Above: Andrelton Simmons
The Caribbean’s supreme baseball talent was on full display last month at the World Baseball Classic, when the global tournament’s final game pitted two Caribbean teams against each other: Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. And while Caribbean’ baseball excellence is nothing new, this year’s Major League Baseball season will likely see a number of Caribbean players make a significant impact.
Here are 10 players to watch, from burgeoning baseball power Curacao to established islands like the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
1. Robinson Cano, New York Yankees, Dominican Republic
Dominican Republic-born superstar Robinson Cano is in the last year of a six-year contract. Widely considered the best all-around second baseman in baseball, and one of the sport’s greatest hitters, Cano will have added pressure with the loss of several big bats — including Alex Rodriguez — from the Yankees’ lineup. But most still see him as a potential MVP candidate.
2. Andrelton Simmons, Atlanta Braves, Curacao
Just 23, Simmons (above) earned the starting shortstop nod for the Braves last year, and his play, particularly in the field, is winning rave reviews around the league.
3. Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays, Dominican Republic
The Toronto Blue Jays are poised for a big year this year, and at the core of their plans is Encarnacion, who had a breakout season last year hitting 42 home runs and driving in 110 runs. Encarnacion will be crucial if the Blue Jays want to beat out the Orioles, Yankees, Red Sox and Rays for the AL East crown.
Above: Yoenis Cespedes
4. Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland Athletics, Cuba
The Oakland Athletics surprised many in 2012 when they won the National League West, and that was in large part due to their signing of Cuba’s Yoenis Cespedis, who finished the season with 23 home runs and 82 RBI and 16 steals. He’ll have to keep that up if the A’s plan on repeating.
5. Yadier Molina, St Louis Cardinals, Puerto Rico
Like several on this list, Molina had the best year of his career in 2012, hitting 22 home runs and finishing with a .315 batting average. The Cardinals followed up their World Series win in 2011 with a loss in the NLCS. In order to return to glory, the Redbirds will need Molina’s help.
6. Jurickson Profar, Texas Rangers, Curacao
Widely regarded as the number one prospect in all of baseball, the 20-year-old native of Willemstad got the proverbial “cup of coffee” with Texas last year, appearing in nine games. Like his countryman Simmons, Profar is a shortstop, but with the Rangers having recently signed their starter, Elvis Andrus, to a long-term deal, it will be interesting to see whether Profar remains with the team or is moved in a deal for a star.
7. Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers, Dominican Republic
The native of Santo Domingo posted another stellar year in 2012, with 36 home runs and 102 runs batted in. But the Rangers lost superstar Josh Hamilton to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the offseason, and Beltre is now the most important player in the team’s lineup.
8. Yunel Escobar, Tampa Bay Rays, Cuba
Once one of the game’s rising stars, Escobar was traded twice in the offseason, ending up with the Tampa Bay Rays. He’ll be looking for a rebound season this year as the Rays look to return to the top of the AL East.
9. Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds, Cuba
The Cincinnati Reds thought long and hard about making Chapman a starting pitcher this year, but the team recently announced that Champan would remain the team’s closer. That’s a good fit, as Chapman is by far the hardest-throwing pitcher in baseball, with a recent high of 104 miles per hour.
Above: Carlos Beltran
10. Carlos Beltran, St Louis Cardinals, Puerto Rico
The elder statesman on this list, Beltran’s bat helped Puerto Rico reach the final of the WBC this year, after a season in which he (somewhat surprisingly) helped replace superstar Albert Pujols following the latter’s departure to Anaheim.