Last year, there were only 17 Puerto Ricans in the Major Leagues, compared to 128 Dominicans, 91 Venezuelans and 18 Cubans.
That number dropped from 53 in 2001 to 28 to 2011 and to just 11 Puerto Ricans on 2012 Opening Day rosters.
The Puerto Rican Winter League isn’t what it used to be – an important offseason destination for MLB players. It is down to six teams, composed mostly of minor leaguers, and that’s an expansion from the four teams fielded in recent years, when no team played in San Juan and Hiram Bithorn Stadium sat empty. The Santurce Crabbers once had Clemente and Willie Mays in their lineup. The Senators boasted a lineup that included Alomar, Martinez, Sierra, Gonzalez, Williams and Delgado at the 1995 Caribbean World Series.
One theory for the decline in PR prospects: As a commonwealth of the U.S., Puerto Ricans must wait until they graduate from high school or turn 18 to enter the MLB Draft. Dominicans and Venezuelans are eligible to sign at age 16.
A positive sign was the first No. 1 draft pick in Puerto Rican history in 2012 – shortstop Carlos Correa is also a product of one of the three academies on the island.
Jose Berrios, 18, top pitching prospect for the Twins, watched the WBC in 2009. On Friday, he was in the dugout, then sprinting onto the field to celebrate.
The U.S. players could only look on as the party continued without them.
“As an offense we really didn’t swing the bats very well, especially early, in most of these games,” Ryan Braun said. “The expectation was to get to San Francisco and ultimately to win in San Francisco.”
They failed to score against Figueroa, whose fastball did not exceed 88 mph and who is known in the Dominican league as “rubber arm daddy.” For one night, at least, his name is up there with the prominent ones of Puerto Rico’s past.
“I want to give a dream to a kid who struggled in Puerto Rico throwing a ball against the wall the whole night long as I did,” he said. “Just for the chance to win something big for my country.”