Wander Franco to Play for Dominican Republic Team for Olympic Qualifing Tournament

Wander Franco is hoping to hit the field at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

The 19-year-old Dominican professional baseball shortstop in the Tampa Bay Raysorganization, the top prospect in Major League Baseball, and longtime star Jose Bautista plan to play for the Dominican Republic as the country tries to qualify for the Olympics later this month, according to ESPN.

Wander Franco

Franco, who turned 19 on Sunday, would strengthen a Dominican team jockeying for one of the remaining two qualifying spots in baseball’s return to the Olympics after a 12-year hiatus. He and Bautista, 39, would round out a roster that faces strong competition at the Americas Qualifying Eventon March 22-26 in Tempe and Surprise, Arizona.

Among the teams vying to win the tournament and its single qualifying spot: The Dominican Republic, the United States, Canada, Colombia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. 

The winner will join host nation Japan, Israel, Mexico and South Korea, who already have qualified, while the second- and third-place teams at the event will have an opportunity to lock up the sixth spot at the final qualifying tournament. 

Originally scheduled to be held in Taiwan from April 1-5, the tournament was postponed Sunday because of coronavirus fears until June 17-21 — barely a month before the Tokyo Games’ opening ceremony.

The additions of Franco and Arizona Diamondbacksinfielder Geraldo Perdomo, 20, to the Dominican roster will give the team perhaps the most dynamic middle infield in the tournament. Franco is a transcendent talent who evaluators believe could play in the major leagues today — a powerful, speedy, contact-oriented switch hitter whose slick glove and strong arm allow him to patrol shortstop with aplomb.

While not as highly touted, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Perdomo is an elite athlete whose eye and bat-to-ball talents were rare for someone who played all of last season at 19. A natural shortstop, he played about half his games during the Arizona Fall League at second base and will return there for the Dominican team.

Bautista is expected to play first base, a position he manned 30 times in more than 1,650 major league games during which he hit 344 home runs and drove in nearly 1,000 runs. He last played in the major leagues in 2018, though he spent this winter working out as a pitcher in hopes of returning as a two-way player, sources said. Bautista, who represented the D.R. in the 2009 and 2017 World Baseball Classic, may not pitch in the qualifier but is expected to play a significant role as the D.R. faces Puerto Rico, the United States and Nicaragua during the tournament’s round-robin first round. The two best teams from each four-team pool will face off in a final round that awards the winner and keeps the second- and third-place teams alive.

Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association agreed last week to allow players who are on teams’ 40-man rosters but not active in the major leagues to join their countries’ qualifying-event teams. The potential infusion of talent could theoretically help a team like the United States, which suffered an embarrassing loss to Mexico at the Premier12tournament in November that prevented Team USAfrom qualifying.

Perez & Cleveland Indians Agree to $9 million, Four-Year Contract

It’s four more years for Roberto Perez.

The 28-year-old Puerto Rican catcher and the Cleveland Indians have agreed to a $9 million, four-year contract that includes club options for 2021 and 2022.

Roberto Perez

After spending nearly three months on the disabled list following thumb surgery, Perez became a key contributor last season during the Indians’ postseason run. With Yan Gomes on the DL, Perez started all 15 games in the postseason. He hit two home runs in Game 1 of the World Series.

The deal announced Sunday includes a $500,000 signing bonus and salaries of $550,000 this season, $1.5 million next year, $2.5 million in 2018 and $3.5 million in 2019 and a $450,000 option buyout. It replaces a one-year contract agreed to last month that called for a salary of $542,300 in the major leagues. Perez would have been eligible for salary arbitration after this season.

Perez batted only .183 in 61 games, but he threw out 46 percent of potential base stealers and the Indians went 33-20 when he started.

He broke his right thumb and sustained ligament damage on a tag play last April and came off the DL prematurely when Gomes injured his shoulder in July.

Perez was selected by the Indians in the 33rd round of the 2008 amateur draft. He played for Puerto Rico in this year’s World Baseball Classic.

Molina Agrees to Three-Year, $60 Million Extension with St. Louis Cardinals

Yadier Molina is embracing the spirit of St. Louis for longer…

The 34-year-old Puerto Rican professional baseball catcher has agreed to a three-year, $60 million extension with the St. Louis Cardinals, the multiple Gold Glove winner told ESPN.

Yadier Molina

The Cardinals have scheduled a 2 p.m. ET media conference Sunday at Busch Stadium, presumably to discuss Molina’s contract extension.

The deal will keep Molina in St. Louis through at least 2020.

General manager John Mozeliak said Friday that he was optimistic a deal would get done by the first pitch of the Cardinals’ Sunday Night Baseball game against the World Series champion Chicago Cubs, scheduled for 8:35 p.m. ET.

Mozeliak said over the past few days that he worried Molina’s contract extension could be a distraction if it wasn’t taken care of by Sunday.

Molina’s current contract, signed ahead of the 2012 season, contained a mutual $15 million option for 2018 with a $2 million buyout.

His strong play for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, coupled with his hot hitting following the 2016 All-Star break and his comments after returning from the competition, had put pressure on the Cardinals to get a deal done as quickly as possible.

Molina’s biggest impact to the Cardinals over the years has been in run prevention. He became the full-time starter in 2005 and made seven All-Star teams while winning eight Gold Gloves.

Just when his hitting seemed to be in serious decline, Molina, 34, batted .365 with a .926 OPS following last season’s All-Star break.

Valoy Receives “Gran Soberano Award” at the Premios Soberanos

It’s a Gran prize for Cuco Valoy

The 80-year-old Dominican singer-songwriter has received the Gran Soberano award, the top arts prize at the Dominican Republic’s Premios Soberanos.

Cuco Valoy

Valoy was given the honor during a show featuring an opening performance by Juan Luis Guerra and “Merengue KingJohnny Ventura.

Valoy, who has been performing and recording for half a century, said he was dedicating the award to Los Virtuosos, the band that accompanied him early in his career, when he was a pioneer in taking Dominican music to Europe, “where few knew where our country is located.”

Earlier in the show, the legendary singer-songwriter was honored with a performance by his son, Ramon Orlando, singer Henry Garcia and popular urban music act Mozart La Para, who joined in interpreting “Juliana,” one of Valoy’s hits.

Guerra and Ventura were joined on stage by dozens of dancers, with the performance climaxing with everyone simulating Dominican pitcher Fernando Rodney throwing an imaginary strike, a gesture that became popular in the country when the Dominican Republic won the 2013 World Baseball Classic.

Guerra also received an award in the category of most prominent artist or group abroad.

Puerto Rican reggaeton singer Wisin performed his hit, “Vacaciones,” and received huge applause from the audience when he received the Soberano International Prize.

The audience at Santo Domingo’s Eduardo Brito National Theater also enjoyed a performance by some members of the disbanded La Coco Band orchestra, founded about 30 years ago, which revolutionized merengue with contagious rhythm and simple lyrics.

Bachata artist Leonardo Paniagua, honored at the show for his long career, recalled the early days of the style, when it was difficult for him to be accepted on major stages.

Nazario Releases Video for “Soy Tuya,” Dedicated to Her Native Puerto Rico

Ednita Nazario is celebrating La Isla del Encanto

The 61-year-old Puerto Rican singer-songwriter has released her new single “Soy Tuya,” which she dedicated to Puerto Rico’s baseball team.

Ednita Nazario

Nazario premiered the song in her social media, along with an emotive lyric video.

The clip shows the beautiful island scenery and great achievements of different personalities like Zuleyka Rivera winning the Miss Universe crown, boxer Tito Trinidad, tennis player Monica Puig winning the gold medal in the 2016 Olympic Games and, of course, the Puerto Rico baseball team during the World Baseball Classic 2017.

“Seeing my country, Puerto Rico, united is the greatest joy that I can feel, she wrote, adding: “Thank you for giving the best of you and we will continue to do the same: give ourselves in body and soul to a productive and positive life for ours and for everyone.”

This year, Puerto Rico’s team made its presence felt after reaching the finals without losing a game and uniting an entire country. They also generated a polemic movement: all the players decided during the series to dye their hair blond, immediately going viral. From young people to singers like Victor Manuelle, Ken-Y and Wisin (with a wig) also joined the movement and went blond.

ChocQuibTown Signs Management Deal with La Industria

ChocQuibTown is under new management…

The Latin Grammy-winning Colombian group has signed a management deal with La Industria, according to Billboard.

ChocQuibTown

The trio, comprised of Gloria MartínezGoyo,” Mike Martínez “Slow” and Carlos ValenciaTostao, joins the Industria family led by Juan Diego Medina, who manages Nicky Jam, Saga White Black and Valentino.

ChocQuibTown’s 2015 album El Mismo reached the No. 5 spot on Billboard‘s Latin Rhythm Albums chart.

Last summer, the Grammy-nominated group scored their first No. 1 on Billboard’s Tropical Songs chart with their single “Desde el día en que te fuiste” (chart dated August 6, 2016).

ChocQuibTown’s “De donde vengo yo” will be the official song for ESPN Deportes‘ 2017 World Baseball Classic coverage.

ChocQuibTown’s “De donde vengo yo” Featured in ESPN Deportes’ 2017 World Baseball Classic Coverage

ChocQuibTown may be sporting new fans soon…

ESPN Deportes is featuring the Latin Grammy-winning Colombian hip-hop group’s prideful, feel-good song “De donde vengo yo” for their 2017 World Baseball Classic coverage.

ChocQuibTown

ChocQuibTown, comprised of Carlos “Tostao” Valencia, his wife Gloria “Goyo” Martínez and Gloria’s brother Miguel “Slow” Martínez, took to social media to share news of their participation along with a video featuring the Latin teams that are playing in the tournament.

“Let’s experience the 2017 WBC to the beat of ‘De donde vengo yo,'” ChocQuibTown posted on Facebook.

The international tournament, with games taking place in major cities including Tokyo, Miami, Seoul and Los Angeles, will kick off March 6.

Peña Closes Deal with the Kansas City Royals

Francisco Peña is making a royal career move…

The 24-year-old Dominican professional baseball catcher, a minor league free agent, has agreed to join the Kansas City Royals, who’ve added him to the team’s 40-man roster.

Francisco Peña

Peña, the son of former Royals manager Tony Pena, has spent the past six years in the New York Mets organization.

He hit .257 last season for Triple-A Las Vegas with nine homers and 39 RBIs. He committed just three errors and threw out 30 percent of stolen-base attempts.

Pena was also a member of the champion Dominican Republic squad in this past year’s World Baseball Classic, where he was 1 for 2 with an RBI in two tournament games.

The Royals announced the move on Sunday.

Prado Reaches Lucrative Four-Year Deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks

Martin Prado could be called the $40 Million Dollar Man…

The 29-year-old Venezuelan pro baseball player has agreed to a $40 million, four-year contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks only a week after being acquired in a team trade that sent Justin Upton to the Atlanta Braves.

Martin Prado

Prado, who made the All-Star team as the Braves’ second baseman in 2010, has been tapped to play third base for the Diamondbacks.

Prado, who will play for Venezuela in this year’s World Baseball Classic, is a career .295 hitter. Arizona sent two-time All-Star Upton and third baseman Chris Johnson to the Braves for Prado, right-hander Randall Delgado and three minor leaguers.

Prado, who said that the trade initially took him by surprise, has a new outlook.

“Now I see everything more clear, and I’m happy to be aboard with the Arizona Diamondbacks,” he said.

Prado will earn $7 million this season, then $11 million each of the following three years. He could have gone through arbitration and become a free agent after this season, perhaps getting a more lucrative deal.

“Since I got to the big leagues I’ve been looking to be more secure,” he said, “to be in the right spot and not have to worry about going through free agency,” said Prado. “The way I am right now, I’m happy. I’m going to play more relaxed. I think I needed it.”

General manager Kevin Towers said that adding a contact hitter in Prado should help the team be less reliant on the home run.

Prado prides himself on being able to do “the little things” to make a team successful.

“You know that in the National League, more often you can play the game and do the little things right, you can take advantage of the other team,” he said. “That’s my thing, just trying to make that as a routine because in small games, that can make a difference, and one game can make a difference at the end of the year.”

Prado hit .301 last season with 42 doubles, 10 home runs and 70 RBIs in 156 games. He led the National League with 60 multi-hit games and was fourth in hits and fifth in doubles. He played several positions, primarily left field but also third base, second base, first base and shortstop. He has never played an entire season at third base.

Pitchers and catchers report to the Diamondbacks’ Scottsdale spring training facility on February 11, with all players reporting three days later.