Major League Baseball’s International Signing Day Brings Hope to Hundreds of Hispanic Players (and the Fans)

Only three of the top 50 prospects are from countries where Spanish is not the official language

Even though we’re in the middle of winter, the weather here in Illinois has been quite mild, which makes me start to think of the upcoming baseball season. As a native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I’ve always been a Brewers fan, which means that most seasons have been quite frustrating. We’ve only been in the World Series once, back in 1982, and we didn’t win it. In recent years, the team has gone to the playoffs more often than not, which has caused increased expectations. Nonetheless, the team is still in the smallest market in the country, limiting the funds it can spend on free agents. To be honest, I’m not too optimistic about our chances for the upcoming season, not because I don’t believe in the players, but rather because of some of the personnel decisions the team has made. But hope springs eternal, as they say.

And the dreams of many young players have started to materialize, as what is now known as International Signing Day has come and gone. Despite being known as “our” national pastime, the major leagues are constantly being energized by players who come from abroad. While the so-called World Series doesn’t feature any international teams, many of the players who participate are international.

As I look at the list of the top 50 prospects who were signed, what immediately calls my attention is the fact that 47 of them (or 94%) are from Spanish-speaking countries; of the other three, two are from the Bahamas and one is from South Korea. As you might expect, the Dominican Republic is the country with the highest representation, although Cubans, Mexicans, and Venezuelans are also in the mix, as are, to a lesser extent, Colombians, Nicaraguans, etc. (I’m assuming that Puerto Rican players are exempt from this process, given Puerto Rico’s status as a territory of the United States.)

The following list of players who signed with the Brewers comes from Brewers beat reporter Adam McCalvy, whose Twitter feed is a must-follow for Brewers aficionados.

International free agents signed by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2023. From Adam McCalvy, Twitter.

As mentioned in the graphic, looking at the 29 players signed by the Brewers, we see that 13 are from Venezuela, 10 are from the Dominican Republic, four come from Nicaragua, one from Colombia, and one from Mexico. Looking at where a team’s international free agents come from, you can see where their scouting is the strongest. The Brewers must have healthy relationships with Venezuelans, as many players in recent years have come from there; their pipeline to Milwaukee continues to be strong this year. Every team has been focused on the Dominican Republic for years now, as they should, and the Brewers have a good number of players from there, too. Perhaps the biggest surprise, to me, is the representation from Nicaragua, as the number of major leaguers from Central America is historically much smaller than those from the Caribbean; maybe the Brewers sense an increase in the quality of players from this region. It also appears that the Brewers don’t have any significant contacts with Cuba, despite this country’s passion for baseball. I would imagine that Cuba is still a tricky country for scouts to navigate, given its continued political climate.

As a side note, the vast majority of players signed are pitchers, short stops, or center fielders; in fact, there’s only one other player from another position, a catcher. Of course, some of these players will end up changing positions at some point, but this selection of free agents highlights the importance the team places on defending the middle of the field.

Will any of these prospects make it to the major leagues? Probably a few will. Will they do so in a Brewers uniform? It’s hard to say, given that players often get traded or released, often through no fault of their own. Adam McCalvy wrote a good article on the three most promising prospects. And Curt Hogg’s article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has some really good insights into not just the players, but also the Brewers’ international scouts and their evaluation of talent, especially in Venezuela and Nicaragua.

What we can safely say about the future of these young players is that many of them most likely don’t have a Plan B if they don’t make it. Baseball is their life. The amount of money that they sign for, hundreds of thousands of dollars or even more than a million dollars, is life changing for them and their families. And if you look at the ages of these players, they’re as young as 16 years old, the same age as my daughter. What an opportunity for them! It must also be a lot of pressure, though, not only to have to live up to high expectations and to support their families, but also to have to learn a new language and new culture, even though they probably have never left their home country.

Latino ballplayers have truly become the lifeblood of the major leagues. And that’s not changing any time soon.

What else can I say, other than that I admire these young men and wish them great success? Hopefully that success will come in a Brewers uniform.

¡Que viva el béisbol, y que vivan los Cerveceros!

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