Dominican Republic surpasses 100 players on Opening Day big league baseball rosters
Article Published by: azcentral.com
It’s no secret that Major League Baseball is stacked with players from the Dominican Republic, a Caribbean nation long known for producing more big league players than any other country except the U.S. despite its tiny size.
This year the Dominican Republic hit another major league milestone.
There are 102 players born in the Dominican Republic playing for major league teams this year, according to data from Major League Baseball.
Not only is that a big jump from the 84 players from the Dominican Republic playing for major league teams on Opening Day last year, but it’s also the first time a foreign country or territory has exceeded 100 players on Opening Day rosters.
This year, there are 251 players born outside the 50 U.S. states, down slightly from the 254 on Opening Day last year, according to MLB.
The 251 players born outside the 50 U.S. states come from 20 different countries or U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico.
They represent nearly 29 percent of the 882 major league players this year, including 749 active players from the 30 major league teams, each with 25-man rosters, as well as injured, suspended or restricted players.
Leading the way is the Dominican Republic. Nearly one in eight major league players this year come from the Dominican Republic, including Arizona Diamondbacks shortstop and second base player, Ketel Marte.
The spike in Dominican players this year reflects a longstanding trend dating back to the late 1970s and early 1980s.
That is when major league teams led by the Los Angeles Dodgers began opening baseball academies in the Dominican Republic to develop young baseball players, said Anthony Salazar, chair of Latino baseball committee at the Society for American Baseball Research.
Baseball is the most popular sport in the Dominican Republic and now all 30 major league clubs have baseball academies there, Salazar said.
Younger players in their teens are recruited by major league teams and hone their baseball skills at the academies in hopes of signing contracts with minor league teams affiliated with Major League Baseball, he said.
Political turmoil in Venezuela has shuttered baseball academies there
Venezuela has the second highest number of players in the big leagues, according to the latest MLB stats.
But the number of Venezuelan players fell to 68 this year from 74 last year. The Diamondbacks have three players from Venezuela on their roster; David Peralta, third baseman; Eduardo Escobar, third base; Wiilmer Flores, first base.
The decrease in major league players from Venezuela is the result of the country’s political crisis, Salazar said.
All major league teams have closed their baseball academies in Venezuela amid the growing political crisis, he said.
The closing of the academies has severed the main pipeline of Venezuelan players to the U.S. he said.
Political discontent has been rising in Venezuela for years under the country’s socialist regime and reached a boiling point this year amid efforts by political opposition to unseat the current president, Nicolas Maduro.
More than 3 million Venezuelans have fled the country in recent years.
Some Venezuelan baseball players have fled to the Dominican Republican to train after the academies closed, Salazar said. But the ongoing political crisis back home has made it difficult for them to continue their training, he said.
Cuba has the third highest number of players in Major League Baseball
Cuba has the third highest number of international players in the big leagues, with 19, according to MLB. That is two more than last year. Diamondbacks pitcher Yoan Lopez is from Cuba.
Salazar expects the number of Cuban players in the major leagues to continue to grow after the U.S. took steps to normalize relations with the country under President Barack Obama’s administration.
In the past, Cuban players had to defect to play in the United States. In December, Major League Baseball struck a deal with Cuban baseball’s governing body that allows Cuban players to sign contracts with big league teams without having to defect.
Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, has 18 players in the big leagues this year, followed by Mexico, with 8.
Mexico’s new president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a huge baseball fan, has launched a plan to make baseball the most popular sport in Mexico, above soccer.
He also wants to increase the number of Mexican players in the big leagues to between 60 and 80 by the time he leaves office in 2024.
Latinos, including those born in Latin America and within the 50 U.S. states, represent nearly a third of all major league players, up from 14% in 1991, Salazar said.
The number of Latinos managing big league teams also increased this year to four, after Charlie Montoyo was hired to manage the Toronto Blue Jays.
The other three are Rick Renteria, manager of the Chicago White Sox; Dave Martinez, manager of the Washington Nationals, and Alex Cora, the manager of the Boston Red Sox, who won the 2018 World Series Championship, defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers.
List of countries and U.S. territories with players in major leagues on Opening Day in 2019:
Dominican Republic: 102
Puerto Rico: 18
South Korea: 5
Aruba, Australia, Brazil, Germany, Lithuania, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panama, Taiwan, U.S. Virgin Islands: 1 each
About Jaime Bonetti Zeller
Jaime Bonetti Zeller is an investment professional and entrepreneur with businesses in multiple industries. He is president of Servicios Consulares Eurodom, the local partner in the Caribbean region for VFS Global, a leader global outsourcing and technology services specialist for diplomatic missions and governments worldwide. Jaime Bonetti Zeller also started the company Sofratesa de Panama inc., an organization in the engineering services industry located in Panama City.