The Rising Latin American Influence Across Baseball Since 1985
Baseball America took note of the rising tide of impact talent from Latin America, particularly the Dominican Republic, in 1985.
The cover story in the July 25 issue that year focused on the Blue Jays’ Dominican presence. Shortstop Tony Fernandez, left fielder George Bell and second baseman Damaso Garcia were everyday players, while rookie middle infielder Manny Lee served as a reserve.
Led by manager Bobby Cox, the 1985 Blue Jays won the American League East and took the Royals to seven games in the Championship Series. In the process, Toronto, an expansion franchise that began play in 1977, helped usher in a modern approach to building an organization.
The international flavor that was present in Toronto also pervaded the Blue Jays’ farm system. They led baseball with 23 players born in the Dominican Republic—and also with 34 players born outside the United States—as of June 1, 1985.
From the perspective of Toronto general manager Pat Gillick, scouting and signing international talent was the only way for the expansion franchise to build a system quickly. In the draft, the Blue Jays had to compete with 25 other clubs for talent. In Latin America, they signed many players uncontested.
Gillick’s key decision was to hire Dominican scout Epy Guerrero as international director. Guerrero, who had scouted Latin America for the Astros and Yankees since the 1960s, developed his own academy to train and develop players in 1973.
Guerrero brought his know-how to the Blue Jays organization and helped establish Toronto as the No. 1 team in the Dominican Republic.
“The Dodgers are very close, but right now Toronto is ahead,” Guerrero said at the time. “We’ve got more Dominicans in the big leagues than anybody else.”
Thanks to Guerrero, the Blue Jays were also the first organization to establish a Dominican academy. “That has made us very popular (in the Dominican Republic),” he said.
While the Blue Jays still maintain a presence in the Dominican Republic, they are no longer alone on the island. All 30 organizations have Dominican academies, and all 30 mine the country for talent.
As such, the number of Dominican players per organization has grown exponentially, from an average of six per club in 1985 to an average of 69 per club last year.