Baseball has grown into an international sport over the past few decades. Every team has scouts watching players from all over the world. You can’t find a roster at any level without at least one Latin or South American player. Huge talents from professional leagues in Japan, South Korea and Cuba have come over and played at All Star levels. So why does it seem like every player is from one of ten countries? It’s a big world, where is everyone else?
Well, they’re working on it.
The most recent World Baseball Classic fielded teams from 16 different countries, with Major League Baseball hoping that number will grow by the time the next tournament rolls around. With new baseball diamonds being built daily across the globe and access to MLB available to stream on the internet everywhere, we could be experiencing a foreign boom over the next twenty years.
Still, when you look at the birthplaces of every player to ever suit up in the big leagues, there are very shockingly few countries to draw from. It’s not just countries either. For a game (formerly) known as America’s pastime there are 16 states that have produced less than 100 players all time in the Major Leagues.
Here is a list of the most unlikely birthplaces of current Major Leaguers.
15 Gift Ngeope - South Africa
Gift Ngeope is arguably the best story on the list. Only the sixth South African to sign a Major League contract, he was the first to reach the big leagues. Growing up, Ngeope’s mother was a clubhouse attendant for the South African baseball club, the Randburg Mets. They actually lived in one of the team’s clubhouse rooms, so he was immersed in baseball from an early age. Although he is in the minors at the moment, Ngeope did appear in 28 games for the Pirates this season. Gift’s younger brother, Victor, is also in the Pirates’ minor league system. Stayed tuned to these young brothers as they could someday soon help the Pirates get back on track.
14 Xander Bogaerts - Aruba
Red Sox All-Star Xander Bogaerts may have played for the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic, but you might be surprised to learn he wasn’t born in the burgeoning baseball hotspot of Curacao. Bogaerts is one of five players in Major League history to be born on the island nation of Aruba. Signed in 2009 by the Red Sox, Bogaerts quickly jumped to the top of the prospect ranks. By 2013, he was already in the Majors, cementing himself as Boston’s young cornerstone shortstop. In his already impressive career Bogaerts has been named to an All Star team, won two Silver Slugger awards and received a ring as part of the 2013 champion Red Sox team.
13 Didi Gregorius - Netherlands
Speaking of the Netherlands, Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius is the only current Major Leaguer actually born there, despite moving to Curacao at age five. While boasting an impressive roster overall, the European motherland has only produced 12 players in the history of the league, including Hall of Fame pitcher Bert Blyleven. One of the best defensive infielders in the game, Gregorius made his debut with the Reds in 2012 before making a stop in Arizona, and ultimately settling with the Yankees. In 2015 he was tasked with the nearly impossible role of replacing Yankees legend Derek Jeter at short. Despite some speed bumps early in his tenure, he has settled in nicely and looks to be the Yankees shortstop for the near future.
12 Max Kepler & Aaron Altherr - Germany
Max Kepler and Aaron Altherr are both promising young Major League outfielders, but more importantly, they are two of only 43 German born players to reach the Major Leagues, with only 14 appearing in the bigs since 1990. Kepler, whose parents were German ballet dancers, signed with the Twins in 2009 for the largest contract ever given to a European born player. He debuted in American rookie ball in 2010 after living his entire life in Germany. Altherr’s mother was a US armed forces cadet stationed in Germany when she met his professional soccer player father. Both players were members of the Deutschland World Baseball Classic team.
11 J. C. Ramirez - Nicaragua
Only three current Major Leaguers were born in the Central American country Nicaragua. That’s not a bad number when you consider there have only been 14 all time. While the most prominent Nicaraguan ever was “El Presidente” Dennis Martinez, Angels pitcher J.C. Ramirez is keeping the Nicaraguan torch burning in 2017. Ramirez, who has been a fairly reliable hurler for the Angels over the past couple seasons, made his Major League debut with the Phillies in 2013. Along with Ramirez, Rays pitcher Erasmo Ramirez and Royals utility man Cheslor Cuthbert were also born in the Republic of Nicaragua respectively. Erasmo Ramirez has boasted a six year career between Seattle and Tampa, while Cuthbert has appeared in parts of three seasons with Kansas City, including the 2015 World Series Championship team.
10 Jan Gomes & Paulo Orlando - Brazil
Brazil has produced some of the greatest athletes in the world, but it’s not exactly a baseball hotbed. Despite the multitude of legendary footballers to come out of South America’s largest country, only 3 Brazilians have ever reached the Major Leagues. Of those three, Paolo Orlando and Yan Gomes remain in the league today. Gomes, a catcher/DH for the AL champion Cleveland Indians, was the first Brazilian to make the Majors in 2012. He has enjoyed some success in the pros, including a Silver Slugger award in 2014. Orlando, a speedy outfielder for the Kansas City Royals, got a ring with the 2015 team. The only other Brazilian player, Andre Rienzo had a three season MLB stint end in 2015. Expect to see more Brazilians reach the big leagues in the future.
9 Dovydas Neverauskas - Lithuania
Dovydas Neverauskas is the second Pirates player on the list who has the honor of being the first Major Leaguer from his birth country. Earlier this season the Lithuanian born Neverauskas made his Major League debut out of the pen for the Bucs. Although he only pitched five innings before being sent back down to AAA Indianapolis, he is a top 20 ranked prospect in the Pirates farm system. Lithuana may be more of a basketball and soccer market than baseball but Dovydas’s father is a coach in his native country. He joined his dad on a trip to an Oakland A’s game in 2006, and his love for baseball never wavered. While he’s not in the majors at the moment, Neverauskas has an electric arm and should make it back eventually. He’s a strong candidate to at least be a September call-up in Pittsburgh.
8 Jharel Cotton - U.S. Virgin Islands
Oakland A’s pitcher, Jharel Cotton is one of THREE current Major Leaguers born in the United States Virgin Islands. Cotton played his collegiate ball at Miami Dade College before being selected and ultimately not signing with the Mets in 2011. Drafted again by the Dodgers in 2012, Cotton made his debut with the A’s last season. A highly touted arm, Cotton pitched for the US in the 2016 Futures Game. Despite being most known as the birthplace of NBA legend Tim Duncan, the US Virgin Islands have produced 14 players in baseball history. Along with Cotton, current Major Leaguers Jabari Blash, an outfielder for the San Diego Padres, and Akeel Morris, a pitcher for the Atlanta Braves were also born in the US territory.
7 Liam Hendricks & Peter Moylan - Australia
Of the 30 Major Leaguers born in Australia, only three are currently active. All three Aussies are bullpen arms with Peter Moylan of the Royals and the A’s Liam Hendricks having the most sustainable Major League careers. The side-arming Moylan has carved out a career that has spanned 11 seasons between the Braves and Royals. Hendricks has played for four Major League teams in games spanning 7 seasons. The third pitcher, Warwick Saupold of the Detroit Tigers, has appeared in 27 games over the previous two seasons. Despite being a growing country when it comes to baseball, Australia has mostly developed Major League pitchers. Only 9 position players have graduated from Down Under to the big leagues, while the continents other imports, such as Grant Balfour and Graeme Lloyd, found the most success out the pen.
6 Tony Barnette - Alaska
Of the 12 Alaskans that have ever played Major League Baseball, only Tony Barnette of the Texas Rangers is currently active. Born in Anchorage, Barnette spent most of his years in Washington before starting his professional baseball career in Japan for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows. After six years in Japan he made the leap to the Majors, signing a two year deal with the Rangers where he put together a strong rookie season out of the pen in 2016. Despite producing only 12 players ever, Alaska was the birthplace of Curt Schilling… who probably would be a Hall of Famer if he knew how to keep his mouth shut. So, with that considered, one out of 12 is a pretty solid ratio.
5 Brandon Nimmo - Wyoming
The state of Wyoming has produced 16 Major Leaguers over the years, with only one currently on a 40 man roster - Brandon Nimmo of the New York Mets. Nimmo is from such a baseball bereft part of America, his High School didn’t even have a team. In fact, Wyoming doesn’t even offer baseball as a High School sport. Nimmo instead had to cut his teeth playing American Legion ball before he was chosen in the first round of the 2011 draft, making him the highest picked Wyomingite of all time. A toolsy outfielder, Nimmo seemingly has a role on future Mets teams, but is currently on the disabled list for a partially collapse lung because… well, he’s on the Mets.
4 Alex Bregman & Ken Giles - New Mexico
The state of New Mexico has only churned out 29 players to the Major Leagues. Two of them currently play for one of the best teams in baseball. Astros closer Ken Giles has been carving up hitters for four years, while third baseman and former super prospect, Alex Bregman is just starting to make his mark on the league. With less than 30 players ever who can claim New Mexico as their birthplace, it’s pretty crazy that these guys – arguably the two best in ages - are teammates. Rockies reliever, Mike Dunn is the only other current player born in New Mexico, while former World Series hero Cody Ross, and Hall of Fame slugger Ralph Kiner are some notable New Mexicans of the past.
3 Sean Doolittle - South Dakota
When you hear “South Dakota,” baseball is certainly not the first thing that comes to mind. It’s probably not even the 50th thing that comes to mind. The two most notable South Dakotans in baseball history just may be Hall of Fame managers when all is said and done – Sparky Anderson and Terry Francona. Only 39 Major Leaguers were born in The Mount Rushmore State, with new Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle being the only active. Doolittle was born in Rapid City, but spent most of his childhood in New Jersey. Still, South Dakota gets to claim the former All Star who has fought back from injury to become a feared bullpen arm in the league once again.
2 Scott Feldman & Kurt Suzuki - Hawaii
You’d expect a lot of baseball to be played in such warm climates, but Hawaii has only produced 41 Major Leaguers all time. Despite the low number, there have been some pretty good Hawaiian ballplayers including a few still kicking in the league. Feldman, the journeyman Reds pitcher, has carved out a solid 13 year career throwing for six teams. He carries the torch of previous Hawaiian born pitchers such as Ron Darling, Charlie Hough and Sid Fernandez. Suzuki has proven that a good scrappy catcher will always have a long career playing for four teams over the course of his 11 year career. Despite not living up to the hype thus far into his career, Hawaiian born Cardinals infielder Kolten Wong may end up being the best of the bunch when all is said and done.
1 Jeff Locke - New Hampshire
The New England area has produced some of the greatest players in baseball history, but only 51 Major Leaguers were born in New Hampshire. Of the 51, only one remains active, Jeff Locke of the Miami Marlins. The former All Star was the New Hampshire Player of the Year in High School where he earned the nickname “The Redstone Rocket” which refers to his fastball and home town of Redstone, New Hampshire. Despite the low number of pros, New Hampshire has churned out some pretty strong Major League arms, the most recent being retired All Stars Chris Carpenter and Brian Wilson.
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