Ranking the Best Latin American Baseball Players
From rising superstar Carlos Correa to established giant Miguel Cabrera, there are no shortage of ultra-talented big leaguers vying for the top spot in the rankings of the best Latin American baseball players.
Before we run down the top 10, let's first lay out just who exactly qualifies for this list and explain what we mean by "best."
For the purpose of this exercise, only players who were born in Spanish- or Portuguese-speaking nations south of the United States were eligible for inclusion.
When it comes to the best, the idea was to rank the players who will be the most productive and make the most significant impacts in 2016.
In the ranking process, the most important factor was 2015 stats—both traditional and advanced. We also took the given player's larger body of work into consideration—especially to help distinguish between major leaguers with similar credentials.
As it turns out, Correa was the youngest player to make this list, but he wasn't the only Houston Astro who earned a spot in the club.
Unfortunately, a whole slew of seriously gifted baseball players had to be left out of the top 10 that follows. Based on the ranking criteria we just detailed, here are the standouts who came the closest to cracking the list:
- 1B Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
- 3B Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers
- 2B Robinson Cano, Seattle Mariners
- C Francisco Cervelli, Pittsburgh Pirates
- DH Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays
- CL Jeurys Familia, New York Mets
- 1B Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles Dodgers*
- RF Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies
- SS Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians
- LF Starling Marte, Pittsburgh Pirates
- DH David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox
- CL Roberto Osuna, Toronto Blue Jays
- OF David Peralta, Arizona Diamondbacks
- DH Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels
- DH Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees*
*Notes: Adrian Gonzalez was born in California, but we included him in the honorable mentions because he spent part of his childhood in Mexico. Rodriguez was born in New York, but we included him in the honorable mentions because he spent part of his childhood in the Dominican Republic.
10. CL Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees
Aroldis Chapman is the last guy any big leaguer wants to face in a high-leverage moment in the ninth inning.
Set to begin his seventh season, Chapman sports a 2.17 ERA and a strikeouts-per-nine ratio of 15.4. The secret to Chapman's success is simple: He throws utter gas.
Just take a look at the following leaderboard from MLB.com Statcast, which tracked the fastest pitches from 2015. As you'll notice, the Cuban uncorked all 50 of them, including a pair of four-seamers that clocked in at 103.9 mph.
With stuff like that, there was just no way to leave Chapman out of the top 10.
9. SP Johnny Cueto, San Francisco Giants
There's no avoiding it: The second half of 2015 didn't exactly go to plan for Johnny Cueto.
In 13 starts for the Kansas City Royals, the Dominican ran up a 4.76 ERA. But even with that shaky run, Cueto can still claim to be one of the nastiest big league starters in recent memory.
According to Aaron Gleeman of NBCSports.com, the right-hander has a 2.71 ERA since the beginning of 2011. As Gleeman noted, that's the second-best mark in MLB only to Clayton Kershaw, who owns a 2.11 ERA during that stretch.
And now Cueto is back in the familiar confines of the National League with the San Francisco Giants.
8. RF Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays
Jose Bautista was the author of the coolest moment in last fall's postseason.
He wrote for the Players' Tribune about his epic bat flip against the Texas Rangers in the American League Division Series: "There was no script. I didn’t plan it. It just happened."
He's also the author of some scary-good numbers during his run with the Toronto Blue Jays. Last year, Joey Bats totaled at least 40 home runs for the third time in his career and posted a .536 slugging percentage while landing in eighth place on the AL MVP ballot.
The only reason why Bautista doesn't end up higher on this list is that at this point, the 35-year-old Dominican is a one-tool threat. But that tool—his power—is no joke.
7. RF Nelson Cruz, Seattle Mariners
Like Jose Bautista, Nelson Cruz is a 35-year-old right fielder who can put a charge into a baseball.
After all, the Seattle Mariners masher has gone yard at least 40 times in each of the past two seasons and has been an All-Star in each of the past three.
While there were many similarities between Bautista and Cruz, ultimately it was a simple call to give the latter the edge. In 2015, Cruz topped Bautista in homers, slugging percentage, OPS and WAR, according to FanGraphs.
Based on the way he raked a season ago, 2016 is setting up to be a monster year for the Dominican. In 2015, Cruz posted full-season career bests in homers, OBP, OPS and OPS+.
6. 2B Jose Altuve, Houston Astros
Jose Altuve is the first of two Houston Astros to hit this list.
The primary reason why the 5'6" second baseman earns this berth in the rankings is that he's one of the purest hitters on the planet. In five seasons with the Astros, he's swung at a clip of .305.
But he's not just about his bat.
The Venezuelan also boasts sneaky-good power (at least 40 doubles in both 2014 and 2015), impressive wheels (at least 33 steals in each of the past four seasons) and strong defensive skills (a 2015 Gold Glove winner).
Last season, Altuve finished in 10th place in AL MVP voting. This year, it would be a shock if he didn't end up even higher on the ballot.
5. SP Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners
If it feels like Felix Hernandez has been dealing forever, that's because he has.
The righty arrived in the Pacific Northwest way back in 2005 when he was just a 19-year-old prodigy. Now 29 years old (30 on April 8) and beginning his 12th season, the Venezuelan has long since cemented his status as one of the premier hurlers in MLB.
Hernandez is a six-time All-Star, the owner of the 2010 AL Cy Young Award and has cleared the 200-innings plateau in each of the past eight seasons. Over the past four years, the M's ace has been consistently great. During that stretch, King Felix has never finished lower than eighth on the Cy Young ballot.
4. CF/LF Yoenis Cespedes, New York Mets
Yoenis Cespedes is a flat-out game-changer.
Just think back to last summer when he ignited the New York Mets—slugging 17 homers in 57 games—following his trade to the NL East squad.
“Every time he comes up, you know there is a possibility that some damage will be done,” Kansas City Royals left fielder Alex Gordon told David Waldstein of the New York Times after the Royals met New York in the World Series rematch that was the 2016 season opener.
What gives Cespedes the No. 4 spot is his ability to do damage with his bat and his cannon of a right arm. The advanced stats also look kindly on La Potencia's all-around game. Last season, the Cuban posted the seventh-highest WAR among all position players, per FanGraphs.
3. SP Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins
Jose Fernandez is the definition of electric.
Greg Cote of the Miami Herald summed up the dynamic starter perfectly: "[Fernandez] throws fastballs so hard they all but leave a vapor trail and make catcher’s mitts smoke."
In 47 career starts for the Miami Marlins, the Cuban righty has owned the opposition by limiting them to a .198 average. During his brief career, Fernandez has reeled off a 2.40 ERA and racked up 336 strikeouts in 289 innings of work.
When it comes to the 23-year-old, the only demerit on his record is that he's struggled to stay on the mound. Courtesy of Tommy John surgery, Fernandez stepped to the hill just 19 times total during the 2014 and 2015 seasons.
But as 2016 rolls along, the South Beach ace is back to 100 percent health, per Cote. Still, the Fish will play it safe. According to Craig Davis of the Sun Sentinel, Miami will limit him to 180 frames—and all 180 promise to be must-watch theater.
2. SS Carlos Correa, Houston Astros
At 21 years old, Carlos Correa is by far the youngest player on this list. Entering just his first full season, he's also by far the least experienced.
But he lands in the No. 2 spot in these rankings because his natural talent is nearly unmatched.
"If he stays healthy, he is going to be the biggest star in baseball very soon," Jose Altuve told Bleacher Report's Scott Miller.
That's some lofty praise from his teammate and fellow middle infielder with the Houston Astros, but it's easy enough to understand why Altuve would make such a claim.
Correa stormed onto the scene last June and put up some crazy-good numbers for the Astros.
In just 99 contests, Correa crushed 22 homers, posted a .512 slugging percentage and tallied 14 steals. Based on that showing, the Puerto Rican shortstop is about to put up one remarkable stat line in his first full campaign in the bigs.
1. 1B Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
Miguel Cabrera has been so good for so long that the 32-year-old Venezuelan has actually become underappreciated.
"It's just amazing how you become so used to Miggy having ridiculous success all the time that it almost goes unnoticed," Tigers third baseman Nick Castellanos said, per Katie Strang of ESPN.com.
Last season, Cabrera snagged the AL batting title despite the fact he was dealing with back, ankle and calf ailments. For Miggy, the batting title was his fourth and added to an unreal resume that also includes 10 All-Star nods, two AL MVP trophies and a Triple Crown.
But it's not just that staggering list of accomplishments that earns Cabrera the No. 1 spot on this list. It's also the fact that after undergoing offseason surgeries in each of the past two winters, Cabrera is finally 100 percent as 2016 kicks into gear.
If you want to talk baseball, find me on Twitter @KarlBuscheck.