Commentary

Five best outfield throws of 2014

With Cespedes and Reddick lurking, nobody should run on the Athletics

Originally Published: June 26, 2014
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

Two weeks later, and we're still talking about it.

Two weeks later, and Yoenis Cespedes' superhuman, 300-foot moonbeam throw to home plate feels like it's still sailing through the Anaheim night -- because we're still reliving it, still showing it, still kicking around where it ranks among the greatest outfield throws of modern times.

And I think that tells us something. It tells us that great outfield arms are still in shorter supply than Alex Rodriguez fans in Fenway. And it tells us that when one of those arms gives us a magical Web Gem moment, it's something special.

It sticks in our memory banks, like Bo Jackson's unforgettable 1989 rocket launch to nail Harold Reynolds at home plate ... like Ichiro Suzuki's 2001 laser beam to cut down Terrence Long at third ... like Dave Parker's guided missile to the plate in the 1979 All-Star Game.

Those are not just throws. They're memories. They're not just frozen ropes. They're frozen moments. So in honor of those throws we can't forget, here they come -- the Five Best Outfield Throws of 2014:

First prize: Yoenis Cespedes (Athletics), June 10 vs. Angels

Even if he'd never made That Throw, Cespedes still would have made this list. Maybe with his perfect strike to get Jose Reyes at the plate on May 25. Possibly even with his athletic heave from the warning track to third base to cut down Albert Pujols the night after The Throw.

But it's pretty much impossible to top the spectacle of a theoretically normal human being firing a baseball the length of a football field, from the left-field corner to home plate, to keep the winning run from scoring -- in the eighth inning yet. And that's even if you subtract a couple of style points for the misplay in the outfield that made it all possible.

[+] EnlargeCespedes
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillThink twice about taking that extra base on Oakland left fielder Yoenis Cespedes -- even when he bobbles the ball.

It was so hard to comprehend, even after we'd watched it, that we needed ESPN's Sport Science to break it down. And Baseball Prospectus asked a physics professor to analyze how it was even possible.

So there's only one word that captures this remarkable throw: epic.

"It reminds me of the Bo Jackson throw in Seattle," said one longtime scout, "because of the distance it stayed in the air and the accuracy with which he threw it. I actually think this guy has a little Bo Jackson in him. He doesn't have the raw strength that Bo Jackson had or the bat speed that Bo Jackson had. He's still a little raw. But Yoenis Cespedes is an unbelievable athlete."

"If he was a javelin thrower, he'd have won the gold medal," said Mariners third-base coach Rich Donnelly, who needs a mental file of all the great outfield arms in order to do his job. "Most guys' throws are down low. His are deep and high. He sort of reminds me of [legendary Olympic decathlete] Rafer Johnson. He heaves that javelin high, baby."

But that wasn't all Cespedes' 300-foot rainbow reminded Donnelly of.

"It was incredible. And it was accurate. And it was right on the button," Donnelly said. "And he had to throw it 100 yards. It was like Ben Roethlisberger throwing one to the corner of the end zone, into a 3-foot window, and dropping it right in there. It made me think Cespedes would be a great quarterback on the Hail Mary. Except his would have to be an Our Father, because it went a little bit above the Hail Mary, toward the Father -- up there."

Second prize: Marcell Ozuna (Marlins), June 20 vs. Mets

You could almost make a case that Ozuna went Cespedes one better in this game -- because he threw out the tying run at the plate, from left field, in the eighth and ninth innings. Which made him, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, the first outfielder to nail the potential tying or go-ahead run twice in the same game, in the eighth inning or later, since David DeJesus did it on Sept. 11, 2009.

His first throw, in the eighth, was a stylish little play, with Ozuna charging a single to left and unfurling a textbook one-hop throw to the plate, to get David Wright by 10 feet. But that was just the pregame show for the next throw, which belongs in the Outfield Arm Hall of Fame.

[+] EnlargeKirk Nieuwenhuis
AP Photo/Alan DiazKirk Nieuwenhuis, you're out and the game's over!

What made this one special wasn't just that it ended the game (although that was part of the cool factor). It was that, when the ball left Chris Young's bat, everybody in the park thought there was pretty much zero shot of Ozuna zapping Kirk Nieuwenhuis at the plate on what looked like your standard game-tying sac fly to deep left field.

"I didn't think there was any chance," said Marlins manager Mike Redmond.

"I just thought it was way deep," said the catcher who caught this throw, Jarrod Saltalamacchia. "It looked like he was way, way back there."

And even Ozuna told us he just threw the baseball home because he figured there was nothing much to lose.

"When Chris Young hit the fly ball, I go behind it and watch the man on third and watch home plate," Ozuna said. "And I think, 'It's too far.' But I tell my mind, 'OK, I'm going to throw it, no matter what.' ... I say, 'I don't have a chance, but I'm going to throw it anyway.'"

And then there went the baseball, whooshing through the sky toward Saltalamacchia. And there was Ozuna, watching from left field, his mind making a swift U-turn from "No way" to "Holy Ichiro."

Asked if he thought, when the ball left his hand, he had no chance, he laughed: "That's what I think in my mind. But when I saw the ball flying. I said, 'Oh my God. I got him.'"

But what made this throw possible was what Redmond called Ozuna's "instinctual" understanding of how to get behind a throw like this and build the momentum possible to get the ball there on time. So watch the video -- and watch him station himself so far beyond where he expected the ball to land that he was able to take nine running steps in toward the infield before releasing the throw.

"Most outfielders will get a few steps -- maybe two or three steps -- behind that ball," Redmond said. "But I don't know many who ever got as much momentum as he was able to get. And he needed to get every bit of that momentum to make that throw."

That technique, Ozuna said, was the product of many chats, dating back two spring trainings, with Marlins special assistant Andre Dawson, one of the best outfield grenade launchers of his own era. And it paid off with a play -- actually, two plays -- that Ozuna will never forget.

"That was the best thing I ever do in my life," he told us. "I've gotten a guy out. But not like that."

Third prize: Jose Bautista (Blue Jays), May 29 vs. Royals

Now here's yet another throw that you'll be seeing on stadium video boards for about the next seven decades -- but not just because it was such a work of throwing art.

What made this Bautista assist such a keeper was that it's going to be a centerpiece of a million blooper reels -- because it involved Bautista throwing out the Royals' man in perpetual slow motion, Billy Butler, at first base. On what was supposed to be a line-drive single to right.

[+] EnlargeJose Bautista
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty ImagesAttention baserunners: You may not make it to first base when Jose Bautista is patrolling right field.

Except Butler made the mistake of roping the baseball right at Bautista, who took two quick steps and came up firing. And Butler didn't have enough gears in his transmission to beat this throw to first.

In Butler's defense, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons told us: "Billy was busting it. Of course, he can't run anyway. But I saw the replay afterward. And Billy was busting it right out of the box. But what Bautista's got is really good awareness of what's going on. He knew Billy shoots a lot of balls through that side. He was playing a little shallow. And everything lined up perfectly."

Well, not for Butler, obviously, but it was definitely the perfect throwing storm for a guy like Bautista, whose defense and feel for the game are incredibly underrated.

"He's probably the most aggressive right fielder, in trying to do that, in baseball," said one scout. "So the first baseman had better be aware. If it's a pitcher running in interleague, or somebody like Billy Butler, he'd better watch out. He's going to throw you out."

Right. Cue the video. And now two reasons Bautista gets extra credit: (1) He also threw out a runner (Omar Infante) at first base the next night, too (although on that one, Infante lost track of the ball and thought it landed foul). And (2) the missile to nail Butler represented the second out in the ninth inning of a one-run game.

"The magnitude of that play, at the time, was huge," Gibbons said. "A lot of guys don't even think to do that. But Bautista is always into the game. He's in tune with what's going on the whole game. He's not just a hitter or a slugger. He plays both sides of the ball. And that's important to him. It's what makes him such a great player, I think."

Fourth prize: Josh Reddick (Athletics), April 26 vs. Astros

If you're getting the idea the A's outfield can make you think about taking an extra base, you're getting the picture. And this impeccable play by Reddick was just one more reminder.

Fly ball to deep right. George Springer figures he'll just tag and go from second to third. Uh, maybe not. One crow hop and one 250-foot throw (on the fly) later, Springer is dusting himself off and heading back to the dugout. That'll teach him.

[+] EnlargeGeorge Springer
AP Photo/Pat SullivanRookie move, George Springer. Don't try to run on Josh Reddick.

So obviously, Reddick and Cespedes share the gift of having bionic throwing arms. But where Cespedes can make up for his fundamental glitches with his insane arm strength, Reddick comes rolling right off the classic outfield-arm assembly line: If you were going to make an instructional video of how an outfielder is supposed to execute a throw, he'd be an excellent guy to build it around.

"Reddick is textbook," said one of the scouts quoted earlier. "Cespedes just hurls the ball. He doesn't have the greatest mechanics, but he has the best pure arm strength. But Reddick has classic textbook form. He comes right over the top, with very good footwork and positioning. He gets himself right on top of the ball. And when you get on top of the ball like that, you get a second life once the ball hits the ground."

So the moral of the story is, if you hit a ball into either corner against Oakland, you might want to think twice before you keep running. Or just avoid those two guys altogether.

"We're a very smart team," Donnelly quipped. "We don't hit balls to Cespedes or Reddick. So we don't get thrown out."

Fifth prize: Leonys Martin (Rangers), May 17 vs. Blue Jays

His arm isn't internationally renowned yet by the casual fan. But ask scouts and coaches to make up their Best Throwers in Anybody's Outfield list, and Leonys Martin is on every one of them. This throw would be a perfect example of why that is.

[+] EnlargeJose Reyes
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsJose Reyes and the Blue Jays learned they probably shouldn't test Leonys Martin's arm.

Edwin Encarnacion lofts one about 900 feet into the sky. Jose Reyes goes back to third to tag and score, the way he has a thousand times before on fly balls to medium-deep center field. Instead, Martin plants and fires another in that never-ending string of beam-of-light throws of his. And that's all, folks. Thanks for stopping by, Jose.

Asked to describe Martin's arm, Donnelly started his monologue with three telling words: "Oh ... my ... God."

"I think he might be the best," Donnelly said. "He made a flat-footed throw at our place. He was maybe 5 feet in front of the fence. He backed up. He didn't get a running start. And he threw it so hard, it looked like he hit it with a fungo bat. Robbie [Cano] made a great slide at home, so they didn't get him. But I was at third base, and you could hear the ball as it went by. I heard it whiz."

Unfortunately, you won't find that throw on this list, because it didn't result in an out. But it's a good bet that Jose Reyes heard that whiz, too, as the baseball was soaring his way. And here's a good rule of thumb:

If you have to hear a throw to believe it, there's a good chance it belongs on our Best Throws of the Year list. Agreed?

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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