For the first time in nearly 20 years, the 2013 Blue Jays feature a strong core of Latin players, Dominican ball players to be exact.
At one time, the Blue Jays were considered to be on the cutting edge when it came to signing Latin prospects with the club having been one of the first MLB franchise’s to establish a stronghold in the Dominican.
In fact, the relationship between the Dominican Republic and Toronto has always been strong…
In 1984, the Blue Jays decided to offer a gesture of good will towards their Caribbean counterparts by donating $10 000 to the Dominican National baseball team to help the club reach the Olympics. This offer is not entirely unlike how the Blue Jays lent Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Reyes, Moises Sierra and Ricardo Nanita to the Domincan’s championship WBC roster earlier this year.
One of the main individuals responsible for the origins of this teams venture in to Latin America was Pat Gillick’s former colleague with both New York and Houston, Epy Guerrero.
Regarded by many as the Blue Jays “Super Scout”, Guerrero brought a number of key players to the Toronto franchise throughout the first 20 years of it’s existence.
Of the names signed by the former scout, standouts like Manuel Lee, Alfredo Griffin, Kelvim Escobar and Carlos Delgado come to mind when one looks at the near 90 Latin players who signed with Guerrero before making it to the Show.
Known as a skilled coach on the player development side, Bobby Mattick added Guerrero to his staff for the 1981 season, a campaign that was to be used primarily as a on the job learning curve for such future cornerstones as George Bell and Dave Stieb.
Speaking of Bell, it was Guerrero who urged Gillick to acquire the soon to be AL MVP in the 1981 Rule 5 Draft after hiding behind the stands in San Pedro.
Guerrero, who was in town to scout another prospect, had the opportunity to catch Bell take BP while playing in the Domincan Winter League. Following his time at the diamond, Guerrero rushed to the nearest phone and called up Gillick who in turn sent Al LaMacchia down to take another look the Bell. Jorge (George) homered in his first AB in front of the Toronto scouts and that was all it took as the 2 vacated the ballpark faster than Bell’s Home Run en route to the Pat Gillick hotline.
Of the countless Blue Jays Guerrero ended up signing, perhaps it was Tony Fernandez who was impacted the most by Dominican native. Guerrero found Fernandez running around the dusty streets of St Pedro de Marcois in the late 70′s, the same city where he found another slick fielding Shortstop in the form of 1979′s (Co) AL Rookie of the Year, Alfredo Griffin.
Fernandez, a baseball rat, was always spotted near by the local ballparks, playing in his bare feet and using a stringed milk carton as a glove. This is where he caught the attention of Guerrero who aside from his overall baseball ability, noticed a distinct limp in the young Fernadez’ step.
“He couldn’t run. So I took him to a doctor and he had an operation. And now he can do everything” quoted Guerrero in 1984′s “Fungo Blues” by Phillippe Van Rjndt and Patrick Blednick.
Out of his own pocket, Guerrero paid for Fernandez to have surgery on his ailing knee before eventually signing the future Shortstop to a contract at the age of 16.
The rest is history… Fernandez would go on to become Toronto’s all time leader in Games, Hits, Triples, Walks and Batting Average with a career .297 BA as a Blue Jay.
Epy Guerrero’s work ethic was unmatched and his perseverance paid off in spades for the Toronto Blue Jays over the years. Aside from a baseball legacy, Guerrero leaves behind a wife and 5 sons and will always be remembered as one of the better scouts in baseball history.