Wednesday, September 20, 2017

BBM 2017 Summer Awards: Batter of the Year

Saltillo outfielder Rainel Rosario
There hasn't been a lot to cheer about with the Saltillo Saraperos lately.  It wasn't that long ago that they were one of the Mexican League's flagship franchises, winning four LMB North titles between 2004 and 2010, copping the pennant in 2009 and 2010.  The Sarape Makers were boffo at the box office as well in that timeframe, averaging over 10,000 fans per game in 2005 and 2006 and annually ranking among the Liga's attendance leaders.

Times changed in 2013, however, when owners Grupo Ley sold the Saraperos to Alejandro Garza Diaz (who, in turn, sold the franchise to Antonio Nerio Rodriguez two years later).  Although Saltillo has remained among the LMB's attendance leaders throughout, the team has gradually declined from their 2013 North Division regular season title, finishing seventh in 2016 and 2017.  In addition, the franchise has had financial problems and is reportedly one of many in the Liga on the verge of financial insolvency.  In short, the picture in Saltillo is anything but pretty.

Thank goodness for Rainel Rosario.

A journeyman outfielder whose stints in the Cardinals and Red Sox organizations bookended a two-year stay in Japan with the Hiroshima Carp, Rosario's first year in Mexico was a resounding success.  The 28-year-old Dominican led the Saraperos with a .336 batting average in 2017 while topping the LMB with 26 home runs and finishing second to Yucatan's Ricky Alvarez with 104 RBIs.  Rosario was especially devastating at home, battering opposing pitchers for a .398 average and 20 homers in 54 games at Estadio Francisco I. Madero.  He enjoyed a torrid July by recording a .455 average with 5 roundtrippers and 27 ribbies in 99 at-bats over 26 games.  Rosario was a sure bet when batting with runners in scoring position, going 59-for-119 (.420) with 7 homers and an amazing 76 RBIs in such situations.  Right-handed pitchers suffered the brunt of inflicted damage by being knocked around by the right-handed hitter for 19 homers and 80 RBI in 306 at-bats.

Like last summer's BBM Batter of the Year, Diory Hernandez of Aguascalientes, nobody could've anticipated those kinds of numbers from Rosario in Saltillo.  After signing with St. Louis as a 17-year-old free agent in April 2006, the 6'1" 190-pounder spent seven summers in the Cardinals system and never hitting more than nine homers or driving in one season.  His first four years were spent playing Rookie league ball and he eventually rose as high as AA Springfield in the Texas League (where he hit .214 over 22 games in 2012), but Rosario never reached whatever potential the Cards saw when he was signed.

After sitting out the 2013 season entirely, Rosario made his way to the Far East with Hiroshima of the Central League, Japanese baseball's senior circuit, for 2014.  He had a standout rookie season with the Carp that year, hitting .336 with 14 homers and 49 RBIs in 69 games, but his sophomore year wasn't as successful as his numbers plummeted to .258/2/12 in 42 contests for 2015.  Still, he did well enough to return to MiLB in 2016 after signing with Boston in June.  After going 0-for-7 in two games with AAA Pawtucket, Rosario was sent to AA Portland and hit .254 with a pair of homers in 101 games over the remainder of the season.  After the Sox allowed his contract to expire in November, Rosario signed on with Saltillo one day before the Saraperos' 2017 season opener at Monterrey.

Will Rainel Rosario be able to repeat this year's breakthrough numbers in 2018?  History would indicate otherwise.  After all, Diory Hernandez went from being the offensive linchpin in Aguascalientes in 2016 to being released by the Rieleros on May 14 and again by Union Laguna six weeks later even though he hit .300 for both teams, so who knows?  In the end, in a 2017 season that saw a bit of resurgence for Mexican League batters after pitchers had enjoyed recent unaccustomed success in a loop known for decades as a hitter's league, Rosario's campaign in Saltillo gets BBM's nod as being the best among a number of qualified candidates for our Batter of the Year award.  Let's just hope his follow-up year goes better than Diory Hernandez' did.

BBM BATTER OF THE YEAR AWARDS
Winter 2015-16  Jose Amador, Hermosillo
Summer 2016    Diory Hernandez, Aguascalinetes
Winter 2016-17  Manny Rodriguez, Culiacan
Summer 2017    Rainel Rosario, Saltillo