Game will be running a series of articles and blogs leading up to the
first-ever Perfect Game Caribbean Showcase, to be held Nov. 16-18 at
Roberto Clemente Stadium in Carolina, P.R. The accompanying story
deals with Puerto Rico’s impact on the baseball draft through the
1989, young baseball players from the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico
fell under the same rules for entering the professional baseball
ranks that their peers in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and other
Latin American countries still enjoy today. It was an open market,
with major-league teams free to develop and sign players as
aggressively as their organizational desires and resources dictated.
mid- to late-1980s produced arguably the finest group of talent ever
to come from Puerto Rico, or any other locale for that matter.
Following is a partial list of Puerto Rican players who signed
professionally in the years right before the draft rules were
Bernie Williams (1985)
Orlando Merced (1985)
Roberto Alomar (1985)
Carlos Baerga (1985)
Jose Valentin (1986)
Juan Gonzalez (1986)
Javy Lopez (1987)
Jose Hernandez (1987)
Carlos Delgado (1988)
Pudge Rodriguez (1988)
Jorge Posada (signed in 1990 out of a U.S. junior college, but
eligible out of a Puerto Rico high school in 1988)
those players were viewed as significant prospects at the time they
signed, and not surprisingly went on to enjoy productive major-league
careers. Most signed for bonuses consistent with their talent, and
with signing bonuses to all first-year players rising at an alarming
rate at the time, Major League Baseball unilaterally decided to
incorporate Puerto Ricans into the draft eligibility pool, right
alongside high-school and college players from the United States.
They have been classified the same way ever since.
League Baseball was never forthright about its reasons for including
Puerto Ricans in the draft, but the underlying reasons were myriad,
and generally ran along the lines of controlling costs and giving
teams equal access to talent.
than 20 years later, you’d have a better chance of finding a
snowman on a street corner in San Juan than finding anyone in Puerto
Rico that feels this change has been a benefit to baseball on the
The New York Times covered the history and perceived effect of the change
in draft rules in a January, 2012 article that is required reading if
one wishes to understand the subject in greater depth.
inescapable fact is that, over a 20-plus year span beginning 1989,
when outfielder Ed Larregui was selected in the seventh round by the
Chicago Cubs to become the first Puerto Rican drafted, the island has
become a relative desert for producing legitimate major-league
list of the top Puerto Rican players who have entered professional
baseball since 1989 would include the likes of:
Carlos Beltran (2nd round, 1995, Royals)
Yadier Molina (4th round, 2000, Cardinals)
Javy Vasquez (4th round, 1994, Expos)
Alex Rios (1st round, 1999, Blue Jays)
Edwin Encarnacion (9th round, 2000, Rangers)
Jose Vidro (3rd round, 1992, Expos)
Angel Pagan (4th round, 1999, Mets)
to very good players, all of them. But hardly in the class of Alomar,
Williams, Rodriguez, Gonzalez, etc., the motherlode of talent
produced in just four short years preceding the draft’s adoption.
between the lines, there are two areas that further highlight the
decline in Puerto Rican talent entering professional baseball over
the last generation.
the talent flow was virtually shut off in the early- to mid-2000s.
Since 2002, there have only been three players entering the draft
from Puerto Rico that have played in the major leagues--catcher
Martin Maldonado, lefthander Xavier Cedeno and righthander Luis
Atilano. By comparison, such domestic baseball hotbeds as Iowa (8),
Connecticut (8) and Utah (6), all with smaller populations and
inherent weather disadvantages, have produced at least twice as many
future big leaguers in the same time span.
cited in the Times article, there were only 20 Puerto Ricans on 2012
Opening-Day major-league rosters.
Puerto Rico historically has rarely produced quality pitchers, for
whatever reason. Vazquez, with 163 wins and a career 42.7 WAR (Wins
Above Replacement), is easily the most-successful pitcher Puerto Rico
has ever produced. He retired following the 2011 season, but is
contemplating a comeback in 2013. His competition is not especially
stiff as 1984 Cy Young Award winner Willie Hernandez and Juan
Pizarro, who toiled mostly in the 1950s, rank second and third,
respectively with 131 and 105 wins.
Vazquez, a fifth-round pick of the Montreal Expos in 1994, there have
been only 11 Puerto Rican pitchers drafted since 1989 that have
played in the big leagues, and their 4.3 combined WAR is roughly 10
percent of Vazquez’ score alone. Essentially, Vazquez and
lefthander Pedro Feliciano are the only sustainable big-league
pitchers that Puerto Rico has produced in more than two decades.
Puerto Rican scout Frankie Thon (Astros, Rangers), the brother of
former all-star Dickie Thon, once explained to me that the reason why
there were so few Puerto Rican pitching prospects developed is that
they have the opposite mindset from a young Dominican pitcher at a
the Dominican, young pitchers just think about throwing fastballs and
throwing hard, because they know if they throw hard enough they will
get signed,” Thon once related to me. “That incentive doesn’t
apply here. Young pitchers in Puerto Rico throw way, way too many
curve balls from a young age trying to be competitive without proper
instruction. They never develop the arm strength to become
my own personal experience since 1989, which coincidently was my
first draft working in the baseball industry, there have been several
years when there wasn’t a single draft-eligible Puerto Rican
pitching prospect that touched even 90 mph.
The Tide May Be Turning
the baseball talent coming out of Puerto Rico in the first two
decades after the draft was implemented has slowed noticeably, there
are signs that the tide may be turning.
both the 2011 and 2012 drafts, the talent coming out of Puerto Rico
has been exceptional, and there are early indications that the 2013
draft class has a chance to be equally outstanding—both in terms of
high-end talent and depth of prospects. That’s more talent than has
come out of Puerto Rico in at least two decades.
2011 draft featured two of the more dynamic young talents currently
in minor-league baseball, Francisco Lindor (Indians) and Javier Baez
(Cubs), both drafted among the first 10 picks. Some might argue that
this was just a sign of the times, that both young men left Puerto
Rico for Florida high schools as young teenagers and developed their
skills in the U.S. But the fact remains that they are outstanding
talents who were born and essentially raised on the island. Puerto
Rico also produced a pair of second-round picks in the same draft in
righthander Jorge Lopez and outfielder Gabriel Rosa, and had three
other pitchers taken in the top 12 rounds.
year’s draft was a landmark one, the best-ever for Puerto Rico,
without question. Shortstop Carlos Correa became the first Puerto
Rican ever selected with the first pick overall, shattering the
former standard for highest Puerto Rican drafted, held by catcher
Ramon Castro, the 17th pick overall by the Astros in 1994.
Hard-throwing righthander J.O. Berrios also became the highest Puerto
Rican pitcher ever selected, going 32nd overall to the
Twins. He enjoyed a dominant professional debut.
Valentin, the son of former major leaguer Jose Valentin, also landed
in the supplemental first round, going 51st overall to the
Dodgers. Righthander Edwin Diaz was a third-round pick of the
Mariners, and between he and Berrios gave Puerto Rico its first-ever
pair of 95-mph prospects in one draft.
2013 class is headed by Perfect Game All-American shortstop Jan
Hernandez. He is not in Correa’s distinct class, but looks very strong and
could really emerge over the next week at the inaugural Perfect Game
strictly speculation at this point, there are rumblings in the
baseball industry that Puerto Rico’s status in the draft could be
changing within the next year. As part of the 2011 Collective
Bargaining Agreement between Major League Baseball and the MLB
Players Association, there is a provision to implement an
International/World-Wide Draft, possibly in 2014.
the parameters of this draft will be are anyone’s guess at this
point, but there is sentiment brewing behind the scenes to have
Puerto Rico removed from the conventional draft that applies to the
United States and Canada, and have it lumped with the likes of the
Dominican Republic, Venezuela and the rest of the world in a new
international draft structure.
Rico’s recent upsurge in the draft notwithstanding, such a change
might be a significant boon for baseball on the island. There has
been a notable increase in the number of baseball academies in Puerto
Rico in recent years, highlighted by the MLB-supported Puerto Rican
Baseball Academy/High School and the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy.
academies have no doubt impacted the recent surge in talent coming
from Puerto Rico, but the overriding benefit of including Puerto Rico
in a new international draft is it would give major-league
organizations an incentive to invest in the development of young
players on the island, such as occurs in the Dominican and Venezuela,
which have prospered over the last 20 years unencumbered by the same
draft legislation that has nearly crippled the flow of baseball
talent in Puerto Rico.