MIAMI—There may never be another athlete to rival Roberto Clemente in terms of his greatness on the field and his significance to Puerto Rican baseball and Puerto Rican pride.
That’s a given.
But even that second wave of Puerto Rican stars—including Bernie Williams, Pudge Rodriguez, Roberto Alomar, Jorge Posada, Benito Santiago and more—seems like an impossible task for the island to duplicate.
Overall, the numbers are down for Puerto Ricans in the major leagues, from 53 in 2001 to 28 in 2011—which was the lowest since 1985—and just 17 last year.
But Edwin Rodriguez, who three years ago became the first Puerto Rican to become a major league manager, thinks the future is bright for baseball in his homeland.
Rodriguez, the manager of its 2013 World Baseball Classic team, pins his optimism on players such as righthander Jose Berrios, 18, and outfielder Eddie Rosario, 21, both Twins farmhands, both on his WBC roster.
“Berrios signed with pro baseball less than eight months ago, and now he is facing the all-stars in the USA and Dominican lineups—and he’s doing it in front of 30,000 fans,” Rodriguez said. “Not only has his 98-mph fastball impressed me, but he has poise on the mound. He shows no fear and attacks hitters. Right now, he has two big league pitches with his fastball and changeup.”
Berrios, a 6-foot, 190-pounder, was the 32nd pick in the 2012 draft, a supplemental first-rounder selected by the Twins. He went 3-0, 1.17 in 11 rookie-league games last season, striking out 49 in 30 2/3 innings. So far in the WBC, he has allowed four runs in two innings.
Rosario, selected by the Twins in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, has a total of 875 career at-bats between rookie and Class A, thanks in part to a line drive to the face that sidelined him during 2012. He is hitting .310/.362/.538 with 39 homers and 160 RBI as a pro.
“Although he has been playing the outfield, the Twins are trying to make a conversion for him at second base,” Rodriguez said. “He is a very good athlete with a lot of power, speed and arm strength.
“Three or four years from now, he’s going to be an All-Star.”
Berrios and Rosario aren’t the only bright lights on the Puerto Rican horizon. Shortstop Carlos Correa, who last year became the first Latin-born player to be drafted first overall, nearly made their WBC roster.
“I considered Correa,” Rodriguez said. “He played for me in the winter in Puerto Rico, and I thought he needed a bit more work offensively.”
Rodriguez said he wanted to bring Correa along for the ride—not as a player but just to learn from the experience. But MLB blocked that, the coach said.
Down the road, Puerto Rico should also have second baseman Chris Colon (Royals), shortstop Francisco Lindor (Indians) and third baseman Javier Baez (Cubs). Colon played winter ball in the Puerto Rican League, which has bounced back after being dormant for a year in 2007-2008, and didn’t make the WBC team despite leading the league with 13 stolen bases while batting .301.
Lindor, 19, was drafted out of a Florida high school by the Indians, eighth overall, in 2011. The Indians’ top prospect, he may be a Puerto Rican star of the near future but has played for Team USA as an amateur. Baez has the biggest bat of the trio and is the highest-ranked prospect of the three on BA’s Top 100 at No. 16, three spots behind Correa.
“Two years from now, I would say Francisco will be in the big leagues playing every day,” Rodriguez said.
“I think we are in a good situation in the infield. Colon is doing well with (Kansas City’s organization). Baez, I haven’t seen him play much. He’s playing shortstop now. But talking to people who have seen him, he projects as a power-hitting third baseman.”