Hispanic Heritage Month 2016: The Top 10 Best Latino MLB Baseball Hitters and Positon Players Right Now
Each September Major League Baseball clubs join businesses and government entities nationwide in celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, the annual nod to Latino contributions in American history.
When President Lyndon B. Johnson introduced Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968, baseball was growing exponentially throughout Central America and Caribbean islands. Cuban players defected to the United States. So did Puerto Ricans. Mexican nationals chose MLB over the Mexican Baseball League.
Latino hitters like Minnie Miñoso, Orlando Cepeda, and Roberto Clemente were the outlier then; a fraction of a fraction of Major League ballplayers that faced far less opposition than African-Americans. Appropriately, it was Clemente who broke barriers in how Hispanic players were portrayed. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973, the same decade in which Latinos exploded on the baseball diamonds across the country
By 1990, they had four Hall of Fame inductees, two Cy Young award winners, four MVPs, five Rookie of the Year recipients. The game's popularity grew around the world as its Latino influence did.
Here are the top 10 best Latino hitters today, along with their native country. All stats come as of Sept. 19.
10. Salvador Perez (Venezuela)
As if Kansas City's All-Star catcher couldn't get any better, Perez is on pace for a career-best 51 percent caught stealing percentage this season. The three-time Gold Glover will surely earn a fourth regardless of whether the Royals defend their World Series title.
9. Robinson Cano (Dominican Republic)
Cano has progressed into the power threat Seattle envisioned three offseasons ago. The 33-year-old second baseman already matched his career-high home run total (33) from 2012 and is on pace for his best RBI output since 2013, the last year he played in the Bronx.
8. Miguel Cabrera (Venezuela)
It seems like Cabrera is in the AL MVP discussion every year, even "off years" when he borders on a .300 batting average. His .309/.387/.545 slash line may seem commonplace for Cabrera, but it would make All-Stars out of more humble players.
7. Adrian Beltre (Dominican Republic)
Beltre may be the most underrated player in baseball's modern era. A perennial MVP candidate, Beltre's been around so long - he debut in 1998 - that Texas would be happy to get any production from him. In this, his 19th year of Major League service, Beltre is batting .295 with 30 homer and 98 RBI.
6. Yadier Molina (Puerto Rico)
Every generation has an iconic catcher. From Johnny Bench to Carlton Fisk to Ivan "Pug" Rodriguez, they have left an indelible mark behind the plate. St. Louis has their in Molina, the eight-time Gold Glover winner destined for Cooperstown.
5. Manny Machado (United States)
Machado is one of the reasons Baltimore leads the AL Wild Card race. The son to a Dominican mother, Machado has already set personal records in home runs (36), RBI (93), and total bases (328). He'll be in the Silver Slugger discussion at season's end.
4. Nolan Arenado (United States)
Colorado's hidden gem broke out for 42 dingers and 130 RBI last year. Anyone who believed it a fluke, or a result of the mile-high elevation, had their argument quashed in August, when Arenado briefly held a .356 batting average. Arenado - whose parents are Cuban and Puerto Rican - carries a .934 on-base percentage and needs just four home runs to match last year's total.
3. Jose Altuve (Venezuela)
Few will argue Altuve is MLB's best all-around hitter. But his importance to Houston's lineup cannot be stressed enough. Altuve carries an AL-leading .337 batting average. His WAR (wins above replacement) and offensive WAR are second only to Los Angeles' Mike Trout. If the Astros slide into the postseason, it will be on Altuve's bat.
2. Albert Pujols (Dominican Republic)
Pujols is in the twilight of his career, relegated to DH with a few spot starts at first base, but he remains a consistent power threats. Aside from a plantar fasciitis injury that sidelined him in 2013, Pujols has remained relatively healthy, averaging 32.6 homers and 104 RBI since 2014, albeit with a sub-.280 batting average.
By this time next year, Pujols should be the newest member of MLB's 600 home run club.
1. David Ortiz (Dominican Republic)
Judging by his state line, Ortiz's farewell tour appears more line an MVP tour. The aging slugger leads the league in doubles, extra-base hits, slugging percentage, and on-base plus slugging percentage. The only guys with a better on-base percentage are named Trout and Donaldson.
That is to say, Ortiz isn't just mashing homers. He's hustling on every play, ensuring singles turn into two-baggers, and doing it with the vigor of a 25-year-old. Come October, he may go out with one last World Series ring.