Just like everything else in baseball, signing international prospects can be tricky business. The Atlanta Braves made big news recently when they signed sixteen year old Venezuelan shortstop Kevin Maitan, rated the number one international amateur prospect. Maitan signed for $4.25 million. It was the crowning jewel for the Braves that saw the signing of 13 prospects.
Reports compare Maitan to Miguel Cabrera. My experience is that accolades like that usually come from the scout who signed him (job security). However, if Maitan becomes the future third baseman for the Braves, he will usurp the $33 million bust named Hector Olivera.
When we think of international players, the first country that comes to mind is the Dominican Republic. But Venezuela has had its share of fine players as well. With that in mind, and in celebration of the Braves’ landing Maitan, I present my “Top 5 Major League baseball players from Venezuela.”
5.) Felix Hernandez, Valencia
It might be premature to put “King” Felix on this list, but his list of accomplishments are staggering: 143 wins before his 30th birthday, six-time American League All star, 19 wins in 2009, 18 in 2015 and a 2010 American League Cy Young Award.
He has also won the AL ERA title twice with a 2.27 ERA in 2010 and a miniscule 2.14 ERA in 2014.
He’s on my list. He just may end up with Hall of Fame numbers.
4.) Omar Vizquel, Caracas
Vizquel’s 24 year major league career saw stops in Seattle, Cleveland, San Francisco, Texas, Chicago (White Sox) and Toronto, but his years with the fine Cleveland teams in the 90’s are what we remember most.
Vizquel has the highest fielding percentage (.985) among all major league shortstops and has won 11 Gold Gloves. Does he deserve to be in Cooperstown? Damn right! He fell only 122 hits short of 3,000 in his career.
3.) Dave Conception, Ocumare de la Costa
Most of us remember the “big guns” on the great Cincinnati Reds teams of the 1970’s: Bench, Rose, Perez, Morgan. However, no talk of the “Big Red Machine” is complete without Conception.
The great Cincinnati shortstop played 19 years with the Reds, was an All-Star nine times, a Gold Glove winner five times and was on the World Series championship team in 1975 and 1976.
If another former Reds’ shortstop, Barry Larkin (who deserves it), is in the Hall of Fame, Conception should be given consideration, as well.
2.) Luis Aparicio, Maracaibo
Luis Aparicio won the 1956 AL Rookie of the Year and led the AL in stolen bases each seasons from 1956-to-64.
He also was one of the key members of the 1966 Baltimore Orioles, who swept the Los Angeles Dodgers in four games to win the World Series.
Aparicio had 506 stolen bases and over 2600 hits during a spectacular 18 year career that included stops with the Orioles, White Sox and Red Sox. He was the first native of Venezuela to go into the Baseball Hall of Fame when he was enshrined in 1984.
1.) Miguel Cabrera, Maracay
Cabrera’s career began in 2003 with the Florida Marlins. In 2012, he became the first player to win the Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.
That 2012 season saw Cabrera hit .330 with 44 homers and 139 RBIs. The following year, he hit .348! He’s in his 14th year in the Majors and is a career .320 hitter.
Baring an injury, he will pass the 500 homer mark within the next three years. Cabrera is a two-time MVP, 10 time All Star and a lock for the Hall of Fame.
There has never been a stronger contingent of international players making their way into pro baseball. Within the next 10-15 years this list will certainly change. And yes, Braves fans, I know I left Andres Galarraga off the list.