By Yusseff Díaz
Today, we put together a team of the best Cuban-American MLB players of all-time. Let’s take a look at who makes the team.
Earlier this month I wrote a two-part series about the best Cuban MLB players of all-time, but I wasn’t satisfied. I decided to add a third installment to this and it might wake up interest in the fans of our country’s pastime. For over 60 years in south and central Florida this subculture has formed due to their migration and escape from a brutal dictatorship. Cuban-Americans are a big part of the communities in the city of Miami and Tampa.
This group of migrants has become a force in the United States and from what I’ve witnessed during the lifetime they also have become a force in the game of baseball placing plenty of star power in the big leagues. Being a member of this subculture and escaping the Castro regime in 1980, this article really woke up my interest and I did a lot of research on the subject matter before deciding to publish this piece.
In the following article I’m going to illustrate the contribution of this underestimated community to our national pastime. Every person selected for this team meets a certain criteria, they are of Cuban descent.
Alex Ávila is a native of Hialeah, Florida, and the son of Tigers general manager Al Avila. The catcher has been nicknamed “The Titanium Catcher” due to his toughness behind the plate. The veteran of 11 seasons in the big leagues was a key part of 2011-2014 and was a favorite of Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer in their Cy Young seasons in Detroit.
Although he is a career .235 hitter he has managed to slug 103 longballs and driven 386 runs. The highlight of his career is the 2011 season in which he was selected to an all-star game and won a silver slugger.
On the defensive side of the ball Ávila has been very solid compiling a .995 fielding percentage and has also thrown out 30% of the runners trying to steal on him.
Fernando Viña is the son of Cuban immigrants and had a distinguished career in the majors, during his solid 12-year career the infielder managed to garner an all-star selection and was a two-time gold glove winner during his time in St. Louis. During his career Viña hit a solid .282, which includes three seasons in which he hit over .300.
Alex González had a solid 13-year career in the majors primarily with the Toronto Bluejays and was regarded as a slick fielder with some good pop in his bat. The shortstop managed a decent .975 fielding percentage during his time in the big show and also launched 137 homeruns.
Nolan Arenado is on his way to the Hall of Fame. The son of a Guantanamo, Cuba native hits .292, slugged 246 round-trippers and has driven in 796 runs during a seven-year career. The third baseman has also garnered 8 gold gloves, 5 silver sluggers, and 5 all-star selections. Arenado is basically considered by most the best at his position for his generation and by the time he hangs up his cleats could have a bust in Cooperstown.
My first baseman would undoubtedly be Miami’s own Eric Hosmer, born to a Cuban mother and American father. Hosmer has been a solid two way player during his nine-year career in the big show. His four gold gloves and silver slugger are a testament to a solid stint in the majors. For his career the lefty hits .278 with 181 dingers,800 runs batted in, and more than 1,400 hits.
My centerfielder Jon Jay has been the consummate pro and a very productive leadoff hitter. In his 10 year career Jay has over 1,000 hits and an above-average .350 OBP. The Miami born son of Cuban immigrants has a solid .996 fielding percentage and 34 assists during that time.
Luis González had a borderline Hall of Fame career during his 19 years in the big show. The sometimes left fielder accumulated more than 2,500 hits, 350 homers, and 1400 RBI’s. The Tampa, Florida native is a five-time all-star and won a silver slugger during his immaculate 2001 season, a year in which he slugged 57 bombs and had the deciding hit in game seven of the World Series against the great Mariano Rivera.
When it is all said and done Julio Daniel Martinez might end up being the best Cuban-American hitter of his generation. After an inauspicious start to his career, Martinez has transformed into possibly a once in a lifetime hitter. During his 9 year career he has a robust .294 average and has slugged 231 longballs. His more than 1,100 hits and a slash line of .357/.537/.894 have him halfway to a Hall of Fame induction. He is also a three-time all-star and was nominated for a gold glove in 2015 and although he didn’t win he’s a more than capable right fielder.
Raul Ibáñez was a professional hitter in the definition of the word. His more than 2,000 base knocks and 300 dingers support that argument. Although he was only elected to one all-star his bat was very feared for years. His more than 1,200 RBI’s include four seasons with at least 100 driven in. For his career he averages more than 23 homers and 90 runs batted in per campaign to go along with a solid .272 average. Ibáñez also has the distinction of pinch-hitting for Alex Rodríguez in a playoff game, an at-bat in which he homered against Baltimore’s Jim Johnson.
My righty would definitely be South Florida’s own Alex Fernández, the ex-UM star won more than 100 games during his 10-year career although he never was selected to a midsummer classic he did finish sixth in 1997 Cy Young. During that same season he was a key component to the Florida Marlins world championship run. If his career wasn’t cut short by arm injuries he might have been at least a borderline HOFer.
Gio González is my southpaw, the Hialeah, Florida native is arguably one of the best lefties of his generation. During his 12 year run in the big leagues he’s won 130 games and led the National League in wins with 21 in 2012. His 3.70 earned run average more than 1,800 K’s have been stellar. González also won 131 games during his time in the big leagues.
Another ex-Um star is my closer, Chris Pérez was dominant for the Cleveland Indians 2010-2014 saving at least 20 or more games a season during that span and also garnering two all-star selections. In total the righty posted a 3.51 ERA and saved 133 games during his brief career which was derailed by drug problems.