Colombia making its mark in baseball, one step at a time
In Colombia, soccer has always been the king sport, but little by little, the country has produced players who have made an impact at the Major League level.
Though there hasn’t been a big wave of Colombian players with significant playing time in the big leagues, one of them can be considered a pioneer among all Latin American players. As Anthony Castrovince documented in his MLB.com article, Colombian infielder Luis “Lou” Castro was the first Latin player in Major League Baseball history, playing 42 games for the American League champion Philadelphia Athletics of 1902.
Baseball is a regional passion in Colombia, mostly on the Caribbean coast of the country, after Panamanian and Cuban immigrants in 1897 started playing the sport and teaching it to local residents in the city of Cartagena.
Total Major Leaguers all time: 30
WBSC ranking: 11th
Last World Baseball Classic appearance: 2017 (debut)
Professional league: Liga Profesional de Béisbol Colombiano (LPB)
Established in 1948, Colombia’s professional league consists of six teams from the Caribbean coast region: Caimanes de Barranquilla, Toros de Sincelejo, Tigres de Cartagena, Leones de Santa Marta, Vaqueros de Montería and Gigantes de Barranquilla.
Vaqueros de Montería were the 2022-23 champions and were semifinalists in this year’s Caribbean Series.
History in the World Baseball Classic
Colombia made its debut in the 2017 Classic, after going undefeated in the Qualifiers held in Panama City in 2016.
After playing close games -- including a heartbreaking loss that ended in a rout in extra innings against Dominican Republic -- the Colombian squad finished the 2017 Classic with a 1-2 record in Pool C play, which also included Team USA and Canada.
However, with its performance in the last tournament, Colombia earned a direct invitation to this year’s World Baseball Classic.
Top current Major Leaguers
José Quintana -- LHP, Mets
Since his debut in the Majors in 2012, the lefty has established himself as the best Colombian pitcher. In his career, Quintana has an 89-87 record with a 3.75 ERA in 315 games (289 starts). In 2015, he was in the top 10 in the AL in strikeouts, and in '16, he was an All-Star with the White Sox.
Gio Urshela -- INF, Angels
The native of Cartagena has kept the tradition of excellent Colombian infielders. His best season in the big leagues was with the Yankees in 2019, when in 132 games -- while showing impressive defense as the starting third baseman -- he hit .314/.355/.534 with 21 homers and 74 RBI to help New York win the AL East and reach the ALCS.
Donovan Solano -- INF, Twins
In parts of nine MLB seasons, his versatility in the infield has been the Barranquilla native’s calling card. However, in the shortened season of 2020 with the Giants, Solano’s bat stood out with a .326/.365/.463 slash line and 29 RBIs to win the Silver Slugger Award at second base -- along with the “Donnie Barrels” nickname.
Luis Felipe Urueta -- Bench coach, Marlins
“Pipe” (pronounced Peep-eh) was at the helm of the Colombian national team when it made history by clinching a spot in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. Urueta has also stood out as one of the best young coaches in the Majors, and the Barranquilla native interviewed for the Red Sox manager position prior to the 2021 season.
As the D-backs' bench coach on July 26, 2020, Urueta became the first Colombian to manage a Major League game, when Arizona skipper Torey Lovullo was ejected from a game against the Padres.
Harold Ramírez -- UTL, Rays
Ramírez has been a solid hitter. Also, the Cartagena native was part of a historic Roberto Clemente Day in 2022, when he batted cleanup in the first all-Latino lineup in Major League Baseball history.
Jorge Alfaro -- C, Red Sox
Alfaro came up as a top catching prospect in the Phillies organization and became one of the key pieces that Philadelphia sent to Miami in the trade for All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto. Recently, Alfaro was in the spotlight during the 2022-23 Dominican League season, when his power helped carry Tigres del Licey to the LIDOM title.
Luis Patiño -- RHP, Rays
Patiño also came up as a top prospect in the Padres' system. Patiño -- like Alfaro -- was a key player in a blockbuster deal as part of the package that San Diego sent to Tampa Bay in the 2020 offseason for ace Blake Snell.
Despite not logging many innings in the big leagues (only 114 2/3 in 36 games with the Padres and Rays), Patiño still has the potential to make his presence felt on the Tampa Bay staff.
Notable Colombian players in MLB history
Rentería’s clutch hits put the spotlight on Colombian baseball and its potential in the Majors. His walk-off hit in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series -- along with Craig Counsell’s leap after scoring the game-winning run that gave the Marlins the title -- still is one of the most iconic moments of the history of the postseason.
In Game 5 of the 2010 Fall Classic, Rentería again helped his team claim the championship by hitting a three-run home run that enabled the Giants to clinch the first of their three titles from 2010-14. The infielder also was awarded the World Series MVP award after hitting .412 (7-for-17) with six RBIs and six runs to lead San Francisco over the Rangers.
Cabrera was also in the middle of an iconic World Series moment -- with none other than Rentería in the opposing bench.
Cabrera was the Red Sox shortstop as Boston swept the Cardinals in four games in the 2004 Fall Classic, which ended on a Rentería soft grounder that Keith Foulke fielded and threw to first base for the last out, clinching the Red Sox’s first World Series title in 86 years.
Best moment in Colombian baseball
Caribbean Series champions in 2022
In only its third Caribbean Series as an “invited country," Colombia -- represented by Caimanes de Barranquilla -- finished with a 3-2 record in the round robin stage of the tournament and shocked everyone with its 4-1 victory over the host Dominican team in the championship game.