Ranks of PR players slide in big leagues
The percentage of Major League Baseball players born outside the United States rose to its third-highest level as the regular season got under way this week.
The commissioner's office said that among the 856 players on opening day rosters, 243 were born outside the 50 states. The 28.4 percentage is up from 27.7 last year and trails only 2005 (29.2) and 2007 (29.0).
The Dominican Republic led with 95 players, four shy of its high in 2007. Venezuela set its high with 66, four more than last year.
Canada (15) was next, followed by Japan (13), Cuba and Puerto Rico (11 each), Mexico (nine), Panama (seven), Curacao and Australia (four apiece), Nicaragua (three), Taiwan (two), and Colombia, Italy and South Korea (one each).
Puerto Rico's total was its fewest since MLB started tracking the data in 1995 and is down from 28 in 2009.
Kansas City has the most players born outside the 50 states with 13, trailed by Colorado and the New York Yankees (12 each).
Figures include active rosters, 103 players on the disabled list and four on the restricted list.
Of 7,278 players with minor league contracts, 3,382 were born outside the 50 states. The 46.47 percent figure was down from 47.41 at the start of last season. The minor league figure includes players with big league deals who have been optioned.
Puerto Rico had been steadily losing position in the major leagues in recent years, with just 20 players on opening day rosters last season.
There were 34 Puerto Rico-born big leaguers on Opening Day rosters in 2005. That number has declined nearly every year since: 2006 (33), 2007 (28), 2008 (29), 2009 (28) and 2010 (21).
Puerto Rico is treated as a foreign jurisdiction by Major League Baseball, but the island is included in the MLB draft.
Critics blame the island’s inclusion in the MLB draft for the drop in the number of Puerto Rican ballplayers in the big leagues over the last decade.
Since the 1980s, the number of Puerto Ricans in the majors averaged about 40 per season. An average of 25 island players are picked in the draft every year.
In the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and other Latin American countries not covered by the draft, teenage players are free to sign at younger ages, and often for less money than Puerto Rican and stateside prospects.
There are other factors in play in the decline in the number of Puerto Rican players in the major leagues, including the relatively higher standard of living on the island that leads fewer to see baseball as a way out of poverty.
Also, sports including basketball, volleyball and soccer are drawing increasing numbers of the island’s best young athletes.
Since 1999, the number of boys playing organized baseball has steadily declined at the rate of 600 boys per year, according to a 2006 study by the Puerto Rico Sports & Recreation Department.
What’s more, by the ages of 15-16, only half of the children who started in the leagues at ages 5-6 remain in the game. According to the study, 17,550 boys between the ages of 5 and 16 were registered in youth leagues in 1999. In 2004,their numbers dropped to 14,651.
Still another issue is steroid use, which is relatively widespread among teenage baseball prospects in the Dominican Republic.