The top-ten Mexican players in MLB history
Mexico hasn't got enough credit for producing great baseball players, here we give our thoughts on the best ten Mexican players in MLB history.
Mexican players have starred in baseball’s highest league for decades now. To celebrate Mexico’s contribution to MLB, we’ve crafted a list of the ten best to ever do it.
As a caveat, we’re only including players who were either born in Mexico or represented the Mexican national team in an international competition. If we included Mexican-American players, too, we’d have to have a conversation about Ted Williams. And not a fun one, either.
Before we get into the list, we’d like to shout out active players Sergio Romo and Julio Urías. While Urías has an excellent chance of ending up as one of the greatest Mexican pitchers of all time, he and Romo share the achievement of throwing the last pitch of a World Series, Romo in 2012 and Urías in 2020. Neither have quite the career to merit inclusion in the top ten, but they arguably have the two highest points in the history of the game amongst Mexicans.
We should also highlight Jorge De La Rosa, who pitched a fine career mostly in the high elevation of Denver, which not many pitchers alive can say. De La Rosa sharpened his skills in Guadalajara, meaning perhaps the Rockies should look more at Mexican pitchers from high-altitude areas. A few Mexican-born pitchers not included on this list produced more value for their teams, but none as impressively as De La Rosa.
10. Oliver Pérez
After a bumpy first half to his career, Oliver Pérez settled into the role as his country’s elder statesmen from the back end of many bullpens. While his numbers don’t exactly pop out year-to-year, his sheer longevity lands him on this list. No other player born in Mexico has ever played more than seventeen seasons in MLB. Pérez has pitched for twenty, and he’s still going, though doubtfully for much longer after this season.
¡THE LAST JUMP! ¡Así entró Oliver Pérez al relevo! pic.twitter.com/VW5Vk6FGXd
— Toros De Tijuana 🏆 (@TorosDeTijuana) August 5, 2022
9. Joakim Soria
Joakim Soria only started one game in his fourteen major league seasons, but he didn’t have to with how good he was in the bullpen. Of the 22 Mexican pitchers with over 600 MLB innings pitched, Soria’s 3.11 ERA tops everyone. Soria also made two All-Star games and even received Cy Young votes in 2010 after saving 43 games for the 67-95 Royals. And if this wasn’t obvious enough, Soria leads all Mexican-born pitchers with 229 games saved, 140 ahead of second-place Roberto Osuna.
Joakim Soria blowing 94mph past Javier Baez to end the sixth. #Game163 pic.twitter.com/QgVWf8zag9
— Nick Pollack (@PitcherList) October 1, 2018
8. Ismael Valdés
A lot of baseball fans don’t give enough love to Ismael Valdés (who went by Valdez after 2004) and that’s a bit of a shame. He lost more games than he won, but that’s more of a product of playing for bad teams throughout his career than pitching bad games. He pitched a lot, putting up a respectable 4.09 ERA in over 1800 innings pitched and recorded 10+ wins in five different seasons, no easy feat for a sub-.500 pitcher.
On June 27, 1998, Ismael Valdéz threw a complete game, one-hitter on 98 pitches while taking a no-hitter into the 8th inning in a 2-0 @Dodgers victory over the Pirates at Dodger Stadium.
— Dodgers Archive (@DodgersArchive) June 28, 2021
7. Yovani Gallardo
Brewers fans remember Yovani Gallardo as an underappreciated workhorse of their rotation. Gallardo recorded 200+ strikeouts and 200+ innings in consecutive seasons as the team’s best starter in 2011 and 2012. He also always impressed with his bat, even earning a silver slugger award in 2010 and hitting over .200 for his career with twelve home runs. All the innings pitched in his early years took their toll, however, as he was out of the league as a 33-year-old. His high marks early on with the Brewers still make him one of the greatest Mexican pitchers of all time, however.
Yovani Gallardo returned the favor a few years later pic.twitter.com/Gvz1OYA570 https://t.co/oEl131XPZq
— 𝗕𝗿𝗲𝘁𝘁 🙈 Wake up Bullpen Lab (@SaladinoWRLD) September 10, 2021
6. Esteban Loaiza
Esteban Loaiza had the unfortunate luck of pitching through the steroid era, which severely deflates his counting stats but makes him a bit of an analytics darling. His 2003 season where he finished second in Cy Young voting behind Roy Halladay especially stands out, but Loaiza’s most impressive feature was his longevity. Only one Mexican-born pitcher ever pitched more innings and won more games than Loaiza, and yes, he will appear on this list as well.
5. Teddy Higuera
If not for some other Mexican pitcher that helped define baseball in the 1980s, we might have remembered Teddy Higuera as the greatest Mexican pitcher of all time. Recording 94 wins in just nine seasons, Higuera has by far the best winning percentage of any Mexican pitcher with over 100 MLB starts. And despite only pitching in single-digit seasons, only one Mexican pitcher tops Higuera in complete games and shutouts, as Higuera burned bright and burned quickly through baseball.
Teddy Higuera, a member of the @Brewers Wall of Honor, owns the third-most wins in franchise history.#HispanicHeritageMonth pic.twitter.com/qPHgnPcA9q
— Bally Sports Wisconsin (@BallySportWI) September 15, 2021
4. Vinny Castilla
Fans often discount Vinny Castilla for playing most of his career at Coors Field during the 1990s, but that’s a mistake. His name never comes up in steroid conversations, nor does his longevity and consistent power ever come up when talking about the greatest sluggers of the 90s.
What should come up are the numbers, specifically his 320 home runs and 1100+ RBI, by far the most of any Mexican-born hitter. Castilla was also the greatest third baseman in Rockies history before Nolan Arenado arrived and is arguably the greatest Mexican-born hitter of all time.
10/6/1995: Vinny Castilla gave the #Rockies a lead with this two-run homer in Game 3 of the NLDS.
(via MLB) @RoxPileFS @PurpleRow pic.twitter.com/UesJqPkCqM
— MLB Daily Dingers (@MLBDailyDingers) December 26, 2021
3. Bobby Ávila
Bobby Ávila was the first Mexican-born MLB player of any renown and is the greatest Mexican baseball player most fans have never heard of. He was the first (and only) Mexican-born winner of the batting title when he won in Cleveland in 1954, leading the offense for a pennant-winning side.
After a short-but-impressive career stateside, Ávila went on to own his hometown Veracruz Eagles and became president of the Mexican League before becoming a politician in Veracruz. He retired as a Mexican hero and blazed a trail for everyone that came after.
“Old Days”The Batting Champs of 1954,Bobby Avila and Willie Mays prepare to meet in the Cleveland Indians-NY Giants World Series at the Polo Grounds.#Indians #SFGiants #NYC #MLB #1950s #Cleveland pic.twitter.com/as3IOXX34V
— Tom's Old Days (@sigg20) June 29, 2019
2. Adrian González
Though Adrian González is the only player in this list born stateside, his representation for the Mexican national team in every World Baseball Classic merits him a solid place on the list. González was the face of Mexican baseball for his entire career, and he certainly earned that title with how he played.
González recorded seven 100+ RBI seasons, highlighted by a league-leading 116 RBI season for the Dodgers in 2014 and a career-high 119 RBI season for the Padres in 2008. He also won five All Star bids, four Gold Glove Awards, and three Silver Sluggers during his prestigious career. With all of that hardware, he was one of the greatest first basemen of his era and easily the greatest Mexican position player of all time.
Flashback to Adrian Gonzalez’s first at bat as a Dodger
— Dodgers Talk (@LaDodgersTalk) March 29, 2020
1. Fernando Valenzuela
A part of this exercise was trying to figure out reasons not to put Fernando Valenzuela atop this list, but the more we looked the clearer it became. Fernando’s celebrity as the most beloved Latino player of all time alone makes him the greatest Mexican player to ever take the field. His numbers are just ancillary.
Let’s take a look at those numbers, anyway. Fernando leads all Mexican pitchers in games started, wins, innings pitched, complete games, shutouts, strikeouts, and All-Star appearances. Fernando’s magical 1981 season saw him win the NL Rookie of the Year, Cy Young Award, and a World Series as Fernandomania engulfed Los Angeles and changed the makeup of the Dodger fan base forever. Not to mention, he’s one of a handful of pitchers in MLB history who goes by his first name.
So no matter how you look at it, it leads to one conclusion: Fernando is one of the greatest Latino pitchers of all time and easily the GOAT Mexican baseball player.
“If you’ve got a sombrero, throw it to the sky!”
Vin Scully’s call of Fernando Valenzuela’s 1990 no-hitter. One of a kind. https://t.co/8gyn8VB7J8 pic.twitter.com/FOLV3lCjq1
— Kyle Stokes (@kystokes) August 3, 2022