Monday, February 18, 2019

DAN FIROVA TO MANAGE MEXICAN NATIONALS IN JAPAN

Former major leaguer and longtime Mexican league catcher and manager Dan Firova has been selected to lead the Mexican National Team when they play a two-game series against their Japanese counterparts on March 9 and 10 in Osaka.

Dan Firova coaching for Washington Nationals
The 62-year-old Texan, who had cups of coffee with Seattle and Cleveland in the 1980's, spent five seasons with the Dos Laredos Tecos during his 13-year playing career before taking their reins in 1993.  Firova later managed the Mexico City Tigres to LMB pennants in 1997, 2000 and 2001 before embarking on a further journey that took him to eight more Liga teams, managing Monclova to a 29-27 record last Spring before the Acereros replaced him with Pedro Mere in early July after starting 2-4 in the Fall season.  Over 19 seasons managing in the Mexican League, Firova has a career record of 1,387-1,169 and is one of only six helmsmen in the loop's 94-year history with over a thousand wins.  He also spent three seasons between 2015 and 2017 as bullpen coach for the Washington Nationals under managers Matt Williams and Dusty Baker. 

Firova was given the task of managing the Mexican Nationals by the Mexican Baseball Federation (FEMEBE) after Enrique "Che" Reyes (another longtime LMB manager who led Mexico to the U-23 World Championship last year) had to step down from the post.  Reyes is now managing the reconstituted Puebla Pericos, who refused to let him travel to Japan during the team's training camp.  Likewise, coaches Luis Carlos Rivera (Yucatan manager) and Oscar Robles (Tijuana helmsman) will not be allowed to make the trip, although Javier Robles and Martin Arzate are going to make the journey.

When Firova and his team arrive in Japan on March 5, they'll have a pair of new players waiting for them.  Third baseman Christian Villanueva and first baseman Joey Meneses will be playing their first Nippon Professional Baseball seasons for the Yomiuri Giants and Orix Buffaloes, respectively, and while both were considered questionable for the Mexican lineup due to their own training camp commitments, they got OK'ed for the two-game set.  Villanueva and Meneses will replace pitcher Sergio Romo and infielder Danny Espinosa on the Mexican roster.  Romo recently signed a free agent contract with the Miami Marlins while Espinosa inked a non-roster deal with the New York Mets and both will be training in Florida.  Second baseman Manny Rodriguez will also be staying behind to rehab from a muscle injury sustained while playing for Jalisco in the Mexican Pacific League title series.  The Mexican team is also hoping to add pitchers Yovani Gallardo and Jorge de la Rosa, who have yet to sign MLB contracts for 2019.


GUADALAJARA TO HOST PREMIER12 GROUP PLAY IN NOVEMBER

Estadio Charros in Guadalajara
The World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) has announced groups and venues for their so-called Premier12 tournament to be held later this year.  The Premier12 will serve as a qualifier for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo with group play set to take place at Guadalajara, Taipei and Seoul in November.  The announcement was made last week at the National Palace in Mexico City by WBSC president Riccardo Friccari, with president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and officials from the Mexican Baseball Federation (FEMEBE), National Commission of Physical Culture and Sports (CONADE), Jalisco's state government, Mexican Pacific League and Jalisco Charros also taking part.

The Premier12 is scheduled to run from November 2 to 17 with twelve of the world's top-ranked national teams broken up into three groups with four teams each:

GROUP A (Guadalajara) - United States (#2), Mexico (#6), Netherlands (#8) and Dominican Republic (#12).
GROUP B (Taipei) - Japan (#1), Taiwan (#4), Venezuela (#9) and Puerto Rico (#11).
GROUP C - (Seoul) - South Korea (#3), Cuba (#5), Australia (#7) and Canada (#10).

Play will open in Guadalajara's Estadio Charros on November 2, followed by games in Taipei's Taichung Intercontinental Stadium and Seoul's Gocheok Sky Dome.  The Korea Baseball Organization moved the opening of its 2019 schedule to March 23, earliest in KBO history, to allow their season to conclude in October so top domestic players can participate in the tournament.

South Korea won the initial Premier12 in 2015.


FORMER NL HOMER CHAMP CHRIS CARTER SIGNS WITH MONCLOVA

Chris Carter hit 41 HRs for Brewers in 2016
The Monclova Acereros have added a proven longball hitter for the 2019 season by signing former National League home run co-champion Chris Carter to a free agent contract.  The 32-year-old California-born Carter joins reigning Mexican League MVP Francisco Peguero, two-time MVP Jesse Castillo, 2016 LMB batting champ Cesar Tapia and former big leaguer Ruben Rivera (still playing at 45) on a power-laden team seeking its first championship.  Manager Pedro Mere's roster also includes 2018 Pitcher of the Year Josh Lowey, arguably the best LMB starter over the past few seasons.

Carter broke into pro baseball in 2005, when he was a Chicago White Sox 15th-round draft pick out of Las Vegas' Sierra Vista High School.  After three summers in the Chisox system, the 6'4" right-handed batter was dealt twice prior to the 2008 campaign, first to Arizona and then to Oakland, the latter a trade that netted the Diamondbacks pitcher Dan Haren.  Carter spent three more years in the A's organization, belting 97 homers and driving in over 300 runs in that span before making his MLB debut on August 9, 2010 in Seattle.  After batting .186 and .136 over 39 games in 2010 and 2011, Carter began hitting his stride for Oakland in 2012, cracking 16 homers in 67 games while splitting the season between the A's and their AAA affiliate in Sacramento. 

Despite his impressive power, Carter was sent to Houston the following February in a trade that sent Jed Lowrie to the Bay Area and it was with the Astros that the 245-pounder got his first chance to play regularly.  Although he never batted above .227 in three seasons while striking out over 500 times, Carter did slam 90 homers and drive in 234 runs between 2013 and 2015 before signing as a free agent with Milwaukee, where he would achieve his greatest notoriety.  Although again burdened by a low batting average (.222) and high strikeout total (an NL-leading 206), the first baseman cracked 41 homers to tie Colorado's Nolan Arenado for tops in the senior circuit and knocked in 94 runs.  Carter did draw 76 walks to finish with a respectable .321 on-base percentage but the Brewers designated him for assignment after signing Eric Thames, who'd been playing in Korea.

After that, Carter signed a one-year, $3.5 million contract with the New York Yankees, where he struggled to a .201 average with eight homers over 62 games in 2017 before being released July 10.  He returned to the A's on a minor league deal and finished the year with AAA Nashville (.252/9/22 in 36 games) before splitting last season with two more organizations in 2018, first for the Angels' AAA Salt Lake City affiliate (.255/15/41 in 38 games) before being traded in May to the Twins for future considerations and wrapping up the year with AAA Rochester (.187/7/15 in 35 contests).

Although he's suffered through a pair of forgettable seasons, the Acereros are hoping that Carter can regain enough of the form that resulted in 131 homers and 328 RBIs in MLB between 2013 and 2016.  Although a first baseman by trade, that is also Castillo's position and it's expected that the massive slugger will spend most of his time as designated hitter while also playing the outfield in a pinch.