Baseball Latin America – Baseball Brazil

March 20, 2013

Final Thoughts On WBC: 5 Good Things That Came Out Of It

photo credit: athleticsnation.com

The World Baseball Classic concluded yesterday with the Dominican Republic beating Puerto Rico in a 3-0 game that only punctuated how relatively level the playing field now is between some of the top national teams in the world. A lot will be said about how successful this WBC was in terms of popularity, but where the true growth in popularity counts the most right now is in the countries where the sport is evolving from being a small blip on the local sports and cultural landscape to something more.

Brazil, of course, is my go-to example of that. Even though the Brazilians didn’t have success in the W column in the first round of the WBC, the fact that they hung in tough with Japan and Cuba piqued enough Brazilians’ interests back home to dig just a littler deeper in to what was going on over in Fukuoka. Brazil now has been exposed, to itself as much as to anyone else, as a country with some baseball tradition and a huge potential talent pool into which it could tap. That’s the kind of success I’m sure that wise old man Bud Selig has envisioned.

I feel fortunate to have attended a qualifying game (Brazil vs. Panama in Panama City) and a 2nd round game (Puerto Rico vs USA in Miami) in this WBC, and I can vouch for the passion of the fans at both games. Obviously there were a lot of games played where the attendance numbered only in the hundreds, but I guess that means there’s plenty of room for improvement?

A lot of other good things happened in the 2013 WBC. Here is my top 5, in no particular ranking:

-  A team other than Japan won the championship. Don’t get me wrong, I love Team Japan. I admire their dedication to winning the WBC. I admire how their fans back them. Overall, they have dominated the WBC like no other team, they will likely continue to win future WBC’s because their devotion to it is unmatched. Nevertheless, after winning the first two WBC’s, it was time for someone else to win, and it was good that it was another baseball powerhouse like the Dominican Republic. It helped spread the wealth a little bit, which is what baseball and capitalism are all about.

- The USA wasn’t as successful as they were expected to be, but they didn’t totally bomb out either. The fact is, most American baseball fans still aren’t convinced of the WBC, and it’s not entirely their fault. The timing sucks for both American players and fans, they both need time to get warmed up for baseball. I have all kinds of opinions about how to make the WBC more interesting for Americans, but that will come later. As far as what happened this year to Team USA, they pretty much shook out as well as they could, given it’s a short tournament, with single- and double- elimination rounds that don’t allow you to get comfortable with just one team, plus they pretty much played in away game environments in Phoenix and Miami. They still didn’t make it to the semi-finals or finals, but at least they didn’t bow out in the first round either, like Venezuela did.

- The WBC final’s Caribbean flavor means a lot for baseball, but it meant even more for Puerto Rico to be in that mix. Puerto Rico is the birth place of Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda, Robbie Alomar, Pudge Rodriguez and countless other MLB legends. Lately, however, the sport has declined on La Isla due to a combination of factors, especially the inclusion of PR into the MLB draft in the last 10 years and the  local winter league barely existing anymore. As a result, Boricuas must have felt like they were getting left behind by their Dominican, Venezuelan, even Dutch Antillean counterparts. Hopefully this run in the WBC helps regain some positive vibration in the local baseball landscape. There are still a lot of challenges to the sport regaining a foothold there, but their 2nd place WBC finish couldn’t have done anything but good.

- The Dominican Republic thoroughly dominated this tournament. Team DR was en fuego the whole way, going 8-0 and showing us why MLB spends way more money farming there than any other country outside of the U.S. From top to bottom, they were the deepest team in the WBC. Their pitching staff, particularly the bullpen, literally owned opposing hitters. Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes finally stepped up and performed to their incredible abilities. Tony Pena really didn’t have to work that hard, because his team came out of the gates with passion from the first game, like they knew the whole time they were destined to win it all. What a contrast from 2009, when they had that top heavy lineup and couldn’t beat the Netherlands, twice. It’s a colossal win for the DR and it will certainly influence future generations of peloteros Dominicanos.

The future of the WBC can be bright, if they don’t screw it up. The safe bet is to leave the current format alone for 2017, but I don’t see MLB doing that. There are talks of  holding the second rounds and finals in the middle of summer instead of playing the All-Star game that year. I’d probably be on board with that because at least that means there’s a chance of more superstars playing in the WBC (especially in the case of Team USA). MLB teams naturally have a concern for players’ injuries, so even then you may not see certain guys playing because of that. Still, it would be A LOT more exciting than watching the All-Star Game.

Between now and late 2016 when the WBC qualifying rounds start, it will be interesting to see how much the sport continues to grow in countries like China, Brazil and South Africa, seeing as how those are the real emerging markets for both baseball talent and potential MLB fans. It will also be interesting to see if and when they move some of the later WBC rounds to locations other than in the U.S. and Japan. Of course, stadium facilities are always a consideration in that regard, but I’d like to see more of those rounds played in places that do have existing and even newer stadiums, such as Mexico and the DR (imagine the finals being played in Monterrey, Mexico or Santo Domingo, DR).

In the final analysis, I thought this was a successful and more interesting WBC than the previous two. Maybe because I followed it more closely, or perhaps because many of the games were close and evenly played, but something about this edition of the WBC, in my opinion, has helped it turn the corner a bit. Maybe not yet in the U.S., but someday Americans will start to care about it as long as their team keeps coming up short.

December 27, 2012

Baseball Latin America/ Baseball Brazil – Holiday 2012 Blog Post

Where else will you see Manny being Manny? photo credit: elsoldesantiago.com

Season’s greetings from Miami, where the holiday season is in full swing thanks to great family, friends and weather. I hope people have been able to keep up with the awesome Caribbean winter league action going on in places like the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Panama and Colombia. Unfortunately for us in the U.S. (and much of the rest of the world, in fact), not a whole lot of those games are televised on a daily basis outside of their respective countries. You really have to hunt around different live sports streaming sites and individual team websites to find transmissions of the games. ESPN Deportes has carried games from Venezuela and the DR this season, but it’s really only been one night a week for each league.

I personally think someone is missing out on a big opportunity by not carrying more winter ball in general, and the Mexican Pacific League and the Puerto Rico Baseball League in particular. Despite what some critics may say, all of these leagues (especially Venezuela and the DR) still have a fair amount of quality talent with some name recognition.  And with all of the other “ESPN Ocho” tier sports events clogging up much of the day, how could they not be doing a better job of consistently covering winter baseball, especially when it includes guys like Hanley Ramirez, Manny Ramirez, Elvis Andrus, Carlos Zambrano, Carlos Correa, Karim Garcia and Jorge Cantu? Those are obviously just some of the more recognizable names, but the point is that there are also a lot of other up and coming young players in the Caribbean at the moment who’d be worth watching!

The good news is that winter/spring baseball is about to get a lot busier after the new year, with the Caribbean Series in Hermosillo, Mexico coming up in early February, MLB Spring Training also starting up in February and the World Baseball Classic starting its next rounds in early March.

Meanwhile down in Brazil, most baseball has wrapped up for the year. The last major tournament to be played was the 19th Annual Adult Brazil Cup, with Atibaia beating GECEBS to take home the title. Chicago White Sox pitching prospect Andre Rienzo and former Seattle Mariners farmhand Jean Tome, who are also WBC Brazil teammates, both starred for Atibaia.

Rienzo also had a brief appearance in Venezuela this season with the Tiburones de La Guaira.  Paulo Orlando is another notable Brazilian in Venezuela currently getting playing time with the Cardenales de Lara. Super-utility player Yan Gomes (CLE) also spent some time with the Toros del Este in the DR this winter.

This will likely be my last blog post for 2012. Thanks for reading it and sorry I haven’t been able to post as often, but you can always find my more frequently updated 140 character comments on Twitter @BaseballLatAm.

Happy New Year/Feliz Año Nuevo/Feliz Ano Novo!

January 19, 2012

Baseball Latin America – The New Cuban Generation…Miami Style

Filed under: Baseball in Cuba,Baseball in the USA — Andy @ 9:25 am

 

Gaby Sanchez - photo courtesy of mlb4all.com

With all of the hoopla surrounding the impending MLB signing of the Cuban defector, outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, one has to take a step back and ponder how many of these recent arrivals from the Cuban national team and country’s pro league have really panned out. It seems like for every Livan Hernandez, there have been ten Ariel Prietos.  The simple fact is that, in the last 10 to 15 years, many of the Cubans who came from right off the island and into the big leagues have generally been ho-hum, at best.

What’s been slowly happening under the baseball public’s radar, however is the groundswell of Cuban-American talent coming out of Miami, mainly lead by the sons of immigrants who came over in the 80′s and 90′s.  Jose Canseco and Rafael Palmeiro, steroids allegations notwithstanding, were the previous generation’s successful indicators from the Miami exile community.  Over the last 50 years, this player pool has grown up with both Cuban and U.S. baseball culture combined, and it has created an interesting mix of talent and discipline on the diamond.

Look no further than Gaby Sanchez of the Miami Marlins. He’s an easy target, because he was born and raised in Miami, went to University of Miami, and now plays for the hometown Marlins. It would have been great if the Marlins had signed Albert Pujols, but their consolation prize was keeping Sanchez, who has averaged 19 home runs and a .780 OPS in a pitcher friendly stadium the last two years, at first base. Not a bad situation to be in.

Yonder Alonso - photo courtesy of milb.com

And there are others. First baseman Yonder Alonso and catcher Yasmani Grandal of the San Diego Padres were both born in Havana, but raised in Miami and also went to The U.  The only reason Alonso didn’t start for the Cincinnati Reds last season was because Joey Votto was in his way, and Grandal will figure to compete for Nick Hundley’s job behind the plate for the Padres.

Yasmani Grandal - courtesy of zimbio.com

None of these guys will have to go through the culture shock of suddenly becoming highly paid major league baseball players, unlike Cespedes, or Aroldis Chapman, or Yuniesky Maya have to do.  South Florida is proving to be the perfect incubator of Latin-American baseball. With its good weather, huge populations of Latin baseball playing communities (Cuban, Dominican, Puerto Rican, Venezuelan, etc.), ample facilities and proximity to the source, there’s no wonder that more and more baseball talent is coming out of Miami.  After all, A-Rod grew up here (also, steroids allegations notwithstanding), and even put his name on the University of Miami baseball stadium! There are legions of young Latino kids growing up in Miami now who aspire to make it to the Show, and generally have the resources and support to do it.

October 7, 2011

Yet Another Legendary Latin Baseball Scout You May Not Know: Ralph Avila

 

Ralph Avila with Tommy Lasorda - photo credit: zimbio.com

Watching the Detroit Tigers knock the Yankees out of the playoffs last night made me appreciate how much Latin talent was in both dugouts and bullpens. Think of all the names you heard last night: Cabrera, Martinez, Peralta, Ordoñez, Santiago, Benoit, and Valverde for the Tigers. Cano, Posada, Rodriguez, Garcia and Rivera for the Yankees. One name should really jump out at you, if not for the player then definitely for the player’s family: Avila. 

Alex Avila has been a great addition to this year’s Tigers team, he has done a tremendous job with a very talented pitching staff, and has handled the bat very well too. What’s even more impressive about Avila is that he is from one of the most respected Latin baseball families, and you probably wouldn’t even know it by the way he carries himself. 

It’s true that Alex’s father, Al Avila, is the assistant GM for the Tigers, and many could claim nepotism that the Tigers drafted his son. Given Alex’s performances thus far this season though, that draft pick now seems like a pretty good idea regardless of what his last name is. But Al Avila isn’t just another baseball executive. He and Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski have already had experience in building World Series championship teams with the Florida Marlins, and Al is considered one of the top Latin operations directors in the game.

But it doesn’t stop there. The real interesting story in the Avila family is Al’s father, Ralph, a longtime Latin baseball scout for the Dodgers.  Ralph’s story starts in Cuba, where he helped to overthrow the military dictatorship in the 50′s, only to see his political party lose out to Castro and the Communists. So Ralph left Cuba and then went back in the Bay of Pigs invasion. When that didn’t work out, he settled in Miami and started coaching and scouting baseball players.

It was Dodgers GM Al Campanis who hired Ralph in the early 70′s to start scouting Latin America, and eventually run its baseball academy in the Dominican Republic. You can probably credit Ralph Avila for just about every Dominican (if not overall Latin) player the Dodgers have brought through their system in the last 30+ years, including the likes of Pedro Martinez and Adrian Beltre. In fact, Ralph was the one who signed Beltre.

So when you watch Alex Avila playing against Beltre and the Texas Rangers in the ALCS, hopefully the irony will not be lost on you that Alex’s grandfather had a part in both of their careers.

September 28, 2011

XXXIX Baseball World Cup Starts This Saturday In Panama

Logo credit - IBAF

In case you missed it, the 39th IBAF Baseball World Cup begins play in Panama this Oct. 1.  The following teams will be participating: Australia, Canada, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panama, Puerto Rico, United States, and Venezuela.

Notable countries that will not be participating include Mexico, Colombia, Chinese Taipei, South Africa and Brazil. 

Some teams have already been playing warm up games in Panama this week. The tournament will be held in four different Stadiums: Rod Carew (Panama City), Remon Canteras (Aguadulce), Rico Cedeño (Chitre), and Omar Torrijos (Santiago de Veraguas). More information can be found on the XXXIX Baseball World Cup Website.

September 14, 2011

Interview with Adrian Burgos Jr., author of “Cuban Star”, the biography of Legendary Negro League Owner and Latin baseball executive Alex Pompez

Bienvenidos to contributor Ismael Nuñez. When he saw that I had posted a book review on “Cuban Star”, he offered up the interview that he did with Adrian Burgos Jr., the history professor out of University of Illinois who wrote the biography of Alex Pompez. As mentioned in the last post, Pompez was a legendary Negro League team owner who was one of the earliest pioneers in scouting Latin American and Caribbean baseball talent.

You can read the complete interview on the Baseball de World link here.

¡Gracias Isamael!

September 8, 2011

Baseball Latin America Book Review: “Cuban Star” by Adrian Burgos Jr. – The Story of Alex Pompez, famous Negro League Owner and Latin Baseball Scout

Alex Pompez

During a recent late summer vacation, I had the chance to read “Cuban Star” by Adrian Burgos Jr.  If you are a fan of history and baseball, especially Latin baseball, then you must read this book. It is the biography of Alex Pompez, a Negro League owner from the 1910s to 1940s, and later the first MLB Latin American scout, for the Giants, in the 50s and 60s.

Pompez, a mulatto Cuban-American born in Florida, was the first professional baseball team owner to look for ballplayers in the Caribbean and Latin America, first bringing over Cubans to play on his Harlem-based Negro League teams, the Cuban Stars and New York Cubans, and later signing ballplayers from  Puerto Rico, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Panama. 

As a Negro League team owner, Pompez also extensively scouted and signed some of the best African-American players of the day.  His Cuban Stars were the essentially the first to field an “integrated” team of American (albeit African-Americans) and Latin players in the professional ranks. This all coming at a time when the Jim Crow Laws were well in effect throughout the South of the U.S., and bigotry in general was still very much prevalent throughout the country.

Pompez was not only a baseball team owner; he was also one of the largest numbers racketeers in Harlem for many years.  Even though this was an illegal gambling operation for which he was eventually convicted and served time, in the context of history he was operating a fairly successful and community-charitable enterprise in a time period which did not give people of his background (i.e. mulatto Latino) very many opportunities to succeed in other professions.

Burgos writes how Pompez was one of the first baseball executives to help break down so many of the color and cultural barriers in baseball, and that he was well regarded as an upstanding and principled man when dealing with everyone he came across, especially the young Latin players he signed. Pompez is perhaps most famous for later becoming a New York (later San Francisco) Giants baseball scout, and signing the likes of Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, and the Alou brothers.  Pompez would use his eye for baseball talent, people skills, and ability to transcend between both cultures to help players acclimate to their surroundings in the U.S., which wasn’t very easy if your skin color was different and you didn’t speak the language of the U.S. in the 1950’s and 60’s.

This book is very detailed-intensive, not a surprise seeing as how Burgos is a history professor and backs up his assertions with lots of source material. Some of the commentary on the Dodger’s attempts to integrate baseball with Jackie Robinson (who played on some of Pompez’ winter barnstorming teams) are interesting when observed through the perspective of Pompez, a man who effectively lost his Negro League team with zero compensation after MLB teams began to poach players from the New York Cubans and other Negro teams.

All in all, this was a great book and I highly recommend it.

-          Andy

June 30, 2011

MLB Teams With Latin American-Specific Executives

Out of curiosity, I went through all 30 Major League Baseball teams front office lists to see how many have executives have the words “Latin American” in their title. The results were interesting and a bit surprising.

First of all, most teams have “International” executives, whether that person is in charge of Player Development, Scouting, Operations, or a combination of all those things.  Even if they don’t carry the title, every team has a Director or VP-level executive who’s in charge of international activities within their baseball operations group.

What was even more interesting, however, is how few teams have actually named someone to oversee “Latin America”, whatever that responsibility would imply. Seeing as how Latin America is a big place, and most teams also now either operate a team or an academy in places like the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, you would think that the responsibility for such an operation would be more high profile than it actually is. I guess it really doesn’t matter if your job responsibility is listed on the team’s website, but then again many teams list the names of all their ticket sales reps too.

Anyway, here’s the list of executive and their titles by team, I also noted in what place the team is currently and their record. Interesting to note that when you remove Houston, almost every team is near or above .500 and many are competing for their division:

Division Team Name Title W L place
AL East
Boston Red Sox Eddie Romero Asst. Dir., Latin American Operations/International Scouting 45 34 1
Toronto Blue Jays Marco Paddy Director, Latin American Operations 40 41 4
AL Central
Cleveland Indians Ramon Pena Director of Latin American Operations 42 37 1
Detroit Tigers Manny Crespo Director, Latin American Player Development 42 38 1
Detroit Tigers Miguel Garcia Director, Latin American Operations
AL West
Seattle Mariners Patrick Guerrero Supervisor – Latin Scouting & Coordinator 39 42 3
NL East
Atlanta Braves Rolando Petit Assistant Director of Latin American Operations 47 35 2
NL Central
Cincinnati Reds Tony Arias Director of Latin American Scouting 42 40 3
Houston Astros Felix Francisco Director of Latin American Scouting 28 53 6
Milwaukee Brewers Fernando Arango Coordinator of Latin American Scouting 44 37 1
Pittsburgh Pirates Rene Gayo Director of Latin American Scouting 40 39 4
Pittsburgh Pirates Luis Dorante Latin American Field Coordinator
NL West
Arizona Diamondbacks Junior Noboa Special Assistant to the GM/Director, Latin American Ops 44 38 2
41 39.5

June 17, 2011

Baseball Latin America: Latin Fire Power Propelling The Tigers to First Place

Tigers Manager Jim Leyland with Alex Avila and Miguel Cabrera - zimbio.com

Have you seen the Detroit Tigers lately? They are the team that is currently blowing through the American League Central, and just took over 1st place yesterday after having their way with the Cleveland Indians this week.

The Tigers are getting it done in all aspects of the game, from their starting rotation to the bullpen to the defense, but what should be getting more attention right now (sorry Justin Verlander!) is Detroit’s hitting surge.  Currently the Tigers rank in the top 5 in the AL in total runs, hits, doubles, BB, batting average, OBP, SLG, and OPS.  A big part of that is thanks to Victor Martinez, Miguel Cabrera, Alex Avila, and Jhonny Peralta.

The veteran catcher from Venezuela, V-Mart has been worth every penny since signing with the Tigers in the off season. All of the critics thought it was a waste of talent to have Martinez mostly fill the DH role, while allowing young Alex Avila to do most of the catching. Both of them proved those critics wrong so far this season. The Cuban-American (Hialeah, FL-born) Avila has put up All-Star numbers this season, and leads many offensive categories for AL catchers including doubles, triples, RBI, batting average, OBP, and OPS.

Miguel Cabrera, the still youthful veteran Venezuelan phenom, has nicely bounced back from his off-the-field trouble in spring training. In fact, he’s doing exactly what he’s supposed to be doing, which is putting up huge offensive numbers.  Finally, who’d have thought the Dominican Jhonny Peralta would have 10 home runs this season and be providing a consistent presence at short stop?

Since these guys are the top 4 in batting average on the team, I sorted them accordingly on baseball-reference.com and posted their numbers, which pretty much speak for themselves.  Add hot hitting Brennan Boesch and the emergence of speedy center fielder Austin Jackson to the mix, and the Tigers are finally hitting all cylinders like they thought they could going into this season.

Rk Pos Age G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA ▾ OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB
1 DH Victor Martinez# 32 55 224 202 28 65 19 0 6 38 0 0 18 22 .322 .371 .505 .875 145 102 3 0 0 4 2
2 1B Miguel Cabrera 28 69 298 238 50 76 18 0 13 47 1 1 53 38 .319 .443 .559 1.002 181 133 8 3 0 4 13
3 C Alex Avila* 24 58 224 194 24 59 14 3 9 38 3 0 22 52 .304 .369 .546 .916 155 106 5 1 2 5 2
4 SS Jhonny Peralta 29 61 242 218 28 65 11 2 10 35 0 2 20 39 .298 .355 .505 .860 140 110 4 1 0 3 1

June 1, 2011

World Baseball Classic To Expand To 28 Teams, Will Include Brazil, Colombia, and Nicaragua

WBC Championship Trophy - photo courtesy of mlb.com

MLB.com just announced today that the World Baseball Classic field for 2013 is set to expand to 28 teams.  The last WBC in 2009, won by Japan, had 16 teams participate.

Due to all of the new teams, there will be 12 teams that receive an automatic bid based on how they played in 2009, while the remaining 16 teams will play in a preliminary round that will actually start in the Fall of 2012. The sites of the preliminary round have yet to be determined.

In addition to the new Latin American countries that have been invited, a number of other non-traditional baseball playing countries will be participating as well, including Spain, Great Britain, the Czech Republic, France, New Zealand, Thailand, the Phillipines, and Israel.

If anything, this should greatly expand the exposure of the sport to new parts of the world. On a side note, I was surprised Argentina won’t be fielding a team, as there is a small but growing community playing baseball there now.

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