Friday, December 9, 2016

Five LMB 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.