Today we continue to honor the World Baseball Classic with another entry in our ongoing series, in which we come up with an “All-Time Team” for as many of the participating nations as we can. Here’s the team for Puerto Rico – the land of mofongo, Menudo and Molinas.
The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico currently boasts the second highest number of MLB players among Latin American countries and has been feeding the talent pipeline for decades, starting with pitcher Hi Bithorn in 1942. Since then, we’ve seen 225 native Boricuas play big league ball, two of whom are now enshrined in Cooperstown. Sometime in the next decade, you’d imagine that the number will at least double when Roberto Alomar and Pudge Rodriguez rightly find their places in the Hall’s Plaque Gallery.
With so much talent, especially at the catching, first base, and outfield spots, there were a lot of close calls when constructing this team. But here’s the lineup that we came up with:
The Puerto Rican lineup has several strengths. For one, their catching depth is incredible. In addition to Pudge, there’s Jorge Posada, Javy Lopez, Benito Santiago, and of course, the Catching Molinas. The outfield trio of Juan-Gone, Beltran and Clemente has a good blend of power and defense with Bernie Williams and Jose Cruz Sr. to back them up. And despite his faults as a human being, Roberto Alomar was the player I wished to emulate most in my early teens. Felix Millan may have been the more likable guy, but Alomar was the far superior second baseman.
Now to defend my pick at third base. Yes, Edgar Martinez was a DH for most of his career. But we haven’t been creating DH spots throughout these “All-time” posts and I’m not going to start now. Martinez played 563 games at the hot corner, and that’s where I’m putting the guy because it’d be rather foolish to leave a player of his caliber off. And while it’s true that he was born in New York, he was raised in Puerto Rico.
Aside from a weak spot at shortstop, the Puerto Rican lineup is very potent. Imagine a batting order of Alomar-Beltran-Clemente-Cepeda followed by Pudge, Edgar Martinez and Juan Gonzalez. And you still have Carlos Delgado as your lefty pinch-hitter. Not too shabby, wouldn’t you say? If this were for real, this aspect of the team will make or break them since their pitching is going to be a weak spot.
While not a bad group per se, it’s definitely not up to the caliber of their offense. There’s one Cy Young winner among them (Guillermo Hernandez) and it was really due to a fluke season (Hernandez also won the AL MVP that year). The rotation basically consists of league average pitchers, though I’m giving Hi Bithorn extra points for being the first Puerto Rican to play in MLB.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I did not mention Jose Oquendo, one of my favorite players growing up. Oquendo was not a great player by any means, ending up with a career .317 SLG. But the man played all nine positions in his career, and for that, he will always have my utmost respect, and a place as the utilityman on this All-Puerto Rican Team.
Final Verdict: Puerto Rican baseball fans have much to be proud of. Not only have they produced a player like Clemente who deserves immortality, the current crop of young MLB players such as Mike Aviles, Jonathan Sanchez, and Geovany Soto have the talent to join this All-Time squad in several more years. But even as it currently stands, their offense could easily average six runs scored per game.