By Joseph Rodriguez, April 25, 2023
Following an impressive display against the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, the Detroit Tigers have signed Team Nicaragua’s Duque Hebbert to a minor league deal.
Hebbert earned the spot on one of the Tigers’ minor league affiliates after an incredible pitching performance in the ninth inning in which he struck out Juan Soto, Julio Rodríguez and Rafael Devers.
All three of these players are not just Major League Baseball players but also happen to be MLB All-Stars. To strike out three players of this caliber says a lot about Hebbert’s potential and talent.
Hebbert’s success story is one many athletes at Cal Poly Pomona can relate to. Just as in his case, most of our athletes are not being highly scouted by professional sports organizations.
Randy Betten, CPP’s baseball team head coach, spoke about the challenges Division 2 athletes face making it to the pros.
“It’s getting MLB organizations to understand we have a lot of high-quality players,” said Betten. “As the draft has gone down to 20 rounds, it has limited opportunities for D2 players.”
Fewer than 2% of all athletes in the NCAA go on to play their sport at the pro level. That percentage is considerably lower when taking NCAA Division 2 schools into account.
Most scouts from leagues such as the NBA or MLB mostly look at Division 1 or international talent. This makes it difficult for schools like CPP to produce athletes that go on to play professional sports.
Broncos catcher Johnny Pappas talked about the differences for Division 2 players getting scouted as opposed to Division 1 players.
“Not all D1 athletes are leaps and bounds ahead of D2 ones,” said Pappas. “A perfect example is our own Will Rudy who got selected in the fifth round of the MLB draft last year.”
Some CPP alumni have gotten a chance to play in a professional sports league, but not as many as larger schools in Southern California like USC and UCLA. Many athletes at CPP get overlooked because CPP is not a Division 1 school.
Trent MacKinney, junior outfielder for the Broncos, spoke on the lack of attention players of his caliber receive at the lower levels in the NCAA.
“The obvious answer is D1 has more prestige and will naturally draw more attention,” said MacKinney. “I think if you perform at any level, you will have the opportunity to get scouted.”
To connect back to Hebbert’s case, his standing as a semi-pro player in Nicaragua made it similarly difficult for him to catch the eye of MLB scouts. Ultimately, however, his performance proved impressive enough to earn him a contract with the Tigers.
Hebbert, a 21-year-old Nicaraguan pitcher, has only been pitching for approximately a year and a half. Before becoming a pitcher, he was an outfielder in a semi-pro league in his home country. Hebbert changed positions due to his offensive struggles which eventually paid dividends for the young prospect.
Hebbert secured his spot on the Nicaraguan national team after he was named the top rookie in his winter league. This was Team Nicaragua’s first year in the World Baseball Classic as well as Hebbert’s first chance to play on the international stage.
One of Team Nicaragua’s coaches, Luis Molina, also scouts Central American prospects for the Detroit Tigers.
It was through Molina that Hebbert got his minor league deal following his performance in Nicaragua’s game against the Dominican Republic. His outstanding performance is not the first time that Molina has seen Hebbert’s pitching talent.
Hebbert pitched two innings in an exhibition game against the St. Louis Cardinals, giving up one run, one hit and a strikeout.
After seeing Hebbert perform well against some of the top baseball players in the world multiple times, Molina was very impressed with the young talent which ultimately led to the signing.
In his efficient single inning in the World Baseball Classic, Hebbert showed off his arsenal of pitches which included a changeup, sinker and slider. This diverse arsenal proved to be effective when Hebbert faced Soto, Rodríguez and Devers.
Manny Machado and Soto showed their respect for Hebbert by taking a photo with him after his outing with Team Nicaragua. Hebbert also made sure to keep the ball used during his performance and will take it back with him to Nicaragua.
Hebbert is not the only player on his team who plays professional baseball in the United States. Nicaraguan pitchers Jonathan Loáisiga and Erasmo Ramírez play for the Yankees and Nationals respectively.
Hebbert joins a long list of other prospects in the minor leagues who wowed fans around the world during his World Baseball Classic appearance. Great Britain’s Harry Ford, Panama’s Jose Ramos and the Netherlands’ Jaydenn Estanista are just a few other prospects that shined in the WBC.
The next World Baseball Classic will take place in 2026 and will feature a new batch of baseball talent from around the world. Everyone will be locked in to see what the next young star like Hebbert achieves during his moment of fame.
Feature image by Jose Mosqueda
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