Armed with incredibly deep pockets thanks to their new ownership group, the Dodgers bolstered their international scouting this past year. The new focus on international scouting has led to signings such as Hyun-Jin Ryu and Yasiel Puig.
From the day Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947, the Dodgers have always been a team that has blazed new ground. From Fernando Valenzuela in the ’80s to Hideo Nomo in the ’90s to Kenley Jansen today, the Dodgers’ international scouts have always managed to make great finds. Here’s a look at the five best.
After pitching two-and-a-half years in the Mexican Leagues, the Dodgers purchased Fernando’s contract from the Yucatan Lions for $120,000 in 1979. The 20-year old rookie got the Opening Day start in 1981 when Jerry Reuss was hurt the day before. He pitched a complete shutout and Fernandomania was born.
The Mexican phenom went on to win Rookie of the Year and Cy Young going 13-7 with a 2.48 ERA and eight shutouts. He also went 3-1 with a 2.21 ERA in five postseason starts en route to the World Series.
Valenzuela captivated audiences with his unique look-up-at-the-sky windup, and later his Kareem-style goggles. But above all else, Fernandomania electrified the Dodgers’ large Mexican and Mexican-American fan base.
He connected with the fans in a way that very few Dodgers players ever have. Valenzuela went on to six consecutive all-star appearances and ranks fifth on the L.A. Dodgers all-time wins list.
Valenzuela is currently does color commentary on Spanish radio for the Dodgers and remains one of the most beloved Dodgers of all time.
Hideo Nomo, 1995-1998, 2002-2004, 81-66, 3.74 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 1200 K’s, 1217-1/3 IP
Hideo Nomo was the first player from Japan to permanently relocate to MLB. Nomo was actually one of Japan’s most popular players and was an Olympic silver medalist in 1988. However, a contract dispute in 1994 with his Kintetsu Buffaloes led to Nomo bouncing to the major leagues. The Dodgers signed him in 1995.
Nomo would go on to win Rookie of the Year and gain the only all-star appearance of his career that year going 13-6 with a 2.54 ERA. Nomo would also pitch the Dodgers’ last no-hitter in 1996, against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field.
He was an effective pitcher for seven seasons with the Dodgers and was essentially MLB’s first Asian star with his awkward, twisting wind-up, and high strikeout rate. Nomo helped the Dodgers to playoff appearances in 1995 and 1996.
Chan Ho Park, 1994-2001, 2008, 84-58, 3.77 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 1177 K’s, 1279 IP
Park was the first Korean-born player in MLB. Unlike Nomo and Valenzuela, Park never pitched professionally in his native South Korea and was more of a prospect, so he spent two years in the minor leagues before being called up full-time in 1996.
He had his breakout year in 1997 going 14-8 with a 3.38 ERA in his first full year as a starter.
Park actually had his best season in 2000 when he went 18-10 with a 3.27 ERA.
He pitched an opening day complete game shutout in 2001 and earned the only all-star berth of his career. Although he was an effective starter for five years for the Dodgers, Park will often be remembered for his lack of control and other dubious incidents including being the only player to give up two grand slams in the same inning to the same player to St. Louis’s Fernando Tatis back in 1999.
One of my favorite Chan Ho moments was when he bicycle-kicked Angels’ pitcher Tim Belcher in a 1999 brawl between the two teams.
Ramon Martinez, 1988-1998, 123-77, 3.45 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 1427 K’s, 1895-2/3 IP
Although in the grand scheme of things he will be overshadowed by his brother Pedro, Ramon is also one of the best pitchers to come out of the Dominican Republic in the past 25 years.
Martinez had a breakout season in 1990 for the Blue Crew, going 20-6 with a 2.92 ERA, coming in second in Cy Young voting and garnering the lone all-star selection of his career.
He was a workhorse for the Dodgers in the 90s, pitching at least 200 innings four times, and teaming with Nomo to take the Dodgers to the 1995 NL West title and 1996 Wild Card. However, like Nomo, he faltered in first round playoff match ups against Cincinnati and Atlanta.
Martinez is seventh on L.A.’s all-time wins list.
Raul Mondesi, 1993-1999, .288/.334/.838, 163 HR, 518 RBI, 140 SB, 543 R
The only batter to make the list, Mondesi burst onto the Dodgers scene winning Rookie of the Year in 1994 batting .306 with 16 HR and 56 RBI in 112 games played.
Mondesi gained an all-star berth the next year by hitting .285 with 26 HR, 88 RBI, and 27 SB.
He became the first ever Dodger with 30 homers and 30 stolen bases in 1997.
Raul’s best year was arguably 1999, his final one with the Dodgers, he batted only .253 but set career highs with 33 home runs, 99 RBI, and stole 36 bases while playing in 159 games.
Mondesi was always regarded as a five-tool player, but frustrated fans with his tendency to strike out and because of his impatience at the plate. The Dodgers traded Mondesi to Toronto for Shawn Green following the ’99 season. Mondesi is sixth on the L.A. Dodgers’ all-time home run list.
Perhaps when we revisit this list in a few years we can place Ryu and Puig on it, but these are some of the best international players the Dodgers have ever signed, to date.