I could be wrong, but the 2015 season seemed to signal a period of transition for Hispanic superstars. You know, a phasing out of the old guard while the new guys get ready to settle in. It’s natural.
Miguel Cabrera was once baseball’s most feared hitter, a beast and the modern day “Great Bambino.” But soon to be 33, injuries and a prior booze habit have caught up with Miggy. Father time is also mingling with Yadier Molina, who is the same age as Cabrera and no longer invincible. You can add Angel Pagan and Juan Uribe to that list. David “Big Papi” Ortiz and Carlos Beltran, 40 and 38 respectively, have hinted that they will be done after the up-coming campaign. Then there’s Bartolo Colon, the human blimp with the bionic arm. At 42 and 265 pounds, how much longer can he get hitters out and be effective?
When you look at guys like Salvador Perez, the 25-year-old World Series MVP, it becomes clear that a new era of iconic Hispanic stars are about to take center stage. Jose Dariel Abreu, Yoenis Cespedes and Jose Fernandez lead the parade of Cubans for the moment, although there are probably two dozen additional players off the island who will make their presence known in the next few years. It’s certain that a surge of Mexican talent will also soon emerge, now that kids can no longer be intimidated by politics within the powerful Liga Mexicana. In fact, the Arizona Diamondbacks recently announced the opening of a new training academy in Hermosillo, the first of its kind on Mexican soil.
The rising level of fresh faces inspired me to create a list of the top 10 Latino players who will be making headlines in 2016. Please pay close attention.
10. Jose Berrios, RHP, Minnesota Twins
Although only 21 and not overwhelming in size, Berrios is a strike-thrower with good command of three quality pitches. Because the Bayamon, Puerto Rico, native has climbed the minor league ladder at a record pace, some scouts wonder if the youngster has been forced along too quickly. I disagree, and the Twinkies are nuts if Berrios doesn’t break spring camp with the varsity.
9. Orlando Arcia, Shortstop, Milwaukee Brewers
The charismatic 21-year-old had an amazing year with the Class AA Biloxi Shuckers in 2015, and is currently the organization’s number one prospect. Now that Jean Segura was shipped off to the Diamondbacks, the path appears open for the young Venezuelan to step into the shortstop role. While it would be unlikely to see Arcia skip the Class AAA level completely, I predict that he’ll be called up a few weeks after opening day, and could be a solid candidate for ROY honors in the National League.
8. Raul Mondesi, Shortstop, Kansas City Royals
This young man made a cameo appearance in last season’s playoffs for a reason: The Royals think he’s special. With Ben Zobrist gone, the world champions must now look to an aging and injury-prone Omar Infante to again take the reigns at second base. While Mondesi is a shortstop by trade, the 20-year-old Dominican-American is sure to be promoted immediately to provide middle infield depth and extra offensive pop.
7. Julio Urias, LHP Los Angeles Dodgers
If Berrios from the Twins is a kid, Urias is a baby. Signed by the Dodgers at age 16, Urias performed as advertised in 2014 and was named Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Although eye surgery slowed his progress last season, the lanky lefty is mature beyond his years with a superior curve ball, change-up and a fastball consistently clocked at 97 mph. The Los Angeles faithful are demanding that Urias suit up in Dodger blue sooner than later, because the teenager will be the biggest thing in Chavez Ravine since Fernando Valenzuela.
6. Alex Reyes, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
This 21-year-old Dominican-American has a problem. As a member of the squeaky-clean Cardinals organization, Reyes has been busted twice for recreational drug use. Good grief, who doesn’t smoke weed these days? Ironically, Reyes is also the Redbird’s top prospect, and will be eligible to play six weeks into the new season. My guess is that the power-pitching righty will be called up prior to midseason and make a huge contribution.
5. Nomar Mazara, Outfield, Texas Rangers
Signing for bonus money in the neighborhood of $5 million, Mazara is starting to put his credentials together. The Rangers #2 prospect behind Joey Gallo and two years younger, the Dominican has a well rounded game and figures to compete for a job in the Rangers anemic outfield, especially against right-handed pitching. With the exception of home run power, Mazara trumps Gallo in all categories of importance.
4. Yoan Moncada, Middle infielder, Boston Red Sox
Once billed as one of Cuba’s top players with Serie Nacional experience, Moncada scuffled last year due to a layoff while waiting for his documents to be approved. But it didn’t take long for the 20-year-old to steady the ship with an excellent second half. I liked the way the youngster accepted failure and moved forward with success. And while Dustin Pedroia still occupies the second base job, the veteran’s body is crumbling and Moncada will be a valuable backup.
3. Miguel Sano, Outfield/DH, Minnesota Twins
Big Miguel can hit a baseball to the moon. But like Yasmany Tomas with Arizona, the 22-year-old Dominican is a defensive liability. The Twins could always use Sano as a DH, but they want more for their steep investment. That’s why they’ll bring in Torii Hunter this spring to tutor Sano on how to play right field. I think the 6′-4″, 240 pound youngster has enough athletic ability to get the job done, and hope fans will go with the flow. Last season, Miguel hit 18 bombs in 80 games. This year, he should blast at least 40 big flies and carry the Twins offense.
2. Francisco Lindor, Shortstop, Cleveland Indians
I have always followed the career of this Florida-raised Puerto Rican, and thought the Indians were ill-advised to hold him back last spring. This season, Lindor will prove to the world that he is truly an elite player. The power numbers could improve and the errors trimmed on defense. But next to Terry Francona, it’s clear that Lindor will become the most recognized name in Cleveland baseball.
1. Carlos Correa, Shortstop, Houston Astros
What will Correa do for an encore in Houston after winning ROY honors in 2015? Plenty. He can learn a lot more from his dynamic double play partner Jose Altuve. Carlos can also be more patient at the plate, while improving on the batting average and on-base percentage. And of course, never forget to keep having fun when things get hectic. Maybe that’s asking too much for a 20-year-old phenom. But when you’re talking about the game’s next Derek Jeter, the bar is set pretty damn high.
There are other Latinos who will play pivotal roles this season, including some guys who need to step it up, on and off the field. Aroldis Chapman comes to mind. Now that he’s a Yankee, the Cuban bad boy needs to cut the crap, and maybe even prepare for a transition into the starting rotation. Will Rusney Castillo, already 28, live up to the hype and finally earn a fraction of money the Boston Red Sox are paying him? And will new Dodger skipper Dave Roberts be able to tame Yasiel Puig, otherwise known as the wild horse?
These are questions that can’t be answered immediately, but interesting to contemplate with spring training only a few weeks away.