Sunday, March 5, 2017

De La Rosa, Garcia bow out as WBC opener approaches

With only a few days remaining until their World Baseball Classic opener against Italy in Guadalajara, the Mexican National Team roster is still undergoing changes as more players originally expected to play have decided to sit out the WBC in favor of remaining in training camp with their Major League Baseball teams.

The latest to send their regrets are pitchers Jorge De La Rosa and Jaime Garcia, who will stay with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Atlanta Braves, respectively.  Another player, Mexican League outfielder J.J. Aguilar, had to beg off the WBC due to a shoulder injury.  They'll be replaced by pitchers Hector Daniel Rodriguez and Miguel Aguilar along with outfielder Luis Juarez.  Reds minor leaguer Sebastian Elizalde has also been tabbed to fill in for A's outfielder Khris Davis, who recently elected to stay in Oakland's Arizona camp even though his roster spot is pretty well assured after belting 42 homers for the A's last year.

De La Rosa was signed to a minor league contract by the Diamondbacks in recent weeks after several seasons in Colorado (where he's the Rockies' all-time wins leaders) and wants to focus on trying to make his new big club.  Garcia is likewise with a different team after coming to the Braves following several seasons in St. Louis.  As with De La Rosa, the injury-plagued Garcia is wanting to concentrate on staying healthy after being dealt to the Braves for three players in the offseason. J.J. Aguilar, a top-of-the-order hitter with some speed and a career .306 average after seven seasons in the Mexican League, hurt his shoulder while training with the Yucatan Leones.

As is becoming a ritual for many managers of WBC teams dealing with rejections and injuries among their rostered players, Mexico skipper Edgar Gonzalez (pictured) is having to apply a tourniquet to his roster while trying to prepare for Pool D play against tough teams from Venezuela and the Dominican Republic and an Italy side hoping to surprise a few people.  Gonzalez' reinforcements may not have the resumes of the men they'll be replacing, but each has something to offer beyond a willingness to represent their homeland in baseball's version of soccer's World Cup.

Many observers were surprised when Danny Rodriguez was left off Mexico's original WBC roster after establishing himself as a big-game pitcher and one of the best lefties south of the border.  The 32-year-old Rodriguez was 9-4 with a 3.95 ERA last summer for a Saltillo team that failed to reach the playoffs, then turned in a decent regular season during the winter for Culiacan before raising his game in the Mexivan Pacific League postseason and Caribbean Series, as usual.  It has not been determined if Rodriguez will be used as a back-of-the-rotation starter or out of the bullpen.

Miguel Aguilar is a 25-year-old left-hander who has toiled in the Mexican League since debuting with Laguna in 2012.  He currently serves as a middleman for Yucatan, for whom he went 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA last year for manager Willie Romero's regular-season South Division champions.  Although he's had some control issues, Aguilar has averaged over one strikeout per inning for his career in both the Liga and the MexPac.  He will likely continue his reliever's role under Gonzalez in the WBC.

Luis Juarez had spent eight summers with Monterrey in the LMB and six winters with Mexicali in the LMP with fairly moderate totals (a combined .269 average and 29 homers over 517 games) before registering a career-type season of winterball with the Aguilas in 2016-17.  The 5'8" Culiacan native, who can play first lase, left field or catcher, won the MexPac batting title with a .364 average to finish 17 points ahead of the nearest hitter, and went on to bat .329 in 19 playoff games.  He was named by the league as its Most Valuable Player. Although it's hard to envision him as a starter in Guadalajara, Juarez' versaility will likely get him some playing time for Mexico in a utility role.

Sebastian Elizalde is not going to replace Davis' power in the Verdes Grande batting order, but he'll bring more foot speed to the outfield and on the basepaths.  The 25-year-old from Guaymas was a mid-season All-Star in the Florida State League while playing for Daytona in 2015, and is currently a non-roster invitee at Cincinnati's big league camp in the Sunshine State.  He topped the .300 mark three times in four LMB seasons while playing sparingly for Monterrey between 2010 and 2013 before the Red bought his contract before the 2014 campaign.  Elizalde batted .297 in 111 for AA Pensacola last summer.

The Mexicans will have tuneup game against the San Diego Padres in Peoria on Tuesday and the Arizona Diamonbacks on Wednesday in Scottsdale prior to their WBC opener against Italy Thursday night in Guadalajara.