Monday, August 10, 2020

LMP SEASON REAFFIRMED, THREE TEAMS WORRIED

LMP teams say they're committed for 2020-21

The Mexican Pacific League held a Board of Presidents meeting last Thursday and while the LMP reaffirmed their intention to play a full schedule in the upcoming 2020-21 season, one website reports that at least three teams broached the possibility of sitting out the campaign due to concerns originating from the Wuhan virus.

Tito Escobar of ElJonronero.com reports sources told the website that three unnamed franchises expressed their concerns over operating at all next winter while discussions were held to address difficulties in securing advertising, contract disagreements and readjustments regarding beer and soft drink brands sold at ballparks and the uncertainty over how many fans will be allowed to attend games (if health authorities allow people in the stands at all).

Another worry brought up among the owners was the status of the Caribbean Series which is scheduled to take place in Mazatlan from late January into early February. Caribbean Professional Baseball Confederation president Juan Francisco Puello has already spoken of the possibility of affiliated leagues not playing their season because of the Wuhan virus, which would necessitate a Plan B of sorts if the Serie del Caribe is to be salvaged. One possibility is that a de facto all-star team consisting of players on LMP rosters could be cobbled together, in a fashion similar to how National Teams are formed, to represent Mexico in the Crown Jewel of Latin Baseball.

In the end, all the hesitant teams agreed to move forward, however tenuously, toward playing the upcoming winterball season. Although the Monterrey Sultanes will be playing their home games in Mazatlan, sharing Estadio Teodoro Mariscal with the hometown Venados, no other similar arrangements were announced, even though there's been talk of the Mexicali Aguilas moving to Hermosillo for the season and alternating home series with the Naranjeros. Another rumor involved the less-likely prospect of the Jalisco Charros wintering in Culiacan and playing at Estadio Tomateros. Guadalajara, which also hosts the LMP office, is closer to other Mex Pac cities than either Monterrey or Mexicali while Charros ownership would be loathe to want to ship their team out of town for the season. The LMP was scheduled to announce the regular season schedule on Monday, August 10.

Locker rooms to be empty for player safety
The SeptimaEntrada.com site reported that safety protocols for the season were discussed. LMP president Omar Canizales said during a videoconference that there are a number of steps the Mex Pac and its ten franchises will take to help ensure the health of players, coaches and team staff. The first step, Canizales said, is to talk with players and staffs, asking them to stay away from any risk and to isolate themselves and monitor their health for 15 days before they think they'll report to their teams.

He said the next step would be to test everyone for the Wuhan virus upon their arrival to training sessions, with those testing positive quarantined according to procedure. Finally, players and coaches will be instructed to leave their hotels for games already in uniform, while waiting upon their return to change in order to avoid the use of ballpark dressing rooms, where players would be in close proximity to each other while dressing before and after games.


YOANYS QUIALA SIGNS WITH CPBL FUBON GUARDIANS

Yoanys Quiala pitching for Los Mochis
The Mexican Pacific League's 2019-20 Pitcher of the Year has signed a one-year contract with a team in Taiwan after his anticipated summer with the Tijuana Toros was scuttled when the Mexican League pulled the plug on playing games in 2020.

Cuban right-hander Yoanys Quiala inked a pact last month with the Fubon Guardians of the Chinese Professional Baseball League, who also signed Mexican pitcher Manny Banuelos s an import in June. The CPBL is the only league in the world to begin its season on time in April and play a full schedule (minus rainouts) while other loops have delayed or canceled their seasons altogether due to the Wuhan virus. Quiala will undergo a physical and two-week quarantine in New Taipei City before being activated.

The 26-year-old Quiala was born in Mayari, Cuba but defected from the island nation prior to signing a free agent contract with the Houston organization in time for the 2015 season, when he posted a 2-0 record with a 1.54 ERA in nine appearances (four stats) for
an academy team in the rookie Dominican Summer League.

Quiala as an Astros prospect
Quiala pitched in the Astros minor league system for four years, appearing in the 2017 Carolina League All-Star Game while pitching for Buies Creek. However, his 2018 season with AA Corpus Christi ended early after he received an 80-game suspension for using steroids. Quiala was subsequently released by Houston and signed a minor league free agent contact with San Francisco for the 2019 campaign. He was 6-8 for the Giants' AAA Sacramento affiliate and had a 6.68 ERA for the River Cats before he was released on August 10. The 6'3” righty, who tips the scales at 235 pounds, signed with Tijuana last November.

Expectations weren't high when Quiala reported to Los Mochis last season. He'd pitched for the Caneros in 2018-19 and went 3-5 with a 4.37 ERA as a swingman, which had been his usual role over five professional seasons. However, after he was used solely as a starter with Sacramento, Caneros manager Victor Bojorquez gave Quiala the ball every fifth game and he rewarded Los Mochis with a 9-2 mark (for a 32-36 team), leading the MLP in innings pitched (87.2), wins (9) and WHIP (0.98) while coming in second in ERA (2.57) and strikeouts (71) en route to an easy win as the Mex Pac Pitcher of the Year.

Quiala was set to help fill Tijuana's starting rotation this year before the season was called off and rumors began circulating early last month that he was in talks with Fubon to pitch in Taiwan. The CPBLstats.com website reports that five days later, the Guardians filed a hiring application for a new player with the Ministry of Labor and Quiala was confirmed as that player. At last report, Quiala was awaiting results of a test for Wuhan virus and hoping to arrive in New Taipei City by early August.


LMB TEAMS TO LOSE 1-3 MILLION PESOS MONTHLY IN SHUTDOWN

Yucatan's Estadio Kukulkan sits unused in 2020
According the Beatriz Pereyra of Mexico City's
Proceso.com.mx, the Mexican League's sixteen franchises stand to lose between one to three million pesos (US$45,000-135,000) per month now that the LMB has cancelled its 2020 schedule. LMB president Horacio de la Vega called off the season in late June for the first time since its 1925 inception due to ongoing concerns over the Wuhan virus, which has taken a steep toll in confirmed cases and deaths south of the border.

The possibility of playing games behind closed doors was considered until it was determined that most Liga teams could not afford to put teams on the field without ballpark-related revenue. Owner decided that their losses would be reduced by not playing a shortened regular season followed by playoffs. Although there are a handful of franchises like the Mexico City Diablos Rojos, Monterrey Sultanes and Tijuana Toros who have the financial strength to withstand what will be a year's worth of red ink without income generated at their home stadiums, most of the teams were already operating on the margins even before the pandemic arrived last spring, causing an initial delay in the LMB's anticipated April openers.

Empty coffers to devastate LMB teams
Even though the anticipated monetary losses will cause further damage to the league's Have-Nots, LMB franchises will spend money to help finance the league office in the nation's capital, including financial support for ballplayers and the circuit's 36 umpires, because the loop does not have sponsorship resources allowing it to fund itself at the executive level. Pereyra says the league office issued a statement saying, “The LMB and its 16 teams have agreed to provide financial support to the players, as well as to the corps of umpires.”

As a result, each team will analyze what percentage of salaries for their rostered players as well as coaching staff members. Pereyra states that the average player in the Mexican League is paid US$6,700-7,600 per month, although there are novice players earning US$2,000-2,250. At the higher end of the payroll, star players may receive up to US$22,500 per month during the season, although the range for them is usually closer to US$13,500-18,000 every 30 days.

With the 2020 campaign abandoned, the LMB is moving ahead with plans to open their next season in April 2021 and using their extended offseason to invest in a “digital and technical transformation,” as the league office says, while addressing a television and media infrastructure that de la Vega considers a “weakness.”

Monday, August 3, 2020

LMB PRESIDENT DE LA VEGA ACCUSED OF FRAUD

Mexican League president Horacio de la Vega
The president of the Mexican League, Horacio de la Vega, is one of several people named in a criminal complaint alleging both fraud and patrimonial damage filed by a Mexico City-area mayor last week. According to the Mexidiario.com website, Iztacalco mayor Armando Quintero filed the complaint on July 30 with both the Mexico City attorney general and comptroller. Iztacalco is one of 16 boroughs within the Distrito Federal, with a population approaching 400,000 residents, and serves as the location for the Magdalena Mixihuca Sports City, which is where the complaint is focused.

The 227-acre complex opened in 1958 and was used when Mexico City hosted the Summer Olympics ten years later. The multi-sport facility underwent extensive renovations while de la Vega served as director of the Mexico City Sports Institute, which overees the Sports City, prior to his resignation from the post last year. The Magdalena Mixihuca Ciudad Deportes is the site of several sporting events throughout the year, and contains the Foro Sol and Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu, past and present home stadiums for the LMB Mexico City Diablos Rojos. Both structures sit within the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, a 2.76-mile long motorsports race track.

Quintero's complaint alleges that more than 26 million pesos (US$1.2 million) worth of fraud was committed by de la Vega and others in relation to the renovations, that were done while he headed the facility under former Mexico City mayor Miguel Angel Mancera, a former city attorney general and longtime figure in the Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, a political rival of Quintero's Morena party (from which Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador formed a coalition with two other parties to win Mexico's 2018 presidential election).

Map of Magdalena Mixihuca Sports City
Quintero's complaint claims that substandard workmanship and materials specifically affected an unfinished and unused BMX bicycle racing track, which is currently the subject of ongoing litigation between two private companies involved in its construction, and a new artificial lake was judged "unsustainable" because of the 3 million peso cost of maintenance, after a children's baseball field and several trees were removed to make room for it. Quintero also states that there were instances in which contracted work was never performed. The complaint says that the resulting "patrimonial damages," in which taxpayers would be required to fund repairs or complete unfinished work from the renovations, exceeds 80 million pesos (US$3.6 million).

The 45-year-old de la Vega, who represented Mexico in the 1996 and 2000 Summer Olympics as a pentathlete, became director of the Sports Institute in 2013 and led the organization for six years. He is credited with bringing events connected with the NFL, NBA, MLB and Formula 1 racing to Mexico City during his time in the position before stepping down last October, two months after the Sports City held reopening ceremonies. De la Vega was named to succeed Javier Salinas as president of the Mexican League last November.


PERICOS SLUGGER ORTIZ TO PLAY WINTERBALL FOR MONTERREY

New Monterrey OF Danny Ortiz
Faced with the recalcitrance of one of their top hitters from last season, the Monterrey Sultanes signed another highly-rated batsman for the upcoming season when outfielder Danny Ortiz agreed to terms for the upcoming Mexican Pacific League season. Ortiz will presumably replace fellow outfielder Felix Perez in Monterrey's as one of three foreigners allowed on the roster.

A former Reds farmhand, the Cuban-born Perez led Sultanes regulars last season with a .270 average and 48 RBIs while whacking 10 homers for the LMP expansion team, but is refusing to return to Monterrey at a reduced salary. Since the Sultanes also own his Mexican League rights, things could be sticky for the 35-year-old Perez next spring.

Bringing in Ortiz will hardly be a downgrade for the Nuevo Leon-based team, who will play their home games in Mazatlan for the Wuhan virus-altered season to save on travel expenses. The 30-year-old Puerto Rican was a fourth-round draft pick for the Minnesota Twins in 2008, but made his Major League debut with Pittsburgh on April 29, 2017 after signing with the Pirates as a free agent one year earlier. Ortiz went 1-for-12 for the Buccos in nine games before returning to the minors. He spent 2018 with the Phillies' AAA affiliate in Lehigh Valley before signing with Puebla after the season. In ten MiLB campaigns with three organizations, Ortiz hit a collective .257 with 121 homers and 572 RBIs over 1,102 games.

Felix Perez taking batting practice last summer
His first year with the Pericos was a coming-out party of sorts, as the 30-year-old Ortiz exploded for career highs with 42 homers and 114 RBIs in 117 games for Puebla while batting .312 in 2019. He was selected to play in the Mexican League All-Star Game, his third after performing in the 2011 Midwest League and 2013 Eastern League midseason showcases, and finished second in homers to Monclova's Chris Carter (who hit 49) and came in fourth in ribbies. Ortiz also won the 2019 Home Run Derby during All-Star Weekend in Mexico City. Although his power numbers won't be aided by either Puebla's high altitude or the since-discarded Franklin ball in the pitcher-friendly Mex Pac, Ortiz is expected to be a middle-of-the-order force for new manager Gerardo Alvarez' Sultanes.

This will be his first season in the LMP, but Ortiz is no stranger to playing baseball in the winter months. The Caguas-born gardener spent all or part of ten seasons in his native Puerto Rico with the Mayaguez Indios between 2010 and 2019. Although his career winterball numbers aren't the most imposing (a .248 average, 15 homers and 132 RBIs in 332 contests), he's a two-time postseason All-Star and 2017 league MVP who's played on four pennant-winnters and in five Caribbean Series.


MLB: GONZALEZ MAKES DEBUT, URIAS EARNS FIRST WIN

Victor Gonzalez during first MLB outing
Victor Gonzalez became the 130th Mexican-born player to appear in a Major League Baseball game last Saturday when the Los Angeles Dodgers rookie made a relief appearance during their game in Phoenix against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

A 24-year-old native of Tuxpan, Nayarit, Gonzalez was sent to the mound the open the bottom of the fifth inning by Dodgers manager Dave Roberts with a 2-0 lead after starter Tony Gonsolin had tossed four frames of one-hit shutout ball. Although he showed good control by throwing 17 strikes in his 24-pitch appearance, Gonzalez did not come away unscathed.

Diamondbacks leadoff batter Christian Walker welcomed the recent call-up from the minors with a first-pitch single to shallow right field on a 96 MPH fastball, then advanced to second on David Peralta groundout to third. After getting Stephen Vogt swinging on a slider for the second out, Gonzalez plunked Jake Lamb on an 0-2 pitch to put runners and first and second before inducing Idelmaro Vargas into a groundout to short to end the threat with a scoreless entrada.

Things didn't go much better in the sixth for Gonzalez, who gave up a single to right by first batter Ketel Marte followed by a run-scoring double (also to right) by Kole Calhoun that cut the Dodgers lead to 2-1. That was enough for Roberts, who called it a night for Gonzalez by signaling to the bullpen for Tony Floro, who went on to end the inning with no further scoring. Arizona went on to a 5-3 comeback win, thanks to a four-run outburst in the eighth. 

A 6'0" lefty, Gonzalez signed with Los Angeles in 2012 as a 17-year-old after being scouted by Mike Brito. He struggled his first four summers in the Dodgers organization, going 11-20 before missing the 2017 season after Tommy John surgery. His future remained in doubt upon his return when he went a combined 1-4 for Class A Great Lakes and Rookie Ogden in 2018.

However, he turned things around last year by starting out 2-1 with a 1.65 ERA in eight appearances (five starters) at Class A Rancho Cucamonga. He then went 3-1 with a 2.23 ERA in eight starts after a May call-up to AA Tulsa before finishing the season with AAA Oklahoma City, where he had no decisions and a 3.86 ERA in 15 relief outings. Gonzalez was on the Dodgers taxi squad prior to being brought to the big club Thursday and making his MLB debut one night later.

Julio Urias earned first win in over a year
Although Dodgers moundmate Julio Urias is a year younger than Gonzalez, he's served as a mentor of sorts for the rookie lefty. It was Urias' turn to get into the act on Saturday with 11-2 triumph over Arizona for his first win of the year. Urias, 23, had a rocky start by throwing 28 pitches in the first inning and falling behind 1-0 on Eduardo Escobar's RBI single, but settled down enough to allow only one more run in the fourth before leaving the game with an 8-2 lead after allowing five hits on 90 pitches for his six innings of work. It was Urias' first win since June 25 of last year, when he put in another six innings in relief against the D-Backs, also in Phoenix.

A product of Culiacan, Urias shares four things with Gonzalez: He's from Mexico, he's a lefty, he was scouted by Mike Brito and he signed with the Dodgers in 2012. He was also the last Mexican to debut for Los Angeles before Gonzalez, making his first appearance in 2016.