Dan Schlossberg's Spring Report: How Latino Hitters Will Shape Division Races • Latino Sports

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Dan Schlossberg’s Spring Report: How Latino Hitters Will Shape Division Races

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NEW YORK – With only a handful of days left to til everybody swings into action, it’s obvious that Latin stars will again influence the pennant races. From Miguel Cabrera, seeking a third straight MVP, to Jose Abreu, hoping for top rookie honors, Latinos will be on the line from the minute the bell rings for real.

Here’s a alphabetical look at some who should make a difference:

Jose Abreu, 1B (White Sox) — A Cuban defector with enormous power, he’s armed with a six-year, $68 million contract and the team’s need to replace aging first baseman Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn. Playing half the schedule in hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular Field could help him scale the 30-homer plateau and make him a Rookie of the Year favorite.

Jose Altuve, 2B (Astros) — A Venezuelan sparkplug, Altuve is a rare contact hitter (.283, 35 steals) in a sea of sluggers. He hit only five home runs but is a good table-setter near the top of the improving Houston lineup.

Emilio Bonifacio, INF-OF (Cubs) — The Cubs aren’t going anywhere but this versatile newcomer is going everywhere. Boni has speed to burn but has been confined to a utility role because he doesn’t reach base often enough.

Elvis Andrus, SS (Rangers) — Like Altuve, he’s known more his speed (42 SB) than pop (4 homers). But this Elvis hasn’t left the building: he can field and knows how to get on base (.274 over five seasons).

Erick Aybar, SS (Angels) — A .277 hitter over eight seasons, Aybar is a spray-hitting Dominican who’s much more likely to steal a base than he is to hit a home run. He’s been the top Angels shortstop since 2008.

Jose Bautista has won two home run crowns. Photo by Frankhyatt.com

Jose Bautista has won two home run crowns. Photo by Frankhyatt.com

Jose Bautista, RF (Blue Jays) — The two-time American League home run king, who also plays third base, could push Toronto back into the AL East title chase simply by staying healthy. No Dominican figures to hit more homers this year.

Carlos Beltran, RF (Yankees) — If his aching knees cooperate, the switch-hitting Puerto Rican could become a force for the Yankees. Beltran doesn’t run much anymore but he’s still a potential 30-homer guy.

Carlos Beltran has played in New York before

Carlos Beltran has played in New York before

Xavier Bogaerts, SS (Red Sox) — Aruba doesn’t send too many players to the big leagues but he’s a notable exception. At 6’3″ he’s the tallest shortstop since Cal Ripken, Jr. but he has a pretty good upside too.

Asdrubal Cabrera, SS (Indians) — Shortstops with 25-homer power are rare finds. Cleveland has a good one in this Venezuelan import.

Everth Cabrera, SS (Padres) — He led the NL in steals with 44 two years ago. He hit .283 with 37 swipes last year, making the Nicaraguan one of the best players in San Diego livery.

Miguel Cabrera, 1B (Tigers) — Moving back to first this season should help Miggy relax on the road to a third straight MVP award. He’s won two batting crowns, two home run crowns, and one Triple Crown — the first since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. ‘Nuff said.

Melky Cabrera, OF (Blue Jays) — Is he still around? Unless he makes it til August 11, this former Yankee phenom will be out of baseball by age 30.

Robinson Cano may not get along with Safeco Field

Robinson Cano may not get along with Safeco Field

Robinson Cano, 2B (Mariners) — Seeing him in green just doesn’t seem kosher. At 31, the Dominican infielder is starting a new life with a 10-year, $240 deal but a formidable obstacle in a ballpark not friendly to sluggers. He’s topped 30 homers just once and won’t do that this year, though his glove and .300 bat will help the M’s move up in the AL West.

Starlin Castro, SS (Cubs) — After reaching double digits in doubles, triples, homers, and steals two years ago, this Dominican infielder slipped last summer, along with most of his Chicago teammates. He’ll look to bounce back.

Yoenis Cespedes, OF (A’s) — A Cuban refugee who hits about 25 homers a year, Cespedes is looking for bigger things in 2014. His performance could decide where the A’s land in the standings.

Nelson Cruz, OF (Orioles) — A late sign, Cruz couldn’t have found a better spot for his righthanded power. Playing half his games at Oriole Park should help the Dominican DH pass his previous power peak of 33 homers.

Edwin Encarnacion, 3B (Blue Jays) — After hitting 78 homers the last two years, this Dominican dynamo could form the game’s most tenacious 1-2 power punch with Jose Bautista. AL East should watch out if that tandem stays healthy.

Yunel Escobar, SS (Rays) — Bobby Cox couldn’t figure him out but Joe Maddon seems to make him motivated. Escobar provides a strong arm and some punch at the plate (.278 lifetime).

Rafael Furcal, 2B (Marlins) — Maybe moving to second will help this brittle but fleet Dominican, who twice topped 40 steals.

Carlos Gomez, OF (Brewers) — In two seasons with Milwaukee, this Dominican slugger has 43 homers, 77 steals, and one memorable home-plate altercation with Brian McCann. He was an NL All-Star last summer.

MVP candidate Carlos Gonzalez has enormous promise

MVP candidate Carlos Gonzalez has enormous promise

Carlos Gonzalez, OF (Rockies) — A former batting king with 30-homer power, this lefty-swinging Venezuelan is an MVP trophy waiting to happen. But the feeling persists that his .300 career average is inflated by Coors Field.

Adeiny Hechavarria, SS (Marlins) — He doesn’t hit much or connect too often but his glove is so good that the Fish glow when they talk about this Cuban defector.

Jose Iglesias, SS (Tigers) — Stress fractures of both leagues figure to keep this sure-footed shortstop sidelined all year. The Tigers have spent all of spring training trying to trade for his replacement.

Omar Infante, 2B (Royals) — Snatching this versatile Venezuelan from Detroit will help the young Royals content this summer. He’s coming off a .318 campaign that undoubtedly netted him his current four-year contract.

Juan Lagares, CF (Mets) — An acrobatic centerfielder whose bat is uncertain, he’ll bring some respectability to Flushing.

Starling Marte, LF (Pirates) — A .280 average accompanied by 41 steals and stellar defense convinced Pittsburgh to lock up its leftfielder for the next six seasons. This flying Dominican will only get better.

Victor Martinez, DH (Tigers) — A Venezuelan slugger with four 100-RBI seasons on his resume, Martinez can also catch and play first base. At age 35, he still should have some juice left in his bat.

Yadier Molina, C (Cardinals) — A strong contender for National League MVP honors last year, this Gold Glove catcher hit a career-best .319 for the contending Cards in 2013. At 31, he’s the leader of the club on the field.

Kendrys Morales, 1B (free agent) — Nobody wants a 30-year-old slugger with 30-homer power? Okay, the Cuban switch-hitter hit just 23 for Seattle last summer. But Safeco Field is not exactly friendly for hitters.

Dioner Navarro, C (Blue Jays) — This well-traveled Venezuelan finally broke through last year, hitting .300 with 13 homers in 89 games for the Cubs. He’ll do better in Rogers Centre, where the wind never blows in.

Edward Nunez, SS-3B (Yankees) — With Alex Rodriguez suspended and aging Derek Jeter unlikely to play a full schedule at shortstop, the versatile Dominican should see lots of action. The Yankees were wise to keep him despite multiple trade offers.

David Ortiz, DH (Red Sox) — He may be 38 but nothing is stopping this lefthanded Dominican slugger. En route to a likely berth in Cooperstown, Big Papi has hit 431 regular-season homers and 17 more in postseason play. The two-time RBI king is a lock for 30 homers and 100 RBI even though he plays in a home park more favorable for righties.

Gerardo Parra, RF (Diamondbacks) — He doesn’t hit for average or power but this Venezuelan can throw. Plus he was born on May 6, the same day as the author of this column.

Jhonny Peralta, SS (Cardinals) — Despite his drug suspension last summer, the Cards liked the former Tiger enough to give him a lucrative four-year contract. Maybe they liked the fact that he’s topped 20 homers four times, though his power pales when compared to fellow Dominican David Ortiz.

Salvator Perez, C (Royals) — A .301 career hitter who’s good for a dozen homers, Perez is better known for his strong defensive skills. Lots of teams tried to trade for the promising Venezuelan.

Gregory Polanco, RF (Pirates) — The Dominican Winter League MVP is a five-tools player hoping to crack an outfield that already includes National League MVP Andrew McCutchen and future All-Star Starling Marte. At age 22, he may have to play right field instead of center but he gives the Bucs a better bet there than Jose Tabata.

Martin Prado, INF (Diamondbacks) — A veteran who plays everything but the bass fiddle, Prado had a big year after signing a big contract with Arizona. When he’s right, mentally and physically, he’s a hard worker with doubles power but a good glove wherever he plays. An ideal No. 2 hitter, Prado is tough to fan.

Jurickson Profar, 2B (Rangers) — A solid rookie last year, this Curacao native will miss the first half after a spring training injury. And to think the Rangers traded Ian Kinsler to make room!

Yasiel Puig, RF (Dodgers) — His ability is better than his attitude, which placed this Cuban refugee in conflict with

Yasiel Puig still needs to learn fundamentals

Yasiel Puig still needs to learn fundamentals

manager Don Mattingly this spring. Puig showed power, speed, and a solid batting average after his promotion last season but indicated this spring that his baserunning and fundamentals still need work.

Albert Pujols, 1B (Angels) — He’s 34 now but healthy again, meaning this determined Dominican might challenge Miggy for the Triple Crown. The long-time Cardinal, held to just 99 games last year, has led his league in all three legs of the trifecta but never in the same season. The .321 lifetime hitter is just eight homers shy of the 500 Home Run Club.

Aramis Ramirez, 3B (Brewers) — Milwaukee isn’t going anywhere in the NL Central but the Dominican infielder will be heading for the All-Star Game if he reverts to his 2011-12 form. He still has 35-homer potential.

Hanley Ramirez, SS (Dodgers) — The best-hitting shortstop in the big leagues, Hanley hit a career-best .345 in limited action last year, then destroyed Atlanta pitching in the playoffs. The .302 career hitter is a strong candidate for 30 homers and 100 RBI now that he’s entering his free agent year.

Wilson Ramos, C (Nationals) — Sixteen homers in 78 games and a strong game behind the plate give the Nationals a solid citizen behind the plate. The Venezuelan backstop is capable of considerably more power production.

A healthy Jose Reyes would really help Toronto. Bill Menzel/Latino Sports

A healthy Jose Reyes would really help Toronto.
Bill Menzel/Latino Sports

Jose Reyes, SS (Blue Jays) — The 2011 National League batting champion, who missed two months with injuries last year, is likely to produce double digits in doubles, triples, homers, and stolen bases. Still just 30, the switch-hitting Dominican — still a good leadoff man — has led his league in steals three times but isn’t likely to do so again.

Wilin Rosario, C (Rockies) — The Dominican backstop belted 21 homers while hitting a career-best .292 for the Rox last year. He had 28 in even fewer games (117) the year before so he’s a proven power producer.

Carlos Ruiz, C (Phillies) — The best Panamanian not named Mariano Rivera, Ruiz hopes to resurrect his 2012 numbers (.325, 16 homers) with an aging ballclub. He’s on the wrong side of 35 himself.

Pablo Sandoval, 3B (Giants) — A .298 lifetime hitter whose power numbers fluctuate, this Venezuelan is a compact slugger whose performance could make a huge difference for the offensively-challenged Giants.

Carlos Santana, 3B (Indians) — Moved to third this season, the erstwhile catcher could boost his 20-homer mark of 2013.

Marco Scutaro, 2B (Giants) — San Francisco retained this Venezuelan even though his production declined a bit. The feeling persists they paid him too much to stay.

Jean Segura, SS (Brewers) — Idled for Opening Day, this speed merchant has more than justified the 2012 swap that sent Zack Greinke to the Los Angeles Angels. A likely All-Star again, he stole 44 bases during a .294 campaign and wound up with almost as many triples (10) as home runs (12).

Alfonso Soriano brushed back by a pitch during his Cubs tenure

Alfonso Soriano brushed back by a pitch during his Cubs tenure

Alfonso Soriano, DH (Yankees) — After finishing with 34 homers and 101 RBI in a season split between the Cubs and Yankees, this Dominican slugger found a new life when he donned pinstripes again. At 38, he’s an ideal DH who can catch up on his sleep between at-bats.

Juan Uribe, 3B (Dodgers) — His defense isn’t the best but his dramatic two-run homer in the eighth inning of the last NLDS game against Atlanta pushed the Dodgers into the NLCS against St. Louis. The well-traveled Dominican can play anywhere in the infield.

Oscar Taveras, RF (Cardinals) — Even an ankle injury did not prevent Taveras from being the top prospect in the AAA Pacific Coast League last year. He has the power-plus-speed potential of a young Carlos Beltran and could become a big-league regular at age 21. The Cards are more stacked than Dolly Parton.

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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