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The 10 Best Latin American Baseball Players in Japan

The 10 Best Latin American Baseball Players in Japan

Posted by Miguel Ernesto on October 24, 2018

Since the Cuban Roberto "Chico" Barbón debuted with the Hankyu Braves, in 1955, to date, more than 250 Latin American players have played in the Japanese Professional Baseball League, considered the second strongest in the world.

In more than six decades, there have been few Latin American players who have shone in that competitive championship, which is Japan’s main sport attraction. Among the most outstanding stars we can mention, besides Barbón, the Venezuelan Robert Marcano, champion on several occasions with Hankyu and who became the first Latino to finish as leader of the Pacific League in 1978; the Cuban Orestes Destrade, the top slugger between 1990-1992 and the Venezuelan Alex Cabrera, who, in 2002, tied the record of 55 homers imposed by the legend Sadaharu Oh, in 1964. Then, the Dutchman Wladimir Balentien shot 60 homers in 2013, the highest number of all time; but this, of course, doesn’t detract from Cabrera's achievement.

The presence of Latinos in the payrolls of Japanese teams has continued to grow, although the League imposes strong restrictions on the presence of foreign players and only allows non-Japanese. In the absence of this prohibition, as happens, for example, in the US Major Leagues, then surely the number of Latin Americans would be much higher. Historical data show that the Dominican Republic has been the country with the largest number of representatives (120), ahead of Venezuela (46), Puerto Rico (30) and Cuba (29). What are the main Latin American players at this moment in the Japanese League? PanamericanWorld proposes to approach 10 players who are stars in their teams.

Alfredo Despaigne (Cuba - Fukuoka Falcons) 

Cuban slugger received a three-year contract with the Fukuoka Falcons. His first campaign in the new team was spectacular, since the Cuban finished as leader of the Pacific League in home runs (35) and run batted ins (103); he was also included in the Ideal Team as a designated hitter and won the Japan Series. So far, in the 2018 season, his performance is below expectations and his team has not started in the same way as in 2017, but it’s an extensive campaign (144 games), so the Cuban still has time to recover.

José Celestino López (Venezuela - Yokohama DeNA Baystars) 

In 2017, the Venezuelan first baseman was the best Latino in the Japanese League, as he finished as leader in RBIs (105), hit 30 homers, 42 doubles and averaged 301; in addition, he received his third Gold Glove and was again included in the Ideal Team. Lopez was named the MVP of the playoffs and his at-bat strength was key in Yokohama's historic qualification to the Japan Series. In 2018, Lopez has started very well and is among the top ten in offensive, home runs and pushed average.

Alex Guerrero (Cuba - Yomiuri Giants) 

In the last season, the Cuban played for the Chunichi Dragons and had a great performance, since in his first year in the Japanese League, the player from Las Tunas won the home run title of the Central League (35), averaged 279, with 86 RBIs. Among the scores he established for Latino baseball players was the fact of connecting homers in six consecutive games. These numbers caught the attention of the Yomiuri Giants, the franchise with more history in the League, which offered a contract to the Cuban. So far, Guerrero has met the expectations in the Japanese capital and its condition as start player is indisputable.

Rafael Dolis (Dominican Republic - Hanshin Tigers) 

Dolis entered the record books by becoming, in 2017, the first Latino to finish as leader in saved games, with 37 rescues and an average effectiveness of 2.71, with 85 strikeouts in 63 performance innings. Thanks to these statistics he was considered one of the best relievers in the league. In 2018, Dolis has shown again the same domain as the previous year and has already exceeded the 15 saved games and its effectiveness is still below 1.90.

Onelki García (Cuba - Chunichi Dragons) 

The Cuban has been the great sensation of pitching this season. The Dragons already consider him their main starting pitcher and his numbers speak for themselves: they lead the Central League in ERA, he has won six games and his strikeout average is close to eight for every nine innings of action.

Dayán Viciedo (Cuba - Chunichi Dragons) 

Injuries have prevented the Cuban from showing his full potential in the League. In 2017, in his second campaign with the Dragons, he shot 18 homers and pushed 49 runs, but could only participate in 87 challenges. Now it seems that the physical state has accompanied him and Viciedo is on track to overcome, largely, the statistics of the previous year.

Archimedes Caminero (Dominican Republic - Yomiuri Giants) 

The quick Dominican closer had a good first year with the Giants, since he saved 29 games (third in the Central League) and his ERA was 2.42; although the team didn’t meet the expectations and was very far from the Japan Series. In 2018, Caminero hasn’t been as dominant, although he maintains his strikeout rate of at least one for each inning thrown. The Giants will need their closer to improve statistics in order to try to return to the playoffs.

Liván Moinelo (Cuba - Fukuoka Falcons) 

The Cuban impressed in his first season in Japan. Halfway through the season, the Falcons decided to promote him to the first team and the fast reliever responded with a great performance: 2.52 ERA in 34 games pitched. Then, in the playoffs, Moinelo had good starts that contributed to Fukuoka's triumph in the Japan Series. All this affected the team to expand and improve the contract. In 2018, Moinelo hasn’t been as consistent, but his position as a reliever doesn’t seem to be in danger.

Carlos Peguero (Dominican Republic - Rakuten Eagles) 

In 2017, the Dominican outfielder achieved numbers that can be considered very good, for a league where pitching predominates: 26 homers, 75 RBIs and an offensive average of 281. The Eagles decided to keep him for another year and, surely, expect the slugger to increase production that already includes 12 home runs and 29 RBIs.

Zoilo Almonte (Dominican Republic - Chunichi Dragons) 

Almonte has been the most outstanding Latin American player of the 2018 season. In his first year in Japan, the Dominican has caused a sensation and leads the Central League in offensive average; in addition, he has already shot nine homers and pushed 36 runs.

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