Friday, December 9, 2016

Five MLB players handed drug suspensions; Blackley, Hankerd under review

The Mexican League has given multiple-game suspensions to five players, including three members of the Tijuana Toros, for violation of Minor League Baseball's banned substance policy.  Two others, Puebla pitcher Travis Blackley and Mexico City first basemen Cyle Hankerd, will be reviewed by a committee.

The longest suspension belongs to Yucatan outfielder Albino Contreras, who will sit 100 games for use of amphetamines because it's his second such suspension.  Contreras will also be required to miss the playoffs shoud the Leones qualify.  The 36-year-old Obregon native hit .208 in 49 games last summer, his second in Merida after spending eight years in the Quintana Roo Tigres outfield.  Prior to that, Contreras was in Puebla from 2001 through 2006.  He's a career .294 batter over 15 Liga seasons with 82 homers.

Tijuana outfielder Olmo Rosario and pitcher Miguel Angel Gonzalez each received 50-game suspensions for amphetamine use while Monterrey pitcher Hassan Pena was docked 50 games after testing positive for marijuana.   The 36-year-old Rosario, who spent time in the Rays and Giants system as well as a number of years in independent leagues and two in Italy, batted .313 for the Toros in 2016 after hitting .343 for Monclova one year earlier.  Pena is a 31-year-old Cuban and former Nationals minor leaguer who was 5-1 with a 5.28 ERA in 30 outings for the Sultanes last summer.  Gonzalez, frankly, is a mystery to BBM.  There have been two pitchers named Miguel Angel Gonzalez in the Mexican League in past years, but half an hour of research has turned up no evidence that neither has thrown a pitch since 2012 while nobody by that name appeared in the LMB in 2016.  The only name on the Tijuana roster that comes close is 38-year-old Texan Michael Gonzalez, a former Major Leaguer who was 0-2 with five saves in 38 appearances for the Toros this year, but that's not the name on the press release put out by the LMB.

Contreras, Rosario, Pena and Gonzalez (by whatever name) will also be required to sit for the playoffs should they be on the roster of a team that qualifies for the postseason in August.  A fifth player, veteran second baseman Carlos Valencia (also of Tijuana) will miss 50 games in 2017 but allowed to appear in the playoffs.  Valencia, a 37-year-old veteran of 17 Liga seasons, is a career .284 batter with 229 homers who has played in four LMB All-Star Games, winning MVP honors in 2009.

The cases of Blackley and Hankerd are not so clear-cut.  Both tested positive for banned substances, but they are prescription-related.  As a result, the two extraneros will be interviewed by a committee of specialists who will determine whether the medications in question are enough to warrant the suspension of either player.  Blackley, 34, is a former MLB hurler went 8-8 for Puebla during the regular season before going on to be awarded Playoff MVP by the Liga as a key member of the Pericos postseason pennant run.  The 31-year-old Hankerd is a former USC Trojan and Diamondbacks farmhand who hit .322 with 16 homers for the Diablos Rojos while splitting time between first base and right field this summer after playing first base on Mazatlan's Caribbean Series champions last winter.

None of the players performing in the Mexican Pacific League this winter have received suspensions from that circuit, which operates independently from either the Mexican League or Minor League Baseball.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Navojoa clobbers Los Mochis, 10-0; holds one-game LMP lead

Shortstop Niko Vasquez went 4-for-4 with a homer and double while starter Zack Dodson pitched six innings of two-hit shutout ball to lead the Navojoa Mayos to a 10-0 thrashing of the Los Mochis Caneros Tuesday night in Mexican Pacific League play Tuesday night.  A gathering of 4,931 looked on at Navojoa's Estadio Manuel "Ciclon" Echeverria as the Mayos extended their second half record to 9-4, good enough for a one-game lead over 8-5 Mexicali in the LMP standings. The Caneros dropped to sixth with a 6-7 mark.

Vasquez spent five years in the Cardinals system and another three in the independent Frontier League before joining Laguna of the Mexican League this summer, batting .275 with 17 homers in 100 games for the Vaqueros.  He's gone 7-of-9 over the past two games for the Mayos to lift his MexPac average to .356 this winter.  Dodson, who went 31-45 in seven years as a Pirates farmhand before going 2-1 for Laredo of the independent American Association in 2016, raised his record for the Mayos to 4-3 after his third consecutive strong outing.  He's allowed two earned runs while striking out 16 in 18 innings.  Dodson had been traded to the Orioles last winter but was suspended for 100 games in 2016 after receiving the third drug-related sitdown of his career.

After a disastrous first half, during which they won just 9 of 35 games, Mazatlan has won 7 of 12 in the second stanza to pull into third place in the MexPac behind Navojoa and Mexicali.  Conversely, first-half champion Culiacan is in the cellar after losing 10 of 13 games.

Jalisco 3B Agustin Murillo has a .349 batting average to top both Hermosillo OF Chris Roberson and Los Mochis OF Leandro Castro by one point at the top of the hitting tables.  A Roberson teammate, Naranjeros third baseman Jose Amador, hasn't homered since November 24 but still leads the MexPac with 12 homers, ahead of Navojoa OF Quincy Latimore's nine dingers and Hermosillo 1B David Washington's eight.  Culiacan OF Joey Meneses leads in RBI's with 40, one ahead of Jose Amador, while fellow Tomateros OF Ronnie Mustelier is tops with 34 runs scored.

Navojoa's rookie sensastion, Cuban SS Randy Arozarena, has taken the lead with 15 stolen bases while Obregon OF Corey Wimberly is second with 14 swipes.  Arozarena, who signed with St. Louis for $1.25 million last year and led the Northern Mexican League with a .377 average and 42 steals for Tecate this summer, is hitting .331 for the Mayos.  Baseball America's Ben Badler says, "Based on his present ability, Arozarena should be ready for a High Class A assignment, although the Cardinals haven't yet said where he'll begin his career."  The 21-year-old Arozarena played short, second and center field for Pinar Del Rio in the Cuban National Series, batting .291 his last season in 2014-15 before defecting to Mexico.  His Mexican League rights are held by the Tijuana Toros.

Mexicali pitcher Javier Solano (7-3) won four straight starts between November 11 and 29 to take the LMP lead with seven wins. Navojoa's Hector Velazquez (6-2) was racked up in Jalisco for ten hits and six runs Saturday befor being yanked in the fifth, but he still has six wins (second in the loop), a 2.49 ERA (third) and 65 strikeouts (first) after ten starts.  Hermosillo's Juan Pablo Oramos (4-1) leads with a 1.88 ERA.  Mexicali closer Jake Sanchez is in the midst of a phenomenal season.  Sanchez, an A's farmhand who converted to relief with AA Midland last summer, has yet to allow an earned run in 19 one-inning appearances and leads the LMP with 12 saves.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Jays' Osuna inks deal with Jalisco, to report Friday

With a month remaining in the regular season, Mexican Pacific League teams are beginning to load up their rosters for the stretch drive and the January playoffs.  It's a longstanding tradition in the MexPac and the Jalisco Charros are making the most of it by bringing in one of the American League's top closers this week.

Toronto Blue Jays reliever Roberto Osuna, who grew up near former LMP city Guasave, Sinaloa, has signed a contract with Jalisco for the rest of the winterball season and is expected to join the Charros by Friday this week.  Osuna's league rights were originally owned by Guasave before the Algodoneros moved to Guadalajara prior to the 2014-15 season.  He becomes the second reliever with significant MLB experience to agree to terms with the Charros this year, along with former Giants middleman Sergio Romo, a nine-year veteran who is currently a free agent.  Romo is expected to make his MexPac debut Tuesday in Mexicali.

Osuna signed with Toronto as a 16-year-old free agent for $1.5 million in 2011 after making 13 appearances out of the bullpen for the Mexican League's Mexico City Diablos Rojos that summer, going 0-1 with a 5.49 ERA.  He spent three years in the Jays system but missed significant time after suffering an elbow injury in 2013 that required Tommy john surgery and sidelined him for over a year.  After making the Jays as a non-roster spring training invitee, the 6'2" righthander made his Major League debut for Toronto at age 20 on April 8, 2015 against the New York Yankees and struck out the first batsman he faced, future Hall of Famer Alex Rodriguez.

Since then, Osuna has gone on to post 56 saves with a 2.63 earned-run average, including 36 saves for Toronto this year.  He's also pitched 14 playoff games in relief for the Jays in 2015 and 2016, winning one game and saving another in the AL Division Series against Texas this fall.  His 56 career saves are an MLB record for pitchers under 22 years old.

It's been quite a ride over the past decade for Osuna, who quite school at age 12 to help support his family by picking vegetables alongside his father Roberto Senior, who was 90-97 with a 4.07 ERA pitching in the Mexican League between 1984 to 1999 (going 37-25 in four summers with Monterrey from 1988-91).  His uncle Antonio pitched eleven years in the Majors (six with the Dodgers) before wrapping up his career in the Liga, representing the Quintana Roo Tigres at the 2007 LMB All-Star Game.

Friday, December 2, 2016

WBC schedule released; Jalisco opener on March 9

The dates and game times for the 2017 Baseball World Cup have been released. Guadalajara will be one of the four Pool play host cities (along with Seoul, Tokyo and Miami) for the 16-team event.

Mexico will host Italy, Venezuela and Puerto Rico in Pool D at Estadio de Beisbol Charros de Jalisco, opening on Thursday, March 9 when they take on Italy at 9PM Eastern time.  In all, there will be six round-robin contests over four days in Guadalajara, followed by a Mach 13 play-in game for the WBC's semifinal round should two national teams tie for first place after three games apiece:

9:00PM ET  Italy vs. Mexico

FRIDAY, March 10
9:00PM ET  Venezuela vs. Puerto Rico

SATURDAY, March 11   
3:00PM ET  Venezuela vs. Italy
9:30PM ET  Puerto Rico vs. Mexico

SUNDAY, March 12   
3:30PM ET    Italy vs. Puerto Rico
10:00PM ET  Venezuela vs. Mexico

MONDAY, March 13 
 9:00PM ET  Play-in game (if needed)

Ticket prices have not been announced.

This will mark the WBC's first appearance in Mexico since 2009, when Mexico City hosted Cuba, Australia and South Africa in Pool B play at Foro Sol.  A total of 92,665 attended the six contests for an average of 15,444 per game.  That figure will not be reached in Guadalajara, where Estadio Charros has 13,000 permanent seats for Mexican Pacific League baseball (although the venue could be expanded with extra seating in the outfield).

As the WBC approaches, however, discussion around the event (first played in 2006) has turned to its long-term viability.  The brainchild of former Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig was intended to build interest in baseball on a global basis.  Although the WBC has not harmed the sport's growth internationally, attendance at games has been spotty at best, particularly in Pool play.  While games involving the host nation have at times drawn more than 30,000 and Final Four tilts typicall top the 40,000 mark, those involving non-host nations routinely have fewer than 20,000 people in the stands and it's not unusual to see fewer than 10,000 at the ballpark.  Overall, the WBC has averaged just over 20,000 per game in 2009 and 2013 but the latter tournament saw gatherings of just 4,478 and 5,140 for the first two Pool games in Phoenix while the Pool in Taipei was positively embarrassing, with fewer than 1,500 souls rattling around Intercontinental Baseball Stadium for the three games not involving Taiwan's team.

BBM reader Chris Kabout in Amsterdam forwarded us a story from the Dutch Baseball Hangout site discussing how MLB and their partners will move forward after 2017, quoting a tweet from ESPN Deportes' Cristian Moreno: "I've been told by multiple sources related to World Baseball Classic the 2017 possibly final edition unless legit $$$ earnings come."

PERSONAL OPINION TIME: Revenue will always be a concern for any worldwide sporting event, but may perhaps make more sense for WBC organizers to streamline the event to reduce costs. I believe the WBC could fit into a six-day window by replacing the current 16-day schedule allowing for three days of double-elimination Pool play doubleheaders at four sites, followed by one travel day for Pool winners, one day of semifinals and one day for a championship game at the same venue.  Chris added that AAA ballparks would be suitable for most future Pool play games and I agree.  What's the need for 45,000 seats if over 30,000 of them are empty?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Caneros' Barreda spins no-no vs. Hermosillo

He needed nearly 140 pitches to do it, but Los Mochis pitcher Manny Barreda tossed the first no-hitter of the current Mexican Pacific League season when the Caneros shut out Hermosillo, 2-0, last Saturday.  A crowd of 4,205 was on hand at Mochis' Estadio Emilio Ibarra Almada for the contest, which lasted 2 hours, 25 minutes as Barreda evened his record at 2-2 and lowered his ERA to 2.63.

Despite the high number of pitches, Barreda allowed just one third-inning walk to Jorge Flores and struck out nine Naranjeros batsmen as 92 of his 138 deliveries went for strikes.  In all, just two Hermosillo batsmen reached base as Caneros first sacker Saul Soto committed an error in the ninth inning to end Barreda's string of 18 consecutive retired batters after Flores' free pass.  The 28-year-old Arizona native's gem overshadowed a fine start by the Naranjeros' Barry Enright, as the former Diamondbacks and Angels hurler pitched five innings of one-run ball in his second start of the winter but was tagged with the loss.

Mochis took a 1-0 lead off Enright in the fifth frame when Leandro Castro lined his 12th double of the season to left field with two out and came around to score when Rudy Amador followed him with a single to right.  The Caneros manufactured an insurance run one inning later as Isaac Rodriguez led off with a single up the middle against reliever Raul Barron, moved to second on Ramon Urias' sacrifice bunt, took third on Jesus Arredondo's ground-out to second and came in on a J.C. Linares double to left.

Barreda is a native of Sahuarita, Arizona who was a 12th round pick of the New York Yankees out of high school in 2007.  He made his debut that summer with the Yanks' Gulf Coast League rookie team, going 5-0 with a save in 11 appearances, turning in a 3.00 ERA.  The 5'11" righty remained in the Yankee system until he was dealt to the Brewers in 2014, pitching for Milwaukee minor league clubs through 2015.  Overall, Barreda had a 23-13 record with 8 saves in nine minor league seasons, turning in a 3.63 ERA while striking out 454 batters in 422.1 innings over 246 appearances.  He topped out at the AA level for both organizations.

Barreda hooked on with Tijuana late in the 2015 Mexican League season and was 2-1 with a 3.50 ERA in 25 trips from the bullpen for the Toros last summer.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Retherford scores on grounder, ends LMP All-Star Game

C.J. Retherford (MXI) motored home from third base on Olmo Rosario's (OBR) one-out ground ball to South second baseman Jose Rodriguez ((JAL) in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the North a 4-3 win in the Mexican Pacific League All-Star Game Sunday in Obregon.  A crowd of 15,145 watched the first LMP edition of the midseason classic in 19 years at Nuevo Estadio Yaquis.

Sebastian Elizalde (CUL) opened the game's scoring with a two-run homer off Esteban Haro (NAV) in the top of the second to give the South the first lead of the game, but the North came back in the bottom of the frame with three tallies of their own, including a two-run blast off a Daniel Guerrero (JAL) delivery by Yuniesky Betancourt (MXI) that gave the hosts a 3-2 advantage.  The score stood until the top of the eighth, when a single by Jose Guadalupe Chavez (CUL) brought Elizalde in to knot the contest for the South at 3-3.

Retherford opened the bottom of the ninth by singling to left off Jon Sintes (MAZ), then went from first to third on a safety up the middle by Jose Amador (HMO).  One out later, Rosario tapped a grounder to Rodriguez at second, who was able to relay the ball to shortstop Chavez for the first out but the latter's throw to Cyle Hankerd (MAZ) at first for the inning-ending double play wasn't in time to get Rosario, allowing Retherford's run to count, ending the game.

Betancourt's homer was enough to earn him All-Star Game MVP honors for the night while Amador collected a pair of hits for the winners.  Leandro Castro (MOC) had two singles for the South, who were outhit, 7-5, for the match.  Reliever Jake Sanchez (MXI) got the win while Sintes was tagged with the loss.

Before the game, Jalisco's massive slugger, Japhet Amador, won a home run derby involving representatives of each of the LMP's eight teams.  The Mulege Giant outlasted hometown favorite Leo Heras, 11 to 10, in the final round to pick up a check for MX$15,000.  Amador has signed on to spend a second summer with Japan's Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2017.

The event is largely being hailed as a success for both the MexPac and the host Yaquis, although a pair of columnists featured on the Puro Beisbol site offered suggestions for future All-Star tilts.  In his Chepe On Deck column, Culiacan writer Jose Zazueta offered ideas such as more celebrities and singers, larger prize money for the players and autograph sessions for the fans.  Novena Inning scribe Bambino Sedrano of Obregon thought that one day isn't enough, a celebrity game preceding the home run derby wasn't needed and that the player selectors should do better next winter.  According to Sedrano, Navojoa pitcher Hector Velazquez and Culiacan outfielder-first baseman Bryan LaHair (who took part in the home run derby) should have been picked for the game.  The disappointment over the absence of Velazquez (who leads the LMP with 6 wins and a 1.99 ERA) is palpable;  LaHair is hitting just .239 with one homer and 9 RBIs in 19 games for the Tomateros thus far.

Friday, November 25, 2016

MexPac All-Star Game slated for Sunday in Obregon

After an absence of nearly two decades, the Mexican Pacific League will hold a midseason All-Star Game this Sunday at Obregon's new ballpark. The contest will be a Norte-Sur affair with players and coaches from Hermosillo, Mexicali, Navojoa and Obregon forming the North squad under Yaquis manager Eddie Diaz while Culiacan, Los Mochis, Jalisco and Mazaltan comprising the South team headed by Culiacan manager Lino Rivera.

Here are the rosters for both 25-player teams, as selected by fan balloting:

Pitchers (8) - Raul Barron (HMO), Carlos Fisher (OBR), Esteban Haro (NAV), Arturo Lopez (OBR), Ozzie Mendez (NAV), Jake Sanchez (MXI), Javier Solano (MXI), Manuel Valdez (HMO).
Catchers (2) - Xorge Carrillo (MXI), Fernando Flores (NAV).
Infielders (8) - 1B Jose Amador (HMO), 1B Yuniesky Betancourt (MXI), 3B Jesus Castillo (NAV), SS Jorge Flores (HMO), 2B Carlos Gastelum (HMO), 2B Yosmany Guerra (NAV), 3B C.J. Retherford (MXI), 2B Carlos Valencia (OBR).
Outfielders (7) - Randy Arozarena (NAV), Leo Heras (OBR), Quincy Latimore (NAV), Efren Navarro (HMO), Chris Roberson (MXI), Olmo Rosario (OBR), Corey Wimberly (OBR).
Manager - Eddie Diaz (OBR).

Pitchers (8) - Julian Arballo (MOC), Roberto Espinosa (MAZ), Julio Felix (JAL), Daniel Guerrero (JAL), Alexis Lara (MOC), Derrick Loop (CUL), Hector Daniel Rodriguez (CUL), Alfonso Sanchez (MAZ).
Catchers (2) - Hector Paez (MAZ), Sebastian Valle (MOC).
Infielders (8) - 1B Japhet Amador (JAL), SS Jose Guadalupe Chavez (CUL), 1B Cyle Hankerd (MAZ), 3B Brian Hernandez (MAZ), 3B Agustin Murillo (JAL), 2B Isaac Rodriguez (MOC), 2B Jose Rodriguez (JAL), SS Amadeo Zazueta (JAL).
Outfielders (7) - Jason Bourgeois (MAZ), Leandro Castro (MOC),  Yadir Drake (MOC),Sebastian Elizalde (CUL), Bryan LaHair (CUL), Joey Meneses (CUL), Ronnier Mustelier (CUL).
Manager - Lino Rivera (CUL).

There will be three notable absences from the rosters.  Navojoa pitcher Hector Velazquez, who is tied with Mexicali's Solano for the LMP lead with 6 wins while topping the loop with 57 strkeouts in 48 innings, will be held out by the Mayos to save his arm for the regular season's stretch drive, as will fellow hurlers Edgar Gonzalez of Culiacan and Hermosillo's Juan Pablo Oramos.

Sunday's 5:15PM PT game will be preceded by a home run derby featuring one player representing each of the MexPac's eight teams: Ricky Alvarez (MXI), Japhet Amador (JAL), Jose Amador (HMO), Yadir Drake (MOC), Cyle Hankerd (MAZ), Quincy Latimore (NAV), Ronnier Mustelier (CUL) and Carlos Valencia (OBR).

The All-Star festivities will be held at the LMP's newest ballpark (and the third such facility inaugurated in the past four MexPac seasons), the 16,500-seat Nuevo Estadio Yaquis.  The Yaquis christened their new digs on October 10 after spending more than four decades at Estadio Tomas Oroz Gaytan.

The last Mexican Pacific League All-Star Game was held November 24, 1997 at Navojoa's Estadio Manuel "Ciclon" Echeverria.