Though I have been thinking about this for awhile, it really came to light after last week's Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA) draft, while Todd and I were on the morning radio show hosted by Jeff Erickson and Chris Liss (who also had drafted the night before).
As part of our team, Todd and I drafted Jose Abreu, the former Cuban home run king and new first sacker for the White Sox, and seriously coveted Rangers outfielder Leonys Martin (snatched from under our collective noses by our mates Steve Gardner and Howard Bender of USA Today in the ninth round).
So, in reviewing our squad with Chris and Jeff, I noted not so much how we both liked Abreu, but how it seems Cuban players just seem to adapt and adjust more readily to the American Major Leagues than any other group.
Mind you, I am not talking ethnicity here. I am talking Nationality, College, state of origin, cloning, galaxy, universe, you name it.
But, relative to the amount of time worked anywhere prior to the Majors, our Cuban friends just seem to adjust to playing, and then succeeding in the States with such a larger relative efficiency than those of the Orient, or Central America, or Rosenblatt Stadium that I just have to wonder what is so different about the way the Cubans play ball as opposed to the rest of the world that fosters not just success, but success so quickly?
A case in point is former Athletic Hiroyuki Nakajima, whom the Athletics signed a little over a year ago to, at the time, man the shortstop spot. In fact, I remember being in the hospital after my last Crohns surgery and my Gastroenterologist Dr. Morton asking me about Nakajima, and I shook my head and said that for the most part, Japanese imports--especially middle infielders--have a tough time adjusting and succeeding in the states.
In fact, after signing Nakajima in December of 2012, the shortstop who notched .302-168-738 totals with 141 steals over 12 seasons with Seibu and was an eight-time All Star was dropped from the Athletics 40-man roster by August of 2013.
Mind you, there have been players, like Kazuo Matsui (who hit .267 over seven seasons and 630 games), outfielders Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui, and pitchers Hideo Nomo and Yu Darvish who have had strong careers and seasons.
However, how many other hyped and erratic players have we had from the Land of the Rising Sun?
Well, the opposite side of the coin are Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideki Irabu, Akinori Iwamura, and locally Kensuke Tanaka (who no longer is a Giant) are among the 42 Japanese players to have made it to the Show since 1995 (Masanori Murakami debuted with the local Giants in 1965, but there was a 30-year drought after that).
Since Fidel Castro took control of Cuba in 1959, 82 Cuban-born ballplayers have signed with Big League teams (not all made the Majors), and though there have been flops such as Ariel Prieto and Jorge Toca, if we just look at the list over the past five years, the difference is truly astounding.
As in since 2007, 12 emgirees have spent time in the Major Leagues, and here are their names:
- Alexei Ramirez
- Dayan Viciedo
- Amauri Sanit
- Jose Iglesias
- Jose Fernandez
- Yunesky Maya
- Adeiny Hechavarria
- Aroldis Chapman
- Leonys Martin
- Henry Urrutia
- Yoenis Cespedes
- Yasiel Puig
Right there we have enough promise and production to make imports from anywhere (are there more potential stars from LSU or Arizona State or Stanford looming?) to drive the point home. And, though surely the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico and Venezuela have given us some really great players, the number of successful men, relative to the number of contracts signed, is so heavily weighted towards the Cubans it is crazy.
Now, with the signing of Abreu, and potenial inking now of Rusney Castillo, there is even more speculative talent for both the Majors and our fantasy teams.
But, I will ask you this: Would you rather have Masahiro Tanaka, a 24-year-old with seven professional seasons in Japan under his belt, or Jose Fernandez, a 20-year-old with three professional seasons, on your team?
And, well, Yu Darvish is good, but I would rather have Fernandez than him as well. Wouldn't you?