2020/2021 Tokyo Olympics Baseball Preview: Dominican Republic

Flag of the Dominican Republic

One of the traditional baseball powers, the Dominican Republic is managed by Hector Borg, a former minor leaguer who now runs Latin American development for the San Francisco Giants. The Dominican has never won a medal in the Olympic Games, and in fact has only qualified once before (not counting an appearance at the 1984 games, when baseball was a demonstration sport). Will this be a games of firsts? Their roster can be found here.

About the Country: Taking up the eastern half of the island of Hispaniola (the rest of the island is Haiti), the Dominican Republic was visited by Christopher Columbus during his 1492 voyages, and its capitol of Santo Domingo is the oldest permanent western settlement in the Americas. Having gained independence in the 19th century and moved towards democracy during the 20th, it became fully democratic during the second half of the century. Although problems with corruption and poverty continue to at times plague the nation, it has also been one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Fun fact: Pico Duarte, the Caribbean’s tallest mountain, is located in the Dominican Republic.

Baseball History: The Dominican Republic’s great passion was introduced to it by Cubans in the 1890s fleeing the civil war there. The rest is history, as the Dominican slowly but surely grew into the hotbed it is today. Baseball may be a pastime elsewhere, but in areas of the Dominican it is a way of life, with entire towns staking their futures on their top players. The Dominican Republic won the 2013 World Baseball Classic.

Olympic History: As mentioned earlier, the Dominicans have been in two Olympic baseball tournaments before, although only once where baseball was an official medal sport. A team that featured Ramon Martinez (not to be confused with his little brother, Pedro) went winless at the 1984 games in Los Angeles, while the Dominicans came in sixth in Barcelona in 1992.

Outside of baseball, the Dominicans have won seven medals in their history, including three golds. Two of those golds came thanks to Félix Sánchez, an American of Dominican descent who twice won the 400 meter hurdles. The other gold came from Félix Manuel Díaz, who won the boxing gold in the light welterweight class in 2008.

Road to Tokyo: The Dominicans were the last team to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. Their first attempt came at the 2019 Premier12, but that team was eliminated in the first round. Next, they took part in the Americas Qualifying Tournament, where they came in second to Team USA. So, they had to take part in the final qualifying tournament. That tournament had a greatly reduced field after three teams (“Chinese Taipei”, China, and Australia) had to drop out due to COVID-related travel precautions, meaning the DR was competing with Venezuela and the Netherlands for the final spot. The Dominican would end up winning the tournament, defeating Venezuela 8-5 in the final to finally advance to the Olympics.

Notable Names: The most notable name by far is six-time all-star Jose Bautista. He hasn’t played in MLB or affiliated ball since 2018, and at 40 this may be his last ride. He was the starting 1B for the Dominican during early qualifiers (although he missed the final round where they finally qualified) and it is likely that will continue. While the rest of the infield lacks the sort of pedigree that “Joey Bats” has, there are still some who may be familiar to MLB fans, such as corner infielder Juan Francisco (who played parts of six season in the majors) and utilityman Erick Mejia (who had cups of coffee with Kansas City the last two seasons and remains active in their farm system).

Elsewhere, the Dominican’s outfield will have quite a bit of MLB experience thanks to Emilio Bonifacio and Melky Cabrera. Yefri Perez also had a brief stint in Miami in 2016.

On the pitching mound, the player with the most MLB experience is Jumbo Diaz, the 315 lb. reliever who pitched in 173 games between 2014 and 2017. Since then, he’s been playing in the Dominican and Mexico. There is also Jhan Marinez, who pitched in 103 games in relief over parts of five seasons between 2010 and 2018. Other pitchers on the team with MLB experience include LHP Dario Alvarez, righty reliever Jairo Asencio, former Met and Mariner Gerson Bautista, Cuban-defected LHP Raul Valdes, and 31-year-old Angel Sanchez, who pitched eight games for the PIrates in 2017 before going to Asia where he has had some success in Korea and Japan.

Ones to Watch: Like Team USA, the inability to use players on 40-man MLB rosters has forced the Dominican to draw not just from former MLB players like above but also those overseas or in the minors who have never tasted MLB ball.

Probably the biggest name among these players is Julio Rodriguez. A top-five prospect regardless of what list you are reading, the Mariners-system outfielder is hitting .327 between High-A and AA this season and has been named to the Futures Game. The highest-achieving player on the roster without MLB service time, though, is Christopher Crisostomo. The left-handed pitcher has been a member of Japan’s Yomiuri Giants since 2018, having joined their system in 2017 after topping off at low-A in America.

While those are perhaps the two you should most keep an eye on, they are far from the only ones. Beginning our look on the mound, LHP Junior Garcia is in AAA for the Diamondbacks organization, where he has a 2.93 ERA in 15.1 innings pitched since being promoted. 24-year-old right-hander Denyi Reyes is at AA in the Red Sox organization and has a 2.72 ERA in 36.1 IP. Luis Felipe Castillo has, like Garcia, also reached AAA for the Diamondbacks. The reliever has a 2.25 ERA when combining his time in AA and AAA this season in 20 IP.

Looking at position players, the most notable player without MLB experience besides Rodriguez is possibly Johan Mieses. An outfielder in the Red Sox system, he has an OPS over one this season in time split between AA and AAA, with 14 HRs to help get him there. Shortstop Jeison Guzman, a Royals farmhand, is hitting .278 in high-A this year with nine stolen bases.

One area of concern for the DR is at catcher. Their only two listed catchers are Roldani Baldwin (who has struggled this year at AA in Red Sox organization) and Charlie Valerio (who has spent most of the past five-to-six years primarily in Indy ball).

Outlook: It could be argued that no team, not even Team USA, is hurt as badly by the inability to use 40-man roster players as the Dominican Republic, and it is further hurt by the fact that for various reasons the Dominican has often had lower participation rates in international play to begin with. Still, this is a team with some definite experience and, in some cases, upcoming talent. While I do not think they should be considered likely to make it to the gold medal game, they are a threat to get onto the podium if they can catch a break or two.

You can find all the current Olympic Baseball previews here.