Faces to Watch at the MLB All-Star Classic

The annual All-Star Classic is right around the corner, and as usual, rosters from both leagues are laden with Latino talent. Why? Because 30 percent of all major league players were born in Spanish-speaking countries or in Puerto Rico, and many enjoy super-star status. Baseball might still be called America’s Pastime, but it stopped being dominated by gringos a long time ago.

The grand festivities will take place this year in Cincinnati, Ohio, beginning with the Futures Game on Sunday, June 12th, and ending with the heavyweight fireworks on Tuesday evening. The venue is called the Great American Ball Park, which is appropriate since Latinos continue to establish a prominent role as the fastest-growing minority in the United States, whether Donald Trump likes it or not. Folks who frequent stadiums across the country have become accustomed to mixing their hot dogs with tacos and cotton candy with sugary churros.

Fans have gotten used to watching familiar icons like David “Big Papi” Ortiz, Robinson Cano and Mariano Rivera at these gala extravaganzas, but a different crop of talent has emerged to somewhat alter the landscape. For example, the American League squad boasts an infield of fresh faces that include Manny Machado, Alcides Escobar, Jose Iglesias and Jose Altuve, the pint-sized second baseman from the Houston Astros who shocked the experts by winning the batting crown last year.

Baseball’s most prolific power hitter, Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers, would normally be stationed at first base but is sidelined with a calf injury. So the ever-dangerous Albert Pujols will take his place and participate in Monday’s Home Run Derby, which will feature a different format this year. Nelson Cruz is the king of big flies and will also compete in the new, single elimination contest.

Many popular players will also suit up for the National League club, such as slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, shortstop Jhonny Peralta of the St. Louis Cardinals and his teammate Yadier Molina. The celebrated catcher is certain to be enshrined in the Salon de Fama when he finally hangs up his spikes.

I was disappointed to see that established staples like Carlos Gonzalez, Carlos Gomez didn’t make the team, however, nor did a most deserving Gerardo Parra. The Venezuelan is a Gold Glove outfielder who has slashed .309/.345/.487 for the season’s first half. As a result, the NL “senior circuit” isn’t quite as well represented with Latino players when compared to its opponent in the other dugout. I wouldn’t necessarily call it discrimination but rather just bad timing.

The fact is that the cycle of youthful change is occurring even more dramatically in the National League, and many athletes on the brink of greatness have yet to become household names. A case in point is the New York Mets bullpen closer Jeurys Familia, a guy with excellent numbers that place him among the league leaders in strikeouts and earned run average. But even though he plays in the Big Apple, Familia fell dreadfully short in the voting process because it’s likely that many fans in the other 29 MLB cities never heard of him. Other victims of fate included Gregory Polanco of the Pittsburgh Pirates and one of baseball’s most underrated shortstops, Adeiny Hechavarria of the Miami Marlins.St Louis Cardinals ace pitcher Carlos Martinez even campaigned on his personal blog in an attempt to stimulate a wave of internet support for his cause.

Both leagues, though, have equal representation in the Futures Game, and I always enjoy watching this dog fight because it’s a showcase for gifted kids hungry to achieve a dream. Latinos play on the so-called World Team and all have exceptional ability because they are selected by the experts in charge of ranking the minor league’s top 100 prospects. No beauty contest or fan politics to mess with here. Being an ex-scout myself, I felt compelled to jot down a few names that you might want to check out while catching the game, which will be broadcast on the MLB Channel live at 3PM ET.

Elias Diaz, catcher (Pittsburgh Pirates)
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At age 24, Diaz is an older player by Futures Game standards, but catchers often take longer to develop. Terrific defensively, especially at blocking pitches and throwing out base runners. Now playing at the AAA level, the Venezuelan is knocking on the big league door.

José Berrios, pitcher (Minnesota Twins)
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The 21 year old Puerto Rican José Berrios is a four-pitch guy with excellent command and poise. I like the way this kid isn’t afraid to challenge hitters.

Normar Mazara, outfielder (Texas Rangers)
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Normar Mazara, outfielder from Texas Rangers. This lefty has the size and tools to become a special player. He’s personable, speaks good English and oozes confidence.

Orlando Arcia, shortstop (Milwaukee Brewers)
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Ranked in Baseball America’s Top 10 Prospect list, Arcia is a typical three-hole hitter and can drive the ball with authority to all fields. The speedy 20 year old is mature beyond his years. And the fact that Orlando is the brother of Twins outfielder Oswaldo Arcia probably has a lot to do with it.

I expect Orlando Arcia to put on a show Sunday afternoon, so get ready to enjoy the action over a few cold cervezas. Then on Tuesday, get home from work early to relax and watch the big game on Fox. The opening pitch will be at 7:30 PM ET and I expect the American League to be victorious, just like the last two years. After all, this is the team with all the young caballos. My prediction: Felix Hernandez will be the winning pitcher. You heard it here first!