weren't touched.)
The next night was more of the same, expect this time Cespedes' work paid off. With the game tied in the seventh, Dustin McGowan wasn't going to make the same mistake as Sanchez the game before, throwing four straight 96 mph fastballs to the Sox' No. 3 hitter. Then came No. 5, a 97 mph offering on the outside edge. Cespedes stayed with it, lined a go-ahead RBI single just to the right of second base, and proceeded to point emphatically toward the Sox dugout upon reaching first, punctuating his belief that such a feat could be accomplished.
"I think there is always room to get better, and he is really conscious getting better on pitches up in the zone with velocity. That's a pitch he really wants to get better," Rodriguez said. "He wants to eliminate movement to get to that pitch. He thinks that is the pitch that has given him trouble because the breaking ball, it seems like he gets to it. Pitches 93 or better he can get to. But when it's up in the zone with velocity, that's something he wants to get better at. It's just having a more direct swing. I believe he's getting better. He's really conscious of working on that.
"You can see it. When the ball is up in the zone, he has trouble catching up to it. We looked at video and everything they did was up and away and he was having trouble catching up, so the next day the whole time that's what we did, working on that ball up and away. Stay to the right side. All day that was his focus. When he's short and stays inside the ball, he's got power everywhere."
If that part of his game is harnessed, the conversation will be advanced. Talk of low on-base percentages and flawed plate coverage will lead to discussions surrounding the kind of top-tier contract only the elite middle-of-the-order hitters can stake claim to. And, so far, Cespedes is off to a pretty good start, knocking in 20 of the Red Sox' 97 runs this month. Yet, the same flaws linger: 19 strikeouts and just three walks with a .296 OBP.
But for now, finding Cespedes' true potential remains a mystery -- one the Red Sox will be making sure they solve before this time next year.
"Will he thrive on this stage?" Perez offered. "Without a doubt."
It's time for the outfielder's new team to start finding out.