CULIACÁN, México -- After watching both of them play, it's practically impossible to avoid comparisons between young Yoelkis Céspedes, who plays for Alazanes de Granma of Cuba's professional baseball league, and his older brother Yoenis Céspedes, two-time All-Star outfielder in MLB.
Even though the Céspedes brothers are quite similar physically speaking, they are not exactly the same. At least not when it comes to one part of their lives.
Yoelkis, 19, is one of the most attractive names on the Cuban roster playing in the Caribbean World Series in Culiacán, located in Northeastern México. He frequently draws comparisons with his brother, Yoenis, who was also a star with Granma when he was 19, until he defected from Cuba in search of a major league contract.
Both Céspedes brothers debuted in the Cuban league at 16.
"Many people say we are alike. We don't have the same build, but they compare us nonetheless. They say I run the same way and whatnot. I'm going to work my hardest so I can be as close to his playing style as I can be," Yoelkis told ESPNDeportes.com at Estadio Tomateros. Cuba plays in the semifinal of the Caribbean Series on Monday against host Mexico.
In 2016, Yoelkis batted .297 with 30 extra-base hits (15 doubles, 9 triples and 6 home runs), 45 RBIs, 58 runs scored and a .822 OPS in 90 games during the Cuban Serie Nacional regular season, in which Granma clinched its first championship in franchise history.
His 31-year-old brother batted .280 with 31 homers and 86 RBIs in 132 games, a season right after amassing MVP-caliber numbers (.291, 35 homers, 42 doubles, 105 driven in and 101 scored) with the Detroit Tigers and the New York Mets. After cashing in a $27 million salary in 2016, Yoenis signed with the Mets for four years and $110 million.
With a 5-foot-10, 220-pound physique, Yoenis looks more like a running back in the NFL. Yoelkis is 5-8 and 188 pounds. "It kind of gets to me," Yoelkis said of the comparisons with Yoenis, who won the MLB home run derby twice, in 2013 and 2014.
"Everybody asks for Céspedes' little brother, and I don't want to be known that way. I want to be known by my first name, and I'm working on that. I want people to ask for Yoelkis, not for Céspedes' sibling," he added.
On Granma's two initial games at the Caribbean World Series, Yoelkis showed some of his tools. Last Wednesday, facing the Dominican Republic, he had a hit and made a spectacular play, catching a ball by sliding into the ground and lifting himself up quickly and then shooting with cannon-like speed and accuracy to first, completing a double play. On Friday, against Puerto Rico, he had a huge double between center and right field.
"On that defensive play, he showed not just his athletic ability, catching that ball almost on the ground, but also proved he had a full understanding of the game situation by throwing hard into first base so he could complete a double play," Dominican Republic manager Audo Vicente said. "That was an instinctive play, but it came from someone who had his head into the game."
"He has presence on the plate and a leveled swing," Moises Rodriguez, director of International Scouting for the St. Louis Cardinals said of Yoelkis. "You have to keep in mind he's quite young yet, and we haven't practically seen him play outside of Cuba."
"He has a short, compact swing. He attacks the ball quite well and he keeps his hands inside," Juan Mercado, recruiting supervisor for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Dominican Republic said. "I see Yoelkis more of a Jacoby Ellsbury or Brett Gardner kind of player than a Yoenis Céspedes kind of guy."
"He is a versatile player, who hits for average, great fielding abilities, has an above-average speed for stealing bases if necessary and who can hit for relative power. He doesn't have Yoenis' power, though. Being fair, Yoenis is one of the hardest-hitting ballplayers in the world," Mercado added.
Resemblances aside, it is certain that Yoelkis is on the rise these days. Depending on his Caribbean World Series performance, Cuban authorities will decide whether the younger Cespedes will remain on a spot he theoretically owns on the Cuban team for the upcoming World Baseball Classic, an event the older Yoenis owned in 2009, batting .458 with three triples, two homers, a double, five runs scored and five runs batted in during six games.
"If I do a good job here, I think I will be included in the World Baseball Classic. The team isn't quite put together yet, but I've been told it's up to my performance in the Serie del Caribe," Yoelkis said. "That would be one of the proudest moments of my life. With 19 years old, representing Cuba on the World Baseball Classic would be the ultimate achievement."
"This kid is an excellent prospect. He has qualities and an incredible potential: He runs, he fields, he has a great arm. He must keep on working because he is very young, but his potential is top notch," said Alfredo Despaigne, top hitter for Granma and the Cuban National team.