How the draft killed baseball in Puerto Rico

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Baseball had been king in Puerto Rico for the better part of a century. But now the Puerto Rico Winter League is all but dead.  There were only 20 players from Puerto Rico on major league rosters last Opening Day. What happened? According to the sources for this New York Times article it was the imposition of the draft to Puerto Rico in 1990:

No one here disputes the diminished stature of baseball in Puerto Rico, and most agree on the culprit: the decision by Major League Baseball, in 1990, to include Puerto Rico, a commonwealth of the United States, in its First-Year Player Draft. This means Puerto Rican players must wait until they turn 18 to enter the major leagues, and then they are going up against players from the United States and Canada in the draft. Also, perhaps more important, major league teams have less incentive to cultivate talent in Puerto Rico since those players may end up with another team through the draft.

Major League Baseball — specifically Sandy Alderson, who is quoted in the article — notes that Puerto Rico’s socioeconomic situation has a lot to do with it too.  It’s not as poor a place as Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, so there is less of an incentive for hungry young kids to play their way off the island. At the same time, it’s not so well off that it can support an amateur talent development structure like you see in the baseball hotbeds of the United States like in California, Texas and Florida.

Of course, it’s not like Puerto Rico’s economy suddenly burst out and minimized the importance of baseball in 1990. And 1990 seems to be a pretty clear demarcation between the time when the island was bursting with young baseball players and now, when it is clearly not.

Steven Souza Jr. exits game after injuring his hand on a hit by pitch

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Rays’ right fielder Steven Souza Jr. left Saturday’s game after getting hit on the left hand by a pitch from Blue Jays’ right-hander Joe Biagini in the seventh inning. The pitch appeared to hit the top of Souza Jr.’s hand, causing the outfielder to crumple at the plate and requiring assistance from assistant athletic trainer Paul Harker as he exited the field. Postgame reports from the Tampa Bay Times’ Marc Topkin revealed that Souza Jr. sustained a left hand contusion and is scheduled to undergo further evaluation on Sunday.

While the diagnosis isn’t as bad as it could be, it’s still a tough break for the right fielder, who missed 40 days of the 2015 season after sustaining a fracture in his left hand on another hit by pitch. The team has yet to announce any concrete timetable for Souza Jr.’s return, though manager Kevin Cash indicated that they’ll be taking things day to day for the time being.

Souza Jr. is batting .326/.398/.543 with four home runs and 17 RBI through 104 PA in 2017. He went 1-for-2 with a base hit and a walk prior to his departure during Saturday’s 4-1 loss.

Video: Brett Gardner goes deep for his first and second home runs of 2017

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It’s been a slow start to the season for Yankees’ outfielder Brett Gardner, who entered Saturday’s matinee against the Orioles with a .188/.316/.234 batting line, three doubles and five stolen bases in his first 76 PA of the year. That all changed in the first inning of Saturday’s game, when Gardner skied a leadoff home run to right field:

Orioles’ right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez couldn’t find his footing against the Yankees in the second inning, either. Gardner returned for his second home run of the season, a three-run shot to lift New York 5-0 over Baltimore:

Measured at 411 feet in the right field bullpen, the left fielder’s blast marked the seventh home run hit by a Yankee this series. According to the club’s PR department, it’s also the first multi-home run game Gardner has recorded since September 2015. The Yankees currently lead the Orioles 7-0 through four innings.