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PUERTO RICO HERALD
Puerto Ricans In Spring Training Notes: Alomar Debuts In New Uniform, González Gets His Old One Back
By Gabrielle Paese
March 8, 2002
Copyright © 2002 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
Baseball's cards have been shuffled. Now we only have to wait for spring training to play itself out and for Major League Baseball to get down to the real deal: Opening Day.
Unless you live under a rock, you already know that Roberto Alomar is a Met, Juan González is a Texas Ranger (again), Jorge Posada is recovering from minor shoulder surgery and Carlos Baerga is looking for a second chance with the Boston Red Sox.
With roughly 40 Puerto Ricans already playing up, a handful more are vying for those last-place roster spots on their respective major league teams.
While Alomar, González, Posada and fellow Yankee Bernie Williams are some of the game's biggest stars, there's also a crop of younger Puerto Ricans battling for jobs at spring training.
Some of their names: Kansas City infielder Josue Espada, Toronto's Felipe López, New York Mets pitcher Dickie González, Los Angeles' Hiram Bocachica and Montreal's Javier Vázquez.
In addition, there are a few young-at-heart players looking to revive their careers this season, including Baerga, Montreal's Luis Iván Cruz and St. Louis' Eduardo Pérez.
The beauty of the baseball season is that it's predictable and full of surprises at the same time.
Here's a look at some of the Puerto Rican stars at spring training.
Roberto Alomar brings his work ethic to the New York Mets this season after an off-season trade from the Cleveland Indians.
The acquisition of Alomar makes the team look like contenders this season with a lineup that includes Mike Piazza, Jeromy Burnitz and Mo Vaughn.
Future Hall-of-Famer Alomar said he's only focused on one goal -- helping his team get to the World Series.
He had one of his best seasons last year with Cleveland, batting .336 with 20 home runs, 100 RBI and 113 runs scored. He made just five errors in 969 defensive plays.
While Alomar was stunned by the off-season trade, he has said he's happy with his new team's potential. He campaigned heavily to get Juan González added to the Mets' roster, but González reportedly turned New York down in favor of Texas.
With González back in Texas again, the Rangers have one powerful lineup. Between Alex Rodríguez, Iván Rodríguez and González, expect to see a lot of home runs. González hit .325 last season with the Cleveland Indians, swatting 35 home runs and 140 RBI.
Fellow Puerto Rican Iván Rodríguez adds his habitual consistency to the lineup at catcher and the Rangers' pitching is the only question mark in their playoff picture.
González and Alomar were the two major trades of Puerto Ricans in the off-season.
What stayed the same was Jorge Posada's post at catcher and Bernie Williams at center field for the New York Yankees. Posada underwent arthroscopic shoulder surgery in the offseason and he was expected to make his first start at catcher in a spring training game this week.
While Posada had a one-year deal last season, this year the Yankees rewarded him for his good work with a $51 million, five-year contract in February after he hit .277 with 22 homers and 95 RBIs.
Still, Posada said there's room for improvement after he had 18 passed balls last season. He spent the winter in Tampa working out at the Yankees' minor league complex and has set a goal this season of playing as well as fellow Puerto Rican and Texas catcher Iván Rodríguez.
Bernie Williams is also looking to improve upon his 2001 season, which he said was affected by the death of his father mid-season. Still, he batted .307 and established career highs with 31 home runs and 121 RBI in 141 games (136 start in center field and four at DH) He also reached a career milestone, collecting100 RBI and scoring 100 runs.
While the Yankees will try to regroup after losing the World Series to Arizona last season, other teams will just be struggling to stay afloat.
The Toronto Blue Jays, with three exceptionally talented Puerto Ricans on its roster, is one example.
Carlos Delgado, José "Cheíto" Cruz and prospect Félipe López all make the Blue Jays a team Puerto Rican baseball fans will want to follow.
Delgado hit .279 with 31 doubles, 39 home runs and 102 RBI last season. This was his fourth consecutive 35 home run, 100 RBI season. He'll be looking to improve to over .300 this season as will Cruz, who hit .274 last season. López, meanwhile, is still struggling for a roster spot and hoping to get a chance to shine at shortstop.
The Kansas City Royals harbor another of Puerto Rico's brightest young stars in the game in Carlos Beltrán. The 1999 AL Rookie of the Year is hoping that 2002 will be a breakout season. He hit .306 last year with 24 home runs and 101 RBI and he said his goal this season is to break the 30 HR barrier.
His Royals teammates include fellow Puerto Ricans Luis Alicea and Roberto Hernández. Alicea, who hit .274 last season, is credited by Beltrán with helping the youngster solve some problems with his swing last season.
Alicea, 36, a career .262 hitter for the Royals, has been a valuable utility player. Hernández, who at 37 is the team's veteran stopper, said he's concentrating on providing leadership for the team's pitching staff and helping the bullpen keep a winning attitude.
Over in Atlanta, catcher Javier López is back and in better shape than ever after a .267 season last year with 17 home runs and 66 RBI. A career .287 hitter, López is focused on some personal goals this season, namely a Gold Glove.
Javier Vázquez is another young Puerto Rican you can expect to hear more of this season. Vázquez, 25, is Montreal's top pitching prospect, finishing 2001 with a 16-11 record and a 3.42 ERA.
In Arizona's cactus league, the Seattle Mariners' young pitching prospect Joel Piñeiro is battling for a spot on the starter's rotation. If not, he'll pitch out of the bullpen. Either way, Piñeiro's a hot prospect for Seattle and the Ponce Leones reserve has spent the whole winter working with strength coach Jorge Canépa on the mechanics of his swing.
Piñeiro, who was 6-2 with a 2.03 ERA last season in 17 appearances (11 starts) for the Mariners, pitched 94 2/3 innings in his major league career thus far.
He joins fellow Puerto Rican and Mariners veteran DH Edgar Martínez, who hit .306 last season and is baseball's all-time best DH.
Gabrielle Paese is the Assistant Sports Editor at the San Juan Star. She is the most recent recipient of the Overseas Press Club's Rafael Pont Flores Award for excellence in sports reporting. Comments or suggestions? Contact Gabrielle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.