Best blue-collar Hispanics to watch in 2012
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I know most of you would prefer to read about the latest gossip whirling around Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez or David “Big Papi” Ortiz. Or maybe you might be yearning for more, media-hyped trade talks regarding Felix Hernandez. Perhaps more news about Manny Ramirez and his girl friend may even be of interest. Well, I have nothing against the rich and famous and their adoring fans. But I’ve got something else stuck in my feeble mind lately that seems more important.
It might just be the lingering effects of the holiday season, but I’ve been thinking a lot about baseball’s less-renowned players these days. You know, the bean and tortilla guys. These are the professionals who provide the glue that mold successful teams, while their superstar teammates bask in the spotlight.
So, without a drum roll or further fanfare, here are my 10 Latino candidates for blue-collar recognition, listed in alphabetical order:
After making his major-league debut in late July of last season, Altuve proved why he is one of Houston’s most prized possessions. Baseball America’s minor league all-star second baseman in 2011, the youngster from Maracay, Venezuela runs like a deer, making his first big league home run an inside-the-park affair. Altuve is also a fielding whiz, making only two errors in 135 attempts since he was promoted. Altuve, only 21, will be part of an untested Houston infield that will be asked to sink or swim this spring. But my guess is that Jose will keep his head above water and become a fan favorite.
This grizzled veteran is like fine wine, getting better and better with age. Cairo has spent 16 years in the major leagues with 10 different teams, but his services are still high in demand. The 38-year-old Venezuelan carries a career fielding percentage of .982, and has played every position on the diamond except pitcher and catcher. In addition, Cairo is a capable pinch-hitter, and all that clubhouse wisdom makes his $1 million salary with the Reds a real bargain.
Kansas City Royals
Alright, maybe he isn’t of Hispanic decent. But Chen, a 34-year-old native of Panama, is a product of the same environment. It’s never been easy for the southpaw pitcher, who has bounced around the big leagues for 13 years. In his last two seasons with the lowly Kansas City Royals, Chen racked up a respectable 24-15 record, and elected to test free agency. Then the Royals got bold with their pitching plans. They traded popular outfielder Melky Cabrera to the San Francisco Giants for moody but talented Jonathan Sanchez. And Chen got a new, two-year deal worth $6 million. It couldn’t have happened to a guy more deserving.
Toronto Blue Jays
Escobar is just one of those feel-good stories that need to be addressed. Escobar and childhood friend Brayan Pena are both natives of Cuba who were stars on Fidel Castro’s national team, but had a burning desire to play in America. Pena, now a major-league catcher, defected first, making it more difficult for Escobar to escape scrutiny. When Yunel finally hit the shores of Miami at age 22, his pal Brayan spread the word, and the pair were briefly teammates again with the Atlanta Braves. Now, Escobar is the starting shortstop for the Toronto Blue Jays. But he’s vastly underrated and plays in the shadow of slugger Jose Bautista. Making $5 million a season and freedom from an oppressive regime is far more important.
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