MLB’s greatest Cuban-born position players

September 18th, 2020

Cuba has a rich history of producing Major League position players, with stars such as the Royals’ Jorge Soler and the White Sox quartet of Luis Robert, José Abreu, Yasmani Grandal and Yoán Moncada carrying on that legacy today.

The five players below had big roles in establishing Cuba as a talent pipeline, and they stand as the greatest Cuban-born position players in MLB history.

1) Tony Pérez (1964-86)

Career highlights: Hall of Famer, 7-time All-Star, 2-time World Series champion

One of the most beloved players in Reds history and a cornerstone of the Big Red Machine, Pérez averaged 26 homers and 103 RBIs a season from 1967-76, earning seven All-Star selections and posting a collective .838 OPS (133 OPS+) during that span, which culminated in Cincinnati winning back-to-back World Series titles (’75-76).

Pérez then moved on to Montreal, Boston and Philadelphia before returning to Queen City for his final three seasons. In 2000, Pérez became the first Cuban-born Major Leaguer to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

2) José Canseco (1985-2001)

Career highlights: First member of 40/40 club, 1988 AL MVP, 2-time World Series champion

Although younger generations may remember him more for authoring the book that shined a light on steroid use in Major League Baseball, Canseco was one of the game’s biggest stars in the 1980s. One half of the “Bash Brothers” alongside Mark McGwire, Canseco helped the A’s reach the World Series in three consecutive seasons (1988-90) and win a title in ’89.

The outfielder earned 1988 AL MVP honors after earlier predicting that he’d become the first member of the 40/40 club (40 homers, 40 steals) and then going out and accomplishing the feat. While he bounced around later in his career, he remained a force at the plate, recording 186 home runs with an .898 OPS (129 OPS+) from 1994-99.

3) Rafael Palmeiro (1986-2005)

Career highlights: Member of 3,000 hit and 500 home run clubs, 4-time All-Star

Palmeiro took some time to find his power stroke, but when he finally did, he was one of baseball’s most consistent sluggers. A four-time All-Star, the first baseman produced at least 37 homers and 104 RBIs in 10 of 11 seasons from 1993-03, and he may have reached those marks in ’94 as well, if not for a strike that halted the season in August.

Palmeiro’s career ended not long after he tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance in 2005, but before that, he became the fourth Major Leaguer to join both the 500-homer and 3,000-hit clubs. Palmeiro finished with 569 homers, the third most among Latin American-born players and the most by a player from Cuba.

4) Tony Oliva (1962-76)

Career highlights: 8-time All-Star, 3-time batting champion, 1964 AL Rookie of the Year

Oliva didn’t break through as a big league regular until age 25, saw his production decline as he got into his mid-30s and had to retire due to knee issues after his age-37 campaign. But at his peak, the outfielder was one of the most valuable players in baseball.

Oliva made the All-Star team every year from 1964-71, a span in which he was named the AL Rookie of the Year, won three batting titles and hit .313 with 177 homers and an .867 OPS (140 OPS+). He also had 42.3 Wins Above Replacement in those eight years, ranking ninth overall during that span, behind seven future Hall of Famers and seven-time All-Star Dick Allen. Oliva ended up spending his entire career with the Twins and had his No. 6 retired by the franchise in 1991.

5) Minnie Minoso (1949, ‘51-64, ’76, ‘80)

Career highlights: 9-time All-Star, 3-time Gold Glove Award winner, appeared in 5 decades

After briefly playing in the Negro Leagues, Minoso made his big league debut with the Indians in 1949, becoming MLB’s first Black Cuban player. But his career didn’t really take off until he was traded to the White Sox in ’51. Minoso flourished in Chicago, becoming one of the game’s most dynamic players. He went on to hit .303/.392/.468 from 1952-61, averaging 17 homers, 90 RBIs, 97 runs and 16 steals in that span and winning three Gold Glove Awards.

After playing into his 40s in Mexico, Minoso returned to the White Sox to play three games at age 50 in 1976 and two more in ’80, giving him an MLB appearance in five decades