Puerto Rico used to send scads of ballplayers into the majors. But starting in 1990 its players became subject to the major league draft, which many argue killed the incentives for teams to aggressively scout the island and for local baseball authorities to support training, the building of new facilities and the like.
This Associated Press story, however, notes that there is a revival afoot:
In the past year, Major League Baseball reported the second-highest number of signings from Puerto Rico since 2000. The U.S. territory also has seen the opening of new baseball academies and an expansion of its winter league teams … MLB plans to start tournaments and after-school programs across the island to further stimulate interest in the sport, said Kim Ng, the organization’s senior vice president for baseball operations.
Ng credits the Carlos Correa being the first pick in the draft this past year as evidence that things are looking up and credits his high draft position with reinvigorating the game in Puerto Rico.
Is it a fluke or is this the product of MLB’s investment in baseball on the island? Or something else? I dunno. But it’s good to see what was once a baseball hotbed starting to produce MLB-quality talent again.
The Angels’ bench is looking woefully thin this winter — so thin, in fact, that manager Mike Scioscia says he’s considering utilizing starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani as a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner on the days he’s not scheduled to pitch.
I’ve never had a pitcher pinch-run,” Scioscia told reporters Saturday. “There’s more bad than good that can come out of it. But Shohei is not just a pitcher. He’s a guy that has the ability to do some of the things coming off the bench, whether it’s pinch-hit or pinch-run, and we’re definitely going to tap into that if it’s necessary, because we feel we’re not putting him at risk. It’s something he’s able to do.
Granted, spring training allows for a certain amount of experimentation before managers and players decide what works best for them, so this may not be the strategy the Angels employ for the entire season. In addition to coming off the bench between starts, Ohtani is also expected to see 2-3 days at DH every week, forcing Albert Pujols to shift over to first base to accommodate the new two-way star.
Ohtani’s hitting prowess has already been well-documented — he has a lifetime .286/.358/.500 batting line from NPB and crushed a batting practice home run during his initial workouts with the team this week — but his skills on the basepaths have received less attention so far. MLB Pipeline describes the 23-year-old phenom as a “well-above average runner” whose speed has yet to manifest stolen bases: he’s nabbed just 13 bases in 17 chances over the last five years. That’s a number Scioscia hopes to see increased this season, though he doesn’t want his ace pitcher making any head-first slides on the basepaths to do so.
To be sure, it’s an unorthodox role for any young player to step into, but if anyone can pull it off, Ohtani can.