Which Latino stars will shine in 2013? • Latino Sports


Which Latino stars will shine in 2013?


0000YanksMariano_Rivera4Latino stars are likely to influence all six divisional title races during the 2013 baseball season.

That’s especially true in the American League East, where the Toronto Blue Jays shook up the balance of power by placing newly-acquired speedster Jose Reyes atop a lineup anchored by fellow Dominicans Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Also new to the Jays this year is switch-hitting Melky Cabrera, who won last year’s All-Star Game MVP trophy before incurring a 50-game suspension for substance abuse.

Bautista had won consecutive home run crowns before injuries held him to just 92 games last year. At 32, he should be at the peak of his prowess — if healthy.

The Boston Red Sox have a health concern too, since David Ortiz is fighting both age (37) and injuries (heels). The enormous lefthanded hitter got into just 90 games last year but has 401 career home runs.

Robinson Cano, star second baseman of the New York Yankees, has youth on his side. At age 30, he’s the best player on his team and one of the best in the majors. The .308 lifetime hitter has good power — and a lefthanded swing made for Yankee Stadium. He’s also entering the “walk” year of his contract so he has lots on the line.

Both Cano, a Dominican, and Mariano Rivera, Panama’s gift to baseball, need big years to keep their club in contention. Injuries decimated the Yankees even before the season started.

Returning from injury this year, Venezuelan slugger Victor Martinez brings 20-homer power and a .303 career average to the Tigers den in Detroit. Used mainly as a designated hitter, he can also catch when needed.

The big gun in the Tiger cage is third baseman Miguel Cabrera, who won the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award after taking the first Triple Crown since 1967. A righthanded slugger from Maracay, Venezuela, he hit .330 with personal peaks in home runs (44) and RBI (139). He’s won two consecutive batting crowns too.

The man most likely to challenge for the elusive Triple Crown is Angels first baseman Albert Pujols. Even after a slow adjustment to the American League, he kept his career average at .325. He’s hit at least 30 home runs in a dozen straight seasons and would also have 12 straight 100-RBI campaigns if he hadn’t missed by one in 2011. At 33, Pujols could challenge Cabrera and Angels teammate Mike Trout for MVP honors this fall.

Two more Dominicans, third baseman Adrian Beltre and outfielder Nelson Cruz, help power the Texas Rangers, who could be challenge in the AL West by the revamped Seattle Mariners.

Cuban refugee Kendrys Morales, acquired from the Angels, had a 34-homer season for the Angels four years ago and could recapture that form now that his health has stabilized. The M’s also think ex-Yankee Jesus Montero, a Venezuelan catcher, will show more power as he matures. In his first full season, he had 15 homers in 135 games.

The Chicago White Sox would love another 25-homer campaign from Dayan Viciedo, an outfielder with a Kirby Puckett physique, and continued defensive wizardy from fellow Cuban defector Alexei Ramirez, a slick shortstop. Unfortunately, his home run totals have declined for three straight seasons.

Another Cuban shortstop, Yunel Escobar, tries to restore his tarnished reputation in Tampa Bay, usually a healing place for retread projects. Traded four times in three seasons, Escobar swings a solid bat with some pop and is a flashy fielder.

The up-and-coming Kansas City Royals believe Salvador Perez, their Venezuelan catcher, will again couple a .300 bat with strong defensive and game-calling skills. Injuries kept him out for most of last year’s first half.

The leading Latino pitchers in the Junior Circuit are virtually certain to be the same as they were last year: righthanders Felix Hernandez (Venezuela) of the Seattle Mariners and Fernando Rodney (Dominican) of the Rays. King Felix, who previously won a Cy Young, pitched a perfect game against Tampa Bay last summer but Rodney rated the award last year with an unbelievable 0.60 earned run average and 48 saves.

Leading Latins in the National League seem to be concentrated in California, where the Los Angeles Dodgers hope Dominican infielder Hanley Ramirez returns healthy after tearing a thumb ligament during the World Baseball Classic.

Three Latins in San Francisco livery will try to fend off the Dodger challenge in the NL West. Without second baseman Marco Scutaro and third baseman Pablo (Panda) Sandoval, the Giants would not have won their second World Championship in the last three years. The Venezuelan infielders get a strong assist from ex-Met Angel Pagan, an outfielder from Puerto Rico.

Two more Puerto Ricans, catcher Yadier Molina and centerfielder Carlos Beltran, are keys to the Cardinals’ hopes in the NL Central. Molina, a frequent All-Star, is especially strong on defense, while Beltran is a switch-hitting slugger who battles balky knees as well as opposing pitchers.

Although his club could land in the basement of the NL West, Venezuelan import Carlos Gonzalez is a Triple Crown threat who bats lefthanded. He won a batting crown three years ago but has youth on his side: he won’t hit 28 til October.

Aramis Ramirez, an offense-oriented third baseman from the Dominican, should have much to say about Milwaukee’s title hopes in the Central Division but the slugging of Alfonso Soriano (Venezuela) won’t matter match unless he finally escapes the clutches of the penurial Cubs. At least the long-suffering Chicago fans will be entertained by the antics of acrobatic shortstop Starlin Castro, who played the complete 162-game schedule last year.

Occasional headlines could come from Arizona, which landed versatile Venezuelan Martin Prado from Atlanta and Washington, where catcher Wilson Ramos (also Venezuelan)  has yet to make his mark.

The best Latino pitchers in the National League could represent the Reds: starter Johnny Cueto (19-9, 2.78 as a Cy Young contender last year) and lefty closer Aroldis Chapman (5-5, 38 saves, 1.51). They hail from the Dominican and Cuba, respectively.

Flamethrowing righthander Rafael Soriano, late of the Yankees, will silence foes as the new closer for Washington manager Davey Johnson. The Dominican’s arrival as a free agent plugs the lone weakness on the Nationals roster.

Mexico’s Yovani Gallardo will be a Milwaukee mainstay with Wandy Rodriguez likely to be a big help to the young-and-hungry Pittsburgh Pirates. The Dominican lefthander got tired of waving his magic Wandy in vain for the moribund Astros.

A healthy Jamie Garcia (Mexico) should help St. Louis, which lost Kyle Lohse and Chris Carpenter, and ex-Red Edinson Volquez (DR) should serve San Diego well.

Venezuelan Rafael Betancourt (31 saves for Colorado) and Dominican righty Santiago Casilla (25 for the Giants) are late-inning Latinos with talent.

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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