Tag Archive | "Latin America"

The Royals And Latin America

As we all know, Kansas City has carried a dismal baseball franchise since 1985. But as spring training rolls around, we have to again acknowledge how well the Royals have done in the Latin American talent market.

LatinAmericanBaseball

Everyone who pays very much attention to the Royals will directly turn there heads up to the sky and wink at their mental image of Salvador Perez, the Royals’ up and coming catcher. The Royals, though, have made some fantastic signings from Latin America. There are also some tremendous advantages to scouting in Latin America. Some of those will follow.

When you are hunting the streets of some small town in the midwest looking for the high school stadium to try to find the next Hank Aaron, you have to wait until he is 18. When you go to Latin America to try to find the future face of your franchise, the face can be younger. You can sign a 16 year old to a major league contract. So your Latin Mike Trout is more likely to begin his career just as Mike Trout did, under the age of 20.

If there is a tremendous amount of talent in some random high school in America, you probably wouldn’t be the only one to see it. Chances are, if he really is the next Ted Williams, there will be you and 29 other major league scouts sitting in the stands. The more scouts, the more money. No matter how humble a high school kid is, he will go to the highest bidder, which is generally a lot of money. In Latin America, roughly 28% of the people are in poverty. More will go for smaller amounts of money. This allows small market teams, like the Royals, to upgrade their minor league talent.

It isn’t just the Royals that do this though. On Opening Day 2012, 27.3 percent of players on Major League rosters were Latino. Teams are rightly buying into this gigantic talent base, and the Royals are very good at identifying talent in Latin America. This is why we get to have that mental image of Salvador Perez winking at us. The Major Leagues, and the Royals, have been, and will be, greatly enhanced by this pool of talent staring at us in the face. We would be idiots to ignore it.

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Hispanic Heritage in KC: Royals Are Now a Player in Latin America

A quick perusal of the Royals All-Time Hispanic Heritage Team is enough to realize that the team has not had much of a history in Latin America. The team’s system produced just one true star of Hispanic decent – Carlos Beltran – in its first 42 years.

You would think when they watched Beltran quickly bloom into a dynamic five-tool star that they would have begun searching high and low for other such talents.

But they didn’t. A few good Hispanic players came along, most of them acquired via trades. But the number, documented in a previous article, was shockingly low.

Mining Latin America for young talent just wasn’t a part of the plan. While the percentage of Latin players on major league rosters climbed to 27% last year, the Royals lagged behind.

But under Dayton Moore, that approach has changed. Signing players from Latin America is a way to augment annual draft classes and quickly bulk up a minor league system. The Royals are now one of the primary players in Latin America, competing to sign the top free agents and fill their system with dynamic prospects.

It is significant that two of the brightest hopes for the Royals future were signed in Moore’s first year on the job. Salvador Perez, from Venezuela, and Kelvin Herrera, from the Dominican Republic, shot so fast through the minor leagues that they never even showed up on rankings of top prospects.

Since then, other top Hispanic prospects have joined the organization, and the minor league system is filling up with Hispanics following in the footsteps of Perez and Herrera.

Not all will work out, obviously. The Royals dug deep into their pocketbooks to ink Noel Arguellas at the same time the Reds broke the bank to sign Aroldis Chapman. Sad to say, the Royals have not had the same success with Arguellas.

2006:

Sugar Ray Marimon (23): During the same off-season that KC signed Perez and Herrera, they also added this right-handed starter from Colombia. Shoulder problems have slowed him, but he advanced to Double-A mid-season.

2008:

Robinson Yambati (21): The Dominican righty received a mid-year promotion to High A Wilmington for his solid relief pitching. He may be following in the footsteps of Herrera.

Yordano Ventura (21): This Dominican got the start for the international team in the Futures Game, heralded as one of the hardest throwers in the minor leagues. Boasting a 100 mph heater, Ventura tore up Carolina League hitters (98 Ks in 76 innings), adjusted slowly to Double-A.

2009:

Cheslor Cuthbert (19): A pup who’s been slowly climbing the minor league ladder, Cuthbert gets rave reviews, but has yet to explode on the field. The Nicaraguan remains a top third base prospect, but hit just .240 with 7 homers at High A Wilmington.

Jorge Bonifacio (19): The Dominican outfielder rocketed out of the blocks last spring at Low A Kane County. He slowed over the season, but finished with a .282 average, 10 homers and 61 RBIs in 105 games.

2010:

Orlando Calixte (20): Looks like he has all the skills necessary to play shortstop. Hit well enough at two levels of A-ball to inspire hope for the future.

Noel Arguelles (22): This signing has been disastrous for the pitching-starved Royals. After giving the Cuban defector $7 million, the Royals had to wonder if Arguelles would ever take the field. After about a year on the sidelines nursing arm troubles, Arguelles has been essentially a batting practice pitcher at Wilmington and Northwest Arkansas. Don’t check out his numbers if you have a weak stomach: 4-14, 6.41 ERA, 1.777 WHIP.

Humberto Arteaga (18): Could follow in the footsteps of fellow Venezuelan shortstop Alcides Escobar – a tall, lanky line-drive hitter. He hit .274 for Burlington last season, but struck out a ton.

2011:

Eliar Hernandez (17): Signed for $3 million, expectations are high for the Dominican outfielder. He is tall and athletic, but failed to hit in his first professional season – .208 with no homers at Idaho Falls. The Royals hope he’ll develop into a Wil Myers-type outfielder.

Adalberto Mondesi (17): Yet another shortstop at the low minors, the son of Raul Mondesi doesn’t exactly fit the criteria for this article. Though he was signed out of the Dominican, he was actually born in Los Angeles. Mondesi spent the season at Idaho Falls, even though he didn’t turn 17 until the end of the summer.  He was solid enough considering his age; he hit .290 with 3 homers in 50 games.

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Hispanic Heritage in KC: Rojas, Beltran and Not a Lot Else

If National Hispanic Heritage Month is recognized in Kauffman Stadium, it is a holiday without a lot of history.

In mid-July, the Royals hosted an event called “Viva Los Royals,” which as far as I can tell was not connected to any relevant date on the calendar.

But if the month (Sept 15 to Oct. 15) officially designated to recognize Americans of Hispanic heritage goes unrecognized by the Royals, that would only seem fitting considering their first 40 years or so.

The lack of Mexican- and Latin-born players in the history of the team is surprising. Given that history, the team’s recent emphasis on signing players from Latin America has added significance.

Throughout the team’s history, the number of Hispanic players at positions other than middle infield is amazingly small. But the lack of Hispanic pitchers to play a significant role on the team is downright shocking.

Nonetheless, in light of National Hispanic Heritage Month, and especially considering that Hispanics are starting to play greater roles for the Royals, the contributions of Mexican- and Latin-born players deserve to be heralded.

In the Beginning:

Interestingly, considering how few Hispanics have been stars in KC, the team’s first “star,” was Puerto Rican catcher Ellie Rodriguez. Rodriguez holds the honor of being the first Royal to play in an All Star Game, in 1969.

Rodriguez aside, the Royals first true star of Hispanic heritage was Cookie Rojas. Second only to Frank White in the history of Royals’ second basemen, the Cuban Rojas played eight years (1970-1977) in KC and earned four appearances in the All Star Game.

Rojas was so popular in KC, you would think there would have been other Hispanic stars to follow. But the Royals produced only one significant home-grown Hispanic player – Onix Concepcion – during the next decade and a half.

Concepcion, from Puerto Rico, was signed by KC in 1976 and developed in the farm system. He began sharing the shortstop role with UL Washington in 1980 and is one of a collection of players to play in both World Series for the Royals.

In the meantime, the Royals did play host to one of the greatest Latin-born players in history. In 1974, future Hall-of-Famer Orlando Cepeda tried to milk one more season out of his aging Puerto Rican body. But the experiment produced just a .215 average and one homer in 33 games from one of the best sluggers of his era.

A Hispanic player did contribute perhaps the most significant play in team history. Mexican Jorge Orta benefited from a dubious call of “safe” at first in the ninth inning of the sixth game of the 1985 World Series, a game KC eventually won en route to the championship. Orta played admirably, primarily as a DH, for the Royals from 1984-1987.

Hispanics man the middle:

Not surprisingly, the Royals have fielded a number of Hispanic second basemen and shortstops since Concepcion in 1985. Many of the names may induce nightmares for Royals fans:

Angel Salazar (Venezuela), Jose Lind (Puerto Rico), Felix Jose (Dominican Republic), Jose Offerman (Domincan Republic), Carlos Febles (Dominican Republic), Rey Sanchez (Puerto Rico), Neifi Perez (Dominican Republic), Angel Berroa (Dominican Republic), Tony Pena, Jr. (Dominican Republic) and Yuniesky Betancourt (Cuba).

Many were fine fielders, but none solidified the middle infield during the dark days in KC. Current Venezuelan shortstop Alcides Escobar looks to stop the madness.

Other than Concepcion, the Royals produced almost no Hispanic talent from their own system until Puerto Rican Carlos Beltran emerged from the minor leagues in 1998. He would become the greatest Hispanic player in team history, not to mention possibly the second greatest Royal of all time.

“Nosotros Creemos:”

One of the most significant moments in Royals history was when they hired Tony Pena, Sr. to manage the team in 2002. The rallying cry “Nosotros Creemos” (“We Believe”) unified the upstart Royals for a time, but ultimately the believers’ faith was misplaced. The Dominican Pena departed in 2005 without having attracted elite Latin talent to KC, and without having produced a consistent winner.

Where are the pitchers?:

Unbelievably, the team went 20 years before a Hispanic pitcher played a significant role. Finally from 1988 to 1992, Puerto Rican Luis Aquino cracked the staff, earning 55 starts and pitching in a total of 114 games. Aquino posted a 22-19 record as a Royal.

Next came Hipolito Pichardo, from the Domincan Republic, who pitched in 281 games from 1992 to 1998. He started 49 games in his first two seasons, then converted to the bullpen. He notched a 44-39 record, and also 19 saves.

Perhaps the greatest starting pitcher in team history of Hispanic descent was not actually born in Latin America. Jose Rosado was born in New Jersey, but joined the Royals by way of Puerto Rico. He went just 37-45 in 112 starts for KC from 1996 to 2000, but his solid role on the Royals’ staff earned him two invitations to the All Star Game. Sadly, injuries ended his career at age 25.

The first Hispanic closer in team history was Roberto Hernandez. The Puerto Rican came to KC in the much-maligned Johnny Damon trade. Hernandez did notch 54 saves, but was never able to earn much fan support.

During the 2000′s, guys like Jose Santiago, Runelvys Hernandez, Miguel Asencio combined for about 15 minutes of fame. Dominican Jose Lima’s self-proclaimed “Lima Time” had an even shorter duration.

Finally, in 2007, the greatest Hispanic pitcher to wear a Royals uniform arrived. Mexican Joakim Soria ranks as one of the greatest closers in the history of a team relatively rich in closers. Soria recorded 160 saves in just five seasons and hopes to add more if he can recover from arm surgery.

I-70 Celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month:

Considered the history of Hispanic heritage in Kansas City, it would be difficult to name an All-Time Team of Hispanic players. But it’s worth a try. That team will be forthcoming on I70baseball.com.

And as the Royals finish out the season with Salvador Perez and Alcides Escobar providing some hope for the future, appreciate that the Royals are now a leader in Latin America when it comes to recruiting and developing young talent. Coming soon is a story celebrating Kansas City’s investment in Hispanic prospects.

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No Fans Of Logic

In preparation for this article I Googled “Logic vs Emotion”. The results reveal there is nothing we do as humans that do not involve both. It should be no surprise that it could be applied to the sports world. If I apply logic to the sports world I could make an argument that there is no logical reason for sports. Sports produces no tangible product, cures no diseases, grows no food, harnesses no water, and uses energy instead of producing it. However, sports has been apart of society since there has been a society. There must be something positive about it? It’s not until you add emotion to the equation that sports begins to produce tangible benefits; physical activity, competition, a focal point for community. With the exception of the physical benefits of exercise all of the benefits of sports are emotional.

Go up a couple levels and you arrive at the modern age of sports fandom. There is no logical reason to be emotionally involved in a team in which you or someone close to you is not a player. Yet, countless hours and dollars are spent watching games, attending games, and buying gear to wear to games. Last year the total revenues of Major League Baseball and the National Football League totaled an estimated $16 Billion. It’s not just a United States phenomenon; soccer hooligans roam Europe and Latin America. India and Pakistan nearly go to war over Cricket. And don’t think the United States has the monopoly on Seamheads; ever see the crowd at a baseball game in Japan? Putting sports higher on the priority list than it should transcends geography and cultures.

This evidence suggests that humans are wired to be fans of sports teams, regardless of logical flaws. However, why do humans remain fans of terrible sports teams? The Royals next opponent, the Chicago Cubs thrives on it being hip to root for “The Lovable Losers”. They are the exception. Every other perennial losing team has poor attendance, poor merchandise sales, and a poor aura surrounding them. Most humans want to be attached to a winner and all the positive energy that goes with it. There is not a line of people clamoring to jump on the Royals bandwagon.

It’s not like rooting for the Royals is a serious degradation to my physical and emotional well being. There are problems much bigger than rooting for a bad baseball team. I make the Royals go away when I need, or want them to. I choose to be a Royals fan. Logic tells me I should just quit rooting for the Kansas City Royals and pick another team. Logic says that will make my fan experience a better one. But the second paragraph establishes that having an interest in sports puts us off The Logic Reservation, and into the Wilderness of Emotion.

I know this because I’ve tried to drop the Royals and root for a more successful organization. But, no matter how many times I watch fly balls drop between two outfielders. A trash-can placed in front of the franchises only World Series Trophy (pre-Kauffman renovation). A cut off man get hit in the back with a throw. The same cut off man get taken out by a tarp. A 19 game losing streak; batting out of order; a pitcher giving up 14 runs in 3 innings. Through several 100 and 90 loss seasons, deep down, for some reason feel compelled to root for a baseball team that avoids being the most inept franchise in Major League Baseball of the last ten years because they had the benefit of playing the 2003 Tigers 19 times! (Remember them? They were in the World Series three years later while the Royals lost 100 games).

Water, Summer & Royals Baseball

The conclusion I’ve come to? Nostalgia. The same reason there are oldies channels on the radio. The same reason there are old movie channels, and ESPN Classic scattered through out the program guide. All of us want to go back and relive the good times in our childhood. It’s part of the reason I like summer, baseball, hot weather, and playing in cricks. (If you live in the north, west or urban parts of Royals Nation that’s a creek. Cardinals fans should know what a crick is.) I have said previously I was too young to remember 1985. However, I do remember the Royals being a model franchise. I have fond memories of watching and listening to the Royals with my family. Logic says you cannot turn the clock back, but emotion tells me I’d like to try. Experiences in youth help determine who we are as people. In my youth it was determined I am a Royals fan. Once you’re a fan of a team it’s your team for life. Nothing short of the franchise leaving town or contraction can change that. It is what it is, and being a Royals fan is a part of who I am.

Logic says this baseball season is going the way we thought it would, but the Emotion of rampant losing is frustration. Logic says Eric Hosmer is a good player and the cornerstone of any Royals renaissance, but the emotion of him popping up the first pitch of an at bat with the tying run at 3rd in the 9th inning is WTF! Logic says I need to turn the Royals off for a bit and explore other hobbies. Emotion says I might pretend disinterest, but I’ll still be a fan. Because fan is short for fanatic, and being a fanatic is entirely emotional.

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