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Highlighting The Best 25-And-Under Stars From Latin America

Ronald Acuna Tomdipace
(Photo by Tom DiPace)

Highlighted by emerging stars Rafael Devers, Juan Soto and Ketel Marte, position players born in the Dominican Republic took 12.4% of all major league plate appearances in 2019.

That is the highest PA share ever for Dominican batters.

Players like Eduardo Escobar, Eugenio Suarez and Jose Altuve helped players born in Venezuela account for 13% of major league plate appearances in 2018, marking the highest share in major league history for that country.

Venezuela’s PA share slipped to 10.9% in 2019, but the country counts Ronald Acuña Jr. and Gleyber Torres among its ranks, so it does not hurt for emerging impact talent.

While the Dominican Republic and Venezuela are the No. 2 and No. 3 talent suppliers to Major League Baseball—and have been every season since 2004—the same pattern of peak major league representation holds throughout much of Latin America.

Batters from Cuba (Jose Abreu, Jorge Soler, Yoan Moncada) and Colombia (Oscar Mercado, Gio Urshela, Jorge Alfaro) saw their largest PA share ever in 2019, while Curacao saw its highest share in 2018, thanks to Ozzie Albies, Andrelton Simmons, Jurickson Profar and Jonathan Schoop, and remained historically high in 2019.

Even Aruba, home of Xander Bogaerts, hums along at peak historical levels.

The share of major league innings from pitchers born in Latin America has hovered near 20% since 2002, making only tiny fluctuations each season.

But that doesn’t alter the big-picture view of Latin American representation in the major leagues. The share of those players’ plate appearances and innings crossed the 25% threshold in 2015 and has ranged between 26.4% and a record 26.9% in 2017.

Expect that rate to hold steady if not climb in seasons to come. That’s because a total of 29 Latin American players ranked among the Top 100 Prospects in baseball this spring, led by Wander Franco, Luis Robert, Julio Rodriguez, Jesus Luzardo, Cristian Pache, Sixto Sanchez, Luis Patiño and Marco Luciano all among the top 25 overall.

The 2019 international signing class promises to add more fuel to the fire with 17-year-old standouts Jasson Dominguez (Yankees), Luis Rodriguez (Dodgers), Erick Peña (Royals), Maximo Acosta and Bayron Lora (both Rangers), Robert Puason (Athletics) and Arol Vera (Angels) already ranking among their organizations’ Top 10 Prospects.

The chart above displays the total share of major league plate appearances and innings from players born in Latin American countries since 1956, which is the year Ozzie Virgil became the first Dominican big leaguer. The 1956 season also represents the rookie season of shortstop Luis Aparicio, who would become the first Hall of Famer from Venezuela.

Other Latin American countries also had footholds in the major leagues at this point in history. Puerto Rico’s Roberto Clemente entered his second big league season in 1956, while Cuba’s Minnie Miñoso and Mexico’s Bobby Aviles were established regulars in their 30s.

Please note that the birthplace data, which was provided by TheBaseballGauge.com, doesn’t break down absolutely cleanly along players’ entry method into pro ball, whether draft or international free agency. For example, Albert Pujols, Manny Ramirez and Jose Bautista were born and raised in the Dominican Republic but attended U.S. schools and thus were drafted. Conversely, players such as Edgar Martinez (New York), Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Montreal) and Adalberto Mondesi (Los Angeles) were born in draft-eligible countries but moved away while young and eventually signed as international free agents.

Regardless of the quirks inherent in the data, one thing is clear: Latin American presence in the major leagues has never been greater.

The speed at which international prospects are developing and reaching the big leagues—the best become regulars by age 20 or 21—suggests that this could be only the beginning of the golden age for Latin American players in the major leagues.

Dominican Republic

152 players in 2019 (highest total ever)

The island of 10.5 million people has been the No. 2 talent supplier to the major leagues every year since 1982. The ranks of Dominican Hall of Famers increased threefold in the 2010s as Pedro Martinez and Vladimir Guerrero joined Juan Marichal. Look for David Ortiz, Adrian Beltre and Albert Pujols to join that Hall trio
this decade.

The top 25U Dominican major league standouts of today are Nationals OF Juan Soto, Red Sox 3B Rafael Devers and Padres SS Fernando Tatis Jr. But there is no shortage of young Dominican big league regulars with upside, including Rays SS Willy Adames, Nationals OF Victor Robles, Royals SS Adalberto Mondesi, Mets SS Amed Rosario, Yankees 3B Miguel Andujar, White Sox OF Nomar Mazara and 2019 rookies Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Blue Jays and Eloy Jimenez of the White Sox.

A total of 17 Dominican players ranked among the Top 100 Prospects this spring—headlined by Rays SS Wander Franco, the No. 1 overall prospect, Mariners OF Julio Rodriguez, Braves OF Cristian Pache, Marlins RHP Sixto Sanchez and Giants SS Marco Luciano—so the pipeline will remain strong into the 2020s.

Venezuela

100 players in 2019 (fourth highest total)

Braves OF Ronald Acuña Jr., Yankees SS Gleyber Torres and Rockies RHP German Marquez have infused star talent from Venezuela into the major leagues in recent seasons, but the nation’s influence in the majors has waned slightly in recent years as veteran stalwarts like Jose Altuve, Felix Hernandez and Elvis Andrus have aged and younger regulars like Rangers 2B Rougned Odor and Brewers SS Orlando Arcia have scuffled.

Some of the brightest young talent from Venezuela can be found behind the plate, including Top 100 Prospects Francisco Alvarez of the Mets and Keibert Ruiz and Diego Cartaya, both of the Dodgers. Los Angeles also signed OF Luis Rodriguez in 2019 and he is one of the most promising Venezuelan bats to sign in recent years.


Cuba

29 players in 2019 (third highest total)

Cuban position players made giant inroads in the 2010s, headlined by Jose Abreu, Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig, to say nothing of impact closers Aroldis Chapman and Raisel Iglesias. Now the nation looks to 25U big leaguers like White Sox 3B Yoan Moncada and Astros 1B/DH Yordan Alvarez—plus White Sox five-tool OF Luis Robert, the No. 2 prospect in baseball—to take center stage.

Dodgers Photo By Cooper Neill MLB Photos Via Getty Images

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Puerto Rico

28 players in 2019 (30th highest total)

In some ways, Puerto Rico had its best decade in the 2010s. The Hall of Fame welcomed Ivan Rodriguez, Roberto Alomar and Edgar Martinez to its ranks, joining Roberto Clemente and Orlando Cepeda. Poised to join them one day are Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina.

In other ways, Puerto Rico’s influence has waned compared with its glorious past that also included major stars Carlos Delgado, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada and Juan Gonzalez.

A trio of impact shortstops—the Indians’ Francisco Lindor, the Astros’ Carlos Correa and the Cubs’ Javier Baez—have helped change perceptions, bolstered by Twins RHP Jose Berrios and Giants prospect OF Heliot Ramos.


Mexico

15 players in 2019(18th highest total)

Mexico has a rich pitching tradition in the major leagues that looks like it will be carried on by Dodgers LHP Julio Urias, Astros closer Roberto Osuna and possibly Astros RHP Jose Urquidy.

A pair of young infielders—Brewers SS/2B Luis Urias and Tigers prospect 3B Isaac Paredes—are vying to become the first notable Mexican position players since Vinny Castilla and Erubiel Durazo in the early 2000s.


Colombia

9 players in 2019(highest total ever)

Colombia has steadily and stealthily asserted itself as a major league talent producer, 20 years after shortstops Edgar Renteria and Orlando Cabrera put the country on the baseball map.

A trio of 25U Colombian position players emerged in 2019—Marlins C Jorge Alfaro, Yankees 3B Gio Urshela and Indians OF Oscar Mercado—joining more established pitchers RHP Julio Teheran of the Angels and LHP Jose Quintana of the Cubs. On the horizon is Padres flame-throwing RHP prospect Luis Patiño.


Panama

7 players in 2019 (20th highest total)

With Rod Carew and Mariano Rivera enshrined in Cooperstown, Panama actually has more Hall of Famers than Venezuela, which counts Luis Aparicio and waits for Omar Vizquel’s probable election.

The young Panamanians in the major leagues, such as Braves 3B Johan Camargo and Angels RHP Jaime Barria, are much more modest in stature.

Cubs prospect C Miguel Amaya represents perhaps Panama’s best chance at a future star.


Curacao

5 players in 2019 (third highest total)

Andruw Jones put Curacao on the map in the 1990s and could one day be the island’s first Hall of Famer. SS Jurickson Profar became the second Curacaoan to rank as the No. 1 prospect in baseball in 2013.

While Profar has so far failed to live up to that billing, Curacao has made an outsized impact in the majors. The island of nearly 160,000 people claims Braves 2B Ozzie Albies among the 25U set and more established stars such as Angels SS Andrelton Simmons and Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen among veterans.


Nicaragua

4 players in 2019 (highest total ever)

As Nicaragua waits for its second major league star to join Dennis Martinez, who debuted in 1976 and won 245 games in a 23-year career, it turns its eyes toward Yankees RHP Jonathan Loaisiga and Royals 1B Cheslor Cuthbert to become established in the majors.


Brazil

2 players in 2019 (fourth highest total)

The emergence of C Yan Gomes as an everyday catcher gave Brazil its first significant major leaguer. Other players such as Paulo Orlando, Luiz Gohara and Thyago Vieira have failed to keep pace.

Aruba, Honduras, Peru

1 player each in 2019

The nations of Aruba (a small Caribbean island), Honduras (in Central America) and Peru (on the west coast of South America) are not linked by geography so much as novelty.

Red Sox SS Xander Bogaerts continues to make Aruba proud as its first star, outshining Sidney Ponson by a wide margin. Giants 2B Mauricio Dubon vies to supplant Gerald Young as the most prominent major leaguer ever born in Honduras. Athletics rookie LHP Jesus Luzardo is the first major leaguer ever from Peru, though he identifies as Venezuelan (his parents’ nationality) and grew up in South Florida.


Bahamas

0 players in 2019

It may seem odd to see the Bahamas listed as trending upward as a supplier of baseball talent. After all, the island had precisely zero big leaguers in 2019 and has never had a major star. But tides are turning.

The Bahamas is the No. 1 emerging Latin American hotbed, thanks to players such as D-backs OF Kristian Robinson and Marlins SS Jazz Chisholm, both preseason Top 100 Prospects. The talent pipeline doesn’t end there. Other prominent up-and-coming Bahamian prospects include Pirates RHP Tahnaj Thomas, Rays SS Lucius Fox, Angels OF D’Shawn Knowles and Rangers 2B Keithron Moss.

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