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There’s a trend among the more perceptive major-league organizations these days, and it doesn’t differ among teams who reside in large or small markets. Every general manager, it seems, is looking for Latino talent, both established stars and diamond-in-the-rough prospects.
The New York Yankees boast the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano and Mariano Rivera, while nurturing youngsters such as Eduardo Nunez, and pitchers Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda, Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances. The budget-minded Kansas City Royals are investing in Hispanic players as well, although using a more creative approach. In locking up future stars like catcher Salvador Perez and shortstop Alcides Escobar with back-loaded, multi-year deals, they are cleverly avoiding crippling, arbitration scenarios down the road.
“It’s going to get a little sticky for us as we get into 2014-15-16,” says Royals front office boss Dayton Moore. “But ownership is determined to keep these young players around for as long as possible.”
In the National League, the Chicago Cubs will continue to feature four Latinos among their regular eight starters, even though they let veteran Aramis Ramirez walk to the rival Milwaukee Brewers. David DeJesus was added to core favorites Starlin Castro, Alfonso Soriano and Geovany Soto, while Carlos Marmol will continue to close games out of the bullpen. The Colorado Rockies expect to headline Carlos Gonzalez, Marco Scutaro and Ramon Hernandez in their lineup, while employing four Hispanic hurlers in the starting rotation.
If you look at the numbers, over half of the 30 big-league teams have three or more Latino players penciled-in among the projected starters. But if you’re searching for a specific club in each league that speaks the most Spanish in their dugout, look no further than the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Miami Marlins.
There’s little doubt that the signing of Albert Pujols put the Angels at the forefront of the Hispanic fan base in Southern California. But Artie Moreno, Major League Baseball’s only owner of Mexican decent, has always assembled an ethnically mixed team laden with Latino players. The infield features Alberto Callaspo, Erick Aybar and Pujols around the horn, with super sub Maicer Izturis filling in up the middle. Bobby Abreu and Kendrys Morales will add to the potent offense and even with Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells and Howie Kendrick as everyday players, Los Angeles will field at least four Latinos in the lineup.
Ervin Santana is the only Hispanic pitcher in the starting rotation, but Ariel Pena is a prized possession for the future. And talented Dominican infielder Jean Segura is the organization’s number-two prospect. All totaled, general manager Jerry Dipoto has about $45 million tied up in Latino talent, and Aybar is soon expected to receive a lucrative, five-year contract extension.
Even with the new hype surrounding the Angels, the new-look Marlins have set the bar for an overall Latino theme.
“I wanted to go to Miami because I (saw) they were going to be a contender,” said free agent shortstop Jose Reyes. “I’ve played in the major leagues for nine years, and I’ve never won anything.”
The addition of Reyes forced prominent incumbent shortstop Hanley Ramirez to move to third base, an adjustment smoothed over by the team’s colorful new manager, Ozzie Guillen. The Marlin’s infield is further enhanced by the services of Omar Infante and Gaby Sanchez, plus the speedy Emilio Bonifacio.
Pitching-wise, Anibal Sanchez and the “Big Z”, Carlos Zambrano, help support staff ace Josh Johnson. Miami owner Jeffrey Loria is proud of his new Little Havana facility, Marlins Park, and has pulled out all the stops in the hope that baseball can prosper in South Florida.
Las Vegas oddsmakers have installed the Angels as a 7-1 pick to win the 2012 World Series, while the Marlins are listed at 20-1. It might be too early to predict a largely Latino Fall Classic, since opening day is still a couple of weeks away.
One thing that’s certain, though: No matter which teams are still alive in October, Hispanic players will be well represented.