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NO FOREIGN SUBSTANCE : Angels Have Developed Few Latin Americans, but Plan to Change That


TEMPE, Ariz. — Think you know your franchise history, Angel fans? OK, who is the best Latin American player to be signed or drafted by the Angels and reach the major leagues with them?

Stumped? There's a good reason: The Angels have never had a home-grown Latin American player who, during his Angel career, was considered one of baseball's best players.

While the always- competitive Dodgers have been building their franchise on a foundation of Latin Americans, only 54 players from Latin America have played for the Angels in their 37-year, World Series-less history. Of those, only 20 were signed or drafted by the Angels.

And of that 20, only a handful were considered above-average--shortstop Dickie Thon, third baseman Aurelio Rodriguez, and pitchers Pedro Borbon, Ed Figueroa, Minnie Rojas and Luis Sanchez.

But Borbon played only one Angel season (1969) and Figueroa two (1974-75) before being traded to the Cincinnati Reds. Thon played two Angel seasons (1979-80) before moving to Houston, and Rodriguez, an Angel from 1967-70, had his most productive years in Detroit.

While the Dodgers' Latin American pipeline has produced superstars such as Raul Mondesi and Ramon Martinez, the Angels have not had a home-grown Latin player on their major league team since 1988, when Urbano Lugo and Gus Polidor played for them.

The Dodgers currently have 12 Latin American players on their 40-man roster; the Angels have one, pitcher Fausto Macey, acquired from San Francisco in the J.T. Snow trade last November.

"You have to wonder as a fan, 'Has there been some policy against it? Do the Angels not want Hispanic players?' " said Angel President Tony Tavares, who began running the team last May, when the Walt Disney Co. assumed managing control.

"That's not true, but for whatever reason, the organization has not been committed to Hispanic players."

That would appear to be the Angels' loss because Latin America is such a bountiful source for prospects that 20% of the 1,120 players on today's 40-man rosters now come from the region.

If the Dominican Republic, with 107 players on big league rosters, were a state, it would rank second only to California (185) in the number of major leaguers produced.

Puerto Rico (42 players) and Venezuela (39) each would rank among the top seven states, along with Florida (89), Texas (57), Illinois (52) and Ohio (39). Mexico (15) and Panama (11) have produced as many players as 24 other states.

Many of the game's biggest stars, including Mondesi and Martinez, Juan Gonzalez and Ivan Rodriguez (Texas), Bernie Williams and Mariano Rivera (New York Yankees), Sammy Sosa (Chicago Cubs), Edgar Martinez (Seattle) and Roberto Alomar (Baltimore), hail from Latin America.

And the teams that have placed the most emphasis on scouting Latin America--the Dodgers, Braves, Blue Jays, Yankees and Orioles--are among baseball's most successful franchises.

"There's an abundance of talent down there," said agent Scott Boras, who represents several top players from the region, "but I just can't even remember the Angels going after a premium player from Latin America."

And if you know the Angels, you know the reason . . . money.

"We've never devoted the type of budget that it takes to do it right," said Angel General Manager Bill Bavasi, who has been with the organization 13 years. "Since I've been here, this club has never put any emphasis on scouting the Latin countries."

The Angels employ four full-time scouts in Latin America--two in Venezuela, one in the Dominican Republic and one in Mexico.

The Dodgers devote 16 full-time scouts to Latin America, nine in the Dominican.

Almost every team in baseball has an academy for young players in the Dominican Republic--the Dodgers have what is considered the best--and the Angels had one for several years in the early 1990s.

But with the team in escrow in 1995 and former owner Jackie Autry cutting costs, the Angels slashed their international scouting budget in half, saving about $1 million and eliminating the Dominican academy.

With so many talented players in Latin America, though, how can the Angels afford not to mine the area more vigorously?

"If you're given X amount of dollars, you decide where to put it, and you can either spread it out and be thin everywhere or concentrate on one thing, like the [U.S.] draft," Bavasi said.

"If someone were to water down efforts in the draft to become more involved in Latin America, that's a mistake, because the draft is by far the most productive entry we've got."

True, but the appeal of Latin America is you don't need unlimited resources to be successful scouting there. Though agents have helped some Latin players secure bonuses in the $1-million range recently, Latin America is still highly economical, with average signing bonuses ranging from $2,500 to about $25,000.

Atlanta outfielder Andruw Jones, one of the game's rising young stars, signed for $46,000 out of Curacao three years ago, millions less than top American players get in the draft.

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