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.