Friday, September 22, 2017

BBM Summer Awards: Most Valuable Player

Mexico City shortstop Ramon Urias
I've mentioned a couple times that I was facing some mighty tough choices in picking the Summer Bammys this year, but none was harder than Most Valuable Player.  There were several standout performances this season in the Mexican League, only some of which BBM has already highlighted this week, but the MVP award (to me) boiled down to three players:  Tijuana centerfielder Corey Brown, Aguascalientes first baseman Jesus "Jesse" Castillo and Mexico City shortstop Ramon Urias.  Of all the Bammys I've considered since 2010, I agonized over this one more than any of the others and even broke down offensive and defensive stats for each player AND their respective teams to try determine who contributed the most to their club's success, and it's taken me until literally minutes before I started typing this piece to decide.

There are such good arguments for all three men.  Tijuana, of course, is this year's LMB champion and Brown was perhaps the main cog in the Toros machine.  He batted .291, his 24 homers were second in Liga to Saltillo's Rainel Rosario's 26 and finished fifth with 85 RBIs.  In addition, Brown was very effective on the basepaths, stealing 19 bases in 21 attempts to just miss being the sole member of the loop's 20/20 Club in 2017.  Defensively, he was an adequate centerfielder, hauling in 214 fly balls and throwing out four baserunners for a .982 fielding percentage with a 2.10 range factor.  Brown also played in this year's LMB All-Star Game at Campeche.  While it was his first such contest in the LMB, Brown previously played four midseason classics in the International, Texas and Midwest Leagues.  Despite his relatively-low batting average, he was my pick until Wednesday night, when I began considering Jesse Castillo.

Aguascalientes was the surprise team in the Liga's regular season this summer, winning 64 of 110 games to pull away from Union Laguna and Mexico City for fourth place in the LMB North, then provided perhaps the strongest opposition Tijuana faced in the playoffs before falling in six games in the division semis.  Rieleros manager Homar Rojas had to contend with a budget-limited roster along with the vagaries any skipper will encounter over a season, but the one constant was Castillo.  The veteran first sacker hit a rock-solid .342 with 20 homers and 82 RBIs while matching Brown with 79 runs to finish in the top ten in all four categories along with on-base percentage (.435), slugging percentage (.548) and OPS (.548).  Castillo also acquitted himself well at first with a .994 fielding percentage over 773 chances, including 712 putouts, 56 assists and a 9.72 range factor.  He played in his seventh All-Star Game this summer and was named its Most Valuable Player.  While Jose Vargas combined with Castillo to form a lethal 1-2 punch, the latter was clearly the most important player in Aguascalientes' unexpected success.  A legit MVP candidate, for sure.  But then on Thursday afternoon, I turned my attention to Ramon Urias.

The Diablos' wunderkind shortstop (he turned 23 in June) was able to carry his team to a 57-54 record and coming within four games of forcing a postseason play-in game against Aguascalientes despite a pitching staff with a 5.06 ERA while injuries and Father Time took their toll on Red Devils' position players.  Despite just missing the batting derby's top ten list (he was 12th at .340), Urias met that standard in several other offensive categories, leading the LMB with 91 runs scored along with 132 hits (tied for 10th), 29 doubles (tied for 7th), 19 homers (tied for 6th), 79 RBIs (8th), 224 total bases (tied for 4th), a .433 on-base percentage (5th), a .577 slugging percentage (4th) and 1.011 OPS (2nd).  He played most of his defensive time (65 games) at short but also spent 45 contests at second base, with a combined .967 fielding average in 530 total chances, contributing 203 putouts, 309 assists and taking part in 79 double plays (two fewer than Castillo) for a combined range factor of 4.65 over the two positions.  Although the Escarlatas missed the playoffs a second year in a row (after reaching the postseason every year between 1984 and 2015), those are numbers impossible to ignore.

As you can see, there's not a lot to create much separation among those three players, so I started comparing their individual stats with their team's overall stats and while I'll spare you that breakdown, it appeared rather clearly to me that Urias meant more to the Diablos Rojos than Brown did to the Toros and even Castillo did to the Rieleros.  While Brown and Castillo had stats similar or even below their respective team's, Urias' were better (some significantly) than his teammates accrued while working behind a pitching staff demonstrably inferior to Tijuana's and Aguascalientes'.  Adding in the fact that he was only 22 when his breakout season opened (Brown is 31 while Castillo is 34) and that being on a non-contending team didn't hurt another shortstop named Ernie Banks win TWO consecutive National League MVPs in the late 1950's, I've finally determined Urias is my top LMB player for 2017.

For being such a tender age, Urias (whose 20-year-old brother Luis is the premier shortstop prospect in the Padres system) has completed his seventh year as a pro.  Ramon spent two years in the Dominican Summer League after signing with Texas as a 16-year-old free agent in November 2010 (batting .213 in 2011 and .268 in 2012) before landing with Mexico City in 2013.  After batting an even .300 in 12 sporadic appearances that year, Urias took over the Diablos' shortstop job in 2014 and hit .262 in the regular season before raking pitchers for a .393 average with a homer over nine games as the Diablos had the Liga's best regular-season record and swept their way through the playoffs for their 16th LMB pennant.  He hit .351 with 10 homers in 2015 and was at .301 in 2016 before a June 22 injury in a game against Carmen ended his season early.

As major league scouts have also likely noticed, Urias appears to have recovered nicely.

BBM MOST VALUABLE PLAYER WINNERS
Summer 2010    Willis Otanez, Puebla
Winter 2010-11   Justin Christian, Los Mochis
Summer 2011     Luis Terrero, Mexico City
Winter 2015-16   Christian Villanueva, Obregon
Summer 2016     Cesar Tapia, Puebla
Winter 2016-17   Hector Velazquez, Navojoa
Summer 2017     Ramon Urias, Mexico City