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Latin Legends Pedro, Big Papi Help Bosox Find Future Stars

David (Big Papi) Ortiz has recruited players for the Red Sox in his native Dominican Republic. Credit: Bill Menzel

Pedro Martínez is already in the Baseball Hall of Fame. David (Big Papi) Ortiz is in the on-deck circle, a virtual lock for election next year. No wonder the Boston Red Sox remain among the major-league leaders in recruiting Latino players.

Hoping to catch lightning in a bottle again, Boston opened the 2021 season with nearly a dozen players who were natives of Latin America or second-generation Latinos.

That doesn’t even include manager Alex Cora, a native Puerto Rican now in his second stint at the helm.

Martínez and Ortiz, both from the Dominican Republic, remain active with the Red Sox as recruiters of Latin American talent, according to Bob Rathgeber of the Providence Journal. The former spent seven years as a Red Sox pitcher, while the latter lasted twice as long in a Boston uniform, primarily as a slugging designated hitter.

The popularity of those Red Sox legends is a significant factor in Red Sox recruiting efforts.

“Scouting all corners of Latin America is imperative for the success of every Major League Baseball club,” said Eddie Romero, who heads international operations for the Red Sox as an assistant to Boston general manager Chaim Bloom.

“In any game you watch, the increased impact of the Latin players is evident, led by young stars like Fernando Tatís Jr., Ronald Acuña Jr., and Juan Soto. Clubs recognize the importance of this market and are allocating more resources [to it] than ever to ensure they can access the talent pipeline and develop future prospects.”

Current Red Sox with Latin roots include left-handed starters Eduardo Rodríguez and Martín Pérez, both from Venezuela; catcher Christian Valdez, a Puerto Rican; lefty-hitting third baseman Rafael Devers and outfielder Franchy Cordero, both from the Dominican Republic; shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who hails from Aruba; and utilitymen Marwin González, a switch-hitter from Venezuela, and Enrique (Kiké) Hernández, a Puerto Rican who played last season for the World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers. Also on that list are American-born J.D. Martinez, an outfielder and DH born in Miami, and Tucson native Alex Verdugo, acquired from the Dodgers in the Mookie Betts trade.

Lefty Eduardo Rodríguez has returned as the ace of the Red Sox rotation. Credit: Bill Menzel

The disparity of homelands among the Red Sox is not surprising since big-league rosters currently include more than 100 players from the Dominican Republic, a fertile ground for future stars. There were 79 Venezuelans in the majors last year, with more likely to follow once political turmoil abates. A significant number of players also come from Cuba, plus such places as Colombia, Curacao, Mexico, Panama, Honduras, and the Bahamas.

Boston concentrates recruiting efforts on the “Big Three” of Cuba, Venezuela, and the Dominican, according to Rathgeber.

“Pedro and David do a lot for [our] organization as a whole and their help in our scouting efforts is invaluable,” Romero reported. “Young players are in awe of those two when we’re conducting workouts and they quickly realize the genuine interest that both David and Pedro have in teaching and helping the kids. Whether it’s a swing tip or a grip change, the players are completely locked in to every word.”

Scouts scour amateur games and leagues throughout Latin America, looking to sign prospects as young as 16. That’s why players like Tatís, Acuña, and Juan Soto seem like seasoned veterans at age 22.

Organized Baseball was slow to tap the talent source south of the border.

Felipe Alou was the first prominent Dominican to reach the majors, with Giants teammate Juan Marichal the best pitcher from the country – and the first to reach the Hall of Fame before Pedro Martínez joined him. But it wasn’t until 1956, nine years after Jackie Robinson integrated the major leagues, that Ozzie Virgil, a power-hitting catcher, became the first Dominican in the big leagues. Albert Pujols, the oldest player in the majors if he hooks on with another team, has won three MVP awards and is a lock for Cooperstown even if he doesn’t reach 700 homers.

Venezuela had been sending a steady stream of star shortstops to the U.S. majors. Chico Carrasquel was the first, followed by Luis Aparicio, Dave Concepción, and Omar Vizquel. Future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera, a first baseman in pursuit of 500 home runs, also comes from that country.

Cuban stars have included current American League MVP José Abreu, 2020 playoffs hero Randy Arozarena, Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman, former big-league sluggers Yoenis Céspedes and Yasiel Puig, one-time Yankees starter Orlando (El Duque) Hernández and his half-brother Livan, retired slugger José Canseco, and Hall of Fame first baseman Tony Pérez.

Puerto Rico, officially part of the United States, has its own entry in the World Baseball Classic for good reason. The long list of Puerto Rican stars ranges from the late Roberto Clemente, the first Latino to reach Cooperstown, to Orlando Cepeda, Iván (Pudge) Rodriguez, Carlos Beltrán, the Alomar brothers, and the Molina brothers.

Without the contributions of Latinos, the big-league landscape would be noticeably different.

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