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.

DIABLOS CEO DISCOUNTS AMADOR-TO-JAPAN RUMORS

Mexico City Diablo Rojos CEO Roberto Mansur is pooh-poohing rumors that Mexican League MVP Japhet Amador may be heading to Japan for the 2016 season. 
 
According to Puro Beisbol columnist Juan Alonso Juarez, Mansur says nobody from the Japanese leagues has contacted the Diablos office to negotiate the right to talk contract with the hulking Amador, who led the Liga with 41 homers and 117 RBIs with a .346 average in 103 games last summer.  The 330-pounder is leading the Mexican Pacific League with 12 homers and 39 RBIs this winter for Jalisco. Mansur added that he’s amazed how much power the right-handed Amador gave Mexico City in 2015 with little left-handed protection in the batting order.  

 
To address that, Mansur will travel to Venezuela to meet with first baseman Luis Jimenez, no ballerina himself at 6’3” and 280 pounds, who hit just .205 with one homer in 23 games in his Diablos debut last summer.  Jimenez had a cup of coffee with Seattle in 2012 but has otherwise bounced around the minors, Korea and Mexico for 15 years (including nine MLB organizations), batting .289 with 232 homers and 1,001 career RBIs.  He’s currently playing winterball in Venezuela with the Lara Cardenales.

Monday, November 23, 2015

MEXICALI OUTLASTS LOS MOCHIS FOR LMP FIRST HALF CROWN

The Mexicali Aguilas have won the Mexican Pacific League’s first-half title (and the 8 playoff points that go with it) by one game over the Los Mochis Caneros.  The Aguilas clinched last Wednesday with a 9-0 pasting of Culiacan in front of 16,361 fans at The Nest as Efren Delgado and Juan Juan Omar Espinoza combined on a seven-hit shutout while SS Ramon Urias (right) went 3-for-3 with 2 runs scored and 2 RBIs against the Tomateros.
                
With the win, the Aguilas finished the half at 22-13, one game ahead of the 21-14 Caneros, who lost their last first-half game to cellar-dwelling Hermosillo, 2-1, Thursday in a game that took nearly 4 hours to complete with a combined 12 pitchers taking the mound.  Los Mochis picked up 7 points for finishing one game ahead of 20-15 Mazatlan, who garnered six points for finishing third.  Jalisco and Obregon tied for fourth at 18-17, with the Charros getting 5 points because they beat the Yaquis (4.5 points) twice in a three-game October series.  The two teams will square off six times in the second half.  Navojoa (17-18) gained 4 points for finishing sixth, Culiacan’s 13-22 record was worth 3.5 points and last-place Hermosillo got three points for going 11-24, proving that no half is a total waste.

The LMP playoff system seeds teams according to their accrued points over two halves, with the top six entering the January postseason.  The three first-round winners advance to the semifinals, joined by a wildcard team that wins the most first-round games among the three losing sides.  History indicates one should never discount the so-called “lucky loser,” as some have gone on to win the MexPac pennant and a berth in the Caribbean Series.

TOMATEROS’ CANTU SHELVED WITH ABDOMINAL TEAR

      
Hopes were high in Culiacan for former major league infielder Jorge Cantu, who joined the Tomateros this winter after a solid summer with the Mexican League champion Quintana Roo Tigres.  

In 106 regular season contests for the Cancun squad, Cantu battered Liga pitchers for a .351 average with 25 homers and 100 RBIs.  He cooled off in the postseason, hitting .275 with 3 homers in 10 games as the Tigres knocked off Yucatan and Monclova for the pennant, but the Texas native (by way of Reynosa) who hit .271 with 108 homers over 847 MLB contests between 2004 and 2011 was expected to provide Culiacan a strong middle-of-order bat this season.

It hasn’t worked out that way for Cantu or the Tomateros, who placed the 33-year-old first baseman on the disabled list with an abdominal tear after he hit just .232 with 1 homer and 12 RBIs in 27 games.  Cantu tells Puro Beisbol’s Fernando Ballasteros he suffered the tear near his groin area during the Tigres’ playoff run and that it flared up two weeks after reporting to Culiacan.  He tried playing through it but after a series in Los Mochis, it was decided that his year was over. Cantu will undergo testing and therapy in hope of returning to Cancun for the 2016 season.

ORANTES STROKES 1,000th CAREER MEXPAC HIT

Persistence really does pay off.  

It took him 22 seasons to do it, but longtime Los Mochis star Ramon Orantes became the 13th player in Mexican Pacific League history to accrue 1,000 career hits on November 15 in Mexicali when he doubled against Aguilas hurler Edgar Osuna for one of his three two-baggers in the game.  Mexican baseball legend Hector Espino is the LMP’s all-time hits leader.

Orantes, who turns 42 on December 5, began his MexPac career with Obregon in 1993-94 and spent three seasons with the Yaquis and spent one winter in Mexicali before coming to Los Mochis in 1997.  He’s been with the Caneros ever since, playing on the team’s 2002-03 pennant winners and collecting two batting titles in his 18 seasons there.  Orantes has been no less successful in the summer.  The La Paz product has spent 23 years in the Mexican League compiling a .298 average with 2,098 hits with several teams (batting .285 with Saltillo last summer) for a total of 3,012 combined hits between the Liga and MexPac regular season schedules.

  
If age is catching up to Orantes, nobody’s told him about it.  In 19 games for Los Mochis this winter throughSunday, he’s batting .356, including a .522 average over his last ten games.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

MEXICALI NEARING MEXPAC FIRST HALF TITLE

After losing 4-2 Sunday night at home to Los Mochis, the 20-12 Mexicali Aguilas will have to hold off the Caneros to clinch the Mexican Pacific League’s first half championship and pick up eight points toward a January playoff berth.  The Caneros are one game behind Mexicali at 19-13 with three games left to play in the half, which ends Thursday.

Under manager Edgar Gonzalez, a former San Diego Padres infielder whose brother Adrian is currently a Los Angeles Dodgers All-Star first baseman, the Aguilas lead all LMP teams with a .312 batting average that includes four starters topping the .300 mark.  Outfielder Welington Dotel (right), a former Mariners farmhand who was MVP of the independent Atlantic League this summer playing for Bridgeport, tops the circuit in five offensive categories including a .414 average, 15 stolen bases and 7 triples.  One-time White Sox minor league 3B C.J. Retherford is hitting .345, OF Chris Roberson (a four-time Mexican League All-Star and the 2014 Caribbean Series MVP) is at .333 and ex-MLB SS Yuniesky Betancourt, who now plays 1B, carries a .272 average with a team-high 6 homers for Mexicali.

Mexicali’s pitching is also impressive, with the Aguilas second in the loop behind Mazatl├ín with a 3.45 ERA.  Javier Solano has won an LMP-leading 6 games in 7 starts with a 3.38 ERA.  Solano’s early success is almost as surprising as Dotel’s after he went 11-14 (5.48 ERA) the past two summers for Monterrey in the LMP.  The Eagles wrap up the half by hosting Culiacan for three games at El Nido ("The Nest").

Four teams are battling for third place behind Mexicali and the Caneros, who are hoping to overtake the Aguilas  when they close out the half at home against hapless Hermosillo.  Mazatlan has won seven straight games to vault into third at 18-14, a game ahead of 17-15 Obregon.  After a hot start, Navojoa has lost seven in a row to drop to 16-16 and a fifth-place tie while Jalisco.  Struggling Culiacan holds seventh at 12-20 and Hermosillo, who has suffered through a disastrous first half, brings up the rear with a 10-22 mark under skipper Jose Luis Sandoval.  Nineteen pitchers have already taken the mound for the Naranjeros this season, none with more than two wins.  Winterball being taken more seriously south of the border than it is to the north, Sandoval may be excused for whistling in the dark.

AMADOR, LIDDI OFF TO HOT STARTS FOR JALISCO

While Mexicali’s Welington Dotel has been the surprise story thus far in the MexPac season, a familiar figure (in more ways than one) has shown why some consider him the best hitter in Mexican baseball today.  Massive 1B Japhet Amador of Guadalajara’s Jalisco Charros, who stands 6’4” and is listed at 310 pounds, is tied with Obregon’s Reynaldo Rodriguez for the LMP lead with 10 homers and tops the league with 30 RBIs to go with his .316 average.  

This year’s Mexican League MVP after hitting .346 with 41 homers and 117 RBIs in 103 games for Mexico City, the 28-year-old Amador has hit .333 with 166 homers and 591 ribbies over 647 LMB contests since winning Rookie of the Year honors in 2009.  Amador was purchased by the Astros in September 2013 after a .361/36/121 campaign for the Diablos Rojos, but sent back to Mexico City early the following season after short stints with AAA Oklahoma City and in the Arizona Fall League, where he was named to the All-Prospect Team.  Despite his sweet swing and surprisingly nimble footwork around first base, the four-time Liga All-Star has been hampered in the past by injuries.

It’s been helpful for Amador to have 3B Alex Liddi in the Jalisco order with him.  The well-traveled Liddi, himself a sizeable 6’4” and 225 pounds, is fourth in the MexPac with a .355 average while whacking 5 homers and driving in 25 runs.  The 2009 California League MVP, Liddi hit .372 in the 2013 World Baseball Classic performer for his native Italy.  He spent eight seasons in the Mariners organization, including three call-ups to Seattle, before bouncing around between four minor league systems the past two years, spending last summer with the Royals’ AA affiliate in Northwest Arkansas.

PROSPECTS WORK OUT FOR MLB SCOUTS IN MONTERREY

Scouts from 25 Major League Baseball organizations gathered in Monterrey over the weekend for an opportunity look over 66 of Mexico’s top young prospects.Mexican League president Plinio Escalante and MLB Director of Baseball Operations Kim Ng were also in attendance at Estadio Monterrey, home of the LMB Sultanes.

The two-day Monterrey Showcase opened Friday as players were clocked in the 60-yard-dash and took part in a number of defensive drills before capping the day off with game-situation batting practice.  Inclement weather on Saturday washed out a scheduled doubleheader, but pitchers were able to use a bullpen session to show off their arms.  One hurler who raised an eyebrow or two was 15-year-old Ernesto Hidrogo of Saltillo, who impressed scouts with his velocity during Friday’s session.

Unlike most countries, rights to promising young Mexican ballplayers are typically assigned to Mexican League organizations at an early age, meaning MLB teams must first negotiate with their counterparts south of the border to be able to talk contract with Mexican prospects rather than selecting them in the International Draft.