After the Dominican Republic, no foreign nation has produced more Major League talent than Venezuela. Of the 421 Venezuelan-born players who have appeared in at least one big league game since in 1939, 244 have been position players. Their ranks include feared sluggers, speedy infield defenders and everything in between.
Here's a quick look at the top 5 position players from South America's baseball powerhouse.
1. Miguel Cabrera (2003-present)
Career achievements: 2 AL MVP Awards, 11 All-Star Game selections, 7 Silver Slugger Awards, 4 AL batting titles, 2012 Triple Crown, 2003 World Series champion
One of the best pure hitters of his generation, Miguel Cabrera is not just the most accomplished Venezuelan-born position player of all time. He's simply one of the best offensive players of this generation. In his prime, the Tigers' slugging first baseman won four batting titles in a five-year stretch (2011-15) and back-to-back MVP Awards (2012-13). Cabrera ranks second among all active players behind Albert Pujols in home runs, hits and RBIs. Cabrera's career 69.3 bWAR leads all his countrymen.
Only one Major Leaguer has achieved a Triple Crown since 1967 and that player is Cabrera, who accomplished the feat in 2012, when he topped the American League with a. 330 average, 44 homers and 139 RBIs.
Cabrera signed with the Marlins as an amateur free agent out of Venezuela in 1999 and helped the club win the World Series in his first season in the Majors in 2003. A trade sent him to Detroit in December 2007. If not for the injuries that have plagued him in recent years, the Maracay native might have already reached 3,000 hits. At age 37 and under contract through at least 2023, the hallowed number is certainly within his reach. Regardless whether he gets there, Cabrera’s spot in the Hall of Fame appears secure.
2. Luis Aparicio (1956-73)
Career achievements: 1984 Hall of Fame inductee, 1956 AL Rookie of the Year, 13 All-Star Game selections, 9 Gold Glove Awards, 1966 World Series champion, 506 stolen bases
The first and only Venezuelan-born player with a plaque in Cooperstown, Aparicio burst onto the scene with the White Sox in 1956, and his game-changing speed helped repopularize the stolen base.
Aparicio, who was 19 when he signed as an amateur free agent, was recognized as the 1956 AL Rookie of the Year after slashing .266/.311/.341 with a league-leading 21 stolen bases in 152 games. Starting that year, he led the Junior Circuit in stolen bases for nine consecutive seasons, an MLB record. He leads all Venezuelan-born players with 506 stolen bases.
In 1963, the White Sox traded Aparicio to Baltimore, where the Maracaibo native spent the next five years and won his only World Series ring. Aparicio finished his career with a return to the White Sox and three seasons in Boston.
Despite committing a career-high 35 errors as a rookie, Aparicio evolved into a standout defensive shortstop, with nine Gold Gloves to his name. Incredibly, Aparicio never fielded another position other than shortstop -- not even for a single inning. He ranks third among Venezuelan-born players with a 55.9 WAR.
3. Bobby Abreu (1996-2012)
Career achievements: 2 All-Star Game selections, 2004 Silver Slugger Award, 2005 NL Gold Glove
Abreu’s lack of hardware -- he garnered just one Gold Glove Award and one Silver Slugger Award in 18 Major League seasons -- belie his impressive offensive production. He was, one might say, underrated.
During a career that saw him suit up for the Astros, Phillies, Angels, Yankees, Dodgers and Mets, Abreu slashed .291/.395/.475, with 2,470 hits, 288 home runs and 400 stolen bases. A disciplined hitter with extra-base power, he ranks 20th all-time with 1,476 career walks and is tied for 24th with 574 doubles. From 1999-2011, no one played in more Major League games than Abreu (2,173). Among Venezuelan-born players, he ranks second in home runs and WAR (60.0) and fourth in hits.
Though it might be argued that Abreu's Hall of Fame candidacy warrants a careful look, his odds of being inducted appear slim. In his first year on the ballot in 2020, he received 5.5 percent of votes cast by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America -- just enough to remain on the ballot, but a long way from the necessary 75 percent mark required for induction.
4. Omar Vizquel (1989-2012)
Career achievements: 3 All-Star Game selections, 11 Gold Glove Awards
Vizquel put up respectable offensive numbers -- .272/.336/.352 slash line, 2,877 hits, 951 RBIs and 404 stolen bases in more than 2,900 games -- during his 24-year Major League career, but his calling card was his eye-popping defense. One of the best defensive shortstops in the history of the game, Vizquel earned 11 Gold Gloves, including nine straight beginning in 1993. He is the career leader in fielding percentage as a shortstop with .985 and turned 1,734 double plays at shortstop, the most in MLB history.
Vizquel enjoyed his best offensive season in 1999, when he hit .333/.397/.436 with 42 stolen bases and scored a career-high 112 runs for Cleveland while earning the second of three All-Star selections. The Caracas native leads all Venezuelan-born position players in hits and ranks fourth with a 45.6 WAR.
Vizquel, who debuted at age 22 and retired at age 45, first appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2018 and has seen his support increase every year. In 2020, he received 52.6 percent of the votes cast by the BBWAA. He has seven more years to reach the necessary 75 percent.
5. José Altuve (2011-present)
Career achievements: 2017 AL MVP Award, 6 All-Star Game selections, 5 Silver Slugger Awards, 3 AL batting titles, 2015 Gold Glove, 2017 World Series champion
If we revisit this list in a few years, Altuve might rank higher, provided injuries don’t keep him off the field. But with 36.3 WAR in his 10 MLB seasons and plenty of hardware to his name, the Astros second baseman is already part of the conversation about the best all-time Venezuelan-born position players.
Altuve, 30, led the AL in hits in four consecutive seasons from 2014-17, a span in which he also claimed three batting titles. In 2017, Altuve joined Cabrera as the only Venezuelan-born players to win an MVP Award after slashing .346/.410/.547 with 24 home runs and 81 RBIs on his way to helping Houston capture its first World Series title in franchise history.
Honorable mentions: David Concepción, Andrés Galarraga, Magglio Ordóñez