Monday, November 20, 2017

Hermosillo wins LMP first half title; Vizcarra, Sojo both fired

Roberto Vizcarra in happier times with Mexicali
The Hermosillo Naranjeros have won the Mexican Pacific League’s first-half championship, picking up eight playoff qualification points in the process, after beating last-place Obregon twice in a three-game weekend home series. Managed by longtime Mexican baseball figure Lorenzo Bundy (a Philadelphia native), the Orangemen were in a three-way tie at the top of the LMP standings with Culiacan and Mazatlan after going 20-15 in the half, but got the nod for first based on their record against the Tomateros and Venados, respectively.  

Culiacan was awarded second (7 points) while Mazatlan takes third (6 points).  In one of the tightest races in recent LMP seasons, Jalisco finished one game out of first at 19-16 to place fourth while 18-17 Navojoa finished two games back in fifth place.  The final first half standings and points are posted below this story.  Playoff seedings in the MexPac are based on points accrued over the two halves of the schedule.
Meanwhile, Mexicali has fired the man who led them to the pennant last winter.  Manager Roberto Vizcarra was cut loose Sunday after the Aguilas finished a disappointing sixth in the first half with a record of 16-19.  It’s the second time Vizcarra has felt the axe in 2017 after he was fired by the Mexican League’s Quintana Roo Tigres, a team he led to the 2014 pennant, late in the regular season.  Vizcarra will be replaced in Mexicali by Pedro Mere, skipper of current Mexican League champion Tijuana who’d been managing the Moroleon Toros Bravos in the Mexican Winter League with players assigned from both the Toros and Leon.

The Los Mochis Caneros didn’t wait until the end of the first half to fire manager Luis Sojo, who was let go last Thursday.  The former Yankees utilityman, who was a member of five World Series champions (including the 1993 Toronto Blue Jays), had the Caneros at 13-18 when he was canned.  Sojo managed a Yankees team to the Rookie Gulf Coast League title last summer.  He was replaced in Mochis by another former longtime Liga infielder Ramon Orantes, who led Union Laguna to a 60-49 record in his first stint as a manager this year but missed the LMB North playoffs.  Like Mere, Orantes was managing in the LIM with the Maravatio Leones, an affiliate of both Laguna and Yucatan.  The Caneros are 1-3 under Orantes and were swept by Mazatlan over a three-game weekend home series.

The LMP All-Star Game is slated for Monday night at Mochis’ Estadio Emilio Ibarra Almada. The All-Star contest, which will be preceded by a Legends Softball Game and Home Run Derby, was revived last winter after an absence of 19 years when the North defeated the South, 4-3, on a walkoff single by Obregon’s Olmo Rosario in the bottom of the ninth in front of 15,145 fans at Nuevo Estadio Yaquis in Obregon.  Attendance won’t approach that figure this time, as Emilio Ibarra Almada holds just 11,000.  Ironically, the two managers who’d been slated to head the All-Star teams were Vizcarra and Sojo, whose teams met in last winter’s finals.  

Hermosillo 20-15 (8.0), Culiacan 20-15 (7.0), Mazatlan (20-15) 6.0, Jalisco 19-16 (5.0), Navojoa 18-17 (4.5), Mexicali 16-19 (4.0), Los Mochis 14-21 (3.5), Obregon 13-22 (3.0).
Batting-Sebastian Elizalde (CUL) .382,  Hits-Sebastian Elizalde (CUL) 52, Runs-Randy Arozarena (NAV) and Jeremias Pineda (MAZ) 29, Homers-Jovan Rosa (NAV) 8, RBIs-Manny Rodriguez (JAL) 32, Stolen Bases-Jeremias Pineda (MAZ) 22.
Wins-Mitch Lively (MAZ) 5, Earned Run Average-Edgar Gonzalez (CUL) 1.80, Strikeouts-Cesar Vargas (HM) 35, Saves-Austin House (HMO) 11, Holds-Edgar Gomez (MXI) 10, WHIP-Edgar Gonzalez (CUL) 1.09.

Forged passport, prospect sale kickback, Rookiegate on LMB plate

Ex-Pirates farmhand Luis Heredia
It’s been anything but a quiet offseason for the Mexican League even when you don’t factor in the franchise move from Veracruz to Nuevo Laredo or the creation of two 57-game seasons with playoffs between late March and early October 2018.

The LMB has fined the Yucatan Leones 5 million pesos (about US$263,000) for registering Cuban outfielder Ronnier Mustelier with a fake passport.  That discussion at the LMB’s recent Assembly of Presidents meeting was led by a claim from Tabasco Olmecas president Jose Luis Dagdug that Campeche had done something similar with another Cuban outfielder, former international star Alfredo DeSpaigne, who is now playing in Japan.  The topic swung to Mustelier’s passport, which the Mexico City Attorney General’s office investigated and found to be falsified.  

Mustelier was brought into Yucatan as one of six allowed foreigners in 2017 and hit .318 with one homer in 48 games for the LMB South regular season champs but went 4-for-27 in the playoffs as the Leones lost to Puebla in the Division Championship Series.  The 33-year-old Mustelier, who won’t face an LMB suspension in 2018, was released by Yucatan in early October.  He’s hitting .337 with 16 RBIs and 14 runs scored in 28 games for Culiacan in the MexPac.

Then there’s the matter of Luis Heredia’s 2012 signing with Pittsburgh for a reported $2.7 million.  That transaction appears to have been the final straw for the Pirates, who fired Latin America scouting director Rene Gayo after it was determined that he received a kickback in the signing of Heredia, who was 16 at the time.  

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports Gayo was compensated by a Mexican League team for delivering Heredia to the Pirates.  Since Veracruz held his rights in Mexico, all signs seem to point at owner Jose Antonio Mansur, who moved the team to Nuevo Laredo last month although there are questions as to whether his is the franchise’s legal owner.  Heredia was released by the Pirates after never rising above AA ball and is expected to pitch for Mazatlan this winter.  Venados GM Jesus Valdez has been the Bucs’ top scout in Mexico for years and was instrumental in landing Heredia.

Finally, the LMB has made a statement regarding their investigation into the transfer of five prospects from Quintana Roo to Mexico City last winter just before the Tigres were sold to former Cy Young winner Fernando Valenzuela and his wife Linda Burgos.  Two of those teenaged prospects were subsequently sold by the Diablos Rojos to the Texas Rangers for over $2.5 million last summer.  The common thread appears to be current Diablos GM Francisco “Pollo” Minjarez, who was an assistant GM in Quintana Roo when the deal allegedly occurred, then moved to the nation’s capital and the Diablos after the sale.  

The Liga says they are working on the restructuring of their player transfer protocols but added nothing about the transaction in question between the Tigres and Diablos, which means the Valenzuelas, who took a financial beating in Cancun this summer, will be calling Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred’s office in New York soon, if they haven’t already.

Dodgers, Padres to play May 2018 series in Monterrey

Estadio Monterrey
There WAS some good news for the Mexican League last week, when it was officially announced that the National League champion Los Angeles Dodgers will meet the San Diego Padres for a three-game series in Monterrey early next season.  The set will take place May 4 through 6 at Estadio Monterrey, Mexico’s largest ballpark with a capacity of 27,000.

This will mark the third time the Padres have hosted MLB games in Monterrey.  San Diego played a set against the New York Mets in August 1996 and then battled the Colorado Rockies in their April 4, 1999 season opener.  The last time MLB teams ventured south of the border was in March 2016, when the Padres and Houston Astros played two games at Mexico City’s Estadio Fray Nano.  This will be the first-ever Dodgers regular season foray into Mexico.

The upcoming Dodgers-Padres series had originally planned for Mexico City’s new 13,000-seat ballpark, but the facility was already behind schedule even before September’s devastating earthquakes exacerbated some pre-existing structural problems.  Citing uncertainty over whether Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu will be ready by May, both Major League Baseball and the Monterrey Sultanes announced the series would be moved to the northern city, as had been speculated for weeks.  The Sultanes, who led Minor League Baseball in attendance this year, are already linking tickets to the series with season ticket sales for the 2018 Mexican League season.
Besides stars like Clayton Kershaw,  Dodgers players who might make the trip are first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, pitcher Julio Urias and outfielder Alex Verdugo.  Gonzalez was thought to be joining the Jalisco Charros for the second half of the Mexican Pacific League season, but the LA front office may want him to rest after an injury-plagued 2017.  The Padres lineup is expected to include Guadalajara-born third baseman Christian Villanueva, who hit .344 with four homers in 12 games for San Diego in a September call-up.  Villanueva was BBM’s Winter MVP in 2015-16 after a .322/9/38 LMP season for Obregon.

Monday, November 13, 2017

2018 LMB season to end in October; two big trades made

LMB Assembly of Presidents meeting in Leon
After weeks of speculation about whether the Mexican League’s proposed two-season calendar in 2018 would extend into November, overlapping the Mexican Pacific League’s 2018-19 schedule by a month and severely curtailing domestic player availability for the winterball circuit, the LMB has set October 8 as the date for Game Seven of their second Serie del Rey.  The first season will open on March 22 while the All-Star Game is scheduled for July 1, amid a four-day break between two 57-game regular seasons plus playoffs.  The decision came at last week’s Assembly of Presidents meeting in Leon.  The MexPac traditionally opens its own season in mid-October, so the threat of scheduling conflicts has been eliminated.  The 16 Liga teams (Durango WILL be back, reportedly under new ownership) own the playing rights to nearly all homegrown LMP players, however, and it may eventually become common for LMB players to be held back from MexPac competition.

The Mexico City Diablos Rojos will move to the South Division for 2018, with the Dos Laredos Tecolotes logically placed in the North after the former Veracruz franchise moves to the border city.  The Diablos lobbied to remain in the North last season even though Mexico City lies south of both 2017 newcomers Durango and Leon.  The move backfired, as the Red Devils missed the playoffs for the second year in a row despite turning in a 57-52 record, which would’ve been a second-place finish in the South.  The Tecos reportedly hope to play two games of each three-game series in Nuevo Laredo with one across the border in Laredo, Texas.  Nuevo Laredo has a 12,000-seat ballpark built in 2007 that would rank among the better facilities in the Liga, but its remote location outside town has been a drawback.  The Tecos may end up back in their original home, the 6,000-seat Parque La Junta, which turned 70 this year.  Their likely home in Texas would be Uni-Trade Stadium, which opened in 2012.  The $18 million ballpark holds 6,000 for baseball.

As expected, former MLB catcher and ex-Diablos manager Miguel Ojeda was named as Monterrey’s new helmsman.  Ojeda took the reins as the Sultanes were trading designated hitter Luis Juarez and shortstop Walter Ibarra to Yucatan for first baseman Ricky Alvarez and outfielder Francisco Lugo.  The deal that raised eyebrows among Mexican baseball cronistas saw Aguascalientes third baseman Jesse Castillo, the Liga MVP for 2017, sent to Monclova for five players, including starting pitchers Andres Meza, Josh Outman and Julio Felix, who combined for 17 wins this summer for Puebla, whose Pericos are owned by the same Gerardo Benavides who also happens to own the Acereros.  The more things change...

Tigres may appeal to LMB with Rookiegate allegations

Tigres owners Fernando Valenzuela and Linda Burgos
The Mexican League is maintaining silence regarding their investigation into a disputed player transfer last year in which five Quintana Roo prospects were sent to Mexico City just before the Tigres were sold to a group led by former Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Fernando Valenzuela. However, Valenzuela’s wife and co-owner Linda Burgos is not being so stoic, and the result may be an appeal to Major League Baseball’s intervention.

The impasse stems from the transfer of five young players from Quintana Roo’s protected list to the Diablos Rojos, two of whom were sold to the Texas Rangers over the summer for a combined US$2.7 million.  The Valenzuelas, who are now sole owners of the Tigres after their partners bailed out earlier this year, claim the protected players list they received from former owner Carlos Peralta and general manager Francisco Minjarez contained the names of the five players in question. After the sale closed, Minjarez left the Tigres front office for the GM position with the Diablos.

Burgos tells Proceso’s Beatriz Pereyra that the Tigres are prepared to call MLB commissioner Rob Manfred seeking an investigation if Liga president Javier Salinas does not rule in their favor, and that Minjarez be expelled for his alleged double-dealing.  “I have my reserve list of the team I bought,” Burgos says.  “The ‘proofs’ of Pollo (Minjarez) are not valid either before the LMB or MLB because it is not an official document.”  She adds that the five prospects were not the only thing missing from the sale:  “The team also purchased furniture, televisions, a van, desks…  And do you know what was there?  Nothing!  Zero!  They stole everything.  There wasn’t even a chair.”  Burgos says repeated requests for information from the LMB office in Mexico City have not been answered.

The Valenzuelas (including son Fernando Junior, the Tigres GM) struggled mightily their first year in Cancun and reportedly lost millions.  The Tigres did qualify for the playoffs by finishing third in the LMB South, but they also fired manager Roberto Vizcarra in midseason, went 49-56 before being eliminated by Puebla and came in eleventh in attendance with 147,416 fans coming to 49 home games, an average of 3,008 per opening while financial support from the state of Quintana Roo was cut back dramatically.

Adrian Gonzalez to play in Jalisco this winter

On the heels of the most frustrating season in his 14-year MLB career, five-time All-Star Adrian Gonzalez is now expected to join the Jalisco Charros in December for the stretch drive of the Mexican Pacific League season, according to Mexican newspaper Excelsior.  The 35-year-old Dodger first baseman would be rejoining his brother Edgar, who now serves as a vice president of the Guadalajara team.  The two played side-by-side for a number of winters in Mazatlan before doing the same in San Diego after then-second sacker Edgar was called up to the Padres from AAA Portland for his big league debut in 2009.

While Edgar has gone on to managerial success in Mexicali and now a front office position with the Charros, Adrian maintained his reputation as a smooth fielder at first while being a steady run producer for the Dodgers before injuries hampered him throughout the 2017 season, allowing El Titan to play in just 71 games, batting .242 with three homers.  For his MLB career, which began with Texas in 2004, Gonzalez has a .288 average with 2,010 hits, including 311 homers and 1,176 RBIs.  He has one year remaining on his current MLB contract, which calls for $22.4 million in 2018.

Jalisco has been a contender for first place and the eight points that come with it throughout the first half.  The Charros are presently 15-14 and are tied for fourth place with defending champion Mexicali under first-year manager Tony Tarasco, but only four games separate the top seven teams with six games remaining on the first-half schedule.  Culiacan heads the standings at 17-12 after winning, 6-3, in Los Mochis Sunday as Ronnier Mustelier’s three-run homer in the fifth inning broke a 2-2 tie.  The Tomateros win broke a three-way tie at the top after Mazatlan fell, 8-3, in Mexicali and Hermosillo lost a 16-5 home decision to Navojoa.

Culiacan will host Mexicali in a critical midweek series starting Tuesday while Hermosillo visits Mazatlan.  Next weekend’s showcase set appears to be in Guadalajara, where the Charros welcome the Tomateros for three games beginning Friday night.  The LMP All-Star Game is slated for Monday, November 20 in Los Mochis, one day before the second half begins.

MEXICAN PACIFIC LEAGUE Standings (as of November 13, 2017)
Culiacan 17-12, Hermosillo 16-13, Mazatlan 16-13, Jalisco 15-14, Mexicali 15-14, Los Mochis 13-16, Navojoa 13-16, Obregon 11-18..
Batting-Jeremias Pineda (MAZ) .393, Runs-Randy Arozarena (NAV) 25, Homers-Bryce Brentz (HMO) 7, RBIs-Manny Rodriguez (JAL) 26, Stolen Bases-Jeremias Pineda (MAZ) 17.

Wins-Mitch Lively (MAZ) 4, ERA-Danny Rodriguez (CUL) 0.87, Strikeouts-Cesar Vargas (HMO) 31, Saves-Ryan Kussmaul (MXI) 10, WHIP-Danny Rodriguez (CUL) 0.71.

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Monday, November 6, 2017

Culiacan beats Obregon in 19, tops LMP standings

The Culiacan Tomateros put four runs on the scoreboard in the top of the 19th inning and held host Obregon scoreless in the bottom of the frame to come away with a marathon 7-3 win over the Yaquis Sunday night.  The triumph bumped Culiacan’s Mexican Pacific League record to 14-9, good enough for a one-game lead over 13-10 Jalisco in the LMP first-half standings.  Obregon dropped deeper into last place by falling to 8-15, two games in back of seventh-place Navojoa.

Sunday night’s contest began at 5:13PM local time when Obregon starter David Reyes pitched a high ball to Tomateros leadoff man D’Arby Myers for ball one.  The two teams played scoreless ball until the bottom of the third, when the Yaquis’ Niko Vazquez rapped a bases-loaded double off Culiacan opener Edgar Gonzalez to give Obregon a 3-0 cushion.  The Tomateros chipped away and tied the game by plating single runs in the fourth, fifth and ninth innings (the latter on an Andy Wilkins sacrifice fly to left that scored Sebastian Elizalde from third to even the score at 3-3).

The two teams went on to play the equivalent of a full second game, going another nine innings without bothering the scorer before bringing their deadlock into the top of the 19th entrada.  Jose Orozco and Josh Fuentes both singled to lead off against Obregon reliever Carlos de Leon, who was then replaced by Martin Sotelo.  Marco Guzman Jr.’s sacrifice bunt moved Orozco and Fuentes up to leave first base open, leading Sotelo to intentionally walk Alfredo Amezaga, loading the bases with Maxwell Leon due up.  Whatever strategy was behind the move was rendered moot when Leon smoked his fourth double of the season to bring in Orozco and Fuentes in with the go-ahead runs.  Sotelo then intentionally walked Myers to pitch to Alexis Wilson, whose liner up the middle scored both Amezaga and Leon to give the Tomateros a 7-3 advantage.

It was then left to David Gutierrez, Culiacan’s eighth pitcher (the Yaquis used nine), to close out the contest.  When Gutierrez induced Sergio Contreras to fly out to Elizalde in right, ending the game, the clock read nine minutes to midnight, or 6 hours, 38 minutes after Reyes’ opening pitch.  Myers and Elizalde each had three hits between 18 combined plate appearances.  Leo Heras and Alex Liddi had three singles apiece for Obregon.  Francisco Rios got the win for the Tomateros, tossing shutout ball for the 17th and 18th innings, while De Leon was the Yaquis hard-luck loser after pitching six scoreless stanzas before allowing those two leadoff singles in the 19th.  A crowd of 9,111 was on hand at Estadio Nuevo Yaquis at game time, but it can be safely assumed that the vast majority were long-gone by game’s end.

MEXICAN PACIFIC LEAGUE Standings (as of November 6, 2017)
Culiacan 14-9, Jalisco 13-10, Hermosillo 12-11, Mazatlan 12-11, Mexicali 12-11, Los Mochis 11-12, Navojoa 10-13, Obregon 8-15.  
Batting-Jeremias Pineda (MAZ) .394, Runs-Many Rodriguez (JAL) 18, Homers-Bryce Brentz (HMO) 6, RBIs-Manny Rodriguez (JAL) 24, Stolen Bases-Jeremias Pineda (MAZ) 13.

Wins-Danny Rodriguez (CUL), Tyler Kane (NAV) and Mitch Lively (MAZ) 3, ERA-Danny Rodriguez (CUL) 0.98, Strikeouts-Cesar Vargas (HMO) 27, Saves-Ryan Kussmaul (MXI) 10, WHIP-Danny Rodriguez (CUL) 0.65.

Saltalamacchia signs with Jalisco, Japhet Amador arrives

The Jalisco Charros have signed MLB veteran catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia to a contract. The 32-year-old Saltalamacchia made his big league debut with Atlanta in 2007, hitting .284 over 47 games for the Braves before being part of a seven-man trade in which Atlanta also sent shortstop Elvis Andrus and pitcher Neftali Perez to Texas for first baseman Mark Teixeira and pitcher Ron Mahay.  

While Saltalamacchia never became an All-Star like Andrus and Perez subsequently did for the Rangers, the 2003 first round draft pick (for the Braves) did go on to be a useful player for eleven years, a passable defensive catcher and a guy who didn’t hit for a high average but reached double figures in homers six times and 10+ doubles eight times.  The 6’4” Floridian socked 55 longballs between 2011-13 for Boston, where he was the starting catcher for the 2013 world champion Red Sox.  In all, Saltalamacchia has a .233 career batting average in the majors with 110 homers and 381 RBIs over 890 career games.

Saltalamacchia spent part of the 2017 season in the Blue Jays organization, hitting .040 in Toronto and .162 with AAA Buffalo before he was released in late June.  He played his first two games for the Charros in a weekend home series with Navojoa, going 2-for-6 with a homer and three RBIs.  

Jalisco was not exactly suffering behind the plate, with All-Star Carlos Rodriguez and defensive standout Gabriel Gutierrez already on the roster, but February’s Caribbean Series will be held in Guadalajara and Charros owner Armando Navarro (who normally operates in hyperdrive anyway) really wants his team in it as the Mex Pac champion.

In addition to Saltalamacchia, slugger Japhet Amador returned from his second season with Japan’s Rakuten Golden Eagles.  The Mulege Giant made his 2017-18 debut Saturday against Navojoa, socking a homer and double in four at-bats before singling and scoring twice against the Mayos Sunday.

LMB Presidents meeting in Leon; is Durango on agenda?

The Mexican League’s Assembly of Presidents has scheduled their monthly get-together in Leon, Guanajuato this week.  While discussions regarding the proposed move to two 66-game schedules plus playoffs in 2018 will take center stage and may become protracted, it’ll be hard for Liga majordomos to ignore the latest activity going on in Durango.

If you’ve been following that story, you’re already aware of how the Generales (along with the Leon Bravos) entered the LMB last year as replacements for the Carmen Delfines and Reynosa Broncos, respectively, and immediately ran into problems.  Both teams had to play as road warriors for the first month of the season while their ballparks were undergoing late-starting renovations.  The difficulties didn’t end after the two clubs began playing at home.  In Durango, the local fans actually supported the team reasonably well as the Generales finished in the middle of the LMB pack in average attendance despite a last-place finish in the LMB North, but cash flow was a season-long problem as players went unpaid more than once over the course of the schedule.  Several key players were sold off and the 2017 season was by and large a disaster.

As a result, new league president Javier Salinas (along with the Assembly) in late September ordered the Generales to take 2018 off so they could get their financial house in order for another try in 2019.  That move was met by defiance from Durango state governor Jose Rosas Aizpuro Torres, who said in effect that the Generales ain’t goin’ nowhere and that funding would be secured for next year, with new investors to replace overmatched team owner Virgilio Ruiz at the top of the pyramid.  

On top of that, the team swung an October 25 trade with the Tabasco Olmecas in which pitcher Adrian Garza and first baseman Jesus Rivera went to Villahermosa in exchange for outfielder Rogelio Noris and pitcher Hubbie Pellegaud.  October trades do happen but at least scribe at the Puro Beisbol site asked logically what a team that’s been shut down for a year is doing making trades?

It promises to be an interesting three days in Leon this week.

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Monday, October 30, 2017

Venados win 2 of 3 in Jalisco, four-way tie for MexPac lead

Mazatlan Venados outfielder Garin Cecchini
The Mazatlan Venados posted two wins in an important early-season road series at Guadalajara to pull into a four-way tie for the Mexican Pacific League lead with the host Jalisco Charros, Hermosillo and Culiacan.  All have identical 10-7 first-half records.
Mazatlan won Friday’s opener, 9-8, as Carlos Munoz’ two-run homer keyed a four-run seventh in the comeback effort. The Charros came back Saturday night with a 6-1 triumph behind Manny Rodriguez’ third-inning grand slam and Manuel Al Flores’ 4.2 innings of two-hit shutout pitching.  The Venados copped Sunday’s rubber match, 12-8, behind Garin Cecchini’s three-run homer.  Cecchini, who hit .268 last summer for the Royals’ AAA Omaha affiliate, finished a double away from hitting for the cycle.  Jalisco was coming off a sweep of defending champion Mexicali in a midweek home series.
Culiacan likewise won a three-game home set with Navojoa to take their place in the logjam on top.  Lefty Danny Rodriguez registered a brilliant 8.1 innings, allowing one hit in the Tomateros’ 1-0 win.  Culiacan earned a similar 1-0 victory Saturday behind Aldo Montes’ six goose-egg frames.  The Mayos offense finally woke up in Sunday’s 5-0 conquest.  This time it was Navojoa starter Tyler Kane who contributed six shutout innings while Alan Sanchez cracked a two-run homer for the visitors.  The trifecta of games was well-attended, with more than 46,000 fans in the Estadio Tomateros stands.
Hermosillo lost two of three in Los Mochis to fall into a tie for the lead.  The Naranjeros took Friday’s opener, 8-5, with Domonic Brown’s three-run homer highlighting a four-run top of the ninth.  The Caneros won the next two: Leandro Castro’s three-run walkoff homer ended Saturday’s 6-3 game in the thirteenth while Noel Cuevas’ three-run blast in the fourth was Sunday’s difference-maker in a 6-4 Mochis series-clincher.
The four upcoming MexPac midweek series will include matchups of the four co-leaders: Hermosillo will host Culiacan Tuesday through Thursday while Culiacan visits Mazatlan for three games.  Next weekend’s biggest encounter looks to be in Hermosillo, where the Naranjeros will host Mexicali from Friday through Sunday.  The Aguilas sit one game behind the leaders and hope to gain some ground at home against Los Mochis before heading south to Hermosillo.  An interesting note is that Mexicali has a total of two stolen bases as a team through their first 17 games.  In comparison, eleven individual players have three or more steals, led by the six apiece of Mazatlan’s Jeremias Pineda and Billy Burns of Jalisco.  Pineda’s six swipes have come in just nine games after going 25-of-26 on steal attempts over 25 games for Veracruz in the Mexican League last summer.

MEXICAN PACIFIC LEAGUE Standings (as of October 30, 2017)
Culiacan 10-7, Hermosillo 10-7, Mazatlan 10-7, Jalisco 10-7, Mexicali 9-8, Navojoa 7-10, Los Mochis 7-10, Obregon 5-12.

Batting-Sebastian Elizalde (CUL) .400, Runs-Jose Aguilar (MAZ) and Manny Rodriguez (JAL) 15, Homers-Bruce Brentz (HMO) 5, RBIs-Manny Rodriguez (JAL) 20, Stolen Bases-Billy Burns (JAL) and Jeremias Pineda (MAZ) 6.

Wins-Thirteen pitchers tied at 2 each, ERA-Danny Rodriguez (CUL) 0.89, Strikeouts-Cesar Vargas (HMO) 25, Saves-Ryan Kussmaul (MXI) 7, WHIP-Danny Rodriguez (CUL) 0.64.

Japhet Amador returns to Jalisco, season debut Friday vs. Mayos
Rakuten Golden Eagles DH Japhet Amador
Slugging first baseman-designated Japhet Amador will return from Japan to Guadalajara this week and is expected to be in Jalisco’s lineup Friday when the Charros open a home series against Navojoa.
The 6’4” and 330-pound “Mulege Giant” had a largely successful second Nippon Professional Baseball season, where he hit .237 with 23 homers and 65 RBI’s for the Pacific League’s Rakuten Golden Eagles.  The 23 roundtrippers eclipsed the old single season record for a Mexican player of 21, set by Orix’ Karim Garcia in 2005.  Garcia became the only player in NPB history to belt three homers in two consecutive games, turning the trick August 10-11, 2005 (somewhat ironically against Rakuten, an expansion team that year).
Amador has played professionally since 2007, breaking into the Mexican League with Minatitlan as a 20-year-old.  After playing sparingly for the Petroleros for two years, Amador got off to a hot start in 2009 prior to a midseason trade to Veracruz (finishing with 21 homers and 74 RBIs that year), but it was when he debuted with Mexico City in 2010 that the hulking right-handed batter would really hit stride, batting .366 with 14 homers and 63 ribbies in 79 games for the Diablos Rojos.  In nine LMB seasons, Amador has batted .330 with 167 homers and 599 RBIs over 693 games.
He’s also done well in the Mexican Pacific League over the years, starting in 2009-10 when he hit .270 with eight homers in 44 contests for Gusave, a franchise that shifted to Guadalajara in 2014.  In eight winterball seasons for the Algodoneros and Charros, Amador has a respectable .271 average with 83 homers in 426 games.  He cracked a combined 55 longballs for the Diablos and Charros in 2015-16 before signing with Rakuten that winter.
Amador’s injury-plagued first year in Japan ended with a disappointing nine homers in 39 games in 2016 before turning in better totals during a healthier 2017.  Amador, who makes Boog Powell look like Mark Belanger, even stole his first base since 2013, leading to questions of the third base coach’s sanity in sending him while scientists scrambled to gather Richter readings.
The first-place Charros were already a power-laden outfit even before Amador’s arrival, with sluggers like Matt Clark, Manny Rodriguez, Adan Munoz and former MLBer Chris Colabello on the roster, but first-year manager Tony Tarasco will no doubt find a place for the Mulege Giant in the lineup; he’s a hard one to ignore.

Academy Rookie League 2017-18 season underway
The Mexican League Academy’s Rookie winter league has begun its 2017-18 season at the complex near Monterrey. The academy was the brainchild of former Mexico City Tigres owner Alejo Peralta and opened in 1996 under the auspices of the LMB.  New Liga president Javier Salinas is the nominal president of the Liga Academia, but the campus and the dozens of teen prospects are overseen by director Raul Martinez Salazar.  Two separate leagues are operated at the facility: A Rookie league during the winter months and a class A circuit during the spring and summer.  All six Academy Rookie teams are operated by LMB clubs, with Tijuana, Monterrey and Quintana Roo each supplying one squad and each of the other three Rookie teams shared by two Liga teams apiece.
The rookieball season began Tuesday, September 26 with three games played simultaneously on three diamonds.  As of games through Sunday, Tijuana had an 11-2-2 record (ties count) after 15 games, good for a four-game lead over 8-7 Veracruz/Leon.  Toros prospect Alejandro Gutierrez is hitting an even .500, going 21-of-42 with ten walks in 53 plate appearances. Another intriguing batsman is Mexico City/Oaxaca’s Roberto Mendez (.327), who has five doubles and three homers among his 18 hits in 55 at-bats, with just six strikeouts.  Among pitchers, Tijuana relievers Fernando Gallegos (0.00) and Fernando Olguin (3.57) are both 3-0, as is Monterrey’s Jorge Ramos (3.68).  Luciano Reynoso (2-2, 1.73) of Veracruz/Leon has 30 strikeouts in 20 innings, walking just six.

The Academy Rookie League season will run through Sunday, December 10.