Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Ex-Yanks minor leaguer Vazquez traded by Tigres to Diablos

The Quintana Roo Tigres are beginning to make some moves under new owner Fernando Valenzuela.  One recent deal involved sending first baseman Jorge "El Chato" Vazquez to Mexico City for catcher Gabriel Gutierrez in a swap of players who've battled injuries in recent seasons, but who've been effective when healthy.

Vazquez, who turns 35 next month, was one of the Mexican League's leading sluggers between 2005 and 2008, belting 99 homers for the Tigres in that four-year span and batting .323 or better each season.  His performance resulted in a minor league contract with the New York Yankees, for whom the Culiacan product spent three summers from 2009-11, hitting 63 homers in that timespan (including 32 longballs with 93 RBIs for AAA Syracuse in 2011).  However, Vazquez also showed a tendency to strike out, whiffing 166 ties in 500 plate appearances in 2011, and he was surprisingly released in April of 2012 after the Yanks brought in Steve Pearce to play first base at Syracuse that season.

Since returning to Cancun in 2012, the 5'11" right-handed batter has battled a variety of ailments ever since, playing no more than 62 games in any season over the past five years.  He hit .319 with six homers and 31 RBIs in 33 games for the Tigres in 2016.  In fifteen Mexican League seasons, Vazquez has knocked out 193 homers to go with a .317 career average, and the Diablos Rojos hope he'll be able to be the cleanup hitter they've lacked since Japhet Amador went to Japan's Rakuten Golden Eagles last year.

For his part, Gutierrez will never be mistaken for Vazquez in the batter's box, but he was once a highly-regarded catching prospect in the Dodgers system.  Signed by Los Angeles at age 21 in 2005, the Guasave native was Baseball America's Prospect Handbook pick as the best defensive catcher in the Dodgers system in 2007.  However, the injury hex had already started affecting Gutierrez' career and he ended up playing just 282 games over six seasons in five leagues (including a cup of coffee with AAA Las Vegas), batting .249 with six homers and 93 RBIs before heading back south of the border following his release in early 2010.

Hooking up with the Diablos Rojos in 2010, Gutierrez has continued his pattern of providing solid work behind the plate when he's physically capable of putting on the gear.  He played a career-high 101 games for Mexico City in 2014, hitting an eyebrow-raising .356 that year (with a .419 on-base percentage) and scoring 71 runs for the Red Devils.  His seven-year LMB batting average has been a solid .311, but he's only played 374 games since 2010 for an average of 53 games per year.  It's hoped in Quintana Roo that the 33-year-old Gutierrez will be able to form a catching tandem with 35-year-old veteran Iker Franco, who hit .310 in 73 games for the Tigres in 2016.