Monday, December 31, 2018

CANEROS WIN 2ND HALF; LMP PLAYOFFS OPEN TUESDAY

Los Mochis manager Victor Bojorquez
The Mexican Pacific League's 2018-19 regular season came to an end Sunday and while the second-half standings were tight at the top, Los Mochis won at Mexicali, 8-3, on the final day to hold off both Obregon and Hermosillo by a game to finish in first place and pick up the eight playoff points that go with the first slot, giving them an overall total of 11 points.  Culiacan, Mazatlan and Jalisco have also qualified for the postseason as all six teams will open first round play Tuesday night.

The Caneros scored six runs in Sunday's first inning and cruised to victory as manager Victor Bojorquez' squad completed a remarkable turnaround after coming in last in the first round with a 15-20 record.  Los Mochis stumbled out the second-half gate under dugout boss Ramon Orantes, who was fired with the club at 3-6.  Bojorquez is currently the Mexico City Diablos Rojos helmsman who has managed pennant winners in both the Northern Mexico and Mexican Winter leagues.  He reversed the Caneros' fortunes and led them to an 18-6 mark the rest of the way and bypassed Hermosillo at the top over the final week of the schedule.  Los Mochis will be looking for their first MexPac pennant since 2002-03 (and fourth overall since the team began playing in 1947) and while playoffs are by nature unpredictable, the Caneros are the hottest team in the circuit right now and the reinforcement draft addition of Jaime Lugo and Josh Outman will make a good pitching staff even better.

Defending champion Culiacan won the first-half title by going 21-14 and while the Tomateros finished fifth in the second stanza at 17-16, the 4.5 points they earned gives them 12.5 points overall for the top playoff seeding.  Obregon and Hermosillo were tied for second with 12.0 points but the Yaquis earned the nod for second seed by posting a 37-29 record for the entire season, best in the LMP, while the Naranjeros clocked in at 37-31.  Los Mochis tied Mazatlan with 11.0 points but the Caneros' 36-32 season record was two games better than the Venados, good enough to give them the fourth playoff seed while Mazatlan (who stumbled after manager Joe Alvarez left the team in first place early in the second half and was replaced at the helm by Juan Jose Pacho) takes the fifth.  Jalisco had an unremarkable season in going 32-35 overall and finishing with 8.5 points, but that was good enough to earn the Charros the sixth and final playoff seed by a point over Navojoa and Mexicali.  The Mayos will miss the postseason after reaching the finals last winter while the Aguilas, just two years removed from winning their fourth pennant, had the worst record in the MexPac 26-40 and never really showed signs of life over the course of the season.  Mexicali went through three managers over the eleven-week season (Felix Fermin currently holds that title) and one can expect major changes with the border team during the offseason.

The first round will open with three games Tuesday as Jalisco visits Culiacan, Mazatlan travels to Obregon and Los Mochis will play in Hermosillo.  Game Two will feature those matchups and venues Wednesday before a Thursday travel day precedes weekend action in Guadalajara, Mazatlan and Los Mochis.  As usual, the three series winners will move on to the semifinals along with the "lucky loser" team that wins the most first-round games in a losing effort.


LEYVA WINS PITCHING TRIPLE CROWN; PEGUERO COPS BATTING TITLE

Jalisco's Triple Crown pitcher Elian Leyva
He had to toss one inning on the regular season's final day and record a strikeout to do it, but Jalisco's Elian Leyva earned the Mexican Pacific League's pitching triple crown by either leading or tying for the lead in wins, strikeouts and ERA while registering the lowest WHIP in the circuit to boot.  But it didn't come easily.

The Cuban-born righty was held out to rest for the playoffs following a masterful December 22 performance in Culiacan (6.1IP, 1H, 0R, 10K), but after Mexicali's David Reyes struck out seven Obregon batters last Thursday to pass Leyva in whiffs, 67 to 66, Charros manager Roberto Vizcarra sent Leyva out to the mound against Mazatlan Sunday in Guadalajara.  Leyva struck out Venados leadoff hitter Justin Greene, whose two-strike foul tip was Jalisco's veteran catcher Erick Rodriguez to complete the K and match Reyes' total.  Leyva labored through the rest of the scoreless frame, throwing just nine strikes in 19 pitches, and was taken out of a game eventually won by Mazatlan, 3-1, but the 11,805 fans in the Estadio Charros stands still witnessed MexPac history.

Besides tying Reyes for the LMP strikeouts title, Leyva (who has been a reliever in seven previous Cuban National Series seasons and last summer in the Atlanta Braves system) had a 6-2 record to tie four other pitchers for the league lead in wins.  Los Mochis had two of them, Andres Avila and Jonathan Castellanos, while Hermosillo's Dennis O'Grady and Konner Wade of Mazatlan also recorded six wins.  The 29-year-old Leyva completed the Triple Crown by turning in a 2.02 ERA, well ahead of Culiacan's Manny Barreda (2.65), while his WHIP of 1.08 led in that category.  The Havana native also topped the loop with 14 games started, tying Javier Solano of Mexicali.  About the only positive pitching stat Leyva didn't lead in was saves, where third-generation MLB pitcher Casey Coleman picked up 22 salvados for Hermosillo to break Jose Silva's old team record of 21.  Navojoa setup man Jose Isidro Marquez, son of the Mexican League's all-time saves leader Isidro Marquez, led the LMP with 15 holds.

Jasson Atondo signing in Douglas, Arizona
Among batters, Hermosillo third baseman Jasson Atondo underwent a late-season cooldown during which he hit just .231 over his last ten games to just miss winning the batting title with a .351 average as teammate Francisco Peguero went 2-for-3 against Navojoa Sunday to sneak past Atondo for the batting title by finishing at .352. Peguero, who was the Mexican League's Fall MVP with Monclova, will play in Japan in 2019.  Although the 23-year-old Atondo has been a reserve infielder for four years with the LMB's Campeche Piratas, he had never made more than 53 plate appearances in any of three previous winters with the Naranjeros, technically making him a rookie in the MexPac.  Jalisco infielder Dariel Alvarez (a former Baltimore Oriole) hit four homers in a six-game stretch for the Charros to tie Navojoa's Jovan Rosa for the LMP longball title.  Alvarez also led with a .571 slugging percentage.  Yet another Charros player, Manny Rodriguez, was tops in RBIs with 52 in 66 games.  Rodriguez and Atondo tied for the league lead with 80 hits apiece.  Navojoa's Alonzo Harris led with 51 runs scored and swiped six bases in a nine-game stretch between December 19 and 28 to pull away with the steals title at 28, well ahead of the 20 by Culiacan outfielder Rico Noel.

Other offensive leaders included Mazatlan's Alex Liddi with 18 doubles while Venados teammate Edson Garcia whad four triples. Ramon Urias of Los Mochis led the tables with both a .432 on-base percentage and a .962 OPS percentage.


ROSA TAKEN FIRST BY CULIACAN IN REINFORCEMENT DRAFT
New Culiacan third baseman Jovan Rosa

Third baseman Jovan Rosa was the first player selected in the Mexican Pacific League reinforcement draft Sunday when the defending champion Culiacan Tomateros picked the LMP home run co-champion from the Navojoa Mayos, who were joined by the Mexicali Aguilas on the sidelines for January's playoffs.  Traditionally, teams still alive in the MexPac postseason choose two players from clubs who've been eliminated from contention after every playoff round.

The first three players taken Sunday were all plucked from the Mayos rosters.  Pitcher Jaime Lugo was the second selection by the Los Mochis Caneros while outfielder Alonzo Harris (the LMP runs and stolen bases leader) was taken by the Jalisco Charros with the third pick.  Two Mexicali players went next as relief pitcher Jake Sanchez went to the Hermosillo Naranjeros and second baseman Ramon Rios was selected by the Mazatlan Venados.  Navojoa first baseman Victor Mendoza's name was called by the Obregon Yaquis to round out the first round.

The Yaquis had the first pick of the second round as teams made their selections in reverse order, and Obregon took their second Mayos performer by calling for closer Jesus Pirela.  Mazatlan had the second pick of Round Two and took Mexicali outfielder Chris Roberson.  Aguilas middle reliever Michael Devine went to Hermosillo with the next selection, Mexicali catcher Xorge Carrillo was taken next by Jalisco, Los Mochis chose Navojoa pitcher Josh Outman and Culiacan rounded out the draft by selecting Mexicali starter David Reyes.

Two more reinforcement drafts will take place after the six-team first round and following the semifinals.  The LMP champion will have their pick of any player from the other seven teams to join them for the Caribbean Series, scheduled to take place in early February at Barquisimeto, Venezuela.

Monday, December 24, 2018

JALISCO'S LEYVA NEARS LMP PITCHING TRIPLE CROWN

Jalisco Charros MVP candidate Elian Leyva
With six games to go in the Mexican Pacific League regular season, Jalisco Charros pitcher Elian Leyva has put himself in position to win the LMP's pitching Triple Crown (or even Quadruple Crown, if you want to add WHIP to W, ERA and SO) after turning in a standout performance in Culiacan Saturday night.

The 29-year-old Cuban has been primarily a reliever in a career that dates back to 2007-08 when he was an 18-year-old with La Habana of the Cuban National Series, but Leyva's first regular work as a starter has turned into a breakout performance after he blanked the defending champion Tomateros over 6.1 innings, striking out ten Culiacan batsmen in a 2-0 Charros win.  A Braves farmhand who split last summer between AA Mississippi and AAA Gwinnett, the 6'2" righty allowed just a Joey Terdoslavich double in the third and a walk to Jose Guadalupe Chavez in the bottom of the seventh before being taken out by manager Roberto Vizcarra after tossing 86 pitches.  MLB free agent Sergio Romo contributed a 1-2-3 ninth to earn his fourth save as Stephen Cardullo's second-inning groundout scored Henry Urrutia with the only run the Horsemen would need.

Leyva's win gives him a 6-2 record for the season, giving him sole possession of the MexPac lead for victories with ten other pitchers tied at five wins apiece.  By blanking Culiacan, he lowered his ERA to 2.05, well ahead of Culiacan's Manny Barreda (Saturday's losing pitcher) and his 2.63 mark as it'll take a miracle of Biblical proportions for Leyva to NOT win the ERA title.  As well, those ten whiffs bring Leyva's winter total to 66, six ahead of second-place David Reyes of Mexicali.  And, for good measure, Leyva's 1.07 WHIP figure is .08 up on Barreda's 2.15.  He also leads LMP pitchers in starts (13) and is tied with Mexicali vet Javier Solano for tops in innings pitched at 74.2 frames each.  That Leyva has toiled for one of the LMP's less-robust teams makes those numbers more impressive, although in fairness, the Charros are one of five teams three games apart on top the MexPac's second-half standings.  Pitchers don't often enter into MVP talks but when you have someone who could lead his league in six categories, including the Triple Crown, Leyva HAS to be in the conversation.

As mentioned, Jalisco is fighting desperately for a playoff berth after only collecting 3.5 points in the first half.  Hermosillo continues to top the second-half table at 15-8.  The Charros are second at 13-9 while Obregon (12-9) and Los Mochis (13-10) sit two games behind the leaders, one game ahead of fifth-place Culiacan (12-11).  Navojoa (9-14), Mazatlan (9-14) and Mexicali (7-15) round out the standings.  Culiacan and Mazatlan virtually assured themselves of playoff berths by finishing 1-2 in the first half and both Hermosillo and Obregon appear to be on their way to more games in January, leaving the two remaining postseason slots up for grabs among four teams.

Hermosillo infielder Jasson Atondo leads the LMP with a .357 batting average and is a virtual lock for Rookie of the Year.  Second at .351 is Atondo's teammate Francisco Peguero, the LMB's Fall MVP and bound for Japan after recently signing with the Chiba Lotte Marines for 2019.  Navojoa's Jovan Rosa leads the loop with 14 homers, one more than Jalisco's Manny Rodriguez, after going deep in Los Mochis Sunday night.  Rodriguez, another MVP candidate, is hitting .323 and has 50 RBIs, eight more than Rosa's 42.  Navojoa second baseman Alonzo Harris stole three bases in four games last week to go to 25 swipes on the winter and now leads Culiacan's Rico Noel by ten steals.

There IS an LMB pitching leader not named Elian Leyva.  Culiacan's Casey Coleman, grandson of Joe and son of Joe Junior (both former MLB All-Star pitchers), picked up just one save last week to bring his season total to 21, still good enough for a six-save bulge over his nearest competitor, Mexicali's Jake Sanchez.  Navojoa hometown boy Jose Isidro Marquez, son of longtime reliever Isidro Marquez, leads in the oft-forgotten category of holds with 13 despite getting lit up for two runs in a third of an inning Saturday in Los Mochis.  The younger Marquez' ERA is still a solid 2.08 because he'd only given up three earned runs over his previous 27 outings for the Mayos.


ACAYUCAN WINS LIV REGULAR SEASON CROWN, PLAYOFFS BEGIN

Past LIV bat champ Rigoberto Armenta
The Acayucan Tobis won 18 of their 21 regular season games to finish first in the reborn Veracruz Winter League's regular season, earning the top berth in the LIV's four-team playoff.  The 18-3 Tobis came in three-and-a-half games ahead of 14-6 Cordoba.  The Xalapa Chileros finished 13-7 to place one game behind the Cafeteleros in third place while the 8-12 Jaltex Astros outlasted the 8-13 Veracruz Rojos for the fourth and final postseason berth.  Bringing up the rear of the six-team LIV, considered a Class AA winter circuit within Mexico's baseball framework, were the hapless Ursula Galvan Caneros, who lost all 20 of their games after batting .191 as a team in support of a pitching staff that turned in a collective 7.12 ERA.  The Caneros were outscored 175 runs to 41 for the season, or an average score of 8.75-2.05 per contest.

The Tobis were champions last winter of the Veracruz State Baseball League and represented Mexico at the Latin American Series in Managua, Nicaragua, falling to the host Chinandega Tigres in the title game.  After the original LIV suspended operations following the 2015-16 season, ex-Brewers pitcher Narciso Elvira formed the LBEV to fill the void by stocking its teams with young prospects from within Veracruz playing weekends (10 games the first season, 12 games last season).  The LBEV struggled through two winters before giving way to the newly-reconstituted LIV this season.  Many Mexican League veterans (including ex-Pirates prospect Rogelio Noris, Yancarlo Angulo and Marco Quevedo) are presently wintering in Veracruz, where the weekend-only schedule was carried over, but youngsters still dominate the rosters.

Cordoba's Jose Luis Felix had a standout year at the plate, batting .478 over 19 games to easily win the batting title while Acayucan's Rigoberto Armenta was tops with eight homers and 21 RBIs.  The Obregon-born Armenta was the LIV's 2014-15 batting champion with the Santa Rosa Gallos.  Angel Araiza of Acayucan led all pitchers with six wins and Tobis moundmate Ivan Zavala was given the LIV's ERA title with a flawless 0.00 ERA despite starting once and pitching 17 innings over Acayucan's 21 games.  Xalapa hurler Eduard Reyes' 32 strikeouts in 29.2 innings led the circuit.  One interesting player is outfielder Yusuke Inoguchi, who hit .333 over eight games for luckless Ursula Galvan before being traded to Veracruz (.417 in six contests for the Rojos) and finally landing in Acayucan (.333 in six games) for a season average of .365 to finish fourth in the LIV.  The 33-year-old Inoguchi, who's played ten years of independent ball in Japan and two more the USA with the American Association's Sioux Falls Canaries in 2012 and 2013 (batting .287 and .281), has said he'd consider playing next year in the Mexican League if offered a contract.

Acayucan team president Regina Vazquez Saut began the current season as league president before stepping down and being replaced at the helm by older sister Fabiola Vazquez Saut.  Both are prominent politicians with the Industrial Revolution Party (or PRI) who have represented Veracruz in the Mexican Congress.  The best-of-three LIV semifinals were slated to open last weekend as Acayucan was matched up against Jaltex and Cordoba took on Xalapa.  The winners will meet January 5 for the first game of a best-of-five championship series.  The Latin American Series is set for Parque "Beto" Avila in Veracruz, beginning January 26.  Champions from the four traditional LAS winterball pennant-winners from Mexico, Colombia, Nicaragua and Panama are being joined by Curacao Winter League champions Santa Maria Piratas and Argentine Baseball League title-winners Cordoba Condores.


MONTERREY COPS ACADEMY ROOKIE LEAGUE PENNANT

Monterrey's Academy Rookie League champs
A team of Monterrey Sultanes prospects won the Academy Rookie League championships this fall at the Mexican League Baseball Academy in El Carmen, Nuevo Leon, a suburb of Monterrey.  The Sultanes were one of six teams in the circuit and the only member to not have players provided by two LMB clubs.  Statistics were only provided through games of November 27, when the Sultanes were 19-2-9 (ties are declared after nine innings) to stand two-and-a-half games in front of second-place Yucatan-Laguna, who were 17-13-1 at the time.

According to the LMB Academy's website, Monterrey clinched the title on December 3 after topping Yucatan-Laguna, 3-1, as Alejandro Delgado tripled and later scored on a Jimmy Chavez sacrifice fly to break a 1-all tie in the sixth inning. Delgado stroked another triple and went on to score the game's final run on a Kevin Herrera single late in the match.  After an on-field celebration, Sultanes manager Ruben Estrada credited his first-year players with turning their season around after losing the first five games of the season.

The Sultanes rookies had marked another landmark event the previous week when starting pitcher Luis Martinez and four relievers combined on a 1-0 no-hit win over Mexico City-Oaxaca on November 28 in a contest during which Hector Delgado's fourth-inning solo homer provided the only score all afternoon.

The academy was the brainchild of the late former Mexico City Tigres owner and Salon de la Fama member Alejo Peralta and was officially opened March 25, 1996.  Since then, the facility has served as both home and training ground for thousands of young Mexican ballplayers seeking to play Major League Baseball or in the LMB.  Among the future big leaguers to cut their teeth at the Academia are Houston closer Roberto Osuna, Oakland reliever Joakim Soria, former Yankees infielder Ramiro Pena.  Longtime Sultanes shortstop Heber Gomez (retired from the LMB but sixth in the Veracruz Winter League this winter with a .338 batting average for Acayucan) was a member of the first group of players gathered in El Carmen while star slugger Japhet Amador started his pro career as a teen at the Academia.

Monday, December 17, 2018

REVERSAL: LIGA BACK TO 16 TEAMS FOR 2019 SEASON

Aguascalientes' Parque Alberto Romo Chavez
In a reversal of their decision at an Assembly of Presidents meeting last month in Morelia, the Mexican League has reinstated all four franchised it had previously determined would take next season off.  As a result, the Aguascalientes Rieleros, Union Laguna Algodoneros, Leon Bravos and Puebla Pericos will be back on the playing field in 2019.  The LMB made the announcement during last week's Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, where the Liga also limited each team to seven foreign players each.

The return to a 16-team circuit does not come without complications.  The Rieleros are essentially broke, but arrangements have been made to have the state government subsidize the team.  According to Proceso's Beatriz Pereyra, team president Eustacio Alvarez says that Aguascalientes governor  Martin Orozco has committed the state to spend 17 million pesos (US$840,010) per year to help operate the Railroaders and promised to break ground on a new 10,000-seat ballpark at the end of the 2019 season. The latter will be a welcome replacement for 80-year-old Parque Alberto Romo Chavez, a 6,494-seater that will be demolished in September, but one more government-sponsored team (Saltillo and Tabasco are others) can't provide good optics for a Class AAA league.

In the case of the Algodoneros, brothers Erick and Juan Jose Arellano wanted the franchise put on ice after they couldn't find a buyer for the Torreon-based team.  The Arellanos also own the Yucatan Leones and wanted to concentrate all their attention and resources toward their Merida club, but were somehow convinced to carry on for another year in the Laguna region.  The brothers earned the enmity of local fans in 2017 after they included MVP candidate Ricky Alvarez (who was leading Laguna to a potential playoff berth) in a seven-player swap to Yucatan meant to strengthen the Leones for what would turn out to be a short postseason run.  In the wake of the deal, the then-Vaqueros plummeted both in the standings and at the gate (as some fans boycotted the team in protest) and the franchise has struggled ever since.

Puebla owner Gerardo Benavides, who also owns the Monclova Acereros, likewise wanted the Pericos shut down next year after months of unsuccessfully trying to sell the club for a reported asking price of 55 to 60 million pesos (US$2.7-3.0 million).  A buyer reportedly showed up after the Pericos had closed shop and made an offer Benavides found acceptable.  Puro Beisbol editor Fernando Ballesteros describes new Pericos owner Jose "Pepe" Miguel as "a Mexican entrepreneur who saw his fortune grown the last three years during the administration of president Enrique Pena Nieto, with whom he played golf, according to El Universal columnist Salvador Garcia Soto."

The most stable of the four teams may be Leon, where Grupo Multimedios bought approximately half the Bravos from owners Arturo Blanco and Mauricio Martinez, whose time with the franchise dates back to its inglorious demise in Reynosa. Grupo Multimedios also owns half of the current Liga champion Monterrey Sultanes and the media conglomerate is expected to pump some resources into the Bravos, although there is no doubt concern that Leon will be a de facto reserve squad for the Sultanes the way the Algodoneros have been for the Leones and the Oaxaca Guerreros function for the Mexico City Diablos Rojos (the sale of the Pericos dissolves a similar Puebla-Monclova shuttle). Syndicate ownership is not allowed in Major League Baseball but permissible south of the border.

The four teams will need to find managers.  Union Laguna is definitely in the hunt for a new dugout boss after Ramon Orantes, who led the Algodoneros to a last-place finish in the LMB North for the Fall 2018 season, has signed to pilot the Tabasco Olmecas, who finished last in the LMB South (that transition should be seamless).  Liga rights to dozens of players have reverted to their original teams, although the Bravos had been allowed to auction some off to other clubs in order to pay off outstanding debts.  All this with training camps less than three months away from opening.

Both Pereyra and Ballesteros (among other baseball writers) cite the influence of incoming Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador as a major factor in the return of the four LMB teams to the playing field.  The so-called "AMLO" is a staunch baseball fan who reportedly brokered both deals involving the Aguascalientes and Puebla teams and has called for a return of the Mexican Pacific League to Guasave (which lost its LMP team to Guadalajara in 2014).

Other LMB announcements at the Winter Meeting involved introducing Mazatlan businessman Alfredo Aramburo as the new owner of the Durango Generales, setting the limit of foreign players per team in 2019 to seven apiece and the awarding of the 2021 All-Star Game to Laredo, Texas.  Next year's All-Star Game is slated for Mexico City while the 2020 midsummer classic had already been awarded to Monclova.


HERMOSILLO TAKES NARROW LEAD IN MEXPAC STANDINGS

Hermosillo Naranjeros pitcher Dennis O'Grady
Hermosillo scored three runs on four consecutive two-out hits in the top of the first inning and never looked back as the visiting Naranjeros went on to clobber host Mazatlan, 6-1, Sunday in front of 7,900 onlookers at Estadio Teodoro Mariscal.  The win pushed the Orangemen into sole possession of first place in the Mexican Pacific League's second half with a 14-7 record, one game ahead of Obregon (12-7), whose home game against third-place Jalisco (12-8) was rained out.

All the damage in the first frame was done to Venados starter Daniel Guerrero, who was two strikes away from a 1-2-3 inning when he gave up a single to Francisco Peguero, followed by a Domonic Brown triple that scored Peguero, a Dustin Geiger single that brought in Brown and Fernando Perez' two-bagger scored Geiger (who had scampered to second on a Guerrero wild pitch). Hermosillo took a 4-0 lead with one run in the second when Sergio Burruel singled in Cesar Salazar before tacking on a pair of tallies in the third as Jose Cardona doubled in Brown, then crossed the plate on a Salazar line single up the middle to make it a 6-0 Naranjeros advantage.

Mazatlan finally scored in the bottom of the sixth when Justin Greene singled home fellow greyhound Jeremias Pineda (could you imagine any fly ball falling between those two in the outfield?), but the contest was well in hand by then. Naranjeros starter Dennis O'Grady, a former Padres farmhand who was 8-4 last summer for Long Island of the indy Atlantic League, won his fourth game in five decisions after tossing seven innings of one-run ball, allowing two hits and striking out nine.

The Venados dropped into a fifth-place tie with Navojoa at 8-13, three games behind Los Mochis and Culiacan (both teams are tied for fourth at 11-10 after the Caneros clobbered the defending champs, 7-2, Sunday as Esteban Quiroz belted a two-run homer.  Mexicali owns the cellar with a 6-14 mark after losing seven of their last ten games, including a 7-3 home Sunday loss to Navojoa as Jorge Flores went 3-for-5 with five RBIs for the Mayos, including a three-run homer in the opening inning off Javier Solano.

Hermosillo will open the week by defending their top position on the table with a three-game road series against Jalisco in Guadalajara while Obregon will open a home set with los Mochis Tuesday.  Looking ahead, the biggest series next weekend may be in Culiacan, where the Tomateros will welcome Jalisco.

MEXICAN PACIFIC LEAGUE Standings as of December 16
Hermosillo 14-7, Obregon 12-7, Jalisco 12-8, Culiacan 11-10, Los Mochis 11-10, Mazatlan 8-13, Navojoa 8-13, Mexicali 6-14.
LMP HITTING LEADERS
Batting Average: Jasson Atondo, Hermosillo (.372)
On-base Percentage: Ramon Urias, Los Mochis (.432)
Slugging Percentage: Jovan Rosa, Navojoa (.576)
Runs Scored: Alonzo Harris, Navojoa (42)
Home Runs: Jovan Rosa, Navojoa (13)
Runs Batted In: Manny Rodriguez, Jalisco (46)
Stolen Bases: Alonzo Harris, Navojoa (22)
LMP PITCHING LEADERS
Earned Run Average: Elian Leyva, Jalisco (2.24)
Walks+Hits per 9 Innings: Manny Barreda, Culiacan (1.13)
Wins: Manny Barreda, Culiacan; Elian Leyva, Jalisco; Jaime Lugo, Navojoa; Juan Pablo Oramas, Hermosillo; Jose Samayao, Hermosillo; Konner Wade, Mazatlan  (5)
Shutouts: Orlando Lara, Jalisco (1)
Strikeouts: Elian Leyva, Jalisco (56)
Saves: Casey Coleman, Culiacan (20)
Holds: Jose Isidro Marquez, Navojoa (13)


MEXICAN NATIONALS TO PLAY TWO IN JAPAN NEXT MARCH

Edgar Gonzalez, umpire discuss the weather
The Mexican National Team will travel to Japan next year for a pair of games against their Japanese counterparts from Nippon Professional Baseball.  The ENEOS Samurai Japan Series will be played March 9 and 10 in Osaka at the 36,500-seat Kyocera Dome, part-time home of the Pacific League Orix Buffaloes, who have split their games between Osaka and the Kobe Sports Park Baseball Stadium since the 2005 merger between the Kintetsu Buffaloes (former team in Hideo Nomo) and the Orix Buffaloes (who employed future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki for nine seasons).

The two-game set is sanctioned by the governing World Baseball Softball Confederation, which was established in 2013 after the merger of the International Baseball Federation and the International Softball Federation.  The WBSC has 208 National Federation members in 141 countries and is based in Switzerland.  The organization oversees all international competitions involving national teams, including the Olympics, and has organized an event called the Premier 12, a tournament held every four years between national teams from the top 12 ranked nations in baseball.  Host Japan defeated Mexico, 11-1, in the third-place game in the inaugural Premier 12 in 2015 as Juan Perez' solo homer in the sixth inning provided the lone Verdes Grande run.  The event was won by South Korea, who shut out the United States, 8-0, in the title game.

The 2019 Premier 12 will be held in Japan and South Korea next year as a qualifier for the 2020 Olympics.  Japan is currently ranked second in the world behind the USA while Mexico is sixth, behind third-place South Korea, Cuba ranking fourth and Taiwan in fifth.

The Mexican National Team manager has been former big league infielder Edgar Gonzalez, older brother of five-time All-Star first baseman Adrian.  Gonzalez (whose father David once played for the National squad) represented Mexico as a second baseman in both the 2009 and 2013 World Baseball Classics and managed his fatherland in last year's WBC.  He was recently appointed by incoming Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador as the country's National Baseball Coordinator.  While the position does not include running the FEMEBE national baseball federation, it will involve overseeing dozens of academies throughout Mexico and the assembly of national teams for all international competitions.

The choice of the San Diego native is an interesting one, given that a baseball academy his family operated outside the southern California city was once embroiled in a lawsuit with the Mexican League over the right to represent prospects at their privately-owned academy in negotiations with Major League Baseball organizations.

Monday, December 10, 2018

VENADOS-UTILITY DISPUTE: STANDS EMPTY TWO GAMES

A disagreement between the Mexican Pacific League Mazatlan Venados and a government utility led to drinking water and drainage being shut off to Estadio Teodoro Mariscal and fans being denied entry to multiple games. Two Venados home games ended up being played in an empty ballpark, causing the team to lose revenue at the gate, concessions stands and merchandise shops at the newly-renovated facility, which now holds 16,000 patrons (an expansion of two thousand seats).

As mentioned last week, the first non-public game was played Friday, November 30 when visiting Mexicali topped the Venados, 7-5.  According to Mazatlan's Debate', city staffers were placing closure seals on box office windows at the conclusion of the previous Sunday's series-ending game against Los Mochis.  The City reportedly discovered three clandestine water outlets on the outskirts of the stadium while Debate' scribe Luis Motta said the team owed the state-owned Jumapam utility 12.9 million pesos, which translates to about 636 thousand U.S. dollars.  Water service to and from Teodoro Mariscal was subsequently turned off.

The impasse carried into the first weekend of December, when fans were turned away at the gate for Friday's first game of the Mexicali series.  It appeared the dispute had been settle when water service was restored and the stands reopened for the final two contests of the three-game set (which drew crowds of 7,764 and 8,923).  However, things apparently weren't settled after all and the first game of a midweek home series with Jalisco last Tuesday was played with no water, closed gates and empty stands.  Things were back to normal one night later as 4,926 people cautiously came to that night's game and the following Thursday there were 8,029 aficionados on hand.

The Venados were in Los Mochis over the past weekend and will be on the road in Navojoa Tuesday through Thursday before opening a home series with Hermosillo on Friday.  BBM is not aware if the dispute has been resolved, but it is never wise to play chicken with people wearing government badges and holding clipboards.


BOJORQUEZ REPLACES ORANTES AT HELM IN LOS MOCHIS


Ramon Orantes having his Caneros jersey retired
Former Mexico City Diablos Rojos star outfielder Victor Bojorquez is the new manager in Los Mochis after the Caneros fired Ramon Orantes last week.  A Caneros legend as a player whose number 24 was retired two years ago, Orantes becomes the fifth of eight Mexican Pacific League managers to either be fired or quit less than two months into the current 11-week season.

Los Mochis went 15-20 in the first half to come in tied for seventh with Jalisco and picked up 3.5 playoff point, then started the second half 3-6 when Orantes was dismissed December 3 following a three-game sweep at the hand of the Hermosillo Naranjeros.  Although he was a beloved Caneros player, the former corner infielder will probably best be remember as a Los Mochis skipper by losing a combined 18 consecutive regular games between the end of last winter's schedule and the opening of the current campaign.  Appointed dugout boss on November 17 last year after Luis Sojo was fired, the 45-year-old Orantes (who was canned two days before his birthday) went 25-58 during his tenure with the team.

The Baja California Sur native has also been looking for a summer job since the Mexican League announced the Union Laguna team he'd been managing would suspend play in 2019.  One potential LMB landing spot is Villahermosa, where Tabasco Hoy says Orantes is a prime candidate to manage the Tabasco Olmecas next year.  New team president Juan Carlos Manzur is seeking a replacement for Eddie Castro, who led the Olmecas to a 20-35 Fall record that was the second-worst in the Liga.  The worst?  Orantes' Algodoneros went 18-39.

Like the man he replaced, Victor Bojorquez had a long playing career with the Caneros, roaming the outfield for 13 winters in Los Mochis.  Known as "El Flamingo" during his active days, the 43-year-old Bojorquez spent 16 of his 17 Mexican League summers with Mexico City before retiring after the 2012 season.  He then went into coaching and managing, leading the Diablos' Ensenada affiliate to the AA Liga Norte championship before being named Mexico City manager this year.  Bojorquez led the big team to a 67-43 overall record in 2018, with two second-place finishes and one semifinal berth in the LMB South.

The Caneros have won their first six games under Bojorquez, including a midweek sweep in Navojoa and a three-game skunking of Mazatlan at home over the weekend.

LMP Second Half Standings
Hermosillo 11-4, Obregon 9-5, Jalisco 9-6, Los Mochis 9-6, Culiacan 7-8, Mexicali 5-9, Mazatlan 5-10, Navojoa 4-11
LMP Hitting Leaders
BATTING: Jasson Atondo, Hermosillo (.377)
ON-BASE PERCENTAGE: Ramon Urias, Los Mochis (.432)
SLUGGING PERCENTAGE: Jovan Rosa, Navojoa (.626)
HOMERS: Jovan Rosa, Navojoa (13)
RUNS BATTED IN: Manny Rodriguez, Jalisco (42)
STOLEN BASES: Alonzo Harris, Navojoa (22)
LMP Pitching Leaders
WINS: Jose Samayoa, Hermosillo; Konner Wade, Mazatlan (5)
STRIKEOUTS: Elian Leyva, Jalisco (52)
SAVES: Casey Coleman, Culiacan (17)
HOLDS: Jose Isidro Marquez, Navojoa (11)
EARNED RUN AVERAGE: Elian Leyva, Jalisco (2.01)
WALKS+HITS PER INNING: Elian Leyva, Navojoa (1.12)


LLWS CHAMPION, EX-MLBer BOBBY TREVINO DEAD AT 70


A member of Monterrey's 1958 Little League World Series champions who went on to play Major League Baseball eleven years later has died at his home in Monterrey on December 5.  Carlos "Bobby" Trevino was 73.

Along with another future big leaguer, shortstop Hector Torres, Trevino was a catcher for the Monterrey team that outscored opponents by a 32-5 margin over three games to bring Mexico its second straight LLWS title in a tournament that featured another pair of MLBers-to-be, pitcher Rick Wise and outfielder Keith Lampard, who both played for Portland, Oregon.  Trevino made his professional debut six years later in 1964, when the 18-year-old (by then an outfielder) spent most of the season with San Luis Potosi of the Class A Mexican Center League and played three games with the Mexico City Diablos Rojos.  Trevino then hit .301 and .336 for the Diablos before his contract was sold to the California Angels following a 1966 Mexican League season during which he stole home in the All-Star Game.

Assigned by the Angels to Seattle of the AAA Pacific Coast League, the 6'2" Trevino struggled to an .077 average over 13 games before the Angels dropped him to El Paso of the AA Texas League.  He righted himself to bat .268 in 100 games for the Suns in 1967.  The following year saw Trevino again overmatched by PCL pitching with Seattle, batting .199 with two homers in 55 contests before another demotion to El Paso (.311/3/23 in 34 games).  Still, when California centerfielder Jay Johnstone was hurt early that season, Trevino was called up to the Angels and on May 22, 1968, he became the 17th Mexican-born player to debut in MLB by grounding out against Boston's Gary Bell when manager Bill Rigney sent his in as a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning.  He went on to hit .225 in 17 games for the Halos in what would be his lone appearance in the bigs before being sent down to the minors in early July.

After spending all of 1969 in El Paso (.314/6/92), starting the season with a record-tying 37-game hitting streak and winning the Texas League MVP award, the Angels sold Trevino back to the Diablos prior to the 1970 season and he would never play north of the border again.  Trevino played for Mexico City through 1972 and spent three more years with Union Laguna before bouncing around a bit, playing for six teams (Nuevo Laredo twice) over his final four years before retiring at age 33.  He hit .283 in 13 LMB seasons between 1964 and 1979 with 70 homers and 608 RBIs.  Trevino's best year was 1972, when he hit .299 with 17 homers and 86 RBIs for Mexico City.

He spent 14 winters in the Mexican Pacific League between 1964 and 1978, batting .269 with 63 homers for four teams, mostly Navojoa and Los Mochis.  On December 31, 1968, he became the first LMP player to hit three homers in one game when he turned the trick for Los Mochis against Obregon at the Yaquis' old Estadio Alvaro Obregon.

Trevino also had managerial stints with three teams between 1977 and 1980, going a combined 154-226 as helmsman in Tabasco, Tampico and Toluca.  His younger brother Alex played 939 games over 13 MLB seasons as a backup catcher with six teams.  Following his retirement, Trevino played recreational baseball and softball and worked as a driver for 28 years in Monterrey.  He battled lupus for a year until he died.

Monday, December 3, 2018

FERMIN NAMED AGUILAS' THIRD SKIPPER IN A MONTH

Felix Fermin looking over his shoulder
The Mexicali Aguilas are on their third manager in a month's time as the Mexican Pacific League fired Juan Castro and replaced him with veteran skipper Felix Fermin.  The move was announced last Friday, just hours before the Aguilas played a game with no fans occupying the stands in Mazatlan (more on that in three paragraphs).

The Aguilas opened the season with former Yankees infielder Luis Sojo as their new manager after Pedro Mere was fired following last season, but Sojo only lasted 16 games before he was canned November 1 with a 7-9 first-half record and replaced by Castro.  The former Dodgers coach, who himself has survived a 2018 for the books (if the book was written by Robert Ripley or maybe Lewis Carroll), lasted exactly four weeks before feeling the axe.  After guiding Mexicali to a 10-7 record the rest of the first half to finish with a fifth-place tie and 4.5 playoff points, Castro was let go when the Aguilas won just two of their first six games of the second stanza to end his term in Mexicali with a 12-12 overall mark.

The former MLB shortstop has a more extensive Mexican League managerial record (with stops in Monterrey, Carmen and Dos Laredos) than the MexPac, but his winterball work in his native Dominican Republic has been impressive.  Fermin has led the Cibaenas Agilas to five Liga Dominica championships and won Caribbean Series titles in 2001, 2003 and 2007.

Jose Angel Chavez managed the Aguilas on an interim basis during their weekend in Mazatlan as Fermin planned to meet his new team in the border city Monday, a day before opening a home series with Obregon.  Mexicali's (and Chavez')  first game against the Venados on Friday night was played without anyone in the stands.  The City of Mazatlan ordered the ballpark closed to the public because of the renovated facility's lack of water and drainage.  Both were shut off early last week because of a reported 3 million peso debt owed by the Venados to state-owned Jumapam, which provides water service to the 16,000-seat venue. 

Thus, on a night in which the other three LMP games each drew over 10,000 spectators, a few warm bodies were in the Teodoro Mariscal grandstand as the Venados lost a 7-5 tilt to Mexicali as Francisco Cordoba socked a homer for the visitors.  The impasse between team and city was resolved over the next day and the ballpark was opened back up with restored  water service in time for Saturday's game, when 7,764 fans watched their Venados top Mexicali, 10-3, with Mitch Lively getting the win to go to 3-1 and Walter Silva relieving (!) the last three innings to earn the save, the three-time All-Star's first since 2003 when he was pitching for Reynosa in the Mexican League (and the first of his 13 seasons of winterball).

Mazatlan won Sunday's game as well to bring their second-half record to 4-5, two games behind defending champion Culiacan, Hermosillo and Obregon, who are all tied for first at 6-3.  Jalisco is fourth with a 5-4 mark while Mexicali, Navojoa and Los Mochis are tied for sixth with 3-6 ledgers.  Obregon had held sole possession of first until dropping a 9-2 home decision to Navojoa Sunday as the Mayos' Jovan Rosa went 4-for-4 with a double, two runs and two RBIs and starter Ruddy Acosta carried a shutout into the ninth inning.  Pablo Ortega, who announced his retirement after 23 years as a pro after the LMB Fall season and took a pitching coach job with the Yaquis under manager Oscar Robles, pitched three scoreless innings of relief for Obregon after starter Nate Reed was knocked out of the box by giving up six runs in three frames.  Culiacan and Hermosillo won their games Sunday to pull into the three-way logjam at the top of the standings. 

LMP STANDINGS (Second Half): Culiacan 6-3, Hermosillo 6-3, Obregon 6-3, Jalisco 5-4, Mazatlan 4-5, Mexicali 3-6, Los Mochis 3-6, Navojoa 3-6. 
LMP BATTING LEADERS
Batting: Jasson Atondo, Hermosillo (.375), Homers: Jovan Rosa, Navojoa (10), Runs Batted In: Manny Rodriguez, Jalisco (38), Stolen Bases: Alonzo Harris, Navojoa (20).
LMP PITCHING LEADERS
Wins: Konner Wade, Mazatlan (5-1), Earned-Run Average: Elian Leyva, Jalisco (1.99), Strikeouts: Javier Solano, Mexicali (44), Saves: Casey Coleman, Culiacan (17).


MICHOACAN GOVERNOR WANTS LMB TEAM IN MORELIA

Morelia's 3,000-seat Estadio Francisco Villa
During last month's Mexican League Assembly of Presidents meeting held in Morelia, Michoacan governor Silvano Aureoles said he would like to see a Mexican League team in his state's capital and largest city.

At first blush, Morelia might seem like a place with decent potential as an LMB market.  A city of 784,776 with deep colonial roots, Morelia has a temperate climate with average daily high temperatures ranging from the upper 70's to mid 80's during baseball season.  The Monarcas Liga MX soccer team is very popular locally, with attendance averaging just under 30,000 per match in last spring's Clausura tournament to rank seventh in the 18-team circuit.  And the governor promised a renovated ballpark for a Mexican League to play in when the time came.  All to the good.

On the other hand, Morelia experiences a rainy season between June and September that brings 5 to 8 inches of the wet stuff monthly.  Unlike soccer, baseball has never been a prominent sport in Michoacan, with 1966 Class A Mexican Central League Tigres representing the city's lone run in organized ball; the 59-79 Tigres drew fewer than 24,000 fans to 69 home game and slunk into oblivion.  Then there's Estadio Francisco Villa, a ballpark built in 1964 with seating for 3,000 in concrete stands that have never been renovated.  Governor Aureoles claimed between 12 and 15 million pesos (approximately 6-8 million US dollars) would be allocated by the state towards stadium upgrades, but that amount may pale in comparison to what will actually be needed to bring a relic to respectability.

While one Puro Beisbol columnist described the Assembly as being "embarrassed" while the subject of Liga baseball in Morelia was being broached, LMB president Javier Salinas seemed enthused by the notion, albeit on a more practical level.  Salinas said that if their ballpark was fixed up, Morelia could see the development of a baseball academy, exhibition games involving Liga clubs or the Mexican National Team and a franchise in the Mexican Winter League, but "we need entrepreneurs to invest."  According to Salinas, the LIM is taking this winter off for restructuring.  "It was a league that was working, but not as we wanted, nor with the standards that Major League Baseball demands, so this year we decided to interrupt it to reorganize and give it more continuity next year."

For his part, Aureoles said he had been in discussions with Assembly chair Gerardo Benavides (owner of both the Monclova Acereros and the now-dormant Puebla Pericos) about purchasing an existing LMB team to bring to Morelia, perhaps the Pericos themselves.  Benavides has put the Puebla franchise up for sale the past several months, asking 50 to 55 million pesos ($2.6-2.9 million in US dollars) but finding no takers.  According to Proceso's Beatriz Pereyra, Aureoles called purchasing the 2016 champion Pericos "an option.  I would be delighted if Gerardo thought of selling the team to Michoacan," adding that entrepreneurs would be needed to "guarantee" the franchise would last in Morelia.  Benavides did not deny the two sides had been in talks.  Referring to his own difficulties in owning teams in both Puebla and his hometown of Monclova, Benavides said, "The only thing I ask is for people to be from here so they have room to maneuver and be successful."

"There is one thing we all need to understand: Owners must live in that city."


VILLANUEVA SIGNS WITH JAPANESE TEAM, LEAVES YAQUIS

Christian Villanueva: The newest Yomiuri Giant
After cracking 20 homers as a rookie for San Diego in 2018, Mexico-born third baseman Christian Villanueva will be playing in Japan next year.  After designating him for assignment, the Padres sold Villanueva's contract to Toyko's Yomiuri Giants, who then signed the 27-year-old Guadalajara native for one year at a reported $2 million (including a signing bonus).  Winners of 36 Central League pennants and 22 Japan Series since their 1936 inception, the Giants finished third in NPB's Central League this year with a 67-71 record.  Former Brewers infielder Casey McGehee and onetime Dodgers outfielder Alex Guerrero were the team's two foreign position players last summer.

Villanueva played in both the Cubs and Rangers systems before signing with the Padres as a free agent prior to the 2017 season.  Playing for El Paso in the AAA Pacific Coast League, he hit .296 with 20 homers and 86 RBIs in 109 games before being called up to San Diego.  After going 0-for-3 his first two games, Villanueva cracked four homers over his next seven contests and finished his September call-up with a .344 average and seven RBIs over 12 games.

Villanueva followed up his late-season debut with a strong start to the 2018 season for the Padres, hitting .321 with eight homers in April alone, but cooled off considerably over the next three months before a strong August brought his numbers up until a fractured finger in an August 21 game against the Rockies ended his season.  He hit .236 over 110 games for the Friars (including a sizzling .336 against lefties), with 15 doubles, 20 homers and 46 RBIs, striking out 104 times in 384 plate appearances.  The 5'11", 210-pounder was sometimes shaky in the hot corner, committing 12 errors at third over 96 contests to finish with a .948 fielding percentage.

After playing five winters in Obregon (including a breakout 2015-16 campaign during which he hit .322 with 9 homers for the Yaquis in 64 games), Villanueva sat out last season but returned to the Cajeme club this winter to rehab his finger while his status was being worked out.  He was batting .227 with three homers in eleven games when the Japan deal was made, doubling and walking against Navojoa last Friday in his last home game for the Yaquis.

Monday, November 26, 2018

CULIACAN WINS FIRST-HALF TITLE, 8 PLAYOFF POINTS

Culiacan Tomateros manager Robinson Cancel
Although defending Mexican Pacific League champion Culiacan lost their final game of the first half, 5-3, at Hermosillo last Thursday, the Tomateros had already clinched first place and the accompanying eight playoff points by then.  The defeat gave Culiacan a final record of 21-14 for the half, three games ahead of Hermosillo, Mazatlan and Obregon (who all finished 18-17) while Mexicali and Navojoa tied for fifth at 17-17.  Los Mochis and Jalisco were tied for seventh with 15-20 marks to round out the standings.

The first-half crown marked a turnaround of sorts for the Tomateros, who were 8-10 when first-year manager Lorenzo Bundy was fired on November 3.  Bundy, a Philadelphia native whose long winterball career has seen him manage almost every MexPac franchise (including a long stint in Hermosillo prior to this season), never really got into a groove with his new team and was replaced by former MLB catcher Robinson Cancel, who led Culiacan to a 13-4 record the rest of the way.  Cancel was joined in the dugout by one-time Padres infielder Oscar Robles, who was jettisoned as Obregon skipper on October 24 and later hired by the Tomateros as a coach.  

Even though the first six weeks of their season was certainly a success, the Tomateros haven't been resting on their laurels.  The late-ending Mexican League season led to the LMP expanding the number of foreign players allowed per team to 12, but that number has dropped to 8 for the second half as domestic talent has begun filtering west after receiving postseason rests after their Liga seasons concluded.  Culiacan has added first baseman Joey Meneses (the International League MVP who signed with Japan's Orix Buffaloes for next year), outfielder Sebastian Elizalde, ex-Yankees infielder Ramiro Pena and pitcher Romario Gil, the Mexican League's Rookie of the Year since November started.  In fact, the MexPac's second half is expected to be as hard-fought as the first as all eight teams are loading up on Mexican talent while picking and choosing which imports best fit their plans for the rest of the regular season and playoffs.

Hermosillo third baseman Jasson Atondo has hit .415 over his past ten games to take over the LMP batting race with a .377 average.  The 23-year-old Atondo has played sparingly for the Naranjeros the past three winters while serving as a backup infielder for the Campeche Piratas since 2015.  He was expected to fill a similar role again for the Orangemen until former Padres infielder Ryan Schimpf left the team in October after just two games.  Schimpf, outfielder Bryce Brentz and pitcher Reed Garrett were reportedly sent packing October 24 after failing to show up for a road trip to Culiacan that week.  While Atondo adds little power to manager Bronswell Patrick's lineup (36 of his 40 hits have been singles), he's been consistent at getting on base while committing just one error in 18 games at the hot corner.

Another third baseman, Navojoa's Jovan Rosa, socked a homer against Mazatlan last Thursday to take the LMP lead with eight roundtrippers, one more than Jalisco's Manny Rodriguez (whose 29 RBIs rank tops in the circuit).  Rosa's Mayos teammate, Alonzo Harris, has a commanding lead in stolen bases with 17 in 20 attempts, leading Culiacan's Rico Noel by four swipes.  Mazatlan pitcher Konner Wade was finally knocked from the unbeaten ranks when he took a 3-0 loss in Navojoa last Tuesday, but his 5-1 record still gives him the MexPac lead in wins among pitchers (eleven pitchers are tied for second with three victories) while Wade's 2.43 ERA ties him for second with Hermosillo's Arturo Reyes and Jamie Lugo of Navojoa, behind the 2.11 mark of Jalisco hurler Elian Leyva.  Mexicali veteran Javier Solano struck out four Jalisco batsmen last Friday in a no-decision to bring his season total to 39 whiffs in 47.1 innings pitched.  Culiacan closer Casey Coleman earned three saves last week, giving him 14 for the winter (two more than Navojoa's Jesus Pirela).

FINAL LMP FIRST HALF STANDINGS: Culiacan 21-14 (8.0 points), Mazatlan 18-17 (7.0), Hermosillo 18-17 (6.0), Obregon 18-17 (5.0), Mexicali 17-17 (4.5), Navojoa 17-17 (4.0), Jalisco 15-20 (3.5), Los Mochis 15-20 (3.0).


MONCLOVA'S PEGUERO NAMED LMB FALL 2018 MVP
Fall MVP Francisco Peguero of Monclova

Monclova Acereros outfielder Francisco Peguero has been named Most Valuable Player for the Mexican League's Fall 2018 season.  Since making his pro debut at 18 in 2006 with the Giants' Domincan Summer League affiliate, Peguero had fashioned a decent minor league career as a .300-level hitter with good speed and some gap power and had a couple short stints with San Francisco in 2012 and 2013 before making his LMB debut with Quintana Roo in 2015, when he hit .294 with 16 homers in 98 games.  He went to Monclova in 2016 and had a .311 season at the plate with 15 more homers but was released the following February.

Peguero then went to Japan, playing with the Toyama Thunderbirds of the independent Challenge League in 2017 and doing well enough to sign a deal with the Chiba Lotte Marines of the Pacific League, but was released on June 29 after playing 50 games for the Marines' minor league team.  The 30-year-old Dominican signed the same day with Monclova and went on to post a strong Fall season with a .368 average augmented by 13 homers and 60 RBIs for the Acereros in 52 games and playing errorless ball defensively in left field.  Although the Steelers once again failed to win a pennant after a stellar regular season, Peguero's performance was good enough to garner MVP honors.  Teammate Jesse Castillo won the Spring MVP crown after a .376/13/57 campaign over 57 contests.

Yet another Acereros performer, Josh Lowey, was named Pitcher of the Year for all of 2018.  Arguably the best pitcher in the Mexican League the past five years, Lowey posted a combined 14-5 record with a 3.12 ERA and 133 strikeouts over 144 innings for Monclova.  Nicknamed El Alcalde (or "The Mayor") by Monclova fans, the soon-to-turn-34 Floridian pitched independent ball for six seasons before coming to the Liga in 2014, where he's compiled a 55-24 overall record with a 2.97 ERA in the hitter-friendly LMB, striking out 655 batters in 640.1 innings.  Lowey is currently pitching for Escogido of the Dominican League, where he has a 4-2 mark and 2.78 ERA in six starts for the Leones.

Three other pitchers garnered 2018 LMB honors.  Monterrey closer Wirfin Obispo was selected Relier of the Year after going a combined 5-3 with 24 saves in 52 appearances for Fall champion Monterrey.  Obispo had a sub-3.00 ERA both seasons for the Sultanes (2.54 overall) and now has 74 saves over three years with the team after splitting the previous ten summers with mostly AAA teams for four MLB organizations with a couple stints in Japan thrown in.  

Left-hander Romario Gil was chosen Rookie of the Year after the Culican native (who turned 24 in September) went a combined 6-2 with a 3.01 ERA in 17 starts for Puebla in 2018.  Although Gil cooled down with a 2-2 Fall mark for the Pericos after going 4-0 and 2.47 in the Spring season, he's expected to be one of the first players chosen in next month's dispersal draft when players from the former Puebla, Aguascalientes, Union Laguna and Leon teams are made available to the remaining 12 Liga teams for 2019.  

Dos Laredos hurler Jose Oyervides is the 2018 Comeback Player of the Year.  A former Padres and Astros farmhand who made his Mexican League debut with Reynosa in 2009, the 36-year-old Oyervides has pitched in five LMB All-Star Games since 2010 for Nuevo Laredo, Laguna and Monclova.  A Laredo product, the 5'11" righty came out of a short retirement this year but was released by the Acereros after only winning one game with an 11.25 ERA in the Spring season.  He then went 4-1 and 3.29 in 12 starts for his hometown Tecolotes in the Fall after being assigned to Dos Laredos the same day he was released by the Steelers. 

First-year Monterrey pilot Roberto Kelly was named Manager of the Year after leading the Sultanes to the Fall pennant, their first since 2007.  Taking the reins from former big league shortstop Felix Fermin last winter, the former Yankees outfielder rebuilt the underachieving Sultanes (who routinely played well in the regular season but fell short in the playoffs) into a team that relied as much on pitching, defense and aggressive baserunning as hitting prowess.  Kelly replaced players he didn't think fit the image he wanted and brought in the ones who did. While Monterrey stayed true to form by finishing first in the LMB North last Spring with a 37-20 record but losing to Tijuana in the division finals, they went 34-23 in the Fall to come in third before topping Tijuana, Monclova and Oaxaca in the postseason to win the city's tenth Mexican League championship.

The LMB also named their Dream Team for both 2018 seasons.  One notable omission was Jesse Castillo, the Monclova third baseman who was the Spring MVP before a creditable Fall en route to a combined .351/17/100 in 108 contests.  Instead, the Liga gave the nod to Monterrey veteran Agustin Murillo, who went a combined .317/16/70 for the Sultanes and played well in the clutch during the fall playoffs.

2018 MEXICAN LEAGUE DREAM TEAM
SP-Josh Lowey, Monclova
RP-Wirfin Obispo, Monterrey
C-Ali Solis, Monterrey
1B-Felix Perez, Aguascalientes-Monterrey
2B-Isaac Rodriguez, Tijuana
3B-Agustin Murillo, Monterrey
SS-Jose Guadalupe Chavez,Tijuana
LF-Francisco Peguero, Monclova
CF-Cedric Hunter, Leon
RF-Yeison Ascencio, Mexico City
DH-Luis Juarez, Yucatan 


CHANGES IN DURANGO: OJEDA, CARRILLO GONE


Ex-Durango team president Miguel Ojeda (center)
In a surprising development, the Mexican League's Durango Generales have parted ways with both team co-owner Miguel Ojeda and manager Matias Carrillo.  While the second-year franchise missed the playoffs twice in 2018, attendance at Generales home games averaged over 3,000 per game to rank in the top half for both mini-seasons and it was believed that the presence of both Ojeda in the front office and Carrillo in the dugout gave the team a stability that was lacking during their chaotic first season in  2017.

Ojeda signed as a free agent with Pittsburgh in 1993 and went on to play in Major League Baseball as a catcher between 2003 and 2006, including three seasons with San Diego, hitting .224 with 15 homers in 212 games.  His best year was in 2004, when he batted .256 with eight homers in 62 games for the Padres.  The Guaymas product wound up spending 20 seasons in pro ball before retiring after a 2012 season in which he hit .256 with Quintana Roo over 99 games.  He then went into managing and led the Mexico City Diablos Rojos (for whom he played from 1995 to 2003) to the 2014 LMB pennant, turning in a 70-42 regular season record before winning 12 of 14 games over three playoff series.

Ojeda was one of a group of investors to buy the financially-plagued Generales last February, serving as team president along with a seat on the team's board of directors.  Ojeda has sold his shares in the team to the remaining ownership group and will reportedly return to Mexico City to serve as the Diablos' general manager in 2019.


Outgoiong Durango manager Matias Carrillo
The man Ojeda brought to manage Durango when Joe Alvarez was let go after taking the club to a 24-33 record in the Spring 2018 season, Matias Carrillo, will not be back in the Generales dugout next year. Team GM Francisco Lizarraga was quoted in Durango's El Siglio earlier this month that Carrillo does not enter into their plans for 2019.  "We have not talked to him," said Lizarraga.  "Today he is still our manager because we have not yet decided who we are going to bring in, but it is more likely that we will change our manager."  The Generales have already signed Ricardo Osuna as pitching coach next year and are looking over candidates to take over for Carrillo as helmsman.

Like Ojeda, Carrillo had a short major league playing career, batting .251 without a homer in 107 games for Milwaukee and Florida between 1991 and 1994.  His Mexican League career was far more successful as "El Coyote" spent 20 his 28 professional seasons with the Mexican League's Tigres franchise in Mexico City, Puebla and Quintana Roo after spending 1982 and 1983 with Poza Rica.  Carrillo hit .335 with 2,484 hits in his 22-year Liga career, belting 325 homers and driving in 1,526 runs and was a member of five LMB championship teams as a player before retiring as a player following the 2009 season.  He later managed Quintana Roo to the 2011 Serie del Rey title by sweeping their longtime rival Mexico City Diablos in four straight games.

Since then, however, Carrillo's career has taken the twists and turns typically seen south of the border, although some remain inexplicable.  After another LMB South title in 2012, he was fired by Tigres owner Carlos Peralta for "poor performance" with two weeks left in the 2013 regular season and the Cancun club holding a 55-43 record.  He was quickly hired by Yucatan and led the Leones for the final 12 games of the regular season but felt the axe one month into the 2014 campaign after winning just 8 of Yucatan's first 26 games.  Carrillo's next job was another pit stop, this time joining Tijuana shortly after his ouster in Merida.  Taking over a Toros team that was 18-23, Carrillo led the borderites to a 37-35 record the rest of the way but was sent packing after Tijuana failed to reach the postseason.  

Carrillo's strangest firing may have come in Puebla, where he was hired during the 2015 season and managed the Pericos to a 38-38 record, getting the okay from owner Gerardo Benavides for the following year.  However, after leading Puebla to an LMB-best 38-15 record going into the 2016 All-Star Break, he was canned in favor of ex-MLB infielder Cory Snyder, who went on to take the squad to the pennant.  His winterball managerial resume has been no less nomadic, as he's led four different teams, mostly successfully.  Carrillo was the Mexican Pacific League Manager of the Year with Guasave in 2010-11, took Hermosillo to a Caribbean Series title in 2014 and won another Manager of the Year award with Navojoa in 2016-17, three months before being sent packing by Mayos owner Victor Cuevas.

Monday, November 19, 2018

MLB SIGNING BAN ON MEXICAN PROSPECTS TO END

Major League Baseball and the Mexican League have reportedly worked out a new agreement that outlines how MLB organizations will sign Mexican prospects.

For the first time ever, young Mexican ballplayers will receive the entire signing bonus called for when they sign their first contract to play for teams north of the border. According to Puro Beisbol editor Fernando Ballesteros, LMB teams holding the prospect's domestic rights will also receive an amount of money equal to 35 percent of the signing bonus from the MLB organization. The new pact is expected to be formally announced at next month's Winter Meetings in Las Vegas.

Prior to the new arrangement, LMB teams holding domestic rights to Mexican prospects as young as 14 years old were able to negotiate the sale of those rights outside the country, then typically give the prospect 25 percent of the proceeds.  The system sometimes inflated the price a Major League organization would have to pay LMB franchises for signing young Mexicans, leading MLB teams to seek less-expensive talent in places like Venezuela and the Dominican Republic while the Mexican player would have to remain at home in order to play.  

The old system was also subject to chicanery, with one egregious example being right-handed pitcher Luis Heredia, a 6'5" Mazatlan native who signed a contract with Pittsburgh at age 16 in 2010.  The deal was facilitated by Pirates Latin America scouting director Rene Gayo, who reportedly took his own cut of a reported US$2.6 million deal between the Bucs and the former Veracruz Rojos del Aguila, who owned Heredia's rights in Mexico.  MLB subsequently investigated Pittsburgh's signing of Heredia, who spent seven years in the Pirates system and registered a career 26-26 record with a 3.88 ERA before his release following the 2017 season, and (at the behest of Liga president Javier Salinas) decreed in January that no big league scout could work simultaneously for an LMB team. Two months earlier, the Pirates fired the Miami-born Gayo after 13 years with the organization after his role in the signing was confirmed.

However, that was not enough to put the issue of LMB player control to rest and in the wake of the "Rookiegate" scandal involving the Quintana Roo Tigres, Mexico City Diablos Rojos and Texas Rangers, MLB subsequently instituted a ban on its member organizations from signing Mexican prospects via Liga franchises until a new system considered more fair to the young players could be hammered out.  A number of Mexican League teams with the financial means to develop their own homegrown prospects, such as the Tijuana Toros and Mexico City Diablos Rojos, have benefitted from such sales in past years.

For his part, Heredia (who never advanced higher than Class AA) has not pitched since last year's release from the Pirates.  The 24-year-old's Mexican League rights have been retained by the former Veracruz franchise, which was moved by owner Jose Antonio Mansur to Nuevo Laredo last winter while his hometown Mazatlan Venados hold Heredia's Mexican Pacific League rights.

CULIACAN NEARS FIRST HALF LMP TITLE WITH 3 GAMES REMAINING
Culiacan catcher Ali Solis

With three games left in the Mexican Pacific League's first-half schedule, the defending champion Culiacan Tomateros are on the verge of clinching first place in the standings along with the eight points assigned to the top finisher in each half. Ali Solis' walkoff single to deep short brought in Rico Noel from third base with the winning run Sunday as Culiacan nipped Mexicali, 3-2, in front of 15,557 fans at Estadio Tomateros. A native of Mexicali, the 31-year-old Solis played pro ball for 13 seasons, with cups of coffee in San Diego (2012) and Tampa Bay (2014), before batting .366 in 21 games for Fall champions Monterrey in his Mexican League debut this year. THis is his eighth winter with the Tomateros.

Sunday's victory gave Culiacan a 20-12 first-half record, three games ahead of Mazatlan (17-15). It's been an unusually close race in the LMP over the first 35-game half of the 2018-19 season and while there's now a smidgen of breathing room, Culiacan is six games ahead of last-place Los Mochis (14-18) in the eight-team circuit while the second-place Venados are only two games up on Jalisco and Obregon, who are tied for sixth at 15-17. Needless to say, the four upcoming midweek series will be hard-fought as teams try to finish as high on the table as possible to secure as many points as possible heading into their respective second-half schedules Friday. For the record, Culiacan will be at Hermosillo, Mazatlan will visit Navojoa, Los Mochis is hosting Mexicali and Jalisco will welcome Obregon to Guadalajara in three-game series starting Tuesday as the MexPac wraps up the half.

After a number of hitters were flirting with a .400 average most of the first half, bats have been cooling down leaguewide the past couple weeks and now nobody is within 40 points of that magic mark. Mazatlan's Alex Liddi, a former Mariners infielder and a key player with Tijuana's 2016 Mexican League championship team, is tops in the LMP with a .358 average, seven points ahead of Navojoa's Victor Mendoza, who's been a backup first baseman for Monterrey the past six summers. Mendoza's Mayos teammate, Jovan Rosa (a one-time Cubs prospect and four-year vet of the independent Atlantic League) homered in consecutive games against Obregon to tie Jalisco's Manny Rodriguez for the MexPac lead in roundtrippers with seven apiece. Rodriguez is tops in RBIs with 26, two more than Rosa's 24, while Navojoa second baseman Alonzo Harris (who led the LMP in batting much of the first half and still packs a .342 average) tops the stolen bases list with 16 in 18 attempts.

Mazatlan's Konner Wade limited Obregon to one run while scattering seven hits last Thursday to run his record to a perfect 5-0 on the season. The Arizonan has won his past four starts and his 2.27 ERA would tie Elian Leyva of Jalisco for second in the LMP (behind the 2.23 of Mexicali's David Reyes) but Wade's 31.1 innings pitched are barely below the 32 IP required to qualify. There's a spirited battle for the strikeouts lead, with Mexicali's Javier Solano (35) one K ahead of Jose Hernandez of Mazatlan and Obregon's Sean Nolin. Hernandez, a 22-year-old Astros minor leaguer, has whiffed his 34 batsmen in just 26 frames while walking only three. Even with those impressive numbers, the Venados' hometown product is 2-3 with a 4.50 ERA in six starts after giving up seven runs in three innings against Hermosillo last Friday.

Speaking of the Venados, they swung a trade last week that sent pitcher Miguel Gonzalez to Culiacan for veteran slugger Jorge "Chato" Vazquez. Known as "El Mariachi," Gonzalez has spent the past seven seasons pitching in the majors, six as a starter. He won a combined 21 games for Baltimore in 2011 and 2012 but has struggled since. The 34-year-old righty has pitched four winters with the Venados but none since 2010-11. Vazquez, a former Yankees farmhand who belted 32 homers for AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2011, has had an injury-plagued career that began as a 17-year-old with the Mexico City Tigres in 1999. He retired during the 2017 season as a member of the Mexico CIty Diablos Rojos but came out of retirement to play for Durango this year, batting .257 and .297 with a combined eight homers over 46 total games. The 36-year-old Vazquez was hitting .243 with no homers in 14 games when he was traded by his hometown team, for whom he'd played 16 winters.


VIZCARRA: OUT IN YUCATAN, ON HOT SEAT IN JALISCO

Jalisco Charros manager Roberto Vizcarra
The Yucatan Leones have parted ways with manager Roberto Vizcarra, who led the team to the Mexican League Spring 2018 pennant after finishing with a Liga-best 40-17 regular season record. Vizcarra then took the Leones to place first in the LMB South a second time at 32-24 for the Fall campaign before Yucatan dropped a first round playoff series to Oaxaca. A 72-41 record with two first-place finishes and a championship in one year would ordinarily be enough to save a manager's job, but losing to the Guerreros may have been what cost Vizcarra his. Oaxaca went 26-30 to come in fifth in the South, then had to beat Leon in a wild-card game to qualify for the postseason; the Guerreros eventually beat Mexico City for the South title before losing to Monterrey in the Serie del Rey.

The 51-year-old product of San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora debuted with Leon in 1986 as a 19-year-old infielder and went on to play 23 summers for five teams in the Mexican League, ending his playing career with Campeche in 2008. Vizcarra mostly played first base the final seasons of his career but was proficient defensively at all four infield positions. No matter where he played in the field, he was always useful in the batter's box, stroking 2,581 hits for a career .304 batting average. The 5'9" right-handed hitter was more noted for his speed (470 doubles, 465 stolen bases) than his power (229 homers) and topped the 1,100 mark in both runs scored and runs batted in.

Vizcarra has since been no less successful as a manager. He debuted as a helmsman in 2014, taking Quintana Roo to a Liga-best 65-48 record and a berth in the LMB South finals. The Tigres went 64-47 and won the pennant under Vizcarra in 2015, then turned in a 68-45 mark in 2016 but were swept by Puebla in the first playoff round. "Chapo" was cut loose in Cancun late in a 2017 campaign in which the Tigres fell to 49-56 and lost to Puebla in four straight once more. He was hired by the Leones in the offseason and did manage the Merida team to their first pennant since 2006 last spring, so it's unlikely Vizcarra will be out of work in the LMB for long.

Then there's his current winterball situation with the Jalisco Charros. As with Yucatan, this is Vizcarra's first Mexican Pacific League season in Guadalajara after he was fired by Mexicali last November after managing the Aguilas to a 16-19 first-half record. He'd led the border city to an LMP pennant and Caribbean Series berth just nine months earlier. The Charros hired him a week later to replace ex-MLB outfielder Tony Tarasco as dugout boss. Vizcarra took the Horsemen to a 15-11 record the rest of the way and a berth in the playoff semis last January before losing to Navojoa in six games.

Jalisco is off to a 15-17 start this winter and while the seventh-place Charros are only half a game out of fourth, four LMP managers were either fired or quit less than one month into the season and Vizcarra's future in Guadalajara is said to be in doubt. The Charros have a veteran-laden roster with such stars as Japhet Amador, Manny Rodriguez, Amadeo Zazueta and Agustin Murillo (and that's just the infield), but the pitching has been subpar and the team in general has not met lofty front office expectations. It should be noted that Alfonso "Houston" Jimenez, himself a longtime passenger on the Mexican managerial merry-go-round, is one of Vizcarra's bench coaches while ex-Dos Laredos slugger Marco Antonio Romero (who has managed in the LMB) is also on the Charros' staff. Just in case.