Monday, February 27, 2017

Culiacan GM Padilla sacked, Tomateros players complain

Anyone who's read Jim Bouton's classic "Ball Four" is aware that ballplayers don't often hold general managers in high esteem.  While Bouton's lampooning of Seattle Pilots GM Marvin Milkes was just one reason that got him into considerable hot water with the baseball establishment, it's fairly common knowledge that an adversarial relationship can develop between a professional athlete and the person who ultimately determines their salary (especially in the era prior to free agency).

That's why the response of a dozen Culiacan Tomateros players, many of them current or former major leaguers, in the wake of the team's firing of general manager Ray Padilla (pictured) raised so many eyebrows last week.  Padilla spent twelve winters in the GM's chair for the Tomateros before being let go after the season.  Although original owner Juan Manuel Ley built the Mexican Pacific League team into one of the country's top baseball organizations from the late 1960's until his death a year ago at age 82, Ley's family successors at the helm of the team ultimately grew frustrated with Padilla's lack of on-field success this season after the club, which won the MexPac's first-half title before dropping off in the second half and being eliminated in the playoff semifinals.

With Culiacan hosting the Caribbean Series earlier this month, much pressure was placed on Padilla to bring the Tomateros a pennant and berth in the CS.  The results of impatient ownership led to manager Lino Rivera's firing after a slow start to the second half (remember, this is the team that WON the first half title), replacing him with veteran skipper Enrique "Che" Reyes, who'd been coaching in the organization.  When Reyes failed to bring the team a flag, Padilla's fate was all but sealed despite an LMP pennant and a Caribbean Series title game berth just two years ago under his watch.

A terse February 18 statement from the Tomateros office said, "Continuing with the process or re-engineering our club, it is announced that Mr. Reymundo Padilla is leaving his position of Sports Manager."  Padilla's ouster brought on an unusual reaction of support from his former players days later, as no less than twelve Tomateros jugadores signed a formal statement protesting the move and sent it to the press.  Here is a translated version of that letter:

Due to what happened last week, in which the Culiacan Tomateros Baseball Club reported that Mr. Ray Padilla stopped being the Sports Manager, the players of this organization want to express our feelings about it.

In the years that Mr. Padilla was in charge of the sports management of this club, he managed to form a great harmony in the group of players that today make up the roster of the Tomateros team of Culiacan. That is why we are very upset the news. Ray, as we all call him, had a unique work ethic, always showing us his support in good and bad.

We feel a great disappointment inside this group of players. We understand that the owners make their decisions, but many times they do it without consulting those inside the team, doing things that may damage the organization in the future.

We want to show our support to Ray, thanking him for all his support throughout these years in which we had the opportunity to work with him.

Without more to add, we said goodbye, even with this news and very hurt by the decision that was taken by the directors, which we do not agree with.

Among the twelve players who signed the statement are pitchers Oliver Perez and Hector Daniel "Danny" Rodriguez, infielders Oscar Robles, Luis Alfonso Cruz and Ramiro Pena, and outfielders Ronnier Mustelier and Joey Meneses. Perez, Robles, Cruz and Pena all have MLB experience (Perez, a Culiacan native, is entering his 15th big league season), Rodriguez is one of Mexico's top left-handed pitchers and Mustelier and Meneses were two of the Tomateros' top hitters this season.

Padilla's replacement in Culiacan has not been determined.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Gallardo named WBC opener starter; will Adrian play?

With the 2017 World Baseball Classic less than two weeks away, Mexican National Team manager Edgar Gonzalez has announced his five-man starting rotation for the tournament, which will see the Verdes Grande open their Pool D schedule in Guadalajara with a March 9 game against Italy at Estadio Charros.

Gonzalez has named Yovani Gallardo, Miguel Angel Gonzalez, Jaime Garcia, Luis Mendoza and Jorge De La Rosa as his pitching starters.  All have significant major league experience.  Gallardo, Gonzalez and Garcia are currently on 40-man MLB team rosters, De La Rosa recently signed a minor league deal with the Diamondbacks and Mendoza is prepping for his fourth season with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters of Japan's Pacific League.  The Fighters are training in Arizona this month.

The 30-year-old Gallardo is the expected starter for Mexico's opener against Italy.  A 2010 All-Star while pitching for Milwaukee, Gallardo was traded by Baltimore to Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto's merry-go-round in Seattle after going 6-8 with a 5.43 ERA for the Orioles in 2016.  After ten MLB seasons, the 6'2" Gallardo has a career 108-83 record, including 72 wins for the Brewers between 2009 and 2013.  Although he's not likely to pick up a bat in the WBC, the 2004 second-round draft pick for Milwaukee wouldn't be out of place doing so.  He's come up to the plate 476 times in his big league career and while his .200 average won't turn any heads, the right-hander's 12 homers and 42 RBIs have shown he was anything but an automatic out for opposing moundsmen.

He'll face an Italian team that is not a pre-WBC favorite to advance beyond Pool play but could surprise observers in Jalisco next month.  While manager Marco Mazzieri will not have the services of Chicago Cubs All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo for the tournament after the latter opted to play preseason games in Arizona instead of the WBC (he hit .235 in the 2013 tourney), Italy's roster includes Cubs minor league outfielder John Andreoli as well as Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli, Royals receiver Drew Butera, Mariners switch-pitcher Pat Venditte and Indians first baseman Chris Colabello.

While Gonzalez has his starting rotation set and a strong bullpen featuring the likes of Roberto Osuna, Yoakim Soria and Oliver Perez, the former Padres infielder continues to plug holes among his position players.  After A's outfielder Khris Davis backed out of playing for Mexico earlier this week, Gonzalez' latest alteration came after infielder Daniel Castro pulled out of the WBC because he wants to concentrate on making the Colorado Rockies roster.  Castro signed with the Denver club as a free agent over the winter after the 24-year-old Guaymas native hit .217 over 80 games with Atlanta in 2015 and 2016 after callups from AAA Gwinnett.

Castro will be replaced on Mexico's roster by 19-year-old infielder Luis Urias, a Padres minor leaguer.  Although the slight (5'9" and 160 pounds) Urias is a longshot to reach San Diego this year, the big club has high hopes for him after he was named Rookie of the Year in the Class A California League last summer after batting .330 to lead the league, adding 26 doubles and 71 runs scored for Lake Elsinore. He's primarily been a second baseman in three minor league seasons, but is expected to see a lot of time at shortstop in training camp.  Urias is said to likely be heading to Class AA San Antonio of the Texas League.

Gonzales did receive some needed good news this week when younger brother Adrian's tennis elbow, which has limited him in the Dodgers' camp thus far, has improved enough the the All-Star first baseman is more likely to be in the Mexican lineup at the WBC.  "El Titan's" participation in the Classic as a player was in doubt after the Los Angeles organization told him to lay off swinging a bat for two weeks, but the longtime linchpin of the Verdes Grande lineup is said to be more likely to be in Guadalajara in two weeks.  With bats in tow.
*     *     *

On an unrelated note, one infielder who definitely would've been a boon to Mexico's WBC fortunes in his prime was Aurelio Rodriguez, the late former MLB infielder regarded by many as the best third baseman in his country's history.  A member of Mexican baseball's Salon de la Fama since 1995, Rodriguez spent all or part of 17 big league seasons as one of the top glove men in the game with a throwing arm that Tigers broadcaster Paul Carey called a "howitzer."  Rodriguez died at age 52 when he was struck by a car while walking a sidewalk during a visit to Detroit for a card show in 2000. Weird fact:  Of the three major league players who've had the first name of Aurelio (Rodriguez, Lopez and Monteagudo), all three played for the Tigers and all three were killed in car accidents.

Aurelio Rodriguez' body was brought to Los Mochis, where he had played winterball for the Caneros, and thousands attended his funeral, including Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo.  His remains were interred at Estadio Emilio Ibarra Almada, where his cross still stands atop the ballpark.  Rodriguez' loss was also felt in Detroit, where he'd been an extremely popular player, often venturing into the inner city to conduct clinics.  Fred Feliciano, a one-time community relations manager for the Tigers, has been quoted as saying, "He was really the first prominent Hispanic figure in the Detroit community."

Fast forward to 2017.  In his "En la Pelota" column for Puro Beisbol, columnist Juan Vene says that Rodriguez' tomb now lies in ruins.  According to Vene, politician Mario Lopez was behind the effort to place the Cananea product's remains behind the fence in the ballpark's right field corner.  Lopez then neglected it thereafter (not even visiting the site) and no maintenance has ever been performed on it.

It's easy to say this as I write from a location much closer to Canada than Mexico, but Aurelio Rodriguez deserves better.  Heroes should never be forgotten, especially where thousands once cheered their exploits.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

LMB Assembly of Presidents make nice, approve new owners

The Mexican League's Assembly of Presidents met Friday in Mexico City in a gathering that was apparently without rancor, a welcome relief from the at-times open warfare among two factions of teams over the winter that threatened to split the circuit in two or even shut the 92-year-old LMB down for 2017. This time, however, it was smiles all around the 16 teams represented and reinstated league president, Plinio Escalante, whose resumption of that role was unanimously ratified after Minor League Baseball president Pat O'Connor made it clear at a meeting in Houston weeks ago that MiLB would not accept anyone else behind the Liga's big desk.

Among the order of business was the approval of new owners for the Quintana Roo Tigres, Leon Bravos and Monclova Acereros as well as a thumbs-up for last weekend's fifty-percent purchase of the Monterrey Sultanes by Grupo Multimedios. Former Dodgers All-Star pitcher Fernando Valenzuela was confirmed as the new majority owner of the Tigres after buying the club from Carlos Peralta a week ago. Although other members of his ownership group are still unidentified (leading to speculation in some quarters that the State of Quintana Roo is acting as a "silent partner" in the Cancun team), Valenzuela was announced as the Tigres' chairman of the board. Francisco Villanueva will serve as executive vice president while son Fernando Valenzuela Junior is the executive chairman and general manager of the flagship franchise.

Left out in the cold was longtime Tigres executive president Cuauhtemoc "Chito" Rodriguez, who served as eyes and ears for Peralta (who is not a baseball fan) after the latter's father, Alejo, passed away in 1997 and helped direct the Tigres to eleven Mexican League pennants in three different cities after another 19 seasons and two flags with the Nuevo Laredo Tecolotes. The younger Valenzuela, a former first baseman who attended UNLV and went on to bat .328 in nine LMB seasons, does not appear to have any prior experience running a pro baseball team.

As for the Bravos, the former Reynosa Broncos were officially handed over to new owner Arturo Blanco, a Leon businessman who will also serve as the team's chairman of the board. Former owner Mauricio Martinez will stay on as executive president. The approval of Puebla Pericos owner Gerardo Benavides as the new owner in Monclova was little more than a reaffirmation of a sale first agreed to during the winter, as Benavides has already been putting his stamp on the team.

The situation in Monterrey came as a bit of a surprise, starting with the timing of the announcement of the sale late last Sunday after all the attention that day went to Valenzuela and the Tigres. As its name suggest, Grupo Multimedios is a business dedicated to promoting sports and entertainment in northern Mexico and Latin America in general. They're expected to provide a cash infusion for Sultanes' longtime owner Jose "Pepe" Maiz, who has struggled a bit at the helm of the team in recent years despite strong attendance totals at the 26,000-seat Estadio Monterrey, Mexico's largest ballpark and the scene of Major League games in past seasons. Maiz will remain as team president while Multimedios' Guillermo Gonzalez Elizondo will serve as vice president.

Other items dealt with were the formalization of the no-limit policy on Mexican-American players (another O'Connor edict) and approval of a system of instant replay reviews of umpire calls among teams televising their games while the presidents got a start on putting together a schedule for an upcoming season set to open in five weeks.

The scheduling process has been hampered by ballpark renovations in the Liga's newest cities, Leon and Durango, which both got off to late starts and will not be completed by the beginning of the season. As a result, only the first week of the season has been scheduled, with 14 of the 16 LMB teams opening their home slates while the Bravos and Generales play their first six games on the road. The 2017 Mexican League All-Star Game will be played later than usual, with this year's edition set for the weekend of July 16-18 at Campeche's 6,000-seat Estadio Nelson Barrera. The ballpark was named after the former slugging third baseman who died tragically in 2002 while managing the Piratas when the beloved Barrera, nicknamed El Admiral by fans, was electrocuted at home that July while working on the house's wiring.

The following is the LMB's opening week schedule for 2017:

March 31-April 2 Monclova at Mexico City
Saltillo at Tijuana
Durango at Aguascalientes
Laguna at Monterrey
Leon at Puebla
Veracruz at Oaxaca
Tabasco at Campeche
Quintana Roo at Yucatan

April 4-6
Mexico City at Saltillo
Aguascalientes at Laguna
Monterrey at Monclova
Durango at Tijuana
Leon at Oaxaca
Puebla at Veracruz
Yucatan at Tabasco
Campeche at Quintana Roo

Friday, February 24, 2017

Benavides shifts four ex-MLBers from Puebla to Monclova

Ever since the Cleveland Spiders' disastrous 1899 National League season (you can Google it), Major League Baseball has not allowed so-called "syndicate ownership" of franchises in which more than one team can be owned and controlled by the same owners.  That has not been the case south of the border, as no less than three ownership groups control two teams apiece.

One of those is Gerardo Benavides, the owner of the 2016 Mexican League champion Puebla Pericos who completed the purchase of the Monclova Acereros earlier this month.  Although Benavides can't yet be compared to the Robison brothers, he's taking a similar path in transferring players from his pennant-winning team to Monclova, located in his home state of Coahuila.  No less than four key members of the Pericos, all former big leaguers, were released by Puebla during the offseason, only to re-emerge with the Acereros:  Outfielders Nyjer Morgan and Willy Taveras, first baseman Daric Barton and closer Chad Gaudin will all be performing under new Acereros manager Wally Backman this summer.  A hyper-competitive sort who undoubtedly bristled regularly at edicts from farm directors telling him to to play (and for how long) during his seasons managing in the Diamondbacks, White Sox and Mets organizations, Backman should have no such problems as long as he lasts with the Acereros.

The most recognizable of the four, the 36-year-old Morgan (pictured) hit .306 with 11 homers and 22 steals in 101 regular season games for Puebla last year.  Morgan was a career .282 batter in seven MLB seasons for four teams between 2007 and 2014 before a ten-game stint in Korea in 2015.  Taveras batted .274 over seven big league seasons, leading the National League with 68 steals for Colorado in 2008.  The 35-year-old hit .325 for the Pericos in 2016, stealing 16 bases.  Barton, 31, hit .247 (with a .356 on-base percentage) in 551 games for Oakland from 2007 and 2014 and topped American League batters in walks with 110 in 2010.  Although he was never regarded as a power hitter before coming to Mexico, Barton swatted 20 homers for Puebla last season after hitting a total of 30 over eight MLB campaigns.  Like Barton, Gaudin spent time in Oakland during a somewhat nomadic 11-year stretch in the majors, compiling a 45-44 record and a 4.44 ERA for nine teams between 2003 and 2013.  The 33-year-old righty came out of retirement last year to post a 1.64 ERA with 33 saves for Puebla, striking out 48 of the 185 batters he faced.

One of the top pitchers in the Mexican League the past two seasons, Josh Lowey, is back in Monclova after having a rough time of it following a midseason move to Korea's KT Wiz.  Lowey was the Liga's Pitcher of the Year in 2015 for the Acereros, going 13-6 with a 3.06 and leading the circuit with 145 strikeouts in 142.2 innings.  He was off to an even better start last year, leading the LMB in all three pitching Triple Crown categories with 13 wins, a 1.65 ERA and 131 whiffs in 16 starts for Monclova before leaving for the Far East in early July.  Things didn't go as well for the 32-year-old Floridian in the KBO, where he ended up with a 3-5 mark and a 6.22 ERA in eleven starts for the Wiz.  He'll be rejoined in the Monclova rotation by fellow All-Star pitcher Jose Oyervides, who finished at 10-2 with a 2.78 ERA for the Acereros in 2016, striking out 120 batsmen in 102.2 innings.  Needless to say, Monclova is an early LMB North favorite this season.

As for the Pericos?  Besides losing the four aforementioned players to Monclova, last year's Playoff MVP, Travis Blackley (another ex-MLBer), has signed with Detroit while former White Sox hurler Deunte Heath has hooked on with Cincinnati.  Puebla recently signed their first foreign player for 2017, outfielder Cole Gillespie.  The 32-year-old Oregon native spent all or part of six seasons in The Show, including 41 games with Miami last year (where he hit .235).  In all, Gillespie is a career .251 hitter over 221 MLB games for six teams.  There may be more help on the way to the colonial city, but defending their pennant will be awfully difficult with so many important pieces of last year's champions gone.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Davis bows out, "El Titan" questionable for Mexico in WBC

One aspect of the World Baseball Classic that the event's critics rarely fail to bring up is that a nation's best baseball players are often made unavailable to represent their country in the WBC, either because their major league organization wants to withhold their services during spring training or because the player himself does not want to jeopardize his chances of making a big league roster if he's considered on the fringe.  Injuries are also a concern, of course, no matter what the MLB organizations or players have in mind.

Two of the expected power sources for Mexico's 2017 World Baseball Classic squad may end up being scratches next month for Pool D play in Guadalajara.  Oakland outfielder Khris Davis, who khrashed 42 homers for the A's last summer, has pulled out of the WBC altogether while Dodgers first baseman Adrian "El Titan" Gonzalez may have to sit out his fourth Classic after coming down with tendinitis in his right (non-throwing) elbow during winter training.

Davis, whose 42 roundtrippers helped him drive in 102 runs in 2016 after a slow start in which he was hitting just .222 with 5 homers on May 22 before picking up the pace the rest of the season.  The Cal State-Fullerton product, whose mother Sonia was born in Mexico before coming to the USA at age 4, expressed remorse at his withdrawal from the WBC.  "I'm not going to be able to do it due to some timing issues," the San Jose Mercury News quoted Davis as saying.  "I feel kind of overextended personally.  You take on a lot.  It's days away.  May main focus is this organization.  I feel this year I want to get off on the right foot this year..."

"I feel horrible about it.  I feel terrible.  At the same time, I have to be here."

On the other hand, Gonzalez' decision may be predicated on his physical fitness more than a desire to get off to a better start. The five-time All-Star first sacker, who hit .285 with 18 homers and 90 RBIs for Los Angeles last year, says he first noticed a twinge in his elbow two months ago.  "It's tennis elbow from jsut working out," Gonzalez tells's Ken Gurnick, "too much hitting and too much boxing.  I felt it while working out in early December and it didn't seem like much, but it hasn't gone away."  Gonzalez has been shut down from swinging a bat for two weeks.  Although he's been one of the most durable first basemen in baseball, playing in at least 156 games in each of the past eleven years, the 34-year-old career .290 hitter (308 homers, 1,146 ribbies) may need to miss the WBC to continue resting his elbow after representing Mexico in 2006, 2009 and 2013.

Mexico manager Edgar Gonzalez, Adrian's brother and former teammate in both Mazatlan and San Diego as well as with the Verdes Grande, will have to adjust his lineup even before their first game.  Losing Davis left him with three outfielders on the roster: Chris Roberson, Jose Juan Aguilar and Alex Verdugo.  Efren Navarro, a former Angels first baseman who hit .275 with seven homers splitting 126 games between AAA Tacoma and Memphis last year, can play the outfield, but it's likely Gonzalez will replace Davis on the roster with a regular outfielder.

Replacing Adrian Gonzalez would prove an impossible task.  Although the aforementioned Navarro has MLB experience at first base, the call might go to the mountainous Japhet Amador, the 6'4" 330-pound El Gigante de Mulege.  Amador, the 2015 Mexican League MVP when he hit .346 with an LMB-topping 41 homers and 117 RBIs in 103 games, will be playing his second season in Japan in 2017 with the Rakuten Golden Eagles.  In an injury-nagged 2016 debut in the Pacific League, Amador hit .258 with nine homers and 19 RBIs in just 39 games.  The big fella is more nimble than one would expect and has made himself into a decent fielder at first base, but he doesn't compare to the four-time Gold Glove-winning Gonzalez.

Losing Gonzalez would mean more than losing Mexico's best ballplayer, as if that wouldn't be enough on a standalone basis.  For ten years, El Titan and Edgar helped form the heart and soul of the Verdes Grande lineup and clubhouse, so losing even one of them would leave a hole in the team that can't be quantified by hardware or sabermetrics.  However, there are 22 million rea$on$ why Adrian Gonzalez may have to beg off from playing in his fourth Classic and I can't blame him.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Twenty-six Mexican players in MLB spring training camps

Although the Caribbean Series concluded Mexico's four-month winterball season less than two weeks ago, pro baseball is only now stirring to life north of the border as Major League Baseball organizations open spring training camps in Florida and Arizona this month.  There are 26 Mexican players scattered among 15 big league teams, including ten non-roster invitees.

Fifteen of the 25 are in National League camps.  The Los Angeles Dodgers have four Mexicans training with the big club while the San Diego Padres have three among 16 MLB teams with at least one Mexican player in camp.  Left-handed pitcher Jorge De La Rosa (pictured above), who'll turn 36 on April 5, signed with Arizona this weekend as a free agent after a nine-year stint with the Colorado Rockies, for whom he went 86-61 between 2008 and 2016, winning 16 games twice and 14 once.  De La Rosa is the Rockies' all-time wins leader while going 53-20 record at Coors Field. De La Rosa signed a minor league contract with the Diamondbacks, but has been invited to the team's major league camp.

Chicago White Sox - RHP Miguel Angel Gonzalez
Kansas City Royals - RHP Joakim Soria
Los Angeles Angels - LHP Manny Banuelos*
New York Yankees - RHP Luis Cessa, RHP Giovanny Gallegos
Seattle Mariners - RHP Yovanni Gallardo, C Sebastian Valle*
Texas Rangers - RHP Eddie Gamboa
Toronto Blue Jays - RHP Marco Estrada, RHP Roberto Osuna

Arizona Diamondbacks - Jorge De La Rosa*
Atlanta Braves - LHP Jaime Garcia
Cincinnati Reds - OF Sebastian Elizalde*
Colorado Rockies - IF Daniel Castro*
Los Angeles Dodgers - 1B Adrian Gonzalez, RHP Sergio Romo, LHP Julio Cesar Urias, OF Alex Verdugo*
New York Mets - C Xorge Carrillo*, RHP Fernando Salas
Philadelphia Phillies - RHP Victor Arano*
San Diego Padres - IF Luis Urias*, RHP Cesar Vargas, 3B Christian Villanueva*
Washington Nationals - RHP Rafael Martin, LHP Oliver Perez
*-Non-roster invitee

One more Mexican in a major league camp is former utility infielder Tony Perezchica, a Mexicali native making his debut as a third base coach in Arizona under new manager Torey Luvollo.  Perezchica hit .228 in 69 games over parts of four seasons with San Francisco and Cleveland between 1988 and 1992.  A Giants third round draft pick in 1984, the 50-year-old Palm Springs HS grad has been coaching and managing in the D-Backs system since 2004.

Perezchica becomes the first major league coach born in Mexico since the legendary Ben "Cananea" Reyes (pictured left) spent the 1981 season as the Seattle Mariners' third base coach after being brought north by M's skipper Maury Wills, under whom Reyes had coached in Hermosillo during the 1970-71 Mexican Pacific League season.  Reyes unofficially became the first Mexican to manage an MLB team after Wills was suspended two games in 1981 for having the batter's box altered before a game at the Kingdome.

Reyes lost his April 28 debut in Minnesota, 4-1, as Richie Sisk's fifth inning homer was the only blot on Pete Redfern's five-hitter for the Twins.  The two teams battled to a rare 7-7 tie on April 29 as rain halted play in the bottom of the eighth inning at old Metropolitan Stadium.  Reyes has never officially received credit for filling in for Wills, who was fired a week after returning to the Mariners dugout.  Reyes stayed the rest of the season under new Seattle manager Rene Lachemann.

Reyes had more success managing at home, winning five Mexican League pennants managing the Mexico City Red Devils after winning a flag with Jalisco in 1971.  He also managed four Mexican Pacific League champions (three in Hermosillo) and took Caribbean Series titles with the Naranjeros in 1976 and Mexicali in 1986 for the only CS crown the Aguilas have won.  Reyes died in late 1991 at age 54, and was elected to Mexican baseball's Salon de la Fama the following year.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Hector Velazquez signs with Boston, in Sox Florida camp

Mexican Pacific League Pitcher of the Year Hector Velazquez has been purchased by the Boston Red Sox.  Puro Beisbol columnist Roberto Riveros says Velazquez signed with Boston over the weekend, pending a physical, and will be joining the team at their spring training complex in Fort Myers, Florida.  The Red Sox first had to negotiate with the Mexican League Campeche Piratas, who own the Obregon native's rights, prior to inking a pact with Velazquez himself in a ritual similar to the process of signing players from Japan.

 Although Velazquez signed a minor league contract and will not train with the big club, Riveros believes the Baseball Mexico Winter MVP could make his way to Boston as a reliever or a fourth or fifth starter, citing that only Rick Porcello, Chris Sale and David Price have been assured spots in the rotation.  Riveros projects a four-way battle among Velazquez, Drew Pomeranz, Steven Wright and Eduardo Rodriguez.  Pomeranz appears safe as a fourth starter after going 11-12 with a 3.32 ERA and 186 strikeouts over 170 innings and 30 starts for Boston last year, so the other three mentioned may be vying for one berth.

Given his performance over the past twelve months, it would be unwise to count Velazquez out.  A six-footer who turned 28 in November, he broke into the Liga with Campeche in 2010, winning Rookie of the Year honors by posting a 6-4 record and a 2.93 ERA for the Piratas over 14 starts and 15 relief appearances.  Since then, Velazquez has exclusively been a starter, with only one appearance out of the bullpen the past six seasons.  After going 38-28 for Campeche between 2010 and 2015 (winning 11 times in both 2012 and 2014), Velazquez was loaned to Monclova last year.  In a somewhat odd campaign during which he posted 16 no-decisions in 22 starts despite averaging just under six innings per outing, Velazquez was 5-1 for the Acereros in 2016 with a sparkling 2.47 ERA (no mean feat in the LMB).  His control was much improved, as Velazquez walked only 16 batters and struck out 120 in 131.1 innings last summer.

The winter went even better as Velazquez led the MexPac with nine wins and 87 strikeouts in 85.1 innings for Navojoa, narrowly finishing second to Los Mochis' Manny Barreda in both ERA (2.32) and WHIP (1.10).  After racking up another LMP-best five wins in six playoff starts for both the Mayos and Mexicali (where he was a reinforcement pickup), Velazquez finished his winter with two strong starts for the Aguilas in the Caribbean Series, going 1-0 with an 0.82 ERA in 11 innings.  In 22 starts over the entire winter, Velazquez was 15-4 with a 2.71 ERA over 133 innings pitched, striking out 129 batters and walking 30.

Should Velazquez indeed end up playing in Boston, Riveros says he'd become the eighth Ciudad Obregon product to reach the major leagues, joining Karim Garcia and Marco Estrada among others.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Ferrnando Valenzuela, investors buy Tigres; team keeps name

A group led by former Los Angeles Dodgers superstar Fernando Valenzuela has agreed to terms for the purchase of Cancun's Quintana Roo Tigres, one of the Mexican League's most storied franchises.  The amount Valenzuela's group is paying for the Tigres (including the team's nickname itself, which owner Carlos Peralta originally said was not for sale) was not immediately available.

During a Sunday press conference in Cancun, which will remain the team's home for the 2017 season, Peralta said, "Being sensitive to the many comments and expressions I've received from the fans, manifested in their fear that the great tradition and legacy of the Tigres may disappear, and given the opportunity and interest of a regional group of investors with proven moral quality, love for baseball and a future developmental plan for the team in the Cancun market, after careful consideration, I've decided to sell the team and the name Tigres."

Few, if any, details are available about the transaction, including the price, nor is the level of involvement of the state government known, although Quintana Roo governor Carlos Joaquin was introduced at the press conference.  Peralta was one of many LMB owners who've benefitted from state subsidies in past years, mostly among the so-called "Old Guard" ownership group that has butted heads with the "New Breed" group of owners who largely want to steer away from such arrangements.  The latter faction leans toward marketing their teams aggressively, relying on ticket and merchandise sales along with corporate sponsorships to generate revenues instead of subsidies.

It is not known which faction Valenzuela will align himself with, a crucial consideration with the two sides split almost evenly in votes during league meetings.  At the press conference, the Navojoa native said, "I'm very happy that baseball will continue.  I never imagined being in charge of an organization, let alone a team like the Tigres.  I think the fans have greatly identified with the Tigres, and I think that's a great advantage for us."

Thus, for the first time in 62 years, there will not be a Peralta heading a Liga team.  The legendary Alejo Peralta formed the Mexico City Tigres in time for the 1955 season and went on to run the franchise until his death in 1997.  The older Peralta ran his team in a similar fashion to soccer's Chivas club: A profoundly pro-Mexican organization that bypassed bringing in foreign players and putting a premium on domestic talent, often winning titles with an all-homegrown lineup.  The Tigres shared Mexico City with the Diablos Rojos for nearly five decades, creating the country's fiercest baseball rivalry.

That ended somewhat when the younger Peralta did what had been considered unthinkable by moving the Tigres out of the nation's capital, first to Puebla in 2002 and then to Cancun in 2007, but the rivalry has never truly died and there is sentiment among many fans and journalists south of the border that the Tigres should ultimately return to Mexico City.  Wherever they've called "home," the Tigres have won 18 division championships and 12 pennants, the last coming in 2015.  Although he has come under criticism at regular intervals since taking over for his father 20 years ago, the team HAS won eleven Mexican League titles under Carlos Peralta and his right-hand man, team executive president Cuauhtemoc "Chito" Rodriguez.

The LMB will hold an Assembly of Presidents meeting on Friday in Mexico City.  Now that it's been determined that there will be a 16-team league (with new teams in Leon and Durango while the Tigres are staying put in Cancun), conjuring a schedule for the upcoming season may be on the agenda since Opening Day is projected for Friday, March 31.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Ojeda back at Diablos helm, 15 of 16 LMB managers named

After spending last season managing the Giants' AA Richmond affiliate in the Southern League, former MLB catcher Miguel Ojeda will be back home in 2017, returning to manage his former team, the Mexico City Diablos Rojos.  The Guaymas-born Ojeda went 201-133 with three division titles and a 2013 pennant with the Diablos in three seasons before joining the San Francisco organization, for whom he led Richmond to a 62-79 record under Ojeda in 2016.

La Aficion quoted Ojeda as saying, "I'll try to be a manager who respects the game and thinks about winning, winning, winning.  I only thought about that as a player and now as a manager with more reasons.  It's what I'm going to ask of my players, that they always give think about winning."  Ojeda, who turned 42 in January, spent all or part of four MLB seasons with four teams between 2003 and 2006, batting .224 with 15 homers and 72 RBIs in 212 games.  His best campaign came in 2004 with San Diego, where he hit .256 with 8 homers in 62 games for the Padres.

Of the 16 Mexican League teams preparing to open spring training this month, only one is still searching for a helmsman.  The Durango Generales have yet to find a replacement for Orlando Sanchez, who took over from Jose Offerman in Carmen one month into last season.  The Delfines finished last in the LMB South in 2016 with a 31-76 record before Sanchez moved back to Saltillo (where he won two Liga pennants) and the Delfines moved to Durango and renamed the Generales.  Team owner Virgilio Ruiz reportedly looked into moving to Monterrey instead, sharing the 26,000-seat Estadio Monterrey with Old Guard ally Pepe Maiz' Sultanes, but apparently will keep the club in Durango after all once promised repairs to 8,000-seat Estadio Francisco Villa finally got underway.

Whoever gets the call in Durango will be the sixth new manager in the LMB since the end of the 2016 season.  Also finding new addresses are first-time skipper Ramon Orantes in Laguna, Homar Rojas in Aguascalientes, Francisco "Paquin" Estrada in Leon, Ojeda in Mexico City and Wally Backman in Monclova.  The other ten managers are holdovers.

Aguascalientes Rieleros - Homar Rojas
Campeche Piratas- Lino Rivera
Durango Generales - TBA
Laguna Vaqueros - Ramon Orantes
Leon Bravos - Francisco "Paquin" Estrada
Mexico City Diablos Rojos - Miguel Ojeda
Monclova Acereros- Wally Backman
Monterrey Sultanes - Felix Fermin
Oaxaca Guerreros - Alfonso "Houston" Jimenez
Puebla Pericos - Von Hayes
Quintana Roo - Roberto Vizcarra
Saltillo Saraperos - Orlando Sanchez
Tabasco Olmecas - Enrique "Che" Reyes
Tijuana Toros - Pedro Mere
Veracruz Rojo del Aguila - Eddie Castro
Yucatan Leones - Willie Romero

Meanwhile, the situation in Cancun concerning the fate of the Quintana Roo Tigres remains in limbo, pending the next Mexican League Assembly of Presidents meeting.  Tigres owner Carlos Peralta put the franchise up for sale earlier this month after Minor League Baseball president Pat O'Connor ruled that the Liga cannot place a limit on the number of Mexican-American players a team may carry, saying that such a rule is in violation fo the Mexican constitution.  On the Heraldo de Chiapas website, writer Alfredo Valverde says that team founder Alejo Peralta stated in his will that son Carlos cannot give up the Tigres, so the younger Peralta is not allowing the "Tigres" name or its intellectual properties to be part of a sale.  Roberto Vizcarra is expected to return as the team's manager regardless of what nickname they carry or what city they call home in 2017.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Ex-Met Wally Backman to manage Monclova in 2017

Perhaps seeking similar results to what his Puebla Pericos had under former major leaguer Von Hayes, new Monclova owner Gerardo Benadives has named former MLB second baseman Wally Backman as the Acereros' manager for the upcoming 2017 Mexican League season.  The sale of the LMB franchise to Benavides was finalized earlier this month.  Multiple team owenerships are allowed in the Liga.

The Acereros reached the Liga's championship series in 2015, losing to Quintana Roo.  Monclova finished second in the LMB North last year with a 69-43 record before being swept by Tijuana in the first round of playoffs last summer under then-manager Homar Rojas, who will be managing in Aguascalientes in 2017.  The team also finished fourth in the LMB attendance derby in 2016, drawing 353,252 fans to 11,000-seat Estadio Beisbol de Monclova for an average of 6,423 per opening.  In short, the Acereros could be reasonably considered one of the Mexican League's better franchises.

Bringing Backman to Monclova appears to be a coup of sorts for Benavides.  After his 1993 retirement as a scrappy second baseman, Backman been successful as a minor league manager over 18 seasons in both independent and affiliated leagues, with ten winning seasons and three pennants: 1999 with Tri-City of the indy Western League, 2002 with Birmingham of the AA Southern League and 2007 with South Georgia in the indy South Coast League.  He was named The Sporting News Minor League Manager of the Year in 2004 after leading Class A Lancaster of the California League to an 86-54 regular season record (Puebla skipper Hayes managed Modesto to a league-best 90-50 mark that year).  The Oregon native has managed the Mets' AAA Las Vegas affiliate the past four seasons, winning the Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year award in 2014 after leading the 51's to the PCL South regular season title with an 81-63 record, nine games ahead of second-place El Paso, before a first-round playoff loss.  He's got a solid resume.

On the other hand, Backman brings some baggage across the border.  After he was named manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks on November 1, 2004, the New York Times ran a story depicting the former second sacker's legal and financial problems, including a 1996 restraining order filed against him by his first wife, a 2001 DUI arrest, an incident that same year involving his second wife and a friend that resulted in a misdemeanor harrassment plea, and a personal bankruptcy filing in 2003.  The Diamondbacks fired him five days after hiring him.  Backman went back to indy ball before signing on to manage in the Mets system in 2010, but was let go by the Mets after last season.  He's since accused Mets GM Sandy Alderson of blackballing him among organized baseball organizations, a charge others have denied but Backman says he learned of from a friend in MLB commissioner Rob Manfred's office.

Although he's said he's grateful to be managing the Acereros, Backman may view working in Mexico as a temporary situation.  Writer Bob Klapisch with USA Today's site says Backman (who speaks little Spanish) has let it be known he'd jump at an offer from an MLB organization, even if it meant breaking his commitment to the Acereros.  "I would take it in a minute," Backman is quoted as saying.  "What I'm worried about is being out of sight, out of mind.  If I go to Mexico, I'll be out of sight from the people I'm trying to connect with."

Friday, February 17, 2017

2016-17 BBM Winter Awards: Hector Velazquez, MVP

For those of you wondering earlier this week why Hector Velazquez wasn't named as the BBM Winter Awards Pitcher of the Year, his selection as Most Valuable Player seemed more appropriate.

After all, the 28-year-old native of Obregon was as dominant a performer in the Mexican Pacific League this winter as any batter or pitcher, leading the circuit with nine wins and 87 strikeouts, tying for first with 14 starts and one complete game and finishing second with a 2.32 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP during the regular season for the Navojoa Mayos.  Velazquez then proved in the postseason that those numbers were no fluke by leading all LMP playoff hurlers with five wins and 36.2 innings pitched while his 31 strikeouts trailed leader Manny Barreda of Los Mochis by one.

Need more?  The right-hander then recorded two more starts in the Caribbean Series for the Mexicali Aguilas (who'd picked him as a playoff reinforcement player) and allowed one earned run in 11 innings and tying Cuban Lazaro Blanco for the CS lead with 11 strikeouts.  Velazquez let in one earned run over five innings while striking out seven to earn the win in a 7-2 victory over Dominican champions Licey on February 2, then came back to start the title game against Caguas of Puerto Rico, going six frames and allowing no runs and striking out four as the Mexicans ended up losing, 1-0, in ten innings to the Criollos.  All in all, Velazquez started 21 games in winterball for 133 innings, recording a 16-4 record with a 2.71 ERA and 129 strikeouts with just 27 walks.

Success is nothing new for the 6-foot Sonoran.  He made his Mexican League debut in 2010 for Campeche as a 21-year-old and went 6-4 with a 2.93 ERA in 29 outings (14 of them starts), and was named the Liga's Rookie of the Year.  He's since become one of the LMB's more highly-regarded pitchers.  After an injury shortened his 2011 sophomore campaign after five starts and a 1-1 record, Velazquez was 11-7 in both 2012 and 2014 for the Piratas and has a Mexican League career record of 43-29 with a 3.76 ERA in 120 starts.  He was dealt to Monclova for the 2016 and had an unusual season for the Acereros, throwing 131.1 innings over 22 starts and limiting opponents to 2.76 earned runs per nine innings, striking out 120 batsmen while walking just 16, but only having a 5-5 record to show for it.  Velazquez will be back in Campeche this season.

His winterball record isn't quite as impressive at first glance.  After minimal success pitching with his hometown Obregon Yaquis in 2010-11 and 2011-12 (where he was a member of the Tribe's 2011 Caribbean Series championship team under manager Eddie Diaz, who remains at the helm in Obregon), Velazquez moved down to Navojoa in 2012 and has wintered there the past five LMP seasons.

After going 2-6 in his first year with the Mayos, Velazquez was named LMP Pitcher of the Year in 2013-14 by turning in an 8-1 record to lead the league in wins while coming in second to Culiacan's Amauri Sanit with a 2.17 ERA.  His 60 strikeouts were good for fourth that winter.  Following a nightmarish 0-7 winter in 2014-15 with Navojoa, Velazquez fared better last season by going 5-2 and 2.92 in 13 starts.  His overall record was still only 18-19 with a 4.52 ERA after six MexPac seasons heading into the just-concluded season last October, but he's now got 27-22 and 4.08 numbers to show, along with his second LMP Pitcher of the Year trophy from the league office and now (for what it's worth) a BBM Winter MVP award.

2010      Willis Otanez, Puebla
2010-11 Justin Christian, Los Mochis
2011       Luis Terrero, Mexico City
2015-16  Christian Villanueva, Obregon
2016       Cesar Tapia, Puebla
2016-17  Hector Velazquez, Navojoa

Thursday, February 16, 2017

2016-17 BBM Winter Awards: Danny Rodriguez, Playoff MVP

What is it about Hector Daniel "Danny" Rodriguez and the postseason?  The 32-year-old lefty has established himself as one of Mexico's premier southpaws since his 2006 debut with the Saltillo Saraperos (for whom he still pitches during the summer months), including a habit of kicking into overdrive once the playoffs begin.

First, there was the 2010 Mexican League season with the Saraperos.  Although he'd had a so-so regular season (4-4 and a 3.97 ERA with a July 25 no-hitter against Mexico City) under Saltillo skipper Orlando Sanchez, Rodriguez found his groove in the Saraperos' championship run in the playoffs, going 5-0 at an 0.66 rate and beating Puebla twice in the title series to take home the Liga's Playoff MVP award on Saltillo's second straight pennant-winning team.  He was given a look-see by the Colorado Rockies in September that year, but not signed.  Rodriguez did eventually toil for the Braves' AAA affiliate in Gwinnett in 2013 and 2014, going a combined 9-16, and pitched 1.2 scoreless innings in one appearance for the Orioles' AAA team in Norfolk before being returned to Saltillo in 2015.

Pitching for his hometown Culiacan Tomateros of the LMP last winter, the 5'11" portsider had a solid 2015-16 regular season with a 7-3 record and a 3.00 ERA for a last-place team but he really shone in the playoffs as a reinforcement pitcher for Mexicali (2-1, 1.38) as the Edgar Gonzalez-led Aguilas fell a game short of the MexPac title against Mazatlan.  The Venados then picked up Rodriguez as a Caribbean Series reinforcement and it paid off, as he went five innings to earn Mazatlan's opening day 3-2 win over Dominican champs Escogido and then tossed six shutout innings to earn the W in the Mexicans' 7-2 semifinal win against Cuba's Ciego de Avila.  For all that, he was named BBM's Winter Playoff MVP.

Finally, there's the recently-ended 2016-17 LMP campaign.  Rodriguez was so-so for the Tomateros between October and December, finishing the regular season with a 4-6 ledger in 13 starts (although he did come in seventh in the ERA table at 3.50).  However, once again, he rose to the occasion in the postseason, going a combined 4-0 in the MexPac playoffs with a 2.52 ERA for both Culiacan and Los Mochis, who picked him up as a reinforcement.  After the Caneros were defeated by Mexicali in the LMP championship series, the Aguilas added Rodriguez for the Caribbean Series.  All he did in front of his hometown fans in Estadio Tomateros was allow one hit over six shutout innings in a no-decision against eventual champions Caguas of Puerto Rico on February 1, then come back five days later to hurl three perfect innings of relief with five strikeouts in Mexico's semifinal win against Cuban champs Granma to total nine shutout frames with one hit allowed and nine whiffs for the CS, where the Aguilas lost the final to Puerto Rican champ Caguas.

Surprisingly, Rodriguez was left off Mexico's roster for the upcoming World Baseball Classic even though Verdes Grande skipper Edgar Gonzalez managed him in Mexicali last winter and Culiacan this season.  Still, Danny Rodriguez' mound work in January and February is enough to make him the first multiple BBM Award winner for summer OR winter ball since the Bammys were inaugurated in 2010.

2010-11  Iker Franco, Obregon
2015-16  Danny Rodriguez, Mexicali
2016        Mauricio Lara, Puebla
2016-17  Danny Rodriguez, Mexicali

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

2016-17 BBM Winter Awards: Manny Rodriguez, Batter of the Year

For more than a decade, Jalisco Charros second baseman Jose Manuel "Manny" Rodriguez has quietly gone about his job as one of the best (and most consistent) players in Mexican baseball.  Although he's never been one to land with any frequency in sports section headlines and likely is not one of the first players named when fans conjure up who they think is the best ballplayer in Mexico, the 34-year-old Guasave native has proven that he's usually good for a batting average of over .300 with extra-base power and an occasional stolen base along with steady defense at second base.  And he does it year in and year out.  In short, Manny Rodriguez is a workingman's baseball star.

Perhaps surprisingly, Rodriguez didn't begin his professional career south of the border, but rather in the U.S. independent Frontier League with the Chillicothe, Ohio Paints in 2004.  After a so-so .258 batting average that year, he led the league with a .380 mark, beating fellow Mexican baseball mainstay Olmo Rosario of Rockford by seven points.  Following the 2005 season, Rodriguez made his Mexican League debut with Saltillo and hit .344 in 55 games for the 2006 season.  That led to a ten-year stretch with the Saraperos that included two Liga pennants, four All-Star Game appearances, a Comeback Player of the Year award in 2014 and seven years batting .300 or above.  His best campaign came in that 2014 comeback season (after an injury ended his previous year after just 27 games), in which he hit .344 with 28 homers and 96 RBIs in 107 games.  Rodriguez moved to Puebla last summer, and hit .303 with 12 roundtrippers as the Pericos won the LMB pennant.  Over 11 Mexican League seasons, Rodriguez has a .317 career average with 113 homers.

But that's in the traditionally hitter-friendly confines of the Liga.  How has the 5'10" Rodriguez fared in the traditionally pitcher-friendly MexPac?  How about a .296 average with 83 homers over eleven winters in the LMP, eight with his hometown Guasave Algodoneros (with whom he moved to Guadalajara in 2014 when they became the Jalisco Charros)?  For this circuit, where eleven batters hit over .300 this winter, those are pretty impressive numbers, but Rodriguez outdid himself in 2016-17.

Playing for a non-playoff team, Rodriguez finished third in the MexPac batting tables with a .335 average, trailing only Mexicali's Luis Juarez (.364) and Los Mochis' Leandro Castro (.347).  His 8 homers tied him for fifth in the league, he finished in the top ten in both runs scored and RBIs, his 25 doubles were good for third in the loop and his .382 on-base percentage, .521 slugging average and .903 OPS were all near the top of their respective lists.  While he did not lead the LMP in any one category, Rodriguez put together an all-around season at the plate that nobody could really match either.  Plus he contributed his usual rock-steady work at second base as well.

That's Manny Rodriguez for you:  No one thing about him might stand out but when you look at all the numbers, there's a reason he's BBM's 2016-17 Batter of the Year.  The only surprise is that next month will mark his first appearance in the World Baseball Classic, proving that even the experts can miss one now and then.

2015-16   Jose Amador, Hermosillo
2016        Diory Hernandez, Aguascalientes
2016-17   Jose "Manny" Rodriguez, Culiacan

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

2016-17 BBM Winter Awards: Jake Sanchez, Pitcher of the Year

These awards are never easy to assign winners to and 2016-17 Pitcher of the Year was no exception.  Who to choose?  Should it go to a starting pitcher who led the Mexican Pacific League in wins and strikeouts while finishing third in ERA?  Or a relief pitcher who was as close to a sure thing out of the bullpen as you can find, with a MexPac-leading 21 saves and an ERA of 0.28 while only allowing one earned run all season until the final game of the recently-concluded Caribbean Series?  For this particular award, we went with the closer from California.  We'll get to the first guy later.

A 27-year-old righty, Sanchez graduated in 2008 from Brawley's Union High School, which produced future MLB pitchers Sergio Romo, Rudy Seanez and Sid Monge.  After pitching juco ball at nearby Imperial Valley College and finishing his collegiate career at DIII Iowa Wesleyan (alumni of former All-Star 2B Davey Lopes), the undrafted Sanchez spent parts of two summers with Joliet of the independent Frontier League before signing with the White Sox as a free agent in 2013.  He was assigned to Great Falls of the rookie Pioneer League that summer, where he led the loop with a 2.87 ERA and 76 strikeouts en route to a 6-3 record as a starter and was named Pitcher of the Year.

The next two seasons saw Sanchez compile a 24-13 overall record for both organization at three levels of minor league ball (including a 1-1 mark in two starts at AAA Nashville in 2015), the year the Chisox traded him to the A's organization.  The winter of 2015-16 marked a turning point in Sanchez' career, as he was converted into a reliever in Mexicali by manager Edgar Gonzalez.  Although he struggled for the Aguilas that year (4 saves and a 5.14 ERA), Sanchez showed enough out of the bullpen to continue as a reliever in AA Midland last summer.  It wasn't an auspicious season, as Jake was 7-5 with eight saves in a team-leading 44 appearances but his 3.10 ERA was a marked improvement over the 4.50 figure he put up for the RockHounds in 2015 as a starter.

At the beginning of his second year with Mexicali last October, some improvement was hoped for but nobody expected what Sanchez accomplished.  After claiming the closer's role for the Aguilas under then-manager Gil Velazquez, the 6'1" 205-pounder proceeded to stand the LMP on its ear as he put together a 1-0 record with a league-leading 21 saves in 30 appearances, walking just five batters in 31.2 innings and striking out 27 batters.  Sanchez' regular season success carried over into the playoffs as he reigstered five more saves and striking out 21 in 17.1 frames over ten appearances, then recording two more saves in the Caribbean Series for the Aguilas before giving up his second earned run over the entire season to Puerto Rico's Caguas in the tenth inning of the championship game to take the loss.  Even so, he was named as the top reliever in the CS by writers and broadcasters.

After ending the 2016 with an uncertain future in the A's system, Jake Sanchez has converted a dominant winter into a berth with the Mexican National Team under Edgar Gonzalez in next month's World Baseball Classic.  It's impossible that his work over the past four months didn't catch the eye of GM Billy Beane and others in the Oakland front office.  He sure caught ours and becomes the first reliever to win this award since former Pirates hurler Jose Silva with Culiacan in 2010-11.

2010       Bobby Cramer, Quintana Roo
2010-11  Jose Silva, Culiacan
2011       Francisco Campos, Campeche
2015-16  Javier Solano, Mexicali
2016       Yoanner Negrin, Yucatan
2016-17  Jake Sanchez, Mexicali

Monday, February 13, 2017

2016-17 BBM Winter Awards: Luis Sojo, Manager of the Year

Managing a minor league baseball team in Mexico comes with about as much job security as a pet rock salesman enjoys.  While it's a decades-old axiom that managers are hired to be fired (unless you're Connie Mack), there may be no place on Earth where that's as true as it is south of the border, where no less than eight skippers were pink-slipped in the Mexican League during the 2016 season.  Luis Sojo was one of them, yet he rebounded from being fired by Tijuana last summer to leading the perennial also-ran Los Mochis Caneros to the Mexican Pacific League championship series this winter.

The former infielder, who spent over a decade as a utilityman for five teams (including seven with the New York Yankees), spent a number of years after his 2003 retirement as a player coaching and managing in the Yankees system while also managing his native Venezuela at the World Baseball Classic in 2006, 2009 and 2013. After more than ten seasons managing and coaching in pinstripes, Sojo took the managerial reigns with the Mexican League's Tijuana Toros last season and was able to keep his job until July 5, when GM Jorge Campillo fired him with Tijuana in third place at 40-37.  Pedro Mere, a longtime skipper in the Veracruz Winter League, went on to take the Toros to the Northern Division title and an LMB championship series against eventual pennant-winner Puebla.  Mere is scheduled to return to the helm in Tijuana this season.

Licking his wounds after being canned in Tijuana, Sojo was able to get a head start preparing for the recently-concluded Mexican Pacific League season, his second managing Los Mochis after going 35-33 in 2015-16 before a first-round playoff loss to Obregon.  Sojo's Caneros finished third in both halves of the MexPac schedule with a 38-30 overall record thanks to a lineup infused by newcomers like outfielder Leandro Castro, second baseman Isaac Rodriguez, third baseman Brian Hernandez and shortstop Yosmany Guerra (who all hit .300 or better) plus hurlers Manny Barreda, who won the LMP's ERA title, and swingman Jon Sintes.

In the January playoffs, Mochis knocked out defending Caribbean Series champion Mazatlan in five games and went seven games to eliminate Culiacan in the semifinals before falling to Mexcali in the title series, 4 games to 2, dropping the last three in a row as the Caneros sought their first pennant since 2002-03.  Although Mochis fell short of capturing the flag, the Caneros overachieved enough for skipper Luis Sojo to win the BBM Winter Award for Manager of the Year.

2010       Eddie Diaz, Oaxaca
2010-11  Matias Carrillo, Guasave
2011       Daniel Fernandez, Veracruz
2015-16  Edgar Gonzalez, Mexicali
2016       Willie Romero, Yucatan
2016-17  Luis Sojo, Los Mochis

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Puebla owner buys Acereros for reported $2.95 million

The Mexican League has one more owner controlling two franchises in the circuit after Puebla Pericos owner Gerardo Benavides completed the purchase of 90 percent of the Monclova Acereros from Alonso Acira for a reported 60 million pesos (which translates to about $2.95 million in US currency).  The Altos de Hornos manufacturing company owned the Acereros for 33 years until last spring, when it decided to sell the team as part of an overall debt restructuring effort.  Acira has served in a more-or-less caretaker role for the baseball team since.

Benavides joins the LMB's syndicate owners club of Alfredo Harp Helu (Mexico City Diablos Rojos, Oaxaca Guerreros) and brothers Juan Jose and Erik Arellano (Laguna Vaqueros, Yucatan Leones).  The Arellanos purchased 67 percent ownership of the Torreon-based Vaqueros last September.  Monterrey owner Jose "Pepe" Maiz once owned the old Chihuahua Dorados as well as the Sultanes.

The Liga has been embroiled in an internal struggle of existential proportions in the offseason, with factions of longstanding Old Guard owners and younger New Breed owners squaring off most notably over whether there should be limits on the number of Mexican-American players in the LMB (Minor League Baseball president Pat O'Connor recently ruled there will be no limits), but the dispute goes into deeper territory and involves the longterm direction the 92-year-old loop will take in the years ahead.  Acira has been in the New Breed camp, something that will not change with Benavides taking over the team.

Despite the behind-the-scenes financial uncertainty with the Acereros, Benavides takes over a franchise that (on paper, at least) is in better shape than many other LMB teams.  The Acereros won the Northern Division title in 2015 and finished with a 63-50 regular season record last summer before suffering a first-round playoff sweep at the hands of eventual North champs Tijuana.  Monclova was in decent shape at the gate as well, with 353,252 fans attending 55 home games for an average of 6,423 per opening at 11,000-seat Estadio de Beisbol Monclova, good for fourth in the 16-team circuit.  Conversely, Benavides' pennant-winning Pericos finished seventh in Liga attendance, drawing an average of 4.314 in Puebla.

The sale of the Acereros sets a benchmark of sorts for the now-dormant Quintana Roo Tigres of Cancun, whose owner, Carlos Peralta, put the team (but not the Tigres name) up for sale shortly after O'Connor's ruling on Mexican-Americans was handed down.  Peralta was firmly in the Old Guard camp led by Maiz, who called the decision "the worst thing that has ever happened in the history of baseball in Mexico."  Peralta had reportedly been seeking $2.5 million US dollars for the Tigres before the Acereros sale was completed, which may lead to an adjustment in Peralta's asking price.

An emergency LMB Assembly of Presidents meeting has been scheduled for Monday in response to Peralta's shutdown of the 62-year-old franchise that had been established in 1955 by his father Alejo, a major force in Mexican baseball for more than four decades before his 1997 death and a firm believer in hiring Mexican-born players for the Tigres.  Although the team has won six pennants since Carlos ascended to ownership, he has never embraced baseball as a fan and rarely ventured to the ballpark whether his team called Mexico City, Puebla or Cancun "home."


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Mexican roster for WBC Pool D play in Guadalajara set

A 27-player active roster (with eight more in reserve) for Mexico's national baseball team has been set for next month's World Baseball Classic.  Manager Edgar Gonzalez will lead the Verdes Grande into battle in Pool D play against Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Italy from March 9 through 13 at Guadalajara's Estadio Charros, which will be expanded to 15,000 seats for the event.

Gonzalez, who was selected as the Mexican Pacific League's Manager of the Year last winter in his debut as a skipper for Mexicali, will have a team of MLB and Mexican League veterans with a decent mix of power and speed and a pitching staff loaded with hurlers who have big league experience.

Mexican National Team 2017 WBC roster
P (13) - Jorge De La Rosa, Yovanni Gallardo, Jaime Garcia, Geovani Gallegos, Miguel Angel Gonzalez, Vidal Nuno, Roberto Osuna, Oliver Perez, Sergio Romo, Fernando Salas, Jake Sanchez, Joakim Soria, Carlos Torres.
C (20) - Xorge Carrillo, Sebastian Valle.
IF (8) - Japhet Amador, Daniel Castro, Luis Alfonso Cruz, Adrian Gonzalez, Brandon Laird, Efren Navarro, Esteban Quiroz, Jose M. "Manny" Rodriguez.
OF (4) - Jose Juan Aguilar, Khris Davis, Chris Roberson, Alex Verdugo.
Reserves (8) - Miguel Aguilar, Andres Avila, Marco Estrada, Carlos Fisher, Rafael Martin, Mario Meza, Ivan Salas, Julio Cesar Urias.

The pitching staff combines starters with past MLB success like Yovanni Gallardo, Miguel Angel Gonzalez, Jorge De La Rosa and Jaime Garcia with a strong bullpen that includes Roberto Osuna, Joakim Soria and Sergio Romo (along with 2016-17 LMP Reliever of the Year Jake Sanchez, an A's farmhand).  One name missing from the list of 13 pitchers is the Dodgers' highly-touted lefty, 20-year-old Julio Urias, a Culiacan product that LA has developed slowly since his Class A Midwest League debut as a 16-year-old in 2013.  Urias is on the reserve list, as is Nats reliever Rafael Martin.  Conspicuous by their absence are right-hander Hector Velazquez and southpaw Danny Rodriguez, both of whom distinguished themselves in the Mexican Pacific League playoffs and recently-concluded Caribbean Series.

Mexico's catching situation is nowhere near as flush, with two career minor leaguers for Gonzalez to choose from.  Sebastian Valle is a former Phillies prospect who was dealt to the Mariners this winter.  Valle made national headlines in Mexico last week with his walkoff grand slam in the Caribbean Series, but his ten-year minor league career has been longer on potential than delivery.  A CS teammate of Valle's with Mexicali, Carrillo has been a six-year Mets farmhand with two cups of coffee at the AAA level.  Valle will likely be the starter, but this is not a Verdes Grande strong point.

The infield looks better.  Dodgers' five-time All-Star Adrian Gonzalez will serve as anchor at first base for his fourth WBC and first without brother Edgar playing alongside him.  Second base will be shared between Manny Rodriguez, a rocksteady veteran and career .307 hitter over 11 Mexican League seasons, and 5'7" Esteban Quiroz, who hit .335 for Quintana Roo last summer.  Things aren't as settled on the left side.  Daniel Castro, who split 2016 between MLB and AAA with the Braves, figures to start at shortstop but third base is up for grabs among Brandon Laird and Efren Navarro.  Quiroz could slide to third with Rodriguez taking permanent status at second.  Man-mountain Japhet Amador (all 6'4" and 330 pounds of him) figures to DH for Mexico after spending last year in Japan with the Rakuten Golden Eagles while Luis Alfonso Cruz, who's played three years in Japan, will plug any gaps in the middle infield.  When he's in a groove, Amador can go deep on anyone.

Mexico's outfield will include Khris Davis, who it 42 homers and drove in 102 runs for Oakland in 2016 after knocking out 49 longballs the two previous campaigns in Milwaukee.  Longtime followers of Mexican baseball will have no trouble recognizing Chris Roberson in center field.  A 37-year-old Oakland native and former Phils prospect, Robo made his winterball debut with Hermosillo in 2005 and has mostly played year-round south of the border since 2009 providing speed (he's lost little), extra-base power and some defense wherever he's gone.  Twenty-year-old Alex Verdugo has averaged .302 over three minor league seasons in the Dodgers system but is a little shaky with his glovework.  Juan Jose Aguilar is, like Roberson, an LMB veteran who lacks the latter's power but matches his speed and should be the best defensive outfielder on Mexico's roster.

Mexico has had to fight its way to a fourth consecutive appearance in the WBC after going winless in 2013 and being required to qualify to play in Guadalajara this year.  They did so last March by cruising through a qualifying round with wins over Germany, Nicaragua and the Czech Republic to earn a berth in Pool D while removing the "interim" from Gonzalez' managerial status.


Friday, February 10, 2017

MiLB: No limit on Mexican-Americans in Liga; Tigres for sale?

One week after meeting with Mexican League team presidents in Houston to hear both sides of the bitter dispute between two factions over the status of Mexican-American players in the LMB, Minor League Baseball president Pat O'Connor has released a ruling that there will be no limit on how many such players can signed to contracts with Liga teams.  There had been a suspension on signings of Mexican-American peloteros (who do not count against the LMB's limit of six foreigners per team) since the Assembly of Presidents meeting in Texas on February 1 while the issue was considered in MiLB offices in St. Petersburg, Florida, but the stay was lifted with Tuesday's ruling from O'Connor.

In a letter to the LMB, O'Connor explained that limiting the number of U.S.-born players with at least one Mexican parent would be in violation of both the Mexican Constitution and federal anti-discrimination laws, and that the Liga could be subject to lawsuits by such a policy.  There were no limits on Mexican-American players last year in the Mexican League which led to Monterrey owner Jose "Pepe" Maiz reacting bitterly to his Sultanes' loss in last September's Northern Division finals to a Tijuana Toros club with a heavy presence of Mexican-Americans on the roster.  Maiz was joined by seven other so-called Old Guard owners in seeking limits for the 2017 season, first a total of nine players per team but lowered to three apiece after the schism among owners deepened even further in January's league meeting, a rift that goes far beyond roster limits.

O'Connor's ruling is a clear victory over the seven "New Breed" owners (including Tijuana's Alberto Uribe, the primary object of Maiz' ire), who wanted no limits on Mexican-Americans, but there's already been one reaction among one of the Old Guard, Quintana Roo Tigres owner Carlos Peralta.  The son of legendary Tigres owner Alejo Peralta, who founded the team in 1955.  The Tigres shared old Parque de Social Seguro with the Diablos Rojos, a rivalry that was the biggest in Mexican baseball until the elder Peralta's death at age 80 in 1997.

Although Carlos has run the team for two decades since his father's passing, his ties to baseball were never as extensive and after a few more years in the nation's capital, the Tigres were moved twice: First to Puebla in 2002 and again to Cancun in 2007.  While the Tigres have indeed won six LMB pennants under Carlos' stewardship (three in Puebla, three in Cancun), the team has never been wholly embraced in either city as the younger Peralta grew more and more distant from the ballclub, largely leaving its operation to team Executive President Cuauhtemoc "Chito" Rodriguez, who came to work under Alejo Peralta in 1995 after 19 years in the Nuevo Laredo Tecolotes front office.

This is not the first time Carlos Peralta has explored selling the Tigres, but it appears to be the most serious effort.  Peralta is seeking to sell the team but keep the Tigres name and intellectual properties.  One asking price that was floated in the Mexican media is US$2,500,000, but it's difficult to place a value on this particular ballclub because it has been a major presence in the LMB for more than six decades, the team has has some financial difficulties operating in Cancun while the franchise will undoubtedly lose luster without the "Tigres" name attached to it.  There is some sentiment among Mexican baseball cronistas for the team to move back to Mexico City and resume their rivalry with the Diablos, but that might be a reach if the Diablos are not willing to share the new ballpark being constructed in Mexico City.

Whatever the outcome with the Tigres, this serves as one more headache for recently-reinstated Liga president Plinio Escalante, who returned to the LMB offices in Mexico City this month.  O'Connor made it clear on February 1 that the Yucatan native is the only person that MiLB will accept behind the big desk.  Besides the seemingly-insoluble division between the two owner factions, ballpark issues in both Durango and Leon still need addressing and there are other Old Guard owners besides Peralta who earlier "quit" the league earlier this offseason (albeit symbolically).  The question of who buys the UnTigres becomes more important in regards to which faction the new owner would align himself with.

The next LMB Assembly of Presidents meeting is scheduled for February 17 in Mexico City.  Tea and scones are not likely on the agenda.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

2017 Caribbean Series in review

Now that the Caribbean Series is over and the dust is settling, it's time to take a look back at the seven-day event in Culiacan, Sinaloa, where attendance was the highest among the past 14 editions of the CS, regarded as the Crown Jewel of Latin Baseball.

Although the Mexicali Aguilas fell short in their 1-0 title game loss to Puerto Rico's Caguas Criollos, the MexPac champions placed five members on the CS All-Star Team (as voted on by media members), including all three outfield positions.  Gardeners Jason Bourgois, Chris Roberson and Ronnier Mustelier were joined by catcher Sebastian Valle and relief pitcher Jake Sanchez on the squad, as was Aguilas manager Roberto Vizcarra.  Caguas third baseman David Vidal was named Most Valuable Player after batting .417 with 3 homers and 5 RBIs in 26 at-bats.  Granma right-hander Lazaro Blanco was named top pitcher after going 1-1 with a 0.68 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 13.1 innings over two starts.  Former MLB starter Joel Pineiro, who was 104-93 for four teams between 2000 and 2011, threw a scoreless inning for Caguas against Granma on February 3.  The 38-year-old Pineiro was a member of Puerto Rico's last CS champion, Santurce, in 2000.

Caguas' Ivan De Jesus, Jr led CS batters with a .500 average, going 11-of-22 at the plate.  Vidal led in homers with 3 and tied with Granma's Carlos Benitez and Jose Castillo of Zuila in RBIs with 5 each.  Castillo's Zulia teammate, Freddy Galvis, led in stolen bases with 3.  Among pitchers, nobody had more than one win.  Mexicali's Hector Daniel Rodriguez was unscored upon in 9 innings over one start and one relief apearance while Vladimir Banos of Cuba allowed no runs in his 8 2/3 innings against Mexicali.  Blanco was tied by Hector Velazquez of Mexicali with 11 strikeouts while LMP Reliever of the Year Sanchez led with two saves.

Tournament organizers in Culiacan have to be happy with the attendance figures, as 131,432 fans clicked the turnstiles at Estadio Tomateros to set a modern record, even after the initial crowd total of more than 24,000 announced for Friday in the 19,177-seat ballpark was subsequently revised down to capacity level (phone call from the fire marshal, posiblimente?).  With some columnists speculating about the future of the Caribbean Series due to economic crises in Puerto Rico and Venezuela (site of next year's CS) and the uncertain status of Cuba, which is not a host nation, the event has been very popular in Mexico, where four of the past five tournaments that topped 100,000 in accrued attendance were in Mexico.  Not everyone was thrilled with the ticket situation, however.  Mexicali closer Sanchez complained during the week that ducats allotted to players for friends and family were to seats located in the left field bleachers.

Wednesday, February 1  (Attendance 19,177)
GM 1   Granma (CU) 4-7-2, ZULIA (VZ) 0-7-2
Lazaro Blanco and Livan Moinelo combine for seven-hit shutout
GM 2   MEXICALI (MX) 4-10-0, Caguas (PR) 2-5-2
Hector Daniel Rodriguez carries no-hitter into 5th; Chris Roberson homers

Thursday, February 2  (Attendance 19,177)
GM 3   Zulia (VZ) 4-8-0, CAGUAS (PR) 3-9-2
Jesus Flores' 2-run homer caps 3-run Zulia second; Omar Bencomo goes 5 frames for win
GM 4   MEXICALI (MX) 7-15-2, Licey (DR) 2-6-1
Chris Roberson has 4 hits and scores twice; Jason Bourgeois triples twice for 2 RBIs

Friday, February 3  (Attendance 19,177)
GM 5   GRANMA (CU) 6-12-0, Caguas (PR) 1-8-1
William Saavedra hits two singles and 2-run homer; Vladimir Garcia allows 1 run in 5 innings
GM 6  MEXICALI 5-8-1, Zulia (VZ) 1-7-2
Sebastian Valle belts walkoff grand slam; Barry Enright lets in 1 run on 1 hit in 5 frames

Saturday, February 4  (Attendance 14,973)
GM 7   CAGUAS (PR) 10-11-0, Licey (DR) 2-5-2
Rusney Castillo socks 2-run HR in first; Ivan De Jesus 3 hits, 3 runs, 2 RBIs
GM 8   ZULIA (VZ) 8-15-0, Granma (CU) 3-10-2
Freddy Galvis and Ronny Cedeno combined for 6 hits, 3 runs and 3 RBIs

Sunday, February 5  (Attendance 19,177)
GM 9   ZULIA (VZ) 4-7-2, Licey (DR) 3-8-0
Ronny Cedeno's RBI double, Rene Reyes' 2-run HR in 8th put Caguas ahead for good
GM 10   GRANMA (CU) 4-11-0, Mexicali (MX) 0-6-0
Vladimir Banos pitches 8.2 shutout innings; Alfredo Despaigne cracks 3-run HR

Monday, February 6  (Attendance 19,177)
SF 1   Caguas (PR) 9-11-0, Zulia (VZ) 6-16-1
David Vidal hits 3rd CS homer; Rusney Castillo collects 3 hits, 2 RBIs
SF 2   MEXICALI (MX) 1-5-0, Granma (CU) 0-2-1
Miguel Pena, Hector Daniel Rodriguez and Jake Sanchez combine on 2-hit shutout

Tuesday, February 7  (Attendance 20,454)
FINAL Caguas 1-7-1, MEXICALI 0-4-1 (10)
Yadiel Rivera doubles, scores go-ahead run in 10th; Miguel Mejia 2 IP, 0 R in relief for win

1B - William Saavedra, Granma (Cuba)
2B - Carlos Benitez, Granma (Cuba)
3B - David Vidal, Caguas (Puerto Rico)
SS - Freddy Galviz, Zulia (Venezuela)
LF - Jason Bourgeois, Mexicali (Mexico)
CF - Chris Roberson, Mexicali (Mexico)
RF - Ronnier Mustelier, Mexicali (Mexico)
C -  Sebastian Valle, Mexicali (Mexico)
DH - Ivan De Jesus, Caguas (Puerto Rico)
SP - Lazaro Blanco, Granma (Cuba)
RP- Jake Sanchez, Mexicali (Mexico)
MGR -  Roberto Vizcarra, Mexicali (Mexico)
MVP - David Vidal, Caguas (Puerto Rico)

2004    90,000* Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
2005  102,000* Mazatlan, Mexico
2006    86,103* Maracay/Valencia, Venezuela
2007    28,583* Carolina, Puerto Rico
2008    90,000* Santiago, Dominican Republic
2009  101,500* Mexicali, Mexico
2010    71,405* Isla Margarita, Veracruz
2011    42,500* Mayaguez, Puerto Rico
2012    30,000* Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
2013  112,000* Hermosillo, Mexico
2014  113,517   Isla Margarita, Venezuela
2015  112,000   San Juan, Puerto Rico
2016    24,319   Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
2017  131,432   Culiacan, Mexico
2018     TBD      Barquisimeto, Venezuela
*-Six-day event from 2004 through 2013

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

CS Championship: Mexicali loses, 1-0, in grandest of finales

One night after knocking Cuba's Granma Alazanes out of Caribbean Series title contention with a 1-0 semifinal win, the Mexican Pacific League flag-bearing Mexicali Aguilas found themselves in one more pitching-dominated battle in Tuesday's CS championship game against Puerto Rico's Caguas Criollos.  The contest lived up to its importance by going into extra innings before the Criollos snuck away with a 1-0 win over the Aguilas to claim their fourth Serie del Caribe title.  An SRO crowd of 20,454 watched the contest at Culiacan's Estadio Tomateros, which was sold out for six of the seven days of play.

The 17-time Puerto Rican pennant winners won previous CS crowns in 1954, 1974 and 1987.  Caguas was a surprise finalist after losing three of four first stage round robin game, only reaching the semis by topping winless Dominican representative Licey on Saturday and then outscoring Zulia of Venezuela, 9-6, Monday to reach the final.  Mexicali was seeking its second Serie del Caribe title and first since 1986 under Francisco Estrada.  The Aguilas' MexPac flag is their fourth.

Caguas (PR) Criollos 1-7-1, MEXICALI (MX) Aguilas 0-4-1 (10)

Unsurprisingly, the title contest quickly became a duel between the two Pitchers of the Year in their respective leagues.  Caguas' Adlaberto Flores stymied the Mexicali lineup through six innings, blanking the Aguilas on one hit and a walk.  Flores was greatly aided by his infielders, with three double plays turned behind him. Likewise, Hector Velazquez (who led the MexPac in wins and strikeouts pitching for Navojoa) kept the Criollos in check for six shutout innings on five hits before giving way to Tyler Alexander in the seventh.  A former Brewers minor leaguer and Florida International alum, Alexander carried the shutout through the seventh and eighth, allowing one hit.

There were a pair of unsuccessful Criollos scoring threats early.  In the top of the first, Caguas had Ivan De Jesus, Jr. on third and David Vidal on second after doubling with one out, but Rusney Castillo grounded out to Jesse Castillo at first and Ruben Gotay popped out to shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt to end the inning. Velazquez had to bear down extra one more time in the top of the fifth when the Puerto Ricans had Jesmuel Valentin at second with one out before Henry Ramos and De Jesus both flew out to Chris Roberson in center for the second and third outs, respectively.

For their part, Mexicali was unable to put a runner into scoring position until the bottom of the seventh, when Roberson led off with a single to left off reliever Andres Santiago, who replaced Flores when the latter retired with an injured hand, and advanced to second on Jason Bourgeois' sacrifice bunt in front of home plate.  That chance faded to dust after Santiago struck out Betancourt on a full-count pitch and whiffed C.J. Retherford on four deliveries.

After Alexander retired the Criollos in order in the top of the eighth, it was the Aguilas' turn to try breaking the deadlock.  LMP batting champion Luis Juarez opened the frame by punching Santiago's first pitch into left field for Mexicali's third hit, followed by a Ronnier Mustelier sacrifice bunt that advanced Juarez into scoring position at second.  Santiago walked Castillo in five pitches, but the former Dodgers and Cubs farmhand fanned pinch-hitter Yordanys Linares swinging for the second out.  Ramon Rios batted next and the Aguilas shortstop hit a grounder to his Caguas counterpart, Yadiel Rivera, who threw to third for the force but Juarez was called safe.  The call was challenged by Caguas skipper Luis Matos and subsequently reversed, with Juarez called out at third to end the inning.

Oliver Perez replaced Alexander on the hill for the Aguilas in the top of the ninth (with Sebastian Valle replacing Xorge Carrillo behind the plate), and the 14-year MLBer got the Puerto Ricans out in order, throwing 11 of 14 pitches for strikes.  Mexicali could do little better, with Betancourt's single the only sign of life as Cubs minor leaguer Miguel Mejia held the Eagles scoreless to send the contest into overtime.

Aguilas closer Jake Sanchez took over in the tenth and gave up a leadoff double to Rivera, who moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Jesmuel Valentin and then scored the first run of the game for either side on Jonathan Morales' sacrifice fly to Roberson in center.  It was only the second earned run Sanchez has given up since the season opened in October, but it was a big one, and the Aguilas batters had their work cut out for them in the bottom of the tenth.

With Mejia still pitching, Juarez grounded to short on the first pitch for the first out and Mustelier lined out to right for the second out, leaving the Caribbean Series (and Aguilas' season)  in the hands of Jesse Castillo. After looking at one pitch for a called strike, the 31-year-old Mexicali native and veteran of 13 Mexican League summers lined out to Rivera at short to end the game.

Mejia got the win for Caguas with two innings of one-hit shutout ball while Sanchez took the loss for Mexicali. Rivera singled and doubled for two of the Criollos' seven hits, scoring the game's lone run.  The Aguilas' four hits were spread among Roberson, Betancourt, Juarez and Carrillo as the Mexicans were 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position and left four men on base.  After hitting .324 and pushing 16 runs across in their first three CS games, manager Roberto Vizcarra's squad scored once over their final three games.