Latino dominance over the last two decades in Major League Baseball will be punctuated in 2019 when two Hispanic super stars will be inducted at Cooperstown in the same class. Legendary New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera was elected to the Hall of Fame unanimously on his first year of eligibility, a feat never before accomplished. The son of a humble fisherman, Rivera’s next career move could be to run for president in his native Panama. His popularity there would insure a landslide victory, but Mariano is more likely to work with kids behind the scenes as the ideal role model.
The HOF trek took a bit longer for Edgar Martinez, born in Manhattan but who grew up in Dorado, Puerto Rico and reared by his grandparents. Martinez taught himself English and was attracted to baseball through his idol, the great Roberto Clemente. Edgar was never regarded as a “can’t miss” prospect, eventually signing with the Seattle Mariners for a paltry $4,000. That said, Martinez was a blue-collar player with a tremendous work ethic and became the game’s most feared Designated Hitter. The fact that both Rivera and Martinez played for only one team throughout their lengthy careers serves as testimony to their unique value and the respect received from their teammates.
Within the next few years, Latinos will be punching their tickets to Cooperstown in bunches. David “Big Papi” Ortiz and Adrian Beltre. both now retired, will be immediately enshrined once eligible. Then there are time-tested players like Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina. All these guys, clearly in the twilight of their careers, are still heroes destined for special recognition for their many accomplishments.
Now we are starting to see a first glimpse of young guns who are already making an impact in 2019. What do most of these kids have in common? Great bloodlines. Let’s take a look at the top five players who are expected to carry their teams in 2019. In fact, it’s already happening.
Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres
This young man is such a special player, the Padres threw away an extra year of team control so he could start at shortstop on opening day. Even Padre stars like Eric Hosmer and the newly acquired Manny Machado lobbied for this kid, taking majority owner Ron Fowler out for dinner to make their case. Tatis Jr. is taller and thinner than his pop Fernando Sr. But he swings the same power bat and is much more athletic than his dad. He plays a premium position with ease and can run like a deer. If he can stay healthy (already nursing a strained hamstring), Fernando will anchor an infield that might be the best in baseball for the next 10 years.
Vlad Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays
Major League Baseball’s #1 prospect says he’s ready to do some damage, and he presents a good argument. Although slowed down with an oblique injury during spring training, the 20 year old third baseman for the Toronto Blue Jays has put up video game numbers at Triple A with a line of .344/.432/594 at the plate, and recently made his big league debut with a bang. Canadian fans loved Vlad Sr. in Montreal and he’s an Expo in the HOF. Vlad Jr. was born there and holds duel Dominican Republic/Canadian citizenship. So while the Jays aren’t expected to contend this season, all of Toronto is excited to see this new franchise face lead the way. Guerrero has nothing more to prove.
Adalberto Mondesi, Kansas City Royals
The son of former Dodger Raul Mondesi was part of the Royals championship team as a teenager. The road has been a bit rocky since, including a PED suspension and a series of injuries. But the slick fielding shortstop is starting to put things together, and nobody can match his blazing speed. Last season Mondesi stole 38 bases. This year he’s on pace to at least equal that mark and leads the AL in triples (4). Adalberto has also hit an inside the park home run and cruised home on a wild pitch from second base. In an era when the running game seems to be a lost art, the excitement Mondesi creates is definitely worth the price of admission.
Ronald Acuña Jr., Atlanta Braves
This Venezuelan star, along with Ozzie Albies and Ender Inciarte, are proof that the Braves will be permanent contenders in the NL East for many years to come. Acuña Jr. set the stage last season by launching 27 bombs with a .914 OPS in winning the National League ROY honors. And at the tender age of 21, there are zero signs of a sophomore jinx in 2019. Atlanta’s left-fielder has been installed as the team’s cleanup hitter and he’s already signed a $100 million contract extension through 2027. While Acuña’s father and grandfather played in the minor leagues, cousins Alcides Escobar and Kelvin Escobar have enjoyed lucrative major league careers.
Eloy Jimenez, Chicago White Sox
The White Sox 25 man roster is stacked with 15 Hispanic players, which is great for the team’s ethnic fan base on the south and west side of the city. The X-Factor for the rebuilding franchise was clearly placed on the shoulders of Eloy Jimenez, who signed a $43 million contract before he ever played a single game in a Sox uniform. Why? His extraordinary potential as a power-hitting phenom. Thus far in 2019, the offensive numbers have been just average, but a defensive mishap in left field has sidelined the 22 year old rookie with an ankle sprain that has landed him on the DL. Still, this kid is projected to produce eye-popping numbers down the road and scouts say Jimenez is well worth the money once he returns and settles in.
Washington Nationals fans might be bitter because we didn’t include their baby-faced corner outfielders in the top five mix. Well, chill out, folks. Juan Soto, 20 and Victor Robles, 22, are definitely legit and grew up on the sandlots in the Dominican Republic with Tatis and Guerrero. Call it a fraternity of exceptional talent, guys who hung out in the clubhouse as kids and now it’s their turn to shine. Great genes create iconic players.