With the opening bell of the 2021 baseball season just a week away, Latinos will make or break the fortunes of every title hopeful.
Many, from Fernando Tatis to Francisco Lindor, made headlines during the off-season but are likely to make even bigger headlines in the months ahead.
Here, in alphabetical order, are the top 25:
José Abreu, Chicago White Sox 1B – At 34, this Cuban slugger hopes to become the first man since Miguel Cabrera to win consecutive MVP awards. He led the league with 148 total bases, 76 hits, 60 runs batted in, and a .617 slugging percentage while batting .317.
Ronald Acuña, Jr., Atlanta Braves RF – Signed out of Venezuela at age 16, he’s a true five-tools player who’s already led his league in runs scored and stolen bases. Acuña says he’s hoping to become the first 50/50 player in baseball history. Don’t bet against him.
Pete Alonso, New York Mets 1B – The only rookie ever to be the sole major-league leader in home runs (53 in 2019), his grandfather emigrated from Spain to the United States. A rare righthanded bat in a lefty-heavy lineup, he hopes to provide more power after falling victim to the sophomore jinx last summer. In addition, his defense still needs improvement.
José Altuve, Houston Astros 2B – A three-time batting champion who has led his league in hits four times, the shortest man in the majors needs a comeback season after slipping to .219 last year. At 31, the former AL MVP from Venezuela is a always strong Gold Glove contender.
Nolan Arenado, St. Louis Cardinals 3B – Though born in California, his father is Cuban and his mother has Cuban and Puerto Rican ancestry. Getting a new start at age 30 after a trade from Colorado, Arenado will miss the thin Rocky Mountain air that helped him win three home run crowns and have as many 130-rbi campaigns. He slipped last summer, though, and hopes Busch Stadium proves fertile new ground for his eight Gold Gloves and enormous power.
Javier Báez, Chicago Cubs SS – A versatile slugger with 30-homer power, he’s entering the walk year of his contract at age 28. The righthanded hitter from Puerto Rico has played his entire seven-year career with the Cubs but that could change with a midseason trade.
Carlos Carrasco, New York Mets RHP – After winning 35 times for Cleveland over a two-year span, he contracted leukemia and the pandemic-shortened season before the Mets landed him in the Francisco Lindor trade. But a torn hamstring, suffered this spring, will delay his debut as the team’s No. 2 starter by a couple of months. At 34, the Venezuelan righty may not heal quickly.
Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees LHP – Still throwing hard at age 33, the Cuban import was on a Cooperstown path before suffering a hefty fine and suspension for violating baseball’s domestic abuse policy. With fellow southpaw Zack Britton sidelined by elbow surgery and the rotation uncertain after Gerrit Cole, Chapman is more important than ever to Yankee hopes.
Carlos Correa, Houston Astros SS – This 26-year-old Puerto Rican star needs a big year to land a big contract as a free agent this fall. A solid hitter who supplies two-dozen homers, he’s also a capable defense shortstop for Dusty Baker’s title hopefuls.
Nelson Cruz, Minnesota Twins DH – Even at age 40, Cruz still crushes the ball. Thanks to four 40-homer campaigns, he has 417 lifetime homers and is a good bet to reach 500 if he hangs around. A work stoppage or Covid delay would definitely be detrimental to that goal.
Edwin Diaz, New York Mets RHP – The Mets traded for him hoping he would duplicate his 57-save 2018 season in Seattle. Instead, he fell flat on his face (5.59 ERA) before rebounding to 1.75 during the shortened season last year. When he’s right, the 27-year-old Puerto Rican is a control pitcher who piles up lots of strikeouts.
Yasmani Grandal, Chicago White Sox C – Despite a career batting average of .240, this switch-hitting Cuban native is not only a durable backstop but also a dangerous hitter at age 32. He had at least 22 home runs four years in a row through 2019, the last complete season.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays 1B – Though he split last year between first base and DH, this Hall of Famer’s son still prefers to play third – a position that may not be vacant in the 2021 Toronto infield. No matter where he plays, however, the dynamic power of this 22-year-old Dominican cannot be underestimated. He’s in much better shape this spring than last.
Eloy Jiménez, Chicago White Sox OF – Yet another young Dominican with an All-Star future, Jiménez hammered 45 homers in 177 games, the extent of his career to date. The contending Chisox plan to keep him in left field after his strong .296 showing during the shortened season.
Francisco Lindor, New York Mets SS – The January 7 date of his acquisition by the Mets set off the same fireworks display in Flushing that greeted the arrival of Mike Piazza, another superstar headed for the Hall of Fame, on May 22, 1998. The five-tools player from Puerto Rico has already proclaimed himself the league’s best shortstop but now must justify the boast.
Manny Machado, San Diego Padres 3B – Though born in the United States, this slugging infielder shares the same Dominican roots as San Diego shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. Machado, 28, is a .280 lifetime hitter whose resume shows five straight 30-homer seasons. The converted All-Star shortstop is signed to a 10-year contract worth $300 million.
Marcell Ozuna, Atlanta Braves LF – After leading the National League in home runs, runs batted in, and total bases, Ozuna got a new four-year contract with a club option – presumably to serve as designated hitter if, as expected, the DH becomes universal in 2022. Hampered by a surgically-repaired shoulder, he’ll do his best in left field this season. The Braves except him to knock in many more runs than he allows.
Salvatore Perez, Kansas City Royals C – Though usually penny-conscious, the Royals opened their vault this week to sign this Venezuelan receiver to the richest contract in team history (four years at $82 million). Perez, 31, has spent his entire nine-year career in Kaycee but missed all of last year while recuperating from Tommy John elbow surgery, normally a pitcher’s predicament. A Gold Glove defender who usually carries a heavy workload, Perez has topped 20 homers four times.
Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels 1B – Starting his 21st season at age 41, he needs 38 homers – probably two seasons worth – to reach 700. But he also hopes to pave a pennant path for the Angels, whose only World Series season preceded the singing of Pujols 10 years ago. The three-time MVP, a native of the Dominican Republic, is a lock to land in Cooperstown later this decade.
Anthony Rendon, Los Angeles Angels 3B – The product of a Mexican-American family, Rendon carries a .290 lifetime average into his ninth season (and second in Anaheim). Should he approach his 34-homer, 126-rbi form of 2019, he’ll be a major factor in making the Angels a serious contender for the AL West title, which they have not won since 2014.
Gary Sánchez, New York Yankees C – So bad last year that he was almost non-tendered, then nearly traded, Sánchez is a high-power, low-average backstop with serious defensive deficiencies. At least that’s how we remember him. The Dominican slugger, still just 28, looked much better this spring, knowing his performance is vital to both team success and his own future.
Juan Soto, Washington Nationals RF – Is this guy really just 22? In last year’s shortened season, he led the NL in batting (.351), on-base percentage (.490), and OPS (1.185) while stationed mainly in left field. The signing of Kyle Schwarber shunts Soto to right, where he still needs work, but his bat should make up for his glove. The lefty-hitting Dominican with the lethal swing (34 homers in 2019) has definite MVP potential.
George Springer, Toronto Blue Jays CF – Since he is of Puerto Rican and Panamanian descent, it was fitting that this fleet centerfielder crossed the border to sign with the Jays during the winter. The MVP of the 2017 World Series, used as a lead-off man by the Astros, could enjoy his first 40-homer season if Toronto plays its “home” games in hitter-friendly Dunedin and Buffalo. The Mets may regret not upping the ante in bidding for Springer, a right-handed slugger from Connecticut.
Giancarlo Stanton, New York Yankees DH – Part African American, part Irish, and part Puerto Rican, this 6’6″ outfielder from California has led his league in home runs twice and slugging three times. At age 31, he’ll probably serve as designated hitter for the Yankees, whose prime interest is keeping this imposing talent healthy. He’s played in just 41 games in the past two years.
Fernando Tatis, San Diego Padres SS – Armed with a 14-year contract that is the longest in baseball history, the slugging shortstop made the cover of The Bill James Handbook at the tender age of 22. In a short career that spans only 143 games in two seasons, he’s hit .301 with 39 homers, 98 runs batted, and 27 stolen bases. Both he and Machado, who plays next to him on the left side of the Padres infield, are expected to be MVP candidates on a contending club.
Next Ten: Ozzie Albies, Atlanta Braves 2B; Jake Arrieta, Chicago Cubs RHP; Jose Berrios, Minnesota Twins RHP; Alex Colomé, Minnesota Twins RHP; Didi Gregorius, Philadelphia Phillies SS; Yuli Gurriel, Houston Astros 1B; Raisel Iglesias, Los Angeles Angels RHP; Ketel Marte, Arizona Diamondbacks 2B-OF; Yoan Moncada, Chicago White Sox 3B; Andrelton Simmons, Minnesota Twins SS; Gleyber Torres, New York Yankees SS.
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