Wednesday, September 28, 2016

2016 BBM Summer Awards Pitcher of the Year: Yoanner Negrin, Yucatan

The Yucatan Leones posted the best record in the Mexican League this summer with a 77-33 mark (winning 35 of 52 road games) before advancing to the LMB South Division Championship Series against eventual champions Puebla.  While BBM Manager of the Year Willie Romero had some timely hitters like in his everyday lineup like Jesus Valdez, Luis Alfonso Garcia and Corey Wimberly, the Leones were clearly a pitching-dependent team in 2016.  And no pitcher in the Liga was more dependable than starter Yoanner Negrin.

The 32-year-old Cuban righty registered one of the best campaigns for pitchers in recent memory, winning 18 of 19 regular season contests.  His lone loss came May 1 against Puebla at home in Merida, a 5-4 defeat in which Negrin allowed five runs on 10 hits and three walks over 5.1 innings.  Otherwise, he was as automatic as the sunrise, winning all but three no-decisions for his 21 other starts.  Negrin's 18 wins were the most since Danny Rios went 18-5 for Union Laguna in 2001 (throwing an incredible 19 complete games among his 26 starts that year).

Negrin ended the schedule with 141.1 innings pitched, striking out 92 batsmen (tied for ninth in the LMB) and walking 37.  He tossed four complete games, three of them shutouts (both league highs), and his 1.07 WHIP was third behind Monclova's departed Josh Lowey and hard-luck Acereros starter Hector Velazquez. Negrin kept it up in the postseason, winning three of four starts (including two wins over Campeche in the first round).  In 24.2 playoff innings, he flashed a 1.86 ERA with 15 strikeouts.

Yoanner Negrin Perez was born April 29, 1984 in Havana.  According to an August interview with the Merida-based Sipse website, Negrin said he loved baseball as far back as he could remember, crediting his father for helping him learn the game.  After first playing first base and shortstop, he tried pitching at age 13.  "I was rather bad," he laughed.  "I kept giving up walks.  I was on the team because my dad was the manager."  He improved to the point of beginning his Cuban National Series career at 17 with a Havana team and moving on to Matanzas at 20.  After a few seasons in the winter league, however, Negrin grew frustrated by his lack of opportunity to even try out for the powerful National Team and decided to leave the island and seek a better chance in baseball and life elsewhere, ending up in Miami.

The Chicago Cubs signed him as a 27-year-old free agent in 2011.  Negrin spent most of the next five summers in the Cubs' minor league system, with loans to Mexican League teams in Tabasco during the 2012 and 2014 seasons, showing well both times.  He suffered an elbow injury in 2015, however, and after rehabbing in Class A Eugene and AAA Iowa, Negrin was loaned to Yucatan in June and has remained since.

Similar to BBM Batter of the Year Diory Hernandez of Aguascalientes, nobody could have foreseen Negrin's incredible 2016 season.  His five-year MiLB career record after the 2015 season was a pedestrian 19-21 in 129 appearances (44 of them starts), although he had a respectable 3.67 ERA and was 8-for-12 in saves opportunities out of the bullpen.

If Lowey had remained in Monclova instead of signing in July with the Korean Baseball Organization's KT Wiz (where he's 3-5 with a 5.98 ERA after his 12th start Tuesday), he would have been in the running for this award.  Lowey was 13-3 with a LMB-leading 1.65 ERA when he departed and his 131 K's still led the loop. Puebla closer Chad Gaudin had a great year for the Pericos, saving 33 games and winning two more with a 1.64 ERA in 44 trips from the pen.  However, there's just no way you can choose anyone but a guy who goes 18-1 over a 110-game season (projecting to 26 triumphs over 162 contests) and wins two more in the playoffs to make it an even 20.  This one was easy.  Finally.