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.