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A brief history of Latin American-born players in Twins baseball

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Latino players have been a huge part of the past, present, and future of the Twins

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Minnesota Twins Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

About a month ago, I heard or read somewhere that the Seattle Mariners have had a player born in Japan play for them in every season going back to 1998. That 20-year stretch is both impressive and interesting. It got me thinking about the Twins.

One thing I’ve noticed as I’ve watched the Twins for the past however many seasons is that the number of Latin-born players has seemed to be increasing. But what I didn’t realize was just how far back and how great the Latin American influence has been in the Twins history. I did a bunch of research and found a few fun facts that I just didn’t realize about the Twins.

Before doing this, I didn’t know exactly which countries were considered part of Latin America, and which weren’t. I used this list from Wikipedia for no particular reason other than it was the first one I found. Of note, when I say “Latin American Countries,” I’m including Puerto Rico even though it isn’t technically its own country.

Anyway, as a sort of jumping point into the history of Latin American born players in Twins history, I wanted to see which team has the longest streak of having Latin American born players playing on the team, similar to the Mariners streak of Japanese players. And by golly, to my surprise that team is none other than your Minnesota Twins!

The Twins have had at least one player born in a Latin American country play for them in every season going back to 1948 when they were the Washington Senators. This just BARELY edged out the Chicago White Sox who have the same streak going back to 1949. But, aside from the 1947 season, the Senators then had a Latin American born player play for them in every season from 1946-1935 too. So, since 1935, the Senators/Twins have had a player born in Latin America play for them in 82 of 83 seasons. That’s incredible!

If you were curious, the most recent team to have an all-American born squad was, surprisingly, the 1992 Detroit Tigers.

The next thought that popped into my head was, where were all these players from? So, I made a graph of it, and here it is:

That’s...a lot of Cuban born players in the late 1940’s to Mid 1970’s! My first thought was, “oh maybe that’s just the way baseball was back then,” but actually no, it wasn’t. According to this article from La Vida Baseball, the Senators and owner Clark Griffith paved the way for Cuban born players to play in MLB. From 1948 to 1955, 27 Cuban-born players made their MLB debut. Of those 27 players, a staggering 19 debuted with the Senators! That includes some legends like Zoilo Versalles and Camilo Pascual.

In the same period of time from 1956-1964, 38 more Cuban-born players debuted in the MLB, but only seven, including Tony Oliva, debuted for the Senators/Twins. #Trendsetters.

The late 1970’s to late 1990’s saw only sporadic Latin-born players on the team with the most in one season being in 1990 which had 7 players. The 1981 and 1985 squads only had one Latin-born player each in Albert Williams and Alvaro Espinoza, respectively. But since 2000, the number of Latin-born players has skyrocketed.

The 2017 squad set a Twins all-time high in Latin-born players with 15. There were only 6 teams with more Latin-born players that season.

The upward trend of Latin-born players looks only to continue in 2019 and beyond, too. Three of the bigger offseason signings were players born in Latin American countries, Jonathan Schoop (Curacao), Ronald Torreyes (Venezuela), and Nelson Cruz (Dominican Republic). Michael Pineda (Dominican Republic) will also make his Twins debut after signing before the 2018 season. Many of the team’s young stars, like Jose Berrios, Eddie Rosario, and Miguel Sano also hail from Latin America.

The next wave of Twins should keep this trend going. Six of the team’s top 20 prospects according to Minor League Ball were born in Latin American countries. Those players are Brusdar Graterol (Venezuela), Wander Javier (Dominican Republic), Luis Arraez (Venezuela), Jorge Alcala (Dominican Republic), Gilberto Celestino (Dominican Republic), and Gabriel Maciel (Brazil). If Maciel makes it to the big leagues, he would be the first Brazilian-born player to don a Twins uniform in team history.

Of the 21 players enshrined in the Twins Hall of Fame, five are Latin-born. They are Rod Carew (Panama), Tony Oliva (Cuba), Zoilo Versalles (Cuba), Camilo Pascual (Cuba), and Johan Santana (Venezuela). Carew was the only Panamanian-born player in the MLB Hall of Fame until Mariano Rivera was elected into the 2019 class.

So, whether it’s the past, present, or future, the Latin-American influence in Twins baseball is much greater than I thought or that most people may realize.