Friday, July 28, 2017

Diablos-Guerreros team wins third Academy AA League title; Toros sweep Monterrey, win streak at 16

2017 Liga Academia AA champs Diablos-Guerreros
It took fourteen agonizing innings to do it, but a team of combined prospects from the Mexico City Diablos Rojos and Oaxaca Guerreros topped the Campeche-Quintana Roo squad, 4-3, last week in El Carmen (near Monterrey) to clinch their third consecutive Mexican League Academy Class AA League title and sixth straight crown when the winter Academy Rookie League seasons are factored in. The Diablos-Guerreros had a 55-30 record to top the Academy AA League standings, which included eight teams sharing prospects belonging to two LMB teams each.

Diablos-Guerros pitcher Luis Rodriguez, whose rights belong to Mexico City, was named MVP after going 6-2 with a 1.06 ERA (how did this guy lose TWO games, let alone one?) while striking out 108 batters and walking 22 over 76.1 innings. A Rodriguez moundmate, Juan Carlos Lopez, led the circuit in wins with a perfect 9-0 mark and strikeouts with 110 in 88 frames to go with his 1.62 ERA.  Durango-Veracruz' Jesus Vega was the top batter with an even .400 average, Juan Sanchez of Tigres-Campeche led in homers with 10 and Monterrey-Aguascalientes' Bryan Sosa's 69 RBIs were tops. Remigio Diaz was named Manager of the Year after leading the Monclova-Puebla squad to a 47-40-1 record and a fourth-place finish.

According to Fernando Ballesteros of Puro Beisbol, the Mexican League has operated at least one academy since 1983 as a complex dedicated to housing hundreds of domestic prospects for the purpose of teaching and developing baseball skills, a number of which dot the map in Latin American baseball-playing countries (including ten in Mexico alone).  While the El Carmen complex is the longest-running and most important of the LMB-linked five academies, Ballesteros said in his May 15 Zona de Contacto column that it is also perhaps the most "obsolete" (as stated by one Liga official), adding that instructors there don't feel motivation commensurate with their salaries.

The Tijuana Toros operate an academy of their own from which the team has been able to sell the rights of several prospects to Major League organizations, there's another in the state of Sinaloa that reportedly has the "endorsement" of MLB but lacks an established funding mechanism and faces an uncertain future and similar academies are operated by Gerardo Benavides in Monclova and brothers Juan Jose and Erick Arellano in their hometown of Mazatlan for their Yucatan and Laguna LMB prospects.

Brothers Adrian and Edgar Gonzalez, along with father David, opened the Gonzalez Sports Academy near the California-Mexico border in 2010 and generated controversy by seeking to negotiate contracts with big league teams directly, bypassing the Mexican League (which recently was endorsed by MLB as exclusive rights-holders for Mexican prospects).  That effort landed in a courtroom in 2013 after the Majors ruled that one Gonzales prospect's rights actually belonged to the LMB Diablos Rojos and while Ballesteros' May column referred to that academy as still operational, the GSA website was shut down by a hacker and their Facebook page has had no activity since some photos were updated in early February.


TOROS SWEEP MONTERREY TO STRETCH WIN STREAK TO 16 GAMES


Tijuana Toros outfielder Dustin Martin
Former AAA All-Star Game outfielder (in 2010 for Rochester) Dustin Martin has had a hard time getting untracked in 2017, but he showed why he is still one of the most dangerous batters in a loaded Tijuana lineup by belting a pair of two-run homers to aid the Toros' 7-3 win over visiting Monterrey Thursday night at Estadio Gasmart in the border city.  The triumph handed Tijuana their fifth consecutive series sweep, this one against the Mexican League North Division leaders' closest challengers, while extending their season high win streak to 16 games.

The 33-year-old Martin, a former Mets, Twins and Diamondbacks farmhand who was also a New York-Penn League All-Star in 2006 and Florida State League All-Star in 2007, hit .325 with 19 homers, 33 stolen bases and 88 RBIs for Tijuana last year.  Thus far in 2017, he's batting .254 with 14 homers, 23 steals and 67 ribbies in 96 games.  Thursday night's performance showed that any opposing pitcher who downplays the Sam Houston State product to concentrate on the likes of Corey Brown, Alex Liddi or Cyle Hankerd in the playoffs may pay for their oversight.

Despite Martin's longball heroics, the key blow may have been a bases-clearing double by Roberto Lopez (batting ninth) in the second inning that gave the Toros a 3-0 lead that Martin extended in the sixth with his first two-run blast.  Monterrey narrowed the TJ lead to 5-3 when ageless Rafael Diaz came in from the bullpen in the eighth and allowed three Sultanes runs on four hits before Juan Sandoval was sent to the mound to record the final out of the entrada, but Martin's second bomb in the bottom of the eighth provided the final margin of victory for the home team.

A packed house of 17,980 looked on at Estadio Gasmart (capacity 16,811) Thursday night, bringing total attendance for the three-game set to 49,416.  More important, the potent Toros battered Monterrey's pitching staff, which came into the series with a team ERA of 3.87, for 24 runs on 35 hits over the three games.  Heading into Friday's series opener at Aguascalientes, the 70-28 Toros now lead 63-34 Monterrey by six-and-a-half games in the LMB North standings with 12 games left in the regular season.