Dan's Dugout: Latino Stars Will Shape 2018 Races • Latino Sports


Dan’s Dugout: Latino Stars Will Shape 2018 Races


Even without the World Baseball Classic to provide bragging rights, there’s little doubt that the performance of Latino players will dictate the shape of the pennant races.

There’s a myriad of stars, from 20-year-old Rookie of the Year candidate Ronald Acuna to 39-year-old future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre, with lots of others between them.

Here’s how they figure to perform this season:

American League

MVP Jose Altuve could join the 30/30 club this year

Jose Altuve – The smallest man in the majors has stature in the statistics. Playing half his schedule in Houston’s hitter-friendly Minute Maid Park, the fleet second baseman is coming into his prime at age 28. A 30/30 season is definitely a possibility for the three-time batting king and defending American League MVP. He’s stolen at least 30 bases five seasons in a row and led his league in hitting three times in the last four years.

Carlos Correa – Altuve’s biggest challenger for MVP honors could be his double-play partner! Though held to 109 games by injuries last season, he matched Altuve with 24 home runs and finished with a solid .315 mark. A native of Puerto Rico, he speaks the same language as the Venezuelan who plays next to him and may have a higher ceiling at age 23.

Jose Ramirez – Another little infielder with a big bat, this Dominican switch-hitter provides plenty of power for the contending Cleveland Indians. Even though he split time between second and third, he didn’t miss a beat with the bat, leading the American League with 56 doubles en route to a .318 finish that made him an MVP contender too. If he learns to hit more home runs at home, the 25-year-old Ramirez will be even more dangerous. He hit 10 at home, 19 on the road last summer.

Francisco Lindor – Like the Astros, the Indians begin 2018 with side-by-side infield studs from Latin America. A Dominican shortstop who once considered practicing dentistry, the switch-hitting slugger collected a career-best 33 homers last season. Look for him to boost his .273 batting average back to the .300 plateau, where it resided in his two previous seasons.

Shortstop Francisco Lindor is the anchor of the Indians infield
Credit: Frank Hyatt

Carlos Carrasco – Overshadowed by the Latino sluggers on his own team, this 31-year-old Venezuelan righthander tied for the American League lead with 18 wins for the Indians. If Terry Francona didn’t depend so heavily on his bullpen, Carrasco could win 20. He had more whiffs than innings last year and a solid 3.29 ERA.

Gary Sanchez – Though he had some issues with passed balls, this 25-year-old Puerto Rican pounded 33 homers in 122 games and could be even better with the addition of Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankee lineup.

Luis Severino – Save for a first-inning meltdown during the 2017 playoffs, this Dominican righty came into his own in his first full Yankee summer. He made 31 starts en route to a 14-6 record and brilliant 2.98 earned run average, third in the league. At 24, the world is his oyster.

Robinson Cano – Seattle fans wonder whether they’ve seen the best of this 35-year-old second baseman, who started his career with the Yankees. Both his average and power declined last year and his home ballpark is not conducive to aging sluggers. Still, his lefthanded swing has pushed him past the 300-homer plateau.

Nelson Cruz – Living proof that Safeco Park is no paradise for power hitters, Cruz consistently hits more home runs on the road. In fact, the 37-year-old designated hitter has done that five years in a row. Both he and Cano hail from the Dominican Republic.

King Felix seeks to stay healthy this season

Felix Hernandez – Though held to six wins in an injury-riddled campaign, King Felix is far from the form that netted a Cy Young Award. At age 32, the righty from Venezuela has 160 wins and a terrific 3.20 career ERA but has watched his win total decline for three straight years.

Sal Perez – The league’s best defensive catcher, this righthanded Venezuelan powered a career-best 27 homers last year while playing half his schedule in an unfriendly park. Though he’s only 28, Perez will be easier to pitch to now that free agent losses have crippled the Royals.

Adrian Beltre – The Texas Rangers have a treasure at third base. Gifted with the glove and the bat, Beltre will probably join the 500 Home Run Club in 2019. He’s virtually certain to appear in the lineup more often, even at age 39, after playing in just 94 games a year ago.

Jose Abreu – The 31-year-old anchor of the White Sox attack, this Cuban first baseman has hit at least 30 homers three times in his four-year career with the club. His righthanded bat would be a godsend in Boston, which spent the winter trying to trade for him and hasn’t given up.

Albert Pujols – Like Beltre, he’s on the fast track to the Hall of Fame. But he’s only a shadow of the star who smashed his way to three MVP awards. He hit a career-low .241 last year and watched his home run total dwindle for the third year in a row. The Angels now regret giving the Dominican first baseman a nine-year contract.

How much does Albert Pujols have left?
Credit: Lisa Luevanos

National League

Jose Quintana – This veteran lefthander thrived after the White Sox sent him crosstown to the Cubs last summer. He’s never won more than 13 games in a season but this could be the year. Unless Julio Teheran recaptures his former form in Atlanta, the 29-year-old Quintana will be the most significant Colombian pitcher in the major leagues.

Carlos Martinez – After a 16-win season two years ago, this Dominican righthander is primed for a big comeback. He’s likely to inherit the mantle of mound leadership the aging Adam Wainwright is relinquishing in St. Louis.

Marcell Ozuna – Speaking of the Cardinals, they probably pulled the heist of the winter by prying this prized outfielder away from the moribund Marlins. Just 27, he hit career peaks last year with a .312 average, 37 home runs, and 124 runs batted in. Packed into a better lineup, he could do even better. Plus he’s a standout centerfielder, which the Cards need.

Willson Contreras – He’s 26, versatile enough to play an outfield corner when not catching, and blessed with big-time power (21 homers in 117 games). Playing in Wrigley Field helps him and innovative Cubs manager Joe Maddon keeps him fresh. Contreras hails from Venezuela.

Ender Inciarte – Another All-Star candidate from Venezuela, Inciarte was the first 200-hit man with the Braves since Marquis Grissom in 1996. Plus he’s every bit as good in center field. The owner of consecutive Gold Gloves, Inciarte is entrenched as Atlanta’s leadoff man at age 27. He’s hoping to improve his power, which peaked at 11 home runs last year.

Ronald Acuna was Minor League Player of the Year

Ronald Acuna – Only Inciarte’s presence is keeping his fellow Venezuelan from his natural position.Voted Minor League Player of the Year by both Baseball America and USA TODAY, he was also named Most Valuable Player in the Arizona Fall League. The only rookie on this list, he is a five-tools talent already being compared to the young Andruw Jones.

Yasiel Puig – If Dave Roberts has learned to tame the enigmatic outfielder, the Dodgers won’t have to dump him after all. Puig has pop (28 homers), speed, and a powerful arm but needs to harness his demonstrative personality to reach full stardom. At 27, he has time.

Yadier Molina – The quarterback of the Cardinals since 2004, Yadi is starting to show his age (35). Though he caught 133 games, his average was off last year although his power production improved (18 homers). St. Louis pitchers rely on his Gold Glove defense and strong throwing arm.

Jeurys Familia – If he stays healthy and avoids domestic abuse charges, this Dominican fireballer could reclaim his role as one of the best righthanded closers in the game. Before the roof fell in last summer, he gave the Mets three straight seasons of more than 75 appearances and even led the National League in saves (51 in 56 chances) two years ago. At 28, he could be the most pivotal player on his club.

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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  • Chuck Simon

    Great article, Dan. It’s an exciting time to be a fan. Altuve, Lindor, Ramirez, Correa, Ender, Sanchez, Abreu, hopefully Acuna and the rest. The five tool players seem more abundant than ever and so many from abroad. Against the backdrop of the toughest pitching of all time, just wow.