Monday, July 24, 2017


To date, the island of Cuba has produced well over 200 major league players. Because of obvious restrictions on immigration, many of those players went through virtual hell to get to the United States. Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig was held hostage by the criminals who smuggled him out of the country. White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu nearly drowned in 15-foot waves. The struggles that many Cuban players have endured make their stories all the more triumphant. My latest book project features the profiles of 25 Cuban standouts--one of whom is currently enshrined at Cooperstown (Tony Perez). Of the remaining group, I gave serious consideration to five candidates. Their thumbnail bios are as follows:

Now playing in his eighth season, Alonso earned his first All-Star selection in 2017. At the time of this writing, he had already slugged 21 homers--a single-season high for him. A solid defensive first baseman, his career fielding percentage is among the top ten marks for active players. He appears to have reached his prime and there is every reason to expect great things from him in the future. 

Betancourt had quite an ordeal trying to defect to the U.S. Not only was he forced to hide out on a Bahamian beach to avoid the Coast Guard, but he was later arrested by Mexican authorities while trying to obtain a visa. He enjoyed six highly productive years with the Mariners, Royals and Brewers. He was a key ingredient in Milwaukee's 2011 championship bid, driving in 68 runs during the regular season. He collected 6 more RBIs in the postseason and scored 7 times in 11 playoff games. His last major league appearance came in 2013.

Currently property of the Angels, Escobar is among the top ten active shortstops in putouts and assists. He has been a dependable offensive presence for five different clubs. Between 2007 and 2016, he hit .288 or better six times. He topped the .300 mark in 2015/ '16. He was a serious candidate for Rookie of the Year in 2007.  

Fuentes was one of the biggest hot dogs of his era and fans in San Francisco loved him. He had a highly unusual batting stance and flipped his bat on home plate before every at-bat. Giants fans were known to chant his name when he came to the plate. A spray hitter, he was tough to strike out, averaging just 1 "K" per ever 11 plate appearances. He retired with a respectable .268 lifetime batting average. A gifted infielder, he made only 6 errors in 160 games at second base during the '73 slate. This was a record at the time. 

Ordonez had his ups and downs at the plate, but he was one of the slickest fielding shortstops in the majors for several seasons. He won a Gold Glove every year from 1997-1999. His best offensive effort came with the Mets in 1999, when he drove in a career-best 60 runs while hitting .258. He helped New York to an NLCS appearance that year. 


Sunday, July 16, 2017


Venezuela is another Latin American country with a rich tradition of sending players to the majors. 25 of the 369 Venezuelans who have worn (or currently wear) big league uniforms found their way into my latest book. Several others warranted serious consideration. They are as follows:

Playing in his eleventh season, the switch-hitting Cabrera is a two-time All-Star. He won a Gold Glove with the Indians in 2011. From 2008-2013, he was a regular in the Cleveland lineup. Cabrera generates decent power, having collected 15 or more homers on four occasions. He has slammed at least 30 doubles during six seasons. A reliable glove man, his fielding percentage is above the league average at second base and shortstop, which is his primary station. He is currently with the Mets.

This versatile utility man played seventeen seasons, spending time at every infield station except pitcher and catcher. Primarily a third baseman, his career fielding percentage is among the top 50 marks of all time. Cairo showed off his speed with 69 stolen bases between 1998 and 2000. He appeared in the postseason with four different clubs and hit .282 in 29 games.

Gonzalez was a reliable hitter and solid shortstop who led the league in fielding percentage and double plays once apiece. His major league career spanned portions of sixteen seasons. He hit .273 in the Marlins World Series victory over the Yankees in 2003. He was an All-Star in 1999.

A three-time All-Star, Guillen was a fixture on the infields of Seattle and Detroit from 2000 through 2009. In that span, he hit .276 or higher in six consecutive campaigns. He surpassed the .300 mark on three occasions. His best all around effort came in 2004 with Detroit. He hit .318 with 20 homers and 97 RBIs. 

Hernandez was Oakland's starting catcher for five straight seasons. He later held first-string status for three campaigns in Baltimore. Though he led AL catchers in errors four times, his defense grew stronger over time. He put forth his best offensive effort in 2006 with the Orioles, hitting .275 with 23 homers and 91 RBIs. He was an All-Star in 2003. He hit .375 in the 2000 ALDS and .455 in the 2005 NLDS.

An All-Star with Atlanta in 2010, Infante spent portions of 15 seasons in the majors, primarily with the Tigers. A lifetime .271 hitter, he led the league with 17 sacrifice hits in 2011. Infante has an extensive postseason resume that includes twelve October series. He was productive in three World Series, accruing a .316 average in twelve games. He was a dependable second baseman, logging a lifetime fielding percentage in the top 100 of all time.

Mora was a steady performer for Baltimore over portions of ten seasons. From 2003-2008, his batting average never slipped below .274. A two-time All-Star, he hit .340 in 2004, earning a Silver Slugger Award. He also led the AL with a .419 on-base percentage that year. In the 1999 NLCS with the Mets, he logged a .429 batting average. Defensively, Mora appeared at every position except pitcher/catcher. His fielding percentage was well above the league average at third base, where he spent most of his time. He twice drove in over 100 runs.  

Parra has been a quietly consistent outfielder for the Diamondbacks, Brewers and Rockies over the past nine seasons. He got off to a .333 first-half start at the plate in 2017. He was among the top ten Rookie of the Year candidates in 2009 and has won two Gold Gloves since then. 

Nowadays, it appears that Sandoval's best years are behind him. But before he joined the Red Sox in 2015, he helped the Giants to three World Series titles. He was MVP of the 2012 Fall classic gathering 8 hits (3 of them homers) in 4 games. Sandoval posted double digit home run totals in seven straight seasons beginning in 2009. He hit .330 that year. He is a strong defensive third baseman, having compiled a lifetime fielding percentage above the league average.    


Friday, July 7, 2017


In this installment, I'd like to take a look at some players from Puerto Rico--a country that has produced four Hall of Famers to date (Roberto Alomar, Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Clemente and Ivan Rodriguez). Of the 250-plus Puerto Rican-born players who have aspired to the majors over the years, 22 of them ended up being featured in my book. There were a dozen other players I gave serious consideration to. They are as follows:

Brother of Hall of Famer, Roberto, and son of major leaguer, Sandy Sr., Alomar logged 20 years of major league experience. He was a six-time All-Star. In his first full season, he captured Rookie of the Year honors along with a Gold Glove. He helped Cleveland to five postseason appearances and hit .367 in the '97 World Series against the Marlins. He was MVP of the All-Star game that year.

 Baerga's career spanned portions of fourteen seasons. A three-time All-Star, he also claimed a pair of Silver Slugger Awards. He exceeded the .300 mark at the plate every year from 1992-1995 and retired with a commendable .291 average. He had decent range at second base, leading the league in assists three times. A reliable run producer, he drove in 100 runs on two occasions.

Cruz's father is included in my book. His uncles, Hector and Tommy, didn't make the cut. Jose Jr. finished second in rookie of the Year voting during the '97 campaign. He hit 26 homers in his debut then collected 15 or more on six other occasions. He reached the 30-homer mark in 2000 and 2001. He was also a competent outfielder with a strong arm. He led the league in putouts in 2000 and won a Gold glove in 2003.

DeJesus spent 15 years in the majors with seven different clubs. He peaked with the Cubs and Phillies in the late-'70s/early '80s. His best offensive effort came in '78 when he led the league with 104 runs scored. He had an excellent arm and good range in his prime. He led the league in assists twice. His range factor per 9 innings is among the top 20 figures of all time. 

Figueroa had established himself as one of the most reliable pitchers in the AL when an elbow injury derailed his career. Between 1975 and 1978, he posted a 71-43 record with an ERA in the low-three's. He was a member of two world championship Yankee squads. He won 20 games in 1978.

A right-handed reliever, Hernandez was a two-time All-Star. He gathered 30 or more saves on six occasions. He peaked in '96 while playing for the White Sox, leading the league in closing appearances (61). He ended up with 38 saves and a stellar 1.91 ERA that year. He has the most career saves (326) among Puerto Rican born pitchers.

For one magical season, Hernandez was the top reliever in the majors. In 1984, he helped guide the Tigers to a World Series victory with a 9-3 record, 1.92 ERA and 32 saves. He entered a league-high 80 games that year during the regular season and six more during the postseason. He was rewarded with an All-Star berth, a Cy Young Award and an MVP nod. Two more All-Star selections followed in '85 and '86. By '87, he had faded into mediocrity.

In the late-'70s, Lezcano was among the Brewers most powerful hitters. He peaked in 1979 with a .321 batting average, 28 homers and 101 RBI. At one point, he homered in four straight games. He also won a Gold Glove. Lezcano is the only player to hit a grand slam on opening day twice.

Well traveled, Montanez spent time with nine different clubs over fourteen seasons. His high energy level and volatile temperament were too much for some clubs. In 1971, he finished second in Rookie of the Year voting. He posted double digit home run totals eight times and drove in no fewer than 60 runs on ten occasions. His best season came in 1975, when he hit .302 and gathered 101 RBIs for the Phillies and Giants. He flashy "snatch-catch" was later emulated by Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson. 

Valentin collected at least 10 homers every year from 1994-2004, peaking at 30 long balls in the latter campaign. He drove in no fewer than 70 runs five times in that span. He helped the Mets and White Sox to postseason appearances. A versatile defensive player, he played every position except pitcher and catcher. 

Vidro logged twelve years of major league service. A three-time All-Star, he was the Expos top second baseman from 1999-2004. He averaged 17 homers and 73 RBIs per year in that span. He retired with a .298 batting average. Defensively, he was equipped with a strong arm. He led players at his position twice in assists. His lifetime fielding percentage is among the top fifty marks of all time. 

A right-hander, Vazquez posted double digit victory totals for twelve straight seasons. He peaked with the Expos in 2001, going 16-11 with a 3.42 ERA. He had another phenomenal year with the Braves in 2009, posting a career-best 2.87 ERA in over 200 innings of work. Vazquez was known for his durability, reaching the 200 inning mark in nine seasons. He was a 15 game winner three times.