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Latino Rookies

2022, the Year of the Latino Rookies

  • Manuel Gómez - East Coast Contributor & Podcast Director Manuel Gómez, East Coast Contributor & Podcast Director
  • December 28, 2022

Highlighting the performances of elite Latino rookies in American Professional Sports.

Across every major American professional sport, Latino rookies are made huge impacts in 2022. Either by birth or descent, these athletes hail from all over Latin America.

The most represented country on this list for baseball is the Dominican Republic. A scrappy Boricua from Brooklyn earned a cult following while becoming a fan favorite in the NBA.

A Mexican American and a Cuban American have left their marks in the NFL.

While this isn’t a definitive list, it is representative of the amazing talent Latinos are putting on display.

Julio Rodriguez embraces AL Rookie of the Year Award

We begin with Julio Rodríguez. Just two years after the Seattle Mariners introduced an AL Rookie of the Year award winner in Kyle Lewis, they’ve gone and done it again. This time, it’s the Loma de Cabrera, Dominican Republic, native.

In J-Rod’s rookie season, he helped the Mariners break a 20-year streak of missing the postseason. The 21-year-old did so by leading all MLB rookies with 28 home runs, .853 OPS, and a 146 wRC+. He placed second with 84 runs, 75 RBIs, 56 extra-base hits, and 25 stolen bases.

The Perfect Storm

One of the most glaring things about this MLB offseason has been the Carlos Correa contract fiasco. It puts into focus how opportunities can change the fortunes – or misfortunes – of a player forever.

When Correa opted to leave the Houston Astros in March, he opened up the doors for Jeremy Peña. Peña didn’t just walk through that door; he busted it all the way down. 

World Series MVP Jeremy Peña makes history

In just one season, the Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, native finished in the Top 5 in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. Peña also became the first rookie shortstop to win a Gold Glove award.

He also earned the MVP awards in the American League Championship Series and World Series. More importantly for him and the city of Houston, he earned a championship ring to match Correa’s.

Nicknamed “La Tormenta,” or “The Storm,” Peña’s presence was definitely felt this season. It appears this storm will linger around for a while.

Latino Rookies in the NFL

A couple of Latino Rookies are making a name for themselves in the NFL. The first is a wide receiver of Cuban descent in Chris Olave of the New Orleans Saints.

Drafted 11th overall in the 2022 NFL Draft, Olave has been a consistent presence for the Saints. Of all rookie receivers, Olave ranks second in receiving yards with 940. He ranks third in receiving touchdowns with three and should be a serious contender for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

On the other side of the ball is linebacker Malcolm Rodríguez. The half-Mexican half-Cherokee rookie was drafted 188th overall, but that hasn’t stopped him from being the Detroit Lions’ top rated linebacker, according to Pro Football Focus.

His personality fits his team perfectly. This season, the Lions are one of the peskiest squads in the league. They have handed defeats to teams like the Vikings (12-3), Giants (8-6) and Commanders (7-7), and have gone toe-to-toe with the likes of the Eagles (13-2), Bills (12-3) and Dolphins (8-7).

With players like this, the future looks bright for Latinos in the NFL.

This Baller Steals the Show

Over in the NBA, once such player has stolen the adoration of fans across the country. Sure, he’s not a rookie anymore, but he was during the 2021-2022 season, so we’re going to count it.

He earned the cheeky nickname “Grand Theft Alvarado” after presenting a knack for pulling off sneaky steals (above).

The Brooklyn-born Puerto Rican made it to the NBA despite being undrafted. It’s a testament to his ability to hustle. When he’s on the court, you would be hard-pressed to find a harder worker than Alvarado.

It’s fully representative of Latinos as a whole. Sure, we’re not a monolith, but we share a common trait. We will not be outworked or out-hustled. The athletes depicted here are a testament to that.

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