Epy Guerrero, a pioneer of Dominican baseball and the most influential scout in Blue Jays history, died Thursday morning in the Dominican Republic at the age of 71.

Guerrero, the Jays’ chief Latin American scout from 1978 until 1995, recruited and developed some of the franchise’s all-time greatest players, including Tony Fernandez and Carlos Delgado.

It was on Guerrero’s urging that the Jays took George Bell from the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1980 Rule 5 draft, and that they trade for Alfredo Griffin and Juan Guzman. He also recruited and helped develop the likes of Damaso Garcia, Junior Felix and Kelvim Escobar.

“He had a keen eye for talent,” said Pat Gillick, Jays GM from 1978 to 1994. “A very loyal employee, a hard worker. He had a love and a passion for the game.”

Gillick first hired Guerrero in 1965 when he was directing the Houston Astros farm system, and the pair ended up working together for nearly 50 years, moving from the Astros to the New York Yankees and then to the Jays, where both men made their greatest impact.

“He and I spoke on Monday and we had spoken couple days prior to that and I knew at that point he was of failing health. It was just how long he could hang on,” Gillick said, adding that Guerrero suffered from kidney failure.

Still, just last month the pair were scouting together in the Dominican, as they have on-and-off over the last half-century. “We had a look at some players,” Gillick said.

Guerrero helped build the Jays teams of the 1980s. He was the club’s primary conduit with the Dominican Republic and was largely responsible for boosting the team’s profile in Latin America by establishing the Jays Dominican baseball academy. The L.A. Dodgers were the only other franchise running such a program at the time.

“After the United States, the country that develops and brings the most talent to the majors and to the minors is the Dominican Republic, and he was one of the first guys to put the infrastructure in place to get all that talent up here, so his legacy is huge just with that,” said Jays right fielder Jose Bautista, who hails from the Dominican.

Gillick said Guerrero had a special instinct for identifying players that would become productive major-leaguers, not only based on their skills, but also on their ability to adjust to a new culture in North America.

“It’s a sad day for baseball,” Delgado told the Star from his home in Puerto Rico.