These Are the 7 Latino Baseball Players to Watch During the 2017 MLB Season

Lead Photo: Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty
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Back in 2011, a major sporting website published an article with the following headline: Is Major League Baseball Too Hispanic?  (The internet’s watchdogs and virtue-signaling foot-soldiers may have missed this bit of problematic SEO gaming, because it was about baseball.) The editor may have used that headline so that the article might appeal to the MLB fanbase, one that gets outraged when, say, Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler dares to call Trump’s immigration ban “unfortunate.”

In the 2011 article, the writer says:

A question occurred Monday around the time Juan Cruz was pitching to Nelson Cruz, which was a half-inning after Alexi Ogando got the Rangers out of a seventh-inning jam and one inning before Neftali Feliz came in to close out the Rays. The question was this: Do young American baseball players understand what they’re up against?

Every year, hundreds of American college and high school players sign contracts and head out to go to work in the minor leagues. They show up and find the world doesn’t look quite the same.

Well, in 2017, the “horror” of everything Ogando, Feliz, Cruz, and Cruz represent is upon us: Major League Baseball will likely be one-third Latino by the end of this decade. Apart from existing (and seeming to enjoy themselves sometimes, while playing a game), Latino players regularly commit another crime that threatens our American pastime: they are frequently in violation of the unspoken “fraternization rule,” which forbids members of opposite teams from being friendly once the stadium opens to the public.

What kind of example do Francisco Lindor and Javier Baez set for American children when they are horsing around at second base during an instant replay review? Posses of players on opposing teams speaking Spanish while stretching in the outfield?  What’s next? An MLB franchise in Havana? Santo Domingo?  The answer is no. MLB is not too Latino, but it definitely is benefitting from the continued rise of the peloteros. We’ve taken a look and put the spotlight on the seven Latino players to be either irrationally threatened by or inspired by this season.

Pablo Sandoval, Boston Red Sox

During the 2016 summer of Desiigner and his #1 banger “Panda”, Venezuelan third baseman Pablo Sandoval lost his starting job for the Red Sox. That’s a shame, because a “Kung Fu Panda” remix could have created Fenway Park’s best musical moment since Manny Ramirez came out to the Cranberries “Zombie.” Oh well.

On the field, his benching made sense, although not for the reason everyone thought. While Boston fans focused on Sandoval’s weight (especially when he busted his belt while trying to hit an R.A. Dickey knuckleball), he was ailing from a torn labrum, hampering his big bat. Over the winter, Sandoval underwent surgery, while losing some weight, just in case. Las Vegas bookies like Boston to go deep into the postseason, where Sandoval rakes like few others, owning a .344/.389/.545 line with three rings and a World Series MVP in 2012.

Yoenis Cespedes, New York Mets

The 2016 numbers don’t jump off the page, but Yoenis Cespedes doesn’t have the protection that most superstars have. No player has had a greater impact on a playoff-bound team this decade than Cespedes had in the second half of 2015. The fascinating outfielder has risen to the occasion of being the offensive centerpiece of New York’s second team, carrying the Mets at times in ways that nobody could have expected.

The mellow Cuban rancher signed a four-year, $110 million deal to bring his cold-blooded bat back to Queens, a move made in part because because the depth of the pitching staff makes the Mets future look pretty damn bright… if you block out the Dodgers and Cubs with a copy of the New York Post.

Rougned Odor, Texas Rangers

Venezuelan-born Texas 2B Rougned Odor was just another emerging young talent until he became world famous for connecting with a right cross across Jose Bautista’s face during a bench clearing brawl last May, the result of another of baseball’s etiquette melodramas.   Baseball brawls are typically sloppy and boring hold-me-back-bro hug fests that lack cartoonish hits like this one, which was so well captured by MLB cameramen at so many different angles and in slow-motion that it became the most iconic moment of the season. It was basically the first baseball moment that hit the mainstream since the last time Alex Rodriguez did Alex Rodriguez things.

Aside from a killer punch, Odor also possess good power for a second baseman: he hit 32 homers last year for the Rangers, for which the team rewarded him with a 6-year, $49.5 million contract extension that included two horses to seal the deal.

Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs

A damn good pitching staff, an explosive and balanced offense, and perhaps the best defensive team ever assembled makes a Cubs dynasty very plausible. Anchoring this historic defense is boricua utility man Javier Baez, the most entertaining defensive performer the game has seen since Omar Vizquel. Baez can be seen ruining offenses’ days at one of three positions at any given time, and can do unfathomable things like put a no-look tag on a baserunner while congratulating his catcher on the great throw.

Baez is slightly more mercurial at the plate, though he’s cut down on his strikeouts each season en route to earning last year’s NLCS MVP. In an era dominated by data-driven storytelling, the entertainment value of players like Javier Baez is diminished. He is the league’s best foot forward in marketing the game to people without the pre-existing condition of baseball nostalgia. To have the chance to see him in action is alone worth the price of admission.

Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles

At just 24 years old, Manny Machado has already emerged as one of the best players in the game. A move from shortstop to the hot corner has allowed the Dominican to get a little thicker, though he’s still been a human highlight reel defending third base.

Machado has consistently hit for average, but with lots of protection in the Baltimore lineup, 2017 looks like the year he finally eclipses the 40 home run mark. This season should also be the year he gives Mike Trout a run for his MVP money, as the Orioles star has racked up consecutive top 5 finishes. Machado is the best Dominican player alive right now and, when he hits free agency in 2017 as a 26 year old, he’ll probably become the richest. A half-billion-dollar contract is a legitimate possibility.

Aledmys Diaz, St. Louis Cardinals

Cuban defector Aledmys Diaz was an NL All-Star in his rookie season of 2016, thanks to an April performance that goes down in history as one of the best offensive showings in Major League history. Considering Diaz’s struggles on the other side of the ball, someone with an understanding of the whimsical nature of baseball performance could make the argument that the defense struggles may have pushed him to make it up with his bat.

This spring training, Diaz worked on his biggest deficiency with the greatest defensive shortstop of all-time in Ozzie Smith, which is the best possible thing he could do apart from moving to an easier position. With enough work, he could be a must-watch at the plate and in the field this year.

Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees

If there was one rookie that trumped Diaz’s debut, it was Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez, who looked like a man amongst boys as he became the fastest player to 19 home runs in major league history. Sanchez was also impressive behind the plate, which made the Yankees comfortable trading Brian McCann, the expensive veteran who the 24-year-old Dominican displaced.

Little was expected of Sanchez last year, but Yankee fans are entitled, insatiable, and beginning to get desperate because they haven’t added to their ML best 27 titles since way back in 2009. Following their first real “selling” (or “rebuilding,” if you’re nice) season under GM Brian Cashman, fans of the Bronx Bombers will be counting on Sanchez to get them back to the promised land.