Thursday, December 31, 2015

VALDEZ WINS LMP BAT TITLE; SOLANO LEADS HURLERS IN WINS, K's

Jalisco OF Jesus Valdez (pictured) has won the 2015-16 Mexican Pacific League batting title.  The former Cubs and Nationals farmhand, who hit .353 for Yucatan last summer in his first Mexican League season, hit .390 over his last ten games to finish the LMP regular season with a .347 average, five homers and 36 runs scored in 57 games.  Charros SS Amadeo Zazueta finished second at .335, Mexicali OF Welington Dotel was third with a .326 mark (including an LMP-best 84 hits and 8 triples) and Aguilas OF Chris Roberson, a longtime figure in Mexican ball, went 14-for-31 over his final ten contests to hold fourth with a .325 mark.

Charros 1B Japhet Amador missed the regular season's final two weeks after signing with Japan's Rakuten Golden Eagles, still won the MexPac home run (14) and RBI's (48) title.  Ex-MLBer Yuniesky Betancourt, now playing 1B for Mexicali, was second to Amador with 12 homers while Navojoa OF Quincy Latimore was runner-up with 45 ribbies.  Mazatlan OF Jeremias Pineda swiped three bases in his final game against Jalisco Tuesday to finished with 31 for the winter, five ahead of Culiacan OF Rico Noel.

Mexicali P Javier Solano was 8-3 to lead the loop in wins while his 71 strikeouts in 81 innings also won the blue ribbon.  His 3.33 ERA was ninth on the table.  Culiacan's Hector Rodriguez (7-3) and the venerable Mazatlan hurler Walter Silva (7-4) were tied for second in wins and Hermosillo's Nate Reed (3-6) came in second to Solano in K's with 65.  Los Mochis closer Andres Avila tied a 25-year-old LMP record with 23 saves, but pitched only inning after matching Mark Zappelli's old mark on December 17.  Mazatlan's Steven Hensley secured five games in that timeframe to finished second to Avila with 22 for the season.  Venados P Alejandro Soto (4-4) had a 2.63 ERA, edging the 2.81 of Obregon's Rolando Valdez (6-4), and Soto's WHIP of 1.06 was also top-of-the-chart .

NOTE: A two-round draft among the six LMP playoff teams for reinforcement players from non-qualifiers Culiacan and Hermosillo was held Wednesday.  Players chosen were as follows:

MEXICALI - P Hector Rodriguez (CUL), P Edgar Gonzalez (HMO)
MAZATLAN - No players selected
OBREGON - P Hector Galvan (HMO), P Francisco Cruceta (CUL)
JALISCO - No players selected
NAVOJOA - 3B Jose Amador (HMO), 2B Carlos Gastelum (HMO)
LOS MOCHIS - OF Juan Carlos Linares (HMO), 3B Oscar Robles (CUL)

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

MEXPAC SCOREBOARD: Tuesday, December 29, 2015

OBREGON 8-11-0, Hermosillo 3-7-0
W-Delgado (2-2). L-Reed (3-6). T-2:54. A-12,849.
The Yaquis got six innings of two-hit shutout pitching from Irwin Delgado (pictured), who stuck out five and walked none. Hermosillo starter Nate Reed was touched for four runs in 2.2 innings. Jason Greene belted a three-run homer for Obregon while Fernando Perez pinch-hit his own three-run bomb for the Naranjeros, who were knocked out of the playoffs with the loss.

NAVOJOA 3-9-0, Los Mochis 0-6-0
W-Oyervidez (6-3). L-Merritt (5-5). T-2:36. A-8,420.
Jose Oyervidez tossed two shutout innings for the win, but nine Mayos pitchers combined on the six-hit whitewash of Mochis.  Caneros starter Roy Merritt only tossed two innings, but took the loss after doubles served up to Quincy Latimore and Humberto Sosa, resulted in a second-inning Navojoa run. Both teams qualify for the postseason.

Mexicali 13-16-0, CULIACAN 3-9-0
W-Osuna (4-6). L-Camarena (3-6). T-3:17. A-16,377.
Anthony Vasquez was rock-solid, letting in one run on one hit over five innings, but Culiacan's bullpen pulled an epic fail by allowing twelve Aguilas runs over the final four. Ramon Urias and Ricky Alvarez combined for eight hits and eight RBI's for Mexicali.  Christian Zazueta singled, doubled and homered with three RBI's while playing three positions for Culiacan.

MAZATLAN 7-11-1, Jalisco 4-10-1
W-Gaxiola (6-3). L-Tovar (3-5). T-2:31. A-14,597.
Charros slugger Alex Liddi launched a three-run homer off Amilcar Gaxiola in the top of the first inning, but the Venados came back for the win.  Yunesky Sanchez stroked a two-run double for Mazatlan in bottom the first frame while Heber Gomez added a two-run single in the third.

LMP FINAL SECOND HALF STANDINGS: Obregon 21-12, Navojoa 19-14, Mazatlan 18-15, Mexicali 16-16, Hermosillo 16-16, Culiacan 15-18, Los Mochis 14-19, Jalisco 12-21.

LMP TWO-HALF POINTS TOTALS: Mexicali 13.0, Obregon 12.5, Mazatlan 12.0, Navojoa 11.0, Los Mochis 10.5, Jalisco 8.0, Culiacan 7.5, Hermosillo 7.5.

FIRST-ROUND PLAYOFF SCHEDULE (Friday, January 1): Jalisco at Mexicali, Los Mochis at Obregon, Navojoa at Mazatlan.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

MEXPAC SCOREBOARD for December 28, 2015

Mexicali 6-14-0, CULIACAN 4-13-0 (10)
W-Lopez (3-1). L-Arias (1-2). HR-Pena, Cul (8). A-20,860.
Tomateros starter Josh Lowey tossed six shutout innings but Culiacan's bullpen allowed six runs over the final four frames, including three in the top of the tenth.  Aguilas CF Chris Roberson went 3-for-5 with two RBI's and a run.  Ramiro Pena homered for the Tomateros.

NAVOJOA 4-9-1, Los Mochis 2-9-0
W-Bustamante (4-3). L-Patton (0-1). HR-Soto, Moc (11); Golson, Moc (1). A-7,531.
Caneros pitcher Luke Irvine shut out Mayos for five entradas, but relievers Carlos Fisher and Spencer Patton combined to allow four runs over the seventh and eighth innings. Navojoa's Nate Tenbrink doubled twice while Mayos starter Edwin Salas pitched 6.2 frames of one-run ball.

Hermosillo 4-7-1, OBREGON 2-6-1
W-Galvan (3-0). L-Reyes (6-3). HR-Amador, Her (11); Flores, Her (1). A-11,392.
Jorge Flores whacked a two-run homer off Yaquis reliever David Reyes in the seventh to break a 2-2 tie as relievers Rafael Martin and Jason Urquidez held Obregon hitless over the final two innings. The Naranjeros'  Jose Amador clubbed his own two-run homer in the fourth.

Jalisco 5-11-1, MAZATLAN 1-6-1
W-Lara (5-2). L-Meza (2-5). HR-Ortiz, Jal (1). A-14,017.
In just his third game this winter, Eliezer Ortiz cracked a three-run homer with two out in the second to give the Charros all the runs they'd need.  It was Ortiz' first hit of the winter.  Jalisco starter Orlando Lara allowed one run over seven innings. Yunesky Sanchez scored Venados' lone run. 

LMP STANDINGS: Obregon 20-12, Navojoa 18-14, Mazatlan 17-15, Hermosillo 16-15, Mexicali 15-16, Culiacan 15-17, Los Mochis 14-18, Jalisco 12-20.

NOTE: The regular season ends Tuesday night.  Obregon has clinched the second half title while Jalisco will finish in the cellar, but the other six positions in the standings remain unsettled.  Points and playoff pairings will be announced on BBM tomorrow.

Monday, December 28, 2015

YAQUIS BEAT HERMOSILLO, CLINCH HALF TITLE

OBREGON 5, HERMOSILLO 3
The Obregon Yaquis parlayed a three-run sixth inning into a 5-3 win over the Hermosillo Naranjeros Sunday night to clinch the Mexican Pacific League’s second-half title and the eight points that come with it.  A crowd of 13,172 gathered at Obregon’s Estadio Tomas Oroz Gaytan.

Dustin Martin lined his fifth homer of the winter over the right field wall in the bottom of the first to stake the Yaquis an early lead, but the Orangemen knotted the score at 2-2 in the top of the sixth when Mario Santana singled with the bases loaded and Carlos Gastelum followed with a sacks-full walk.  Obregon broke the game open in the bottom half of the frame, keyed by Max Ramirez’ two-run double off Hermosillo starter Edgar Gonzalez.

Yaquis reliever Angel Ramirez got his first win by retiring the last Naranjeros batter in the sixth before the winning runs came along while ex-Indians hurler Josh Judy (pictured) tossed a scoreless ninth for his eighth save.  Gonzalez fell to 3-5 with the loss.  Hermosillo actually outhit Obregon 12-6 for the night as Jose Amador went 3-for-5, but the Naranjeros left 11 runners stranded on base and batted just 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position.

Obregon is now 20-11 with two games left in the half, three games up on both Navojoa and fast-rising Mazatlan.  Hermosillo fell to 15-15 and hold fourth place.

NAVOJOA 9, LOS MOCHIS 1
The Navojoa Mayos plated seven runs over the first two innings and cruised to a 9-1 win over Los Mochis Sunday as 6,834 attendees watched at Estadio Manuel “Ciclon” Chavarria in Navojoa.  

Quincy Latimore poled his tenth homer of the season for the Mayos, a three-run blast in the second that gave the hosts their 7-0 lead.  Starter Eddie Gamboa continued his strong winter for Navajoa by allowing one run and scattering three hits over six innings of work, striking out six, to go to 5-2 while lowering his ERA to 3.12.  Caneros hurler Derrick Miramontes (5-6) was chased early after allowing five runs on as many hits in just over one inning.  Antonio Lamas had two of Mochis’ four hits.

Navojoa is now 17-14 while Mochis falls to 14-17.

CULIACAN 8, MEXICALI 1
Hector Daniel Rodriguez pitched seven innings of one-hit shutout ball as the Culiacan Tomeratero posted an 8-1 win over Mexicali as 19,851 spectators looked on in the Sinaloa city Sunday night.  C.J. Retherford was the only Mexicali batsman to reach base off Rodriguez by slicing a leadoff single to center in the second, but Retherford was cut down in an inning-ending double play as Rodriguez (7-3/3.00) faced the minimum 21 batters over his seven frames, whiffing five Mexicali batters.  

Jose Manuel Orozco whacked a two-run homer for Culiacan while leadoff batter Rico Noel singled three times and scored twice.  With the win, Culiacan raised their record to 15-16 while Mexicali dropped to 14-16.

MAZATLAN 8, JALISCO 1

Esteban Quiroz had three singles, drove in three runs and scored two more to lead Mazatlan to an 8-1 win over Jalisco Sunday in a contest of two teams heading in opposite directions before 13,101 onlookers at Estadio Teodoro Mariscal in Mazatlan.  The win was the Venados’ ninth straight (starting December 16) while the Charros have lost 12 of their last 14 contests.  

Alejandro Soto went six strong innings, allowing one run on three hits in combining with three Mazatlan reliever on a five-hitter. Soto evened his record at 4-4 while his ERA dropped to a sparkling 2.63.  Jeremias Pinedas stole two bases to take sole league leadership in that category with 28 and scored three times for the Venados.  

Mazatlan was sitting in last place when Juan Jose Pacho took over as manager from Miguel Ojeda on December 9, but have gone 12-3 under Pacho to move into a tie for second with Navojoa at 17-14.  Jalisco has plummeted to 11-20 and have clinched last place in the second half.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

EDGAR GONZALEZ TO MANAGE MEXICO IN WBC QUALIFIER

Mexicali Aguilas manager Edgar Gonzalez has been named to lead Mexico's national team in an upcoming World Baseball Classic qualifying tournament.

Gonzalez led Mexicali to the Mexican Pacific League's first-half title and has the Aguilas well-positioned for a postseason run.  He won't have to leave town for the qualifier, which will be held in Mexicali between March 17 and 20 and include teams from Germany, Nicaragua and the Czech Republic along with Mexico.

The host nation will be the heavy favorites, with a passel of MLB pitchers like Yovani Gallardo, Roberto Osuna, Miguel Gonzalez and Joakim Soria likely to be added to Mexico's initial 50-man roster.  Whether big league teams allow those players to leave spring training to take part in the Mexicali games is another matter.  It's anything but automatic, although the MLB office is likely to employ persuasive tactics on franchises to support the WBC, former commissioner Bud Selig's brainchild that made its debut in 2006.

The 37-year-old Gonzalez was born in San Diego in 1978 and was selected by Tampa Bay in the 30th round of the 2000 draft while playing college ball for his hometown UCSD.  After nine seasons and five different organizations in the minors, Edgar made his MLB debut for San Diego on May 12, 2008 against the Cubs, singling off Carlos Zambrano in his first plate appearance in the seventh inning.  Gonzalez went on to play parts of 2008 and 2009 with the Padres, hitting .255 with 11 homers in 193 games before returning to the minors.  He spent time with Japan's Yomiuri Giants in 2010 and 2012, batting a combined .253 with 16 roundtrippers over 157 NPB contests.  Although he primarily played second base in San Diego and Tokyo, Edgar was equally at home playing third with much additional playing time at first, shortstop and the outfield before retiring in 2014.

Gonzalez played for Mexico in both the 2009 and 2013 World Baseball Classics alongside brother Adrian, a Dodgers' All-Star first baseman, after the two spent time in 2008 and 2009 in the Padres infield to become the first siblings of Mexican descent to play major league ball on the same team.  They also played winter ball several times together with the MexPac's Mazatlan Venados prior to Edgar's retirement as a player.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

CAMPESINOS LEAD VERACRUZ WINTER LEAGUE, TEN GAMES LEFT

The Paso de Ovejas Campesinos have a one-game lead over the Acayucan Tobis in the Veracruz Winter League standings with ten games left in the regular season.

The 12-6-1 Campesinos have six players batting .314 or better, including DH Ruben Agramon's .385 and veteran 1B Cristhian Presichi at .377.  LF Marcos Vechionacci hits .347 and provides pop with five doubles, five triples and a pair of homers in 19 games.   Five Paso de Ovejas pitchers have two wins apiece.  Roberto Ramirez (2-0/2.05) has been the most effective.

Acayucan has two outfielder hitting over .360: Daniel Nunez is raking at .367 while Jerry Puentes has a .364 average.  Longtime Mexican League hurler Jaciel Acosta is the 10-6-0 Tobis' number one pitcher with a 3-0 record and 14 strikeouts in 23.2 innings.  Juan Grijalva has gone 2-0 with a 0.87 ERA and has recorded 11 whiffs over 10.1 frames.

The Xalapa Chileros are third in the LIV standings at 9-9-1 and the defending champion Los Tuxtlas Brujos hold the fourth and final playoff berth with a 9-9-0 mark.  Manager Pedro Mere's Brujos are loaded with veterans like RF Luis Terrero, 1B Emmanuel Valdez and DH Karim Garcia.  The 7-12 Chiapas Tucanes are fifth while the Pelanque Guacamayas bring up the rear at 5-10-0.

Winter league ball has been played in Veracruz for decades, although this edition dates only to 2005.  The LIV has four teams in the state of Veracruz and two in Chiapas.  Unlike the independent Mexican Pacific League, all LIV teams are affiliated with Mexican League franchises.  The 30-game regular season opens December 1 and closes January 3, followed by two best-of-five semifinal series and a best-of-seven Championship series with Game 7 (if needed) scheduled for January 20.

The postseason winner will advance to the Latin American Series against fellow winter league champions from Colombia, Panama and host Nicaragua, with games slated in Managua between January 28 and February 2.  Colombia's Monterio Leones are the defending champions after defeating the Urraca Indios of Panama, 1-0, in the title game.  Los Tuxtlas has represented Mexico in all three Serie Latinoamericas, winning the inaugural event at Veracruz in 2013.  Xalapa will serve as host in 2017.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

SEAN BURROUGHS LANDS IN OBREGON

Sean Burroughs has seen a lot in his 35 years.

The son of 1974 American League MVP Jeff Burroughs, Sean first gained worldwide attention as the star of the Long Beach, California team that won consecutive Little League World Series titles in 1992 and 1993 (throwing consecutive no-hitters one year).  Five years after winning his second LLWS, Burroughs was selected as a third baseman with the ninth pick of the 1998 draft by the Padres and turned down a scholarship at USC to sign with San Diego.  Two years later, representing Class AA Mobile, he was named the MVP of the All-Star Futures Game, an honor won the previous year by Alfonso Soriano and subsequently by Jose Reyes, Grady Sizemore and Billy Butler, and he was Baseball America's fourth-ranked prospect in the game heading into the 2002 season.

Things haven't quite worked out since as many had expected.  While he did start at third for the Padres in 2003 and 2004 (batting .286 and .298, respectively), he never developed into the run producer envisioned and has bounced between the majors and minors ever since, with MLB stops in Tampa Bay, Arizona and Minnesota along the way.

Burroughs quit the game after playing four games for the Mariners' AAA Tacoma affiliate in 2007 and his life off the field eventually spun out of control so that by 2010, he was scuffling for food on the streets of Las Vegas and hopping from motel to motel while dealing with a drug addiction.  Burroughs eventually found help, cleaned up and returned to baseball in 2011 with the Arizona Diamonbacks, hitting .273 in 78 games, but driving in only 8 runs.  His last MLB experience came in 2012, when he batted .118 in 10 games for Minnesota.  He split last summer between Bridgeport and Long Island of the independent Atlantic League, batting a combined .340 with 4 homers and 51 RBI's over 90 games.  And now he's with the Yaquis.  Or not.

After playing ten games for La Guaira in the Venezuelan League prior to joining the Yaquis, Burroughs made his Yaquis debut last Tuesday in Los Mochis and went 1-for-4 with a run scored.  He played all three games in the series against the Caneros, going 2-for-11, before returning to Obregon and bringing his LMP batting average up to .313 by turning in a 3-for-5 night with two doubles, driving in two runs and scoring another in a Yaquis win over Culiacan.

Since then, he hasn't played a game for manager Eddie Diaz' squad, sitting out the final two games against Mochis and Monday's opener against Jalisco in Guadalajara.  Internet searches have turned up no explanation for Burroughs' absence following his three-hit night.  One possible roadblock to playing time is that he plays the same position as Cubs prospect Christian Villanueva, who is having a terrific season for the Yaquis, but with his history, you hold your breath a little.

Hopefully, Sean Burroughs will resurface with the Yaquis or some other team and find the peace and happiness that's eluded him for years.  He's seen enough of everything else.

Monday, December 21, 2015

YAQUIS PASS MAYOS, TAKE MEXPAC LEAD

The Obregon Yaquis swept a three-game home series against Culiacan over the weekend to vault past fast-fading Navojoa into first place in the Mexican Pacific League second-half stands with a week remaining in the regular season.

Obregon held off the Tomateros, 5-3, Sunday night before 8,308 onlookers at Estadio Tomas Oroz Gaytan to complete the sweep and leapfrog ahead of the Mayos, whose last-inning rally fell a run shy in Sunday's 6-5 home loss to Mazatlan.  It was the sixth straight defeat for Navojoa, who'd dropped three in a row at Culiacan before coming home to face the Venados. Obregon has won four of their last six games, winning one of three games in Los Mochis before taking a broom to the Tomateros.

It's been a tight second half in the MexPac, where just 4.5 games separate first place from last with nine days remaining on the schedule. The final day of the regular season is Tuesday, December 29.

Jalisco teammates OF Jesus Valdez and 2B Amadeo Zazueta are 1-2 in the MexPac batting race:  Valdez is hitting .351, Zazueta is at .342. Obregon 3B Christian Villanueva, a legitimate MVP candidate, is third in the league with a .338 average. Jalisco's slugging 1B Japhet Amador is tops with 14 homers and 48 RBI's, although Amador's winter season may be over with his pending move to Japan. OF's Rico Noel of Culiacan and Jeremias Pinedas of Mazatlan are tied for the MexPac lead with 24 stolen bases each.

Mexicali's Javier Solano tossed seven innings of two-hit shutout ball against Hermosillo Friday night for his LMP-best eighth win. Solano rang up 10 strikeouts against the Naranjeros to bring his league-leading total to 67. Mazatlan's Alejandro Soto's 2.73 ranks just ahead of Los Mochis' Derrick Miramontes (2.74) and Obregon's Rolando Valdez (2.78).  Mochis' Andres Avila's save against Obregon Thursday tied the LMP record of 23, set by Obregon's Mark Zappelli in 1990-91 for Obregon. Avila, another MVP possibility, has converted saves in all but one of 24 opportunities this winter.

LMP STANDINGS: Obregon 16-11, Navojoa 15-12, Hermosillo 14-12, Los Mochis 14-13, Mazatlan 13-14, Mexicali 12-14, Culiacan 12-15, Jalisco 11-16.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

AMADOR HEADING TO JAPAN, EAGLES FOR 2016

Ending weeks of speculation, Mexico City and Jalisco slugger Japhet Amador will play for the Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan's Pacific League in 2016.  After negotiations that began during last month's baseball's winter meetings in Nashville, Diablos Rojos representatives Roberto Mansur and Roberto Castellano came to terms with Rakuten president Yozo Tachavina that will assign the rights for Amador, the 2015 Mexican League MVP, to the Japanese club next season.

Amador, who turns 29 next month, led the Liga with 41 homers and 117 RBI's last summer to go along with a .346 batting average for the Red Devils.  He belted 14 homers in June alone, including a stretch of five consecutive games between June 18 and 21 (starting with both ends of a doubleheader against Carmen on the 18th and continuing with a three-homer game against Campeche a day later) to tie a Mexican League record held by Rene Gonzalez, Nick Castaneda, Jorge Vazquez and Salon de la Fama member Nelson "The Admiral" Barrera.

The 6'4" Amador, nicknamed "The Giant of Mulege," was hitting .288 with a Mexican Pacific League-leading 14 homers and 48 RBI's for Guadalajara's Jalisco Charros before leaving the team after a game with Hermosillo on December 16.  He was considered a potential MVP candidate for the winter circuit as well, although that may become less likely with his absence over the final two weeks of the regular season.

Amador will travel to San Francisco for a physical exam, which could be an interesting exercise (so to speak) for the 311-pound first baseman making his first foray into a country where the condition of baseball players has long been of paramount importance.  He will then be assigned a date to report to the Sendai-based Eagles for spring training.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

ROJAS REPLACES NAVARRETE IN JALISCO

The Jalisco Charros have fired manager Juan Navarrete and replaced him with Homar Rojas (pictured),
who won Mexican Pacific League pennants with Obregon and Hermosillo, beating Mazatlan in both title series.

Navarrete, a Salon de la Fama second baseman who batted .327 in 16 Mexican League seasons between 1970 and 1990 (mostly with Saltillo), led the Guadalajara squad to an 18-17 record and five points in the first half of the current season (his second with the Charros), tying with Obregon for fourth in the standings.  However, Jalisco fell to 9-15 and dropped behind Mazatlan into last place following a 4-1 loss in Hermosillo Thursday night while the Venados were holding off Mexicali, 2-1.  Navarrete led the Charros to an LMP-best 42-26 record and a top playoff seed in his first winter with the club in 2014-15, losing to Culiacan in five games in the MexPac championship series.

The 51-year-old Rojas broke in as a catcher with Monterrey at age 18 in 1982 and went on to play 23 seasons in the minors, including four years in the Dodgers system between 1987 and 1990.  He played for six different teams in the LMB, gaining a reputation as a solid defensive catcher who could hit for power.  Since retiring in 2004, Rojas has managed in both the Liga and MexPac.  Rojas skippered Obregon to their first LMP pennant in 27 years in 2007-08 and took Hermosillo to the title and a Caribbean Series berth two winters later. The Nuevo Leon product has not enjoyed similar success during the summer, where stints at the helm in Oaxaca, Reynosa, Campeche and Monclova have been pennant-free, although he did take the Acereros to the MLB championship series this year before losing to the Quintana Roo Tigres in five games.

Rojas' first game as Jalisco manager was last (Friday) night at home against Los Mochis.


Friday, December 18, 2015

EX-MLBer NYJER MORGAN SIGNS WITH PERICOS

From its 1531 founding by Spaniards through centuries as the scene of some of Mexico's most important historic moments (including the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, in which Mexican forced defeated French invaders in an event celebrated today as Cinco de Mayo), Puebla is known as a dignified, cultured and relatively quiet colonial city of 2.5 million residents.

Enter Nyjer Morgan.

The volatile ex-Major Leaguer has signed a deal to play for the Puebla Pericos in 2016.  Morgan had an abbreviated stay last summer with the Korea Baseball Organization's Hanwha Eagles, for whom he batted .273 in ten games.  The 2014 season was also a relatively inactive one for the San Francisco-born outfielder, who batted .341 over 15 games for the Cleveland Indians but posted just .200 in as many games for the Tribe's AAA Columbus affiliate.  He spent the entire 2013 campaign in Japan, where he hit .294 with 11 homers for the Pacific League's Yokohama BayStars.

It's been a tough few seasons for the 34-year-old, who attended high school in Canada before being picked by Pittsburgh out of Walla Walla (WA) Community College in the 33rd round of the 2002 draft.  Morgan toiled five seasons in the Pirates system before hitting .299 for Pittsburgh in a late-season call-up in 2007. He split the following year between AAA and MLB, but 2009 was his breakout year.  Despite a June trade that sent him to Washington, Morgan hit .307 for the year (.351 for the Nats) to finish tenth in the National League while his 42 stolen bases ranked second in the senior circuit. His performance dipped in 2010, however, and he was dealt again prior to the 2011 campaign, this time to Milwaukee.  As with Washington, Morgan got off to a strong start with the Brewers, batting .304 his first season, but his average fell to .239 in 2012 and he was granted free agency following the season after he refused to be assigned to the Brewers' AAA Nashville affiliate, leading to his journey to Japan.

Along the way, Morgan built a reputation both as a centerfielder whose speed allowed him to cover a lot of ground while being a threat on the basepaths and as a temperamental player capable of sometimes-entertaining outbursts in the middle of a game.  He once threw his glove and walked away after he thought he'd deflected a fly ball from Baltimore's Adam Jones over the fence for a home run when, in fact, he'd knocked the ball back onto the playing field and Jones ended up cruising around the bags for an inside-the-park home run.  Morgan also once threw a ball at a fan in Philadelphia, received a suspension after precipitating a brawl by charging the mound after two beanballs innings after slamming into a Marlins catcher
and separating his shoulder, and he was criticized after shouting two obscenities picked up by TV microphones after the Brewers won the 2011 NL Division Series.

A career .282 hitter who appeared in seven MLB seasons, Morgan was also a very talented hockey player as a teen, reaching the Major Junior Regina Pats before settling on baseball as a career choice.  He had a Twitter following of over 80,000 during his big league days, where he gave himself the nickname of "Tony Plush" as a sort of alter-ego.

Regardless of how Nyjer Morgan performs on the field in Mexico this summer, Pueblans in the stands at Estadio Hermanos Serdan will not be bored.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

MEXICAN PRO BASEBALL LEAGUES: A Primer

While doing early research for an upcoming post about what's happening in the Veracruz Winter League, I started looking into just how many professional baseball leagues Mexico has.  I'd known of the existence of most of them but when I wrote out a list and came up with three summer leagues, three winter leagues and one that plays both seasons, I was a little surprised.  Given that I started writing about Mexican baseball ten years ago, I should've already known that a nation of 123 million people where baseball has been played since the late 19th century is likely going to have a decent infrastructure in place in 2015.

Since I've never done an overview of all the pro leagues in Mexico, this seems to be a good time for a few capsule observations from an extranero fanatico.  I'll be giving designations from AAA on down, but those will mostly be how I think they're perceived within the Mexican system, which is largely overseen by the Mexican League. I'll split this into two sections: Summer and Winter Leagues.

SUMMER LEAGUES

MEXICAN LEAGUE (AAA)
Definitely the straw that stirs the drink in Mexican baseball.  The LMB has been around since 1925 and is the unquestioned "national" league.  Also the only league outside the USA that is a member of Minor League Baseball, where it's classified as AAA and is the only independent league officially recognized by MiLB.  The LMB consists of 16 teams from Tijuana to Cancun, run its 110-game regular season from April through mid-July, with three-tier playoffs lasting into September. Except for the Mexican Pacific League, All pro baseball in Mexico flows from this league.

NORTHERN MEXICAN LEAGUE (A)
The LNM's eight franchises are located in Mexico's northwest corner, with franchises in Baja California and Sonora mostly on a line with the American border, including winter league cities Mexicali and Hermosillo.  Teams in the Liga Norte play 84-game schedules between April and mid-July with a six-team playoff similar to the Mexican Pacific League's stretching into September.  Teams are are LMB affiliates shared by two teams as their collective "Class A" feeder squad.

There was a similar AA loop, the Nothern Sonora League, that operated for 60 years before closing after the 2014 season due to financial problems. A Champion of Champions Series between the two pennant winners was held that final year, with LNS kingpin Hermosillo defeating LNM titlist San Luis Rio Colorado in six games.

ACADEMY LEAGUE (A)
Opening in 1995, the Mexican Baseball Academy near Monterrey is something that has no counterpart in the USA, a complex for players as young as 14 or 15 to live in dormitories while honing their ballplaying skills full-time. Prospects are housed, fed, schooled and coached under the auspices the Mexican League. Umpires also attend the academy before being assigned to an outside league.  Eight teams shared by two LMB franchises each play daily schedules from the end of March to late July.  The Academia website calls this a "AA" league but other sources classify it as an "A" league and that may be closer to reality.

NORTHERN COAHUILA LEAGUE (I)
This is perhaps the most "entry-level" circuit in Mexican pro ball.  The LNC is an instructional loop consisting of eight teams in the state of Coahuila near the Texas border.  Teams in the LNC play a Sunday-only, double round-robin schedule of 14 doubleheaders between March and June with no postseason.  Although not officially tied with the Mexican League, the Monclova Acereros and Puebla Pericos each own two teams and the Saltillo Saraperos own one. The LNC can trace its roots to the 1940's.

WINTER LEAGUES

MEXICAN PACIFIC LEAGUE (AAA)
Kings of winterball in Mexico since forming in the late 1940's, the MexPac (or LMP) has been the preferred winter home for both top domestic players and prospects sent by MLB organizations to Latin America for extra seasoning between October and January.  The league's eight unaffiliated teams stretch in the Mexican west from Mexicali on the California border south to Mazatlan.   The stream of minor leaguers from the north has slowed in recent years, but fans have responded with the largest attendance of any non-MLB in the northern hemisphere.  The LMP champion represents Mexico in the Caribbean Series against teams from Cuba, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.  Not officially AAA, but generally regarded as playing at that level.

VERACRUZ WINTER LEAGUE (AA)
Unlike the MexPac, the Veracruz Winter League consists of six teams (four in the state of Veracruz and two more in Chiapas) that are affiliated with Mexican League clubs.  Since many LIV players perform in the LMB during the summer, the quality of play is comparable to the LMP, although the crowds don't come close to their western counterparts.  The LIV regular season runs just 30 games compared with the LMP's 70-game schedule.  Their playoff champion takes part in the Latin American Series against flag-winners from Colombia, Panama and Nicaragua.  The "AA" designation is purely personal on my part but all things considered, it seems accurate.

MEXICAN WINTER LEAGUE (A)
The LIM was created three months ago in the wake of the collapse of the Nayarit-based Northwest Baseball League (LBN) following its season last winter.  Six teams in the Central Mexican states of Aguascalientes and Guanajuato as well as Mexico City embarked on 62-game schedules October 17 with January playoffs scheduled.  The league is considered "developmental," with most players on the LMB-affiliated teams ranging from their mid-teen to early-20's, worthy of a Class A designation in Mexican ball. The Mexico City Diablos Rojos' farm team, managed by ex-Diablos star Victor Bojorquez, currently top the standings by three games with two weeks left in the regular season.

ACADEMY LEAGUE (R)
"Wait a minute," you're saying, "Isn't there already a Class A Academy League?"  Well, yes, there is...in the spring and summer.  During the fall, a separate Academy League playing with the "Rookie" designation plays a shorter season running from mid-October to mid-December.  This year, five teams with shared LMB affiliations (Saltillo fielded a single team) played 27 games each over eight weeks, all on the Academy grounds with daily doubleheaders.  A team co-owned by Mexico City and Oaxaca won the pennant with a 21-4-2 record earlier this month.

Much credit is due to Mexico City Diablos Rojos owner Alfredo Harp Helu for creating and funding a baseball academy in his native Oaxaca in 2009.  As someone who was intrigued as a kid by the Kansas City Royals Academy that Ewing Kaufmann (a great and visionary owner, IMHO, as is Harp) ran in the early 70's, I'm convinced there is value to them.  Two thumbs up to both Harp and late Quintana Roo Tigres owner Alejo Peralta, founder of the LMB Academy in El Carmen, for taking lead roles in developing academies south of the border.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

OJEDA NAMED MANAGER OF GIANTS' AA AFFILIATE

Former major league catcher and Mexico City Diablos Rojos manager Miguel Ojeda has been hired to manage the San Francisco Giants' Class AA Southern League affiliate in 2016.  Ojeda will replace Venezuelan Jose Alguacil as head man for the Richmond Flying Squirrels.

A Guaymas, Sonora native who turns 41 next month, Ojeda made his pro debut in 1993 as an 18-year-old catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates' Gulf Coast League rookie club.  After spending the following season with Welland in the Class A New York-Penn League, Ojeda returned south of the border in 1995 for the first of nine seasons with the Diablos Rojos (plus a short stint at AA Carolina in 1998).

The 6'1", 230-pounder was sold during the 2003 season to the San Diego Padres, for whom he hit .234 with 4 homers over 61 games. Ojeda played all or part of four MLB seasons with the Padres, Mariners, Rockies and Rangers, batting .224 with 15 longballs in 212 career games.  He returned to the Diablos in 2007 and played another four years for them and spent 2011 in Reynosa before retiring from Quintana Roo in 2012 at age 37 after 20 years playing pro ball.

Ojeda was named manager of the Diablos for 2013 and proceeded to win 201 of 333 regular season games over the next three seasons for a .604 record, finishing first in the North Division all three years and copping the team's record 16th Mexican League pennant in 2014. The Red Devils posted a 73-39 record last summer before losing to Tijuana in the first round of the playoffs.

Earlier this month, Ojeda resigned as manager of the Mexican Pacific League's Mazatlan Venados with the team mired in last place in the MexPac's second half standings.  He's been replaced at the helm by longtime Mexican baseball figure Juan Jose Pacho, who led the Venados to the 2006 Caribbean Series crown in front of hometown fans at Estadio Teodoro Mariscal.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

RAKUTEN EAGLES LOOKING AT AMADOR

Rumors have swirled for weeks that mountainous slugger Japhet Amador may be heading to Japan for the 2016 season.  While Mexico City Red Devils president Roberto Mansur claims he has not heard from any Japanese teams inquiring about the 6'4" Amador, who plays for the Diablos during the summer, Puro Beisbol columnist Fernando Ballasteros has named at least one team that may be interested in the 310-pounder.

The Rakuten Golden Eagles are Japan's newest team, debuting in 2005 after the Pacific League's Orix BlueWave and Kintestu Buffaloes merged and left the circuit with five teams.  The Eagles, whose first GM, Marty Kuehnert, became the first American to run a Japanese team, got off to a predictably horrible start by winning just 38 of 136 games their first year.  The Sendai-based team improved until finally winning the Japan Series by beating the Yomiuri Giants in 2013.  Among players who've worn Rakuten's red-and-gold togs are Dodgers pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, Yankees hurler Masahiro Tanaka and Mexican products Luis Alfonso Garcia (in 2011-12) and Agustin Murillo (in 2015). 


Ballasteros said that while Amador's tendency to be overweight and fielding difficulties at first base would be issues in Japan, he has hit a combined 55 homers this year between Mexico City and his winter team, the Jalisco Charros, and hitting for both average and power is the hardest thing to do in baseball at any level anywhere.  


The 28-year-old Mulege native has already won the Mexican League MVP and is a legitimate contender for the same honors in the Mexican Pacific League. Ballasteros added that while he has searched online and not found any player who won the MVP in both leagues within the same 12-month period, a reader told him the legendary Hector Espino did the double for Tampico of the LMB in 1975 and Hermosillo of the LMP for 1975-76.

Monday, December 14, 2015

MAYOS SWEEP ROAD TWINBILL, LEAD MEXPAC BY 3 GAMES

After sweeping a Sunday doubleheader over the Jalisco Charros in Guadalajara, the Navojoa Mayos ended the weekend with a 15-6 record and a three-game lead in the Mexican Pacific League's second-half standings.  Obregon is second at 12-9 and Los Mochis is third with an 11-10 mark.  

Let's take a look at how all eight LMP teams are faring with two weeks left in the regular season schedule:

NAVOJOA (15-6) has livened up considerably under new manager Enrique "Che" Reyes. Orioles farmhand OF Quincy Latimore, an Eastern League All-Star last summer, leads Mayos starters in all Triple Crown categories (.307/8/38) and 3B Jesus Castillo is hitting .292 with 7 homers, but 18-year minor league veteran 1B John Lindsey is only batting .143 with one homer and 4 RBI's after swatting a dozen roundtrippers for the Mayos last winter.  Pitcher Eddie Gamboa is 4-1 and third in the league with a 2.76 ERA and both Hector Velazquez and Jose Oyervides each have 5 wins.  Velazquez has a 3.11 ERA.  

OBREGON (12-9) is getting a standout winter from 3B Christian Villanueva, who is third on the LMP table with a .337 average, tied for fourth with 9 homers, trails only Mazatlan's Jeremias Pineads with 35 runs scored and is tied for ninth with 31 RBI's.  His on-base percentage of .444 tops the loop.  OF Reynaldo Rodriguez is second in the LMP with 10 homers (tied with Mexicali's Yuniesky Betancourt).   Rolando Valdez is having a good winter for the Yaquis, with a 5-4 record and a 3.03 ERA that stands third in the LMP. David Reyes (5-2/4.40) has had his moments and middleman Victor Arano (4-0/0.75) has been superlative in 23 appearances.

LOS MOCHIS (11-10) has been steady if unspectacular.  Caneros 3B Emmanuel Avila is fifth in the MexPac batting race with a .321 average while OF D'Arby Myers' .338 average would rank higher with more plate appearances. Mexican League All-Star Saul Soto is only batting .232, but the 37-year-old 1B leads the Caneros with 9 HRs and is tied for fourth in the LMP with 35 RBI's. Ageless 1B Ramon Orantes is batting .321 as a part-timer.  P Derrick Miramontes is 5-4 and leads the MexPac with a 2.31 ERA but the real story has been closer Andres Avila, whose 21 saves is two away from the LMP record set by Obregon's Mark Zappelli in 1990-91.

HERMOSILLO (10-10) needs just one more win to match their first-half total with 14 games to play as Lorenzo Bundy has steadied the ship since replacing Jose Luis Sandoval three weeks ago.  Former White Sox OF Jerry Owens lead Naranjeros batters with a .318 average over 38 games and 3B Jose Amador is having a solid all-around season with .296/9/36 numbers.  Hermosillo isn't breaking even by virtue of batting, as their .238 team average is a distant last.  An LMP-best 3.41 ERA is more responsible, led by Nate Reed (3-3/2.52), 2009 LMB Rookie of the Year Juan Pablo Oramos (3-3/3.39) and ex-MLBer Edgar Gonzalez (2-4/3.88).

MEXICALI (9-11) has been so-so after winning the first half title but the Aguilas probably have a lot of people nervous as the playoffs loom.  OF Welington Dotel is batting .333, fourth in the LMP but nothing like the .379 average he had going into December. 2B Ramon Urias has raised his own average to .351, which would lead the league if he had more at-bats.  SS Walter Ibarra (.321), 3B C.J. Retherford (.309/8/33) and vet OF Chris Roberson (.304) have all helped Mexicali to a team .297 BA. P Javier Solano (7-2/3.57) still leads the circuit in wins, but pitching coach Jose Silva's bullpen has fared much better overall than his starting rotation.

JALISCO (9-12) has the only offense to rival Mexicali's, as the Charros hot .288 as a team and plates 4.79 runs per game.  2B Amadeo Zazueta went 14-for-35 for his past ten games to take over the LMP batting leadership at .348 while OF Jesus Valdez is now second at .339.  3B Alex Liddi continues to rake with .314/6/32 numbers and 1B Japhet Amador has raised his BA to .289 and still leads the MexPac with 14 homers and 46 RBI's.  Jalisco's pitching has been mostly adequate, although (like Mexicali) the starters are not as good as the bullpen, where ex-Cards P Brian Broderick (1-2/2.33) has saved 14 games, third-best in the LMP. 

CULIACAN (9-12) has been packing the stands at their new ballpark, with an average crowd of 16,815 over 28 home games, but the picture is less rosy on the playing field.  The Tomateros ARE third in the league with a .267 batting average (3B Oscar Robles leads regulars with a .316 average), but with little power, and manager Benji Gil still hasn't settled on a starting lineup.  And Culiacan's mound staff has been a "pitch-and-duck" proposition all winter, with an LMP-worst 4.97 ERA. Hector Daniel Rodriquez (4-3/3.45) is eighth in ERA among MexPac hurlers and 2015 PCL All-Star Ryan Buchter (3-0/0.72) has 10 saves, but that's pretty much it.

MAZATLAN (8-13) has even less power than Culiacan but at least they've got pitching.  Alejandro Soto (3-4/2.79) is fourth in ERA in the LMP and Amilcar Gaxiola (4-3/2.70) has been as good, closer Steven Hensley (1-1/2.05) is second with 16 saves and Walter Silva (5-4/4.31), who turns 39 next months, just keeps rolling along like Old Man River.  SS Esteban Quiroz lead Mazatlan hitters with a .316 average (seventh in the league), OF Jeremias Pinedas has a .300 average and 22 steals and 1B Cyle Hankard, a former D-Backs minor leaguer, is hitting .298 with 6 homers.  The Venados should reach the postseason, but will not be favorites going in.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

BAN OVER, SIX MiLB VETS PICKED IN LMB DRAFT

Trying to be as good as their word, Mexican League teams last week held a draft of returning minor league veterans who'd signed directly with Major League Baseball organizations as prospects without first agreeing to terms with domestic teams.  Ordinarily, Mexican League teams own the rights to talented youngsters who would then routinely give 70 percent of signing bonuses to the LMB team that held their rights.  Prior to this winter, an informal gentleman's agreement effectively blacklisted players who didn't submit to the system from playing in the Liga in the future.

Here are the six returning minor league veterans picked by Mexican League teams, with their former big league organizations in parentheses:

TABASCO - P Edgar Osuna (Atlanta, Kansas City)
MONCLOVA - IF Amadeo Zazueta (Houston, Atlanta, San Diego, Toronto)
CAMPECHE - 1B/OF Francisco Rivera (St. Louis)
SALTILLO - P Marco Camarena (NY Mets, St. Louis)
QUINTANA ROO - C Santiago Chavez (Oakland)
MONTERREY - P Melchor Urquidez (Seattle)

Three other players were allowed to sign with Liga teams they'd already been negotiating with in anticipation of the ban being lifted:

LAGUNA - OF Rogelio Noris (Pittsburgh)
TABASCO - C Sebastian Valle (Philadelphia) pictured above
MONTERREY - Oscar Alejandro Astorga (no info available)

Nine teams chose to sit out the chance to sign returnees, most notably the Mexico City Diablos Rojos.  Team president Robert Mansur has said the Red Devils would continue to build their roster with prospects from within their own system rather than employ returning minor leaguers.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

OSCAR ROBLES COLLECTS 1,000TH LMP HIT

Culiacan Tomateros third baseman Oscar Robles has become the second player to reach 1,000 career Mexican Pacific League hits this seasons. Robles, a former Dodgers and Padres minor leaguer, sliced an eighth-inning single off Jalisco southpaw Jose Ivan Salas for his third hit of Thursday night's game in Culiacan to join 13 others in the LMP's 1,000 Hit Club.  Tomateros skipper Juan Navarrete immediately sent out pinch-runner Christian Zazueta to replace Robles, who left the field to an ovation from the crowd of 18,255 spectators at the Tomateros' new ballpark.

After initially signing with Houston in 1994, Robles spent five years in the Astros system before landing in Oaxaca in 2000.  He remained in the Mexican League until the Mexico City Red Devils sold him to the Dodgers in early 2005, where he split playing between shortstop and third base the rest of the season, hitting .272 over 110 games for Los Angeles.  Robles bounced between the majors and AAA ball, playing briefly for LA in 2006 before spending a short time with San Diego in 2007 to wrap up his MLB career.  After another year in the Phillies system, he returned to the Diablos Rojos in 2010 and has remained in the Liga ever since, batting .331 in 79 games for Tijuana last summer.

The 39-year-old Robles, a Tijuana native who attended high school near San Diego, made his LMP debut with Guasave in 1995-96, picking up 44 hits that season.  Since then, he's spent nine more winters in Navojoa and another six in Mexicali prior to joining Culiacan last season.  Noted more for his glove and versatility than his bat, Robles hit a career-high .330 for Navojoa in 2007-08 and gathered 77 hits for a .303 mark three years later with Mexicali.  He is currently tenth in the MexPac batting race with a .313 average.

Ramon Orantes of Los Mochis collected his thousandth career MexPac hit on November 13 against Mexicali pitcher Edgar Osuna.

Friday, December 11, 2015

OLMECAS DEAL KARIM GARCIA TO SALTILLO

Former major league outfielder Karim Garcia has been traded to the Mexican League's Saltillo Saraperos by the Tabasco Olmecas.  A 40-year-old Obregon native, Garcia spent all or part of ten seasons in MLB playing for seven teams between 1995 and 2004, batting .279 with 66 homers for his career.  His best season was in 2002, when he hit .292 and whacked 16 roundtrippers in 53 games for Cleveland and the New York Yankees.  Garcia batted .286 for the Yanks in their 2003 World Series loss to the Florida Marlins.
After his MLB playing days ended, Garcia toiled for Japan's Orix Blue Wave and the Mexican League's Monterrey Sultanes before embarking on a four-year run in Korea from 2008 and 2011.  He hit .264 with 103 homers for the Lotte Giants and Hanwha Eagles, including a .283/30/111 campaign for Lotte in 2008.  Garcia has played the last four years in the LMB for Monterrey, Quintana Roo and Tabasco, batting .230 with 4 homers as a part-timer with the Tigres and Olmecas in 2015.

To bring the former KBO All-Star to Saltillo, the Saraperos parted with veteran first baseman and DH Refugio Cervantes.  After breaking into the Liga as a teen with Nuevo Laredo in 1997, the 37-year-old Cervantes has appeared in 19 seasons in the LMB, batting .295 with 195 homers and 749 RBIs for six teams.  He's had three stints in Saltillo, including an eight-year stretch between 2006 and 2013.  In 91 games with the Saraperos last summer, he posted a .258/10/42 slash line.

ESCALANTE TO STEP DOWN AS LIGA LEADER

Mexican League president Plinio Escalante has announced his retirement following the 2016 LMB season. Escalante made his statement at the Winter Meetings in Nashville.  A Yucatan native and Leones owner in the 1980's with an accounting background, Escalante became Liga president in 2007 after the post had been held by four different men since Pedro Treto Cisneros' 1999 retirement.  

The position of Mexican League president had been relatively stable after Antonio Ramirez Mura took the job in 1962.  Ramirez went on to serve 20 years at the big desk before stepping down following the 1981 season, a year after dealing with a crippling players strike that included a spinoff league of striking LMBers playing their own schedule the rest of the 1980 season in Liga cities and ballparks.  Cisneros Treto emerged in 1982 as president and held the office another 18 years before leaving in 1999, opening the revolving door that stopped when Escalante stepped up in 2007.  His final season will be his tenth.

According to Puro Beisbol's David Braverman, Escalante is already rumored to have three Liga teams offering a job after he exits the LMB office.

SORIA BACK WITH ROYALS, SIGNS 3-YEAR DEAL

After a three-year exile, relief pitcher Joakim Soria has rejoined the team for whom he was a two-time All-Star.  The 31-year-old righty from Monclova has inked a three-year, $25 million contact with the world champion Kansas City Royals, who have a fourth-year option.

Soria was taken by the Royals from the San Diego organization with the second pick of the Rule V draft while he was standing the Mexican Pacific League on its head in 2006-07 with the Obregon Yaquis, for whom he went 9-1 (leading the loop in wins) with a 2.41 ERA in 13 starts, including a December 9 perfect game against Hermosillo.  KC immediately moved him to the bullpen, where Soria went on to post save 160 games in 298 appearances for the Royals between 2007 and 2011, registering a 2.40 ERA and being selected for the 2008 and 2010 All-Star Games.

The road has been rockier after Soria missed the 2012 season following Tommy John surgery.  In three seasons since, he's pitched for Texas, Detroit and Pittsburgh, going 6-5 with 42 saves and a 3.00 ERA.  He pitched one scoreless inning with three strikeouts for the Pirates in this year's National League wild card playoff encounter against the Chicago Cubs.  Closer Greg Holland was not offered a contract for 2016 after undergoing Tommy John surgery himself in October.  Wade Davis is expected to inherit Holland's former role with Soria envisioned as a setup man for the Royals.

Shortly before the signing, Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore praised Soria: "He's very dedicated, has great control with effective pitches and has a tremendous presence in the clubhouse."

Thursday, December 10, 2015

ZAZUETA HITS 2ND GAME-WINNING OT SLAM

            Amadeo Zazueta belted a grand slam in the top of the 12th inning as his Jalisco Charros went on to cop a 10-7 win over the Culiacan Tomateros Tuesday night in front of 16,359 onlookers in Culiacan.  The four-bagger came off former Dodgers farmhand Jesus Castillo, who was also tagged for the loss.

Earlier, Zazueta singled and came around to score on Edson Garcia's second-inning single as the Culiacan native finished the contest 2-for-5 to raised his batting average to .458 for December and .345 for the season.  The 11-year minor league veteran infielder is now just two points behind Mexicali's Welington Dotel in the Mexican Pacific League batting race.  Dotel has topped the leaderboard most of the winter.
 
The grand slam was Zazueta's second overtime game-winner in less than three weeks.  The 29-year-old launched a bases-loaded bomb November 20 in Guadalajara against Mexicali's Francisco Gil, this time for the walkoff win in the 13th frame.  Zazueta has no other roundtrippers this winter, proving that sometimes it really IS all about the timing.

Monday, December 7, 2015

NAVOJOA UP TWO ON MOCHIS, OBREGON IN LMP

Despite falling to Fabian Cota (left) and the Los Mochis Caneros, 8-2, Sunday night in Mochis, the Navojoa Mayos head into Monday’s series opener against Hermosillo with a two-game lead in the Mexican Pacific League’s second half standings.  Mochis and Obregon are tied for second.

Cota pitched six shutout innings for the Caneros (10-5), allowing only a Gerardo Andrade single in the sixth while striking out four Navojoa (10-5) batsmen for his first win.  The 23-year-old lefty has been a middleman most of the winter for Los Mochis, the same role he filled for Mexico City last summer.  D’Arby Myers had two hits, including his fourth homer, and 3 RBIs for Mochis. Navojoa had won the first two games of the series: a 2-0 shutout Friday behind seven innings from starter Eddie Gamboa and a 2-1 as starter Hector Velazquez went to 5-1 by blanking the hosts over 6.1 frames.
The Obregon Yaquis (8-7) took two of three home games against the Hermosillo Naranjeros (7-7) to pull into a second-place tie with Mochis.  The last-place Mazatl├ín Venados (5-10) won two against the Culiacan Tomateros (7-8) at Estadio Teodoro Mariscal while the Mexicali Aguilas (7-7) outscored the Jalisco Charros (7-8) twice at home in El Nido.

Mexicali’s Welington “Duke” Dotel has cooled down the past couple weeks but continues to lead the MexPac in batting with a .349 average.Dotel is just 4-of-33 over his past eight games. Jalisco’s Japhet Amador, who is still in The Land of the Winter Sun despite earlier rumors having him headed to Japan, has stayed atop the LMP with 13 homers and 42 RBI’s.  Rico Noel, who has stayed in Culiacan despite a near dugout fistfight with Tomateros skipper Benji Gil last month, leads the league with 21 stolen bases.

LIGA LIFTS BLACKLIST OF MLB/MiLB VETERANS

The VICE Sports website reports that a longstanding gentlemen’s agreement among Mexican League teams barring native-born Major or Minor league veterans who did not originally sign with them as prospects has been called off.

A story by writer David Mark Simpson quotes a November 13 Beisbol Mundial article in which Veracruz Rojos Aguilas owner Jose Antonio Mansur as saying the unwritten agreement is being eliminated, allowing players who’ve been playing ball north of the border to return home and play summer ball in their home country.  The VICE Sports story names such players as Amadeo Zazueta (above) as one of the potential beneficiaries of the lifting of the blacklist, which seemed unwarranted in Zazueta’s case.  

A Culiacan native, Zazueta tried out for a number of Mexican League teams as a teen before signing a free agent contract with Houston in 2003. After three years in the Astros system, Zazueta has since shuttled back and forth between independent leagues and stints in the Atlanta, San Diego and Toronto systems.  He spent last summer batting .260 in 117 games as a middle infielder with the Atlantic League’s Sugar Land Skeeters. No such rule exists in the Mexican Pacific League, where Zazueta is currently with Jalisco for his seventh season of winterball.
One of the unique aspects of Mexican baseball is that, unlike elsewhere, Liga teams will typically sign contracts with homegrown prospects before they’re old enough to sign free-agent contracts with MLB organizations or other foreign teams.  It can be a business bonanza for LMB franchises. When Veracruz sold the rights to 16-year-old pitching prospect Luis Heredia of Mazatlan to the Pittsburgh Pirates for $2.6 million in 2011, $1.8 million of that went to the Rojos Aguilas. Simpson adds that several sources claim that some Mexican League teams garner more revenue from player sales than ticket sales.

The flip side is that MLB organizations have for years bypassed Mexican prospects in favor of those from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela because they can sign multiple players for the same cost a single Mexican teen would cost.
However, not every LMB majordomo has signed off on allowing prodigal sons to come home. Mexico City Diablos Rojos president Roberto Mansur (yes, he’s related to Jose Antonio...the Mansur family has been well-represented in Mexican baseball for decades) says he will continue to employ only Mexican players who first signed with Liga teams as teens.  According to Solo Beisbol, Mansur told a Mexico City newspaper that he will continue to promote players from the Red Devils Academy and winter farm teams rather than sign expats returning from the States without first signing with a Mexican team.

Thanks to BBM reader Callum Hughson for the story tip.  Email BaseballMexico@live.com if you have an interesting story on Mexican baseball.  It only SEEMS like I see everything.   -Bruce

OLIVO RE-UPS FOR THIRD SUMMER IN TIJUANA

Longtime major league catcher Miguel Olivo has signed on for another Mexican League season with the Tijuana Toros in 2016. Olivo hit .281 with 14 homers and 56 RBI’s for Tijuana last summer. Mexican teams have historically been unafraid to let veterans continue to play in the field, and the Toros put Olivo behind the plate in 75 of his 89 games. He responded with a .995 fielding average over 555 chances.  The 37-year-old Dominican batted .309 with 9 homers for TJ in 2014 after being released by the Dodgers from their AAA affiliate in Albuquerque.

Olivo made his pro debut with the Athletics Arizona Rookie League squad in 1998 and turned in a .311 average.  He broke into the majors with the Chicago White Sox in 1993, hitting .211 in a six-game cup of coffee.  Over the course of his 13-year MLB career in which he changed teams eight times, Olivo hit just .240 but displayed extra-base power with 177 doubles and 145 homers among his 905 lifetime hits.  He belted 12 or more roundtrippers eight times between 2004 and 2012.  
A suspect fielder in MLB, where Olivo led his league in passed balls four times and errors another three, but has not been regarded as a liability with a glove in Tijuana under skipper Eddy Diaz, who platooned him with veteran receiver Adan Munoz during the Toros’ 54-53 regular season and two rounds of playoff action.  Olivo has been a part-timer for Jalisco this winter, batting .211 with 1 homer in 11 games for the Charros and skipper Juan Navarrete, a former Expos farmhand and Salon de la Fama member.

Friday, December 4, 2015

NEW SALON SITE, FACILITY APPROVED

Four years after the Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma brewery booted the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame from their grounds in Monterrey, the issue of where the pantheon would resettle has finally been solved.

The Mexican League website recently announced that a new Salon de la Fama will be erected at Monterrey's Fundidora Park.  An agreement states the Salon will largely by funded by Mexico City Red Devils owner Alfredo Harp Helu, who said that while sites in Mexico City and Oaxaca had also been considered, it was decided to keep the museum in Monterrey.  At the signing, Harp called it "a day of celebration for baseball in our country."  Thanking Harp for his role in bringing the facility back to a new life and keeping it in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon governor Jaime Rodriguez Calderon added, "We must recognize the great men and glories of baseball here."  Other dignitaries in attendance were Mexican League president Plinio Escalante, Mexican Pacific League leader Omar Canizales and Salon de la Fama director Francisco Padilla Davila.

According to architect Daniel Lopez Salgado, the new Salon de la Fama will feature domes and be split into three major areas:  a large room for both temporary and permanent displays, interactive rooms featuring a Mexican baseball time tunnel and an archive room.  There will also be an auditorium and batting cages, with underground parking beneath the entire facility.  No projected completion date has been given.

The Salon de la Fama has existed in some form since 1939, but it was not until 1973 that the original permanent museum in Monterrey opened to the public and remained open until the brewery closed it down 38 years later.  All display items have been kept boxed in storage since.

LMP ATTENDANCE OFF TO STRONG START

More people than ever are attending games south of the border, where average attendance at Mexican Pacific League ballparks is higher than any summer minor league.

Through Thursday night's games, the MexPac has drawn 1,785,913 spectators to 183 games for an average of 9,759 turnstile clicks per opening.  In comparison, the International League's Charlotte Knights led all affiliated minor league teams in attendance average last summer at 9,428 while the IL led all minor leagues in 2015 with an average of 7,199 per game.

One reason for the uptick in MexPac is Culiacan's new ballpark, the 19,200-seat Estadio BBVA Bancomer (above), where an average of 16,742 fans have attended 25 Tomateros games.  Two other teams are averaging over ten thousand attendees:  Mexicali is bringing in 12,972 while Hermosillo welcomes 10,809 per night. Navojoa, which has long had problems bringing people out to the ballpark, is averaging 5,199.

Last winter, the LMP drew a total of 2,194,499 during the regular season for an average of 8,068 per contest, a 22 percent increase over 2013-14.  The postseason was boffo at MexPac box offices, as another 465,683 poured through the gates for an average of 13,305 for 35 playoff games to bring the grand total to 2,660,182 for the entire season for an average of 8,665.

NARANJEROS SWEEP MOCHIS SERIES

After a tepid (at best) first half, the Hermosillo Naranjeros have shown much more life since Enrique "Che" Reyes replaced Lorenzo Bundy as manager nearly two weeks ago after Bundy bolted for a similar post in Navojoa.  That Reyes has woken up the somnambulant club was evident when the Orangemen swept a three-game series at home over the Los Mochis Caneros, who'd been sitting atop the Mexican Pacific League standings heading into the set.

The Naranjeros completed the sweep Thursday with a 3-2 win over the Caneros in front of 7,283 onlookers at Estadio Sonora.  The contest was tied 2-2 with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning when Hermosillo's Sebastian Elizalde (above) scored the winning run in a fashion that would make Cool Papa Bell proud: After singling up the middle off Los Mochis reliever Thomas Melgarejo to open the frame and staying put when Pete O'Brien Jr. flew out to right field, Elizalde advanced to second on a wild pitch by Isaac Jimenez (who had relieved Melgarejo) before motoring home on J.C. Linares' pop-up single just beyond the grasp of Los Mochis shortstop Emmanuel Avila.  No word on whether Jimenez was treated for whiplash after the play.

Hermosillo got off to a middling start under Reyes, who took the reins November 24, before the Caneros came to town Tuesday.  While the Naranjeros' 6-5-1 record isn't imposing, their pitching and defense have tightened up by allowing just 19 runs in their past nine game as the Caneros scored just three times in the series.  As a result, the same team that had an entirely forgettable first half is now 1.5 games out of first behind 8-4 Navojoa and a half-game back of 7-5 Los Mochis as only 2.5 games separate the top seven teams in the standings.  The Mazatlan Venados bring up the rear at 3-9 heading into this weekend's schedule.

Monday, November 30, 2015

CANEROS AND MAYOS TIED FOR EARLY LMP SECOND-HALF LEAD

Los Mochis and Navojoa have bolted out the gate in the Mexican Pacific League’s second half.  The Caneros and Mayos are both 6-2 with the final month of the LMP regular season looming ahead.  First-half champion Mexicali is in third with a 4-3 mark and Culiacan holds fourth at 4-4, followed by 3-4 Hermosillo.  Jalisco and Obregon are tied for sixth at 3-5, a game up on 2-6 tailender Mazatlan.  Four weeks remain until the playoffs begin after Christmas.
 
Mexicali OF Welington “Duke” Dotel continues to pace league batters with a .379 average, 21 points ahead of Obregon 3B Christian Villanueva’s .358.  Jalisco teammates 3B Alex Liddi and OF Jesus Valdez are tied for fourth at .333.  Another Charros swinger, 1B Japhet Amador, tops the loop with 12 homers and 39 RBIs in 44 contests.  He’s batting .281.  Culiacan OF Rico Noel has 20 stolen bases in just 27 games to top the MexPac, but also reportedly became embroiled in a heated dugout argument with Tomateros manager Benji Gil that nearly ended in blows.

 
Mexicali P Javier Solano (above) was touched up for 6 runs in 7 innings against Mazatlan November 27, but still managed to win in a 9-6 triumph over the Venados.  It’s been that kind of winter for Solano, whose LMP-best 7-1 record has been built on a 4.08 ERA, solid offensive support and luck.  Mazatlan’s Alejandro Soto has pitched better than his 3-2 record shows, topping the MexPac with a 2.17 ERA.  2009 Mexican League Rookie of the Year Juan Pablo Oramos is wintering in Hermosillo, where his 55 strikeouts are most in the league.  Oakland farmhand RHP Andres Avila has 18 saves in 24 outings for Los Mochis.

SANDOVAL OUT, BUNDY IN AS HERMOSILLO SKIPPER

Something mentioned numerous times in Baseball Mexico dating back to our Viva Beisbol days is that there's nothing casual about winter baseball. While gringo players often learn the hard way that the Mexican Pacific League isn’t winter training en espanol, nobody has to remind longtime Mexican baseball people like Jose Luis Sandoval or Lorenzo Bundy (right) that the LMP isn't about "working on your game"...it's about winning.
 
Solo Beisbol writer Dr. Tomas Lopez says Sandoval, who managed Hermosillo to a last-place finish in the MexPac’s first half, received the dreaded “vote of confidence” from the Naranjeros front office on November 19, in which he was called part of a long-term building process. Hermosillo had an 11-24 first-half record (8-15 after Sandoval had replaced Delino DeShields just four weeks earlier). The reprieve lasted all of two days before Sandoval was sacked, a move that should’ve been unsurprising to Sandoval, who was released by Hermosillo during the 2010-11 season, his 21st and last as a minor league shortstop (spending all but one summer with the Mexico City Diablos Rojos between 1990 and 2011).

 
This is Mexican baseball, however, which means the change wasn’t seamless.  After the axe fell on Sandoval in Hermosillo, Bundy had to cool his heels two days waiting for the Navojoa Mayos to accept his resignation as their manager.  In Bundy’s case, a first-half record of 17-18 was likely enough to keep the executioner at bay, but the former Dodgers third base coach must prefer living dangerously.  He now becomes Hermosillo’s sixth manager since the beginning of last season after finally being introduced as the Naranjeros’ newest pilot last Tuesday.  He's been replaced in Navojoa by another veteran Mexican manager, Enrique “Che” Reyes.

For now.