The Opening Day of the 2020 Major League Baseball regular season exposed controversial data on the surface: only two Latin American pitchers have been chosen by their clubs to start the season. Why do we say it’s controversial data? Comparing how have Latino players changed MLB over time – it simply doesn’t add up.
The dramatic decline in Latino stars being awarded a place in lineups of their clubs in MLB is more than visible through the fact that only two pitchers from this part of the world got a chance to open the 2020 regular season.
The Minnesota Twins named Puerto Rican right-hander José Berríos to start the first game of the season for the second consecutive year. The San Francisco Giants put Dominican Johnny Cueto against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the second of two games on the first day of action.
And that was all as far as we talk about Latin American pitchers as starters for the 2020 Opening Day. It’s such a small number given how much have Latinos, historically, influenced this sport in the United States.
The explosion of Latino talent in MLB can be explained through a timeline of milestones that players from this region have achieved. Actually, there’s no other part of the world whose players have achieved any of the international MLB milestones.
Venezuelan shortstop Alfonso ‘Chico’ Carrasquel became the first Latin-born player to start an All-Star Game. He did it in 1951 as a member of the Chicago White Sox. His compatriot, the shortstop Luis ‘Little Louie’ Aparicio was the first player from abroad to be named Rookie of the Year. It happened in 1956 when he was wearing the jersey of the White Sox.
Latin American players continued to highlight MLB into the 1960s. Zoilo ‘Zorro’ Versalles, the Cuban shortstop from the Minnesota Twins, was named American League MVP in 1965 as the first foreign player to do so. While defending the colors of the Baltimore Orioles, Cuban pitcher Mike Cuellar won the first overseas American League Cy Young Award, in 1969.
That’s when Puerto Rican right fielder Roberto Clemente came into the scene, winning two prestigious awards. Playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates, he became the first overseas World Series MVP, in 1971, followed by the induction into the Hall of Fame in 1973. Clemente was the first international player to have such an honor.
Eight years ago, Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa became the first-ever foreign MLB No. 1 draft selection when he signed the deal with the Houston Astros.
All these individual achievements in the last few decades increased the number of Latino players in MLB, which culminated with the fact that they were represented with 90.7 % among foreign players on the 2020 Opening Day. Of 300 players in total, there were 108 overseas players of which 98 from Latin America. Four countries from this part of the world had double-figure representatives: the Dominican Republic (35), Venezuela (31), Puerto Rico (12), and Cuba (11).
(Graphic: Betway Sports)
Apart from the above-mentioned duo of pitchers, only four more Latin American players opened the first encounters of their teams in the 2020 regular season: the Dominicans Frankie Montás of the Oakland Athletics, and Sandy Alcántara and José Ureña of the Miami Marlins. The fourth was the Venezuelan Germán Márquez of the Colorado Rockies.
What might calm down MLB fans in Latin America is that there were many logical factors why Latin starters were on the list of ‘endangered species’ in inaugural matches.
Luis Severino will miss 2020 due to a shoulder injury. Carlos Carrasco only started 12 games in 2019 while battling leukemia. Félix Hernández chose not to play this season due to having fear of the coronavirus. Michael Pineda and Domingo Germán had suspensions.
Among other reasons, these are the main ones that notably reduced the representation of important Latin starters in Major League Baseball in 2020 and made them ‘dying breed’ at the moment.