Monday, August 26, 2019


LMB batting leader Daniel Mayora of Durango
          Just three games remain in the Mexican League's 2019 regular season and the field for September's playoffs has mostly been determined, although the pairings have yet to be determined. Yucatan (38-19) had their five-game win streak snapped in Leon, 5-4, Sunday afternoon as the Bravos tagged Leones starter Yoanner Negrin for all five of their runs in the bottom of the third inning, but the Spring 2018 pennant winners had already locked up first place in the LMB's South Division and the eight playoff points that go with it. The 13 points Yucatan will have accrued are more than enough to clinch a postseason berth and perhaps enough for the top seed in the division.

          Quintana Roo (33-22) fell to second after losing four of six games last week, although the Tigres did beat rival Mexico City, 4-2 in Cancun Sunday to salvage that series after losing the first two games to the Diablos Rojos.  The Tigres also dropped two of three against Oaxaca last week en route to a 2-4 week, but they'll likely outpoint fast-fading Puebla for the fourth and final playoff berth in the LMB South.  The Diablos (33-24) will finish the half in no worse than third place, which would mean 13 playoff points for the season and a tie with the Leones for top seed. First-half champ Oaxaca (28-28) has played better of late after a slow start to the second half and could end up tying Yucatan and perhaps Mexico City with 13 accrued points if they hold off Campeche for fourth.  At any rate, the four playoff teams in the South have largely been determined.

          Saltillo (36-20) is 1.5 games ahead of second-place Monclova (35-22) in the LMB North and will clinch the division title if they take two of three against Dos Laredos at home this week.  That would give the Saraperos 12 total playoff points and while they'll finish behind both Tijuana (33-24) and Monterrey (29-26) in the overall points race, they'd have enough points to reach the postseason.  The third-place Toros and fourth-place Sultanes both received 7.5 points after tying for the first-half title and neither will end the regular season with fewer than 12.5 points while Monclova will earn top seed with 14 points if they maintain their second-place status after their final three contests.

          Dos Laredos (26-31) had an outside shot at the fourth playoff berth before struggled the past couple weeks while Aguascalientes (26-30) has won eight of their last ten to pass the Tecos into fifth place.  Dos Laredos owner fired Alfonso "Houston" Jimenez as manager last Friday after the Tecos had dropped eight of nine games.  Third base coach Rafael Rijo becomes the third manager of the border team this year.  Much of Aguascalientes' recent surge can be credited to closer Anthony Carter, who has won two games and saved four the past two weeks.  While he's not likely to beat out Dos Laredo's Roman Mendez or Wirfin Obispo of Monterrey for LMB Reliever of the Year, Carter has had a nice season with a 12-6 record and 14 saves out of the bullpen to lead the team in wins and saves along with a 3.43 ERA that ranks well below any Aguascalientes starter.

          Daniel Mayora of Durango has taken control of the batting race as Felix Pie's slide continues.  The Leon outfielder was batting well over .400 with a healthy lead in the tables until August arrived.  Pie is batting .294 for the month (with a .200 mark with two RBIs over his last ten games) to drop to third in the LMB at .382, trailing Mayora's .389 and the .384 average of Monclova's Francisco Peguero.  The 34-year-old Mayora played in five Class A ar AA All-Star Games between 2007 and 2012 before coming to Durango in 2017.  He hit .370 that season and fashioned a 35-game hitting streak for the Generales (one shy of the LMB single-season record), but was released in July during a salary dispute and quickly picked up by Monterrey, for whom the Venezuelan hit .386 over ten games. He has since bounced to Dos Laredos and finally back to Durango, where presumably the paychecks are clearing now under new owner Alfredo Aramburo.

Aguascalientes P Anthony Carter
          Monclova's Chris Carter homered in three straight games last week to bring his season total to 48, most in organized ball this year. The ex-NL home run champ hit just .258 over his last ten games and while pitchers aren't giving him much to hit (10 walks), he still belted four roundtrippers and drove in 12 runs in that span.  Carter also tops Liga batters in RBIs (118), slugging percentage (.719) and both walks (114) and strikeouts (152).  Oaxaca's Johnny Davis has 48 stolen bases and the steals title is his to lose, but teammate Alonzo Harris is second with 44 swipes and belted his 38th homer Saturday in Campeche in his quest to become the Mexican League's first 40/40 man ever.  Harris has three home games against the Piratas this week to hit two more homers.  Harris is also batting .344 and considered a favorite for Most Valuable Player honors along with Carter and perhaps Yucatan pitcher Cesar Valdez.

          Although hurlers rarely win the MVP trophy, Valdez is making a pretty good case for himself.  He went to 15-2 last Thursday with a 5-3 win at Leon, allowing one earned run on five hits with seven strikeouts over seven innings to beat Bravos hurler Yasumoto Kubo (8-14), who leads the LMB with 154 strikeouts.  That's one of the few major categories Valdez isn't leading the Liga in, as the Venezuelan tops the loop in wins (15), ERA (2.26) and WHIP (1.06).  His ERA is nearly a full run lower than moundmate Negrin's 3.22 mark.  The 13-6 Negrin was the 2016 Pitcher of the Year and Valdez will undoubtedly earn that award this season.  Dos Laredos' Roman Mendez has only earned one save this month for the Tecos, but his closeout of last Wednesday's 2-1 win over Monclova gives him an even 30 for the season, two more than Monterrey's Wirfin Obispo.  Tijuana All-Star (and former Phils farmhand) Jesus Pirela has been the LMB's premier setup man this year and his 29 holds are eight better than Oaxaca's Juan Sandoval at 21. Ironically, Pirela is 0-for-3 in save situations for the Toros.

          With the playoff field pretty much set (if not the first round matchups), there's not a lot of drama in the final regular season series of 2019 starting Tuesday.  One notable exception will be in Saltillo, where the Saraperos try to stave off Dos Laredos' desperate attempt for a sweep to force at least a wild card game for the fourth and final LMB North playoff berth.  Likewise, Campeche desperately needs midweek wins in Oaxaca to keep their slight postseason hopes alive.

Tigres founder Alejo Peralta (1916-96)

           The warm reception fans accorded the Quintana Roo Tigres when they played a recent Mexican League series in Mexico City has only fueled speculation that the flagship franchise might move back to the city they called "home" from their 1955 formation through the 2002 season.  Although the Tigres dropped two of three games to the Diablos Rojos in the August 16-18 set, a large percentage of the 37,745 fans who attended the three games at Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu were in vocal support of the visiting team, perhaps remembering when the Diablos-Tigres rivalry was the hottest in Mexican baseball, a distinction that likely goes to the Tijuana Toros and Monterrey Sultanes for reasons that go far beyond the won-lost column.

          Although the Tigres have won four pennants since leaving the nation's capital, the team's glory years were spent in Mexico City when they shared Parque de Seguro Social with the Diablos for 35 years before spending 2000 and 2001 in the Foro Sol, beating their bitter rivals in the Serie del Rey both years.  The Tigres won a pennant in their first season after they were formed by entrepreneur Alejo Peralta in the wake of the LMB's disastrous 1954 campaign in which the Liga suffered such serious financial losses that the loop's existence was threatened.

          Instead, new owners like Peralta were found and the Mexican League became a Class AA member of Minor League Baseball after years of operating outside the aegis of organized baseball.  The moves saved the Mexican League (which became a AAA circuit in 1967) and the Tigres became one of the LMB's model operations while winning eight flags in Mexico City under Peralta and his son Carlos, who inherited the team after the elder Peralta died at age 80 in 1997.  The Tigres won the flag that summer and two more before Carlos Peralta decided to move the team to Puebla prior to the 2003 campaign.

          While they won a pennant in 2005 (with an All-Mexican roster to commemorate the team's 50th anniversary), the Tigres never really clicked in Puebla over four years as they shared both the colonial city and Estadio Hermanos Serdan with the Pericos so the younger Peralta moved them to Cancun in 2007, marking the first time in team history that they had a city all to themselves.  That shift has never really worked out as well despite three more pennants to bring the franchise's overall total to twelve title, second only to the Diablos' 16. Unlike his father, Carlos Peralta was never a baseball fan and his team was heavily subsidized by the Quintana Roo state government up until he sold the Tigres to Fernando and Linda Valenzuela in February 2017.

Will Estadio Fray Nano host an LMB team again?
          The Valenzuelas have struggled to operate in the resort city while attendance has never been better than middle of the pack and their easternmost location adds cost to road trips.  The enthusiasm for the team in Mexico City did not go unnoticed and a possible franchise shift will be discussed at the conclusion of the current season.  An anonymous Tigres board member told Puro Beisbol editor Fernando Ballesteros "moving is a real possibility...they are very attracted to Mexico City."

          Recently-vacated Estadio Fray Nano, which served the Diablos for five summers before their current ballpark was completed, is being mentioned as a possible site for future Tigres home games. However, the 5,000-seat venue would be the smallest in the league and fans rarely bothered the ticket sellers when the Red Devils played at home as the team regularly finished near the bottom of the attendance tables.


Estadio Teodoro Mariscal in Mazatlan
          The Mexican Pacific League Mazatlan Venados have been selected to host the Caribbean Series in February 2021 at the renovated Estadio Teodoro Mariscal. Typically, the Serie del Caribe rotates between Mexico, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic during a four-year cycle and 2021 will be Mexico's next turn to host it.  That rotation has been scuttled the past two years as political and socioeconomic turmoil in Venezuela led to the CS being moved from Barquisimeto in that country the past two winters, with Guadalajara taking over the event in 2018 a year after it was played in Culiacan while Panama City was the surprise last-minute emergency host this year.  Panamanian champion Herrera was a surprise winner in that nation's first time playing for the Crown Jewel of Latin Baseball since 1960.

          This will mark the first time Mazatlan has hosted the Caribbean Series since 2005, when the LMP champion Venados won five of six games under manager Juan Jose Pacho while fielding a roster including major leaguers Vinny Castilla, Erubiel Durazo, Luis Ayala and Jonny Gomes as well as tournament MVP Francisco Campos, who led all pitchers in wins (2), strikeouts (23) and ERA (1.13).  Pacho led the Venados to a second CS crown in 2016, winning all six games in Santo Domingo that February to cap a run of four titles for Mexican teams in a six-year span between 2011 and 2016.

          The 2020 Caribbean Series is slated to be held in Puerto Rico at San Juan's Hiram Bithorn Stadium.  Two more nations will join the field to make it an eight-team tournament for the first time ever as winterball champions from Colombia and Nicaragua are expected to join the other six title-winners (Cuba was added on a conditional basis in 2014 and Pinar del Rio from that nation won the CS crown one year later).

Mazatlan Venados celebrate their 2016 CS title
          However, in recent years, plot complications have become a part of the Serie del Caribe fabric and 2020 may be no different.  Last week, Major League Baseball ruled that no player in an MLB organization will be allowed to play in Venezuela this winter.  MLB chief legal officer Dan Halem claims U.S. president Donald Trump dictated the ban due to support Venezuela president Nicolas Maduro's government gives the Liga Venezolana, which has heavily relied on MiLB players to fill their rosters in recent years.  If the ban holds, LVBP teams will have to rely on players from American independent leagues and Latin American players not already playing winterball in other countries.

          In other Mex Pac news, the new Guasave Algodoneros are now on their third manager even though the team has yet to play a game.  Originally, Salon de la Fama second baseman and longtime Oakland A's minor league coach Juan Navarrete was announced as the Cottoneers manager.  Then, Puro Beisbol writer Gilberto Ruiz Razo said in an August 18 piece that Guasave was going to hire former Mariners farmhand and LMB infielder Bobby Magallenes as dugout boss. Puro Beisbol editor Fernando Ballesteros says Magallenes (who's coaching with the Braves' AAA Gwinnett affiliate this summer) turned down the Guasave job "to concentrate on family matters," stating that the new Algodoneros skipper will be ex-MLB pitcher Rigo Beltran.  Beltran, who pitched for the Cardinals, Mets, Rockies and Expos between 1997 and 2004, is presently pitching coach for Columbus, the Indians' AAA farm team.


          Baseball Mexico reader Bob Broughton is a Canadian who has relocated to Mexico and now attends Leon Bravos games while not writing his Courtesy Runner blog on NAIA college baseball for The following is his in-person game report of Sunday's matchup between the Bravos and Yucatan at Leon's final home game of 2019, photos included:

Yucatan infielder Alex Liddi
        The Bravos de León (46-68) defeated the Leones (Lions) de Yucatán (64-51) at Estadio Domingo Santana in León on August 25. This was the Bravos' final home game of the season. They lost the previous four games. This was a good ball game, so they finished the season on a positive note, in front of a good crowd.
          The Bravos got all five of their runs in the bottom of the third inning. SS Marco Jaime got it started with a single. 3B Marco Guzman hit a double, the 1B Matt Clark was hit hard by a pitch to load the bases. (Clark returned to first base in the top of the fourth, but was replaced by a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the fourth.) The next batter, DH Carlos Rivero, hit a ground ball that resulted in a force out at second base, but Jaime scored. LF Felix Pie hit a double to score Guzman. RF Cedric Hunter drew a walk to load the bases again, then CF Jose Cardona hit a two-RBI single. 2B Carlos Alvarez hit a single to score Hunter, then C Omar Renteria hit into a double play to end the inning.
          The Leones opened the scoring with an RBI single by 1B Art Charles in the top of the first. However, an inning-ending double play kept the damage to one run. The turning point in the game came in the top of the third. With runners at first and third and one out, DH Luis Juarez had a long turn at bat off Bravos starter LHP Jose De Paula. Juarez hit long foul balls to both the first-base and third-base sides; the latter one wasn't foul by more than 15 cm., and bounced to the fence; it would have certainly scored two runs. He was finally put out on a harmless popup to the catcher in foul territory. The next batter, Charles, hit an RBI single, but the Leones led by only 2-0 going into the bottom of the third.
          The Leones added a run in the top of the fifth with a sacrifice fly by 3B Alex Liddi. De Paula got some defensive help in the top of the sixth; with a runner on second and two outs, LF Jose Aguilar hit a line drive to right field, and Hunter made a great leaping catch, saving a run.
           De Paula was still on the mound for the seventh inning. The Leones started the inning with a double by SS Jorge Flores. The next batter, 2B Walter Ibarra, bunted. It wasn't fielded cleanly, and the Leones had runners at first and third with no outs, and behind only 5-3. De Paula was relieved by RHP Luis de la O, who has an ERA of 10.13. He threw one pitch, and the result was a double play, although Flores scored to make it 5-4. de la O walked the next batter, Liddi, and was replaced by RHP Fredy Quintero. Quintero promptly picked off Liddi to end the inning.
          In the top of the eighth, Quintero walked Charles with one out. Charles was replaced by a pinch-runner, Francisco Hernandez. Quintero struck out the next batter, then Renteria made a throw to second to catch Hernandez attempting to steal.
          The Bravos' closer, RHP Manny Acosta, came on in the top of the ninth. The leadoff batter, C Sebastian Valle, hit a ground ball to second base. It was bobbled by shortstop Jaime, and was scored an error, although it was a difficult play. Since the Leones trailed by one run, the next batter, Aguilar, was called upon to bunt. Acosta threw three pitched to him; he bunted foul three times, and the Leones wasted an out. The next batter, Flores, hit a sharp line drive that was caught by Jaime. Valle had already reached second base (hit-and-run?), so all Jaime had to do was make an easy throw to first to complete the double play and end the game.
Leon pitcher Jose De Paula
        The Bravos had five double plays in the game. De Paula went six+ innings, allowed three earned runs on nine hits, walked two, struck out two, and got the win. Acosta got a save. Leones starter RHP Yoanner Negrin went six innings, allowed five runs on eight hits, struck out three, walked two, and got the loss. Guzman finished 3-for-4 with a double. Charles went 2-for-3 with two RBI.
          Pie leads the team in in hitting by a wide margin, with a .382 average. De Paula's 3-0 W/L record is the best on the team, and his 4.55 ERA is one of the lowest. He spent the majority of the season with Monterrey, and his numbers for the entire season are 6-1, 4.68 ERA, and 87 strikeouts. Acosta's numbers are 3-3, 3.86 ERA, 52 strikeouts, and 17 saves.
          The Bravos drew 4,346 fans to Sunday's game to bring their 2019 average attendance up to 3,318, eleventh in the league. Last season's average was 2,326.
          Negrin (Havana) was in the Cubs organization 2011-15. Liddi (Sanremo, Italy) played 61 games for the Mariners 2011-13, had a career average of .208. He played for Italy in three World Baseball Classics. He was a teammate of Mitch "The Boss" Lively with Chinatrust Brothers. Charles (Bakersfield, CA) was in the Blue Jays organization 2010-15. Flores (Ensenada, Baja California) was also in the Blue Jays organization, 2012-17. Ibarra (Los Mochis, Sinaloa) was in the Yankees organization 2006-13, the Cubs organization 2014, and the Diamondbacks organization 2015. Valle (Los Mochis, Sinaloa) was in the Phillies organization 2007-14.
          De Paula (Villa Mella, Dominican Republic) pitched 3 1/3 innings for the Yankees in 2015. Cardona (San Nicolas de los Garza, Nuevo Leon) was in the Rangers organization 2011-18.

Monday, August 19, 2019


Mexico City''s Japhet Amador is heating up
Defending champion Monterrey was in a fight for fourth place in the Mexican League North Division before a six-game win streak gave manager Roberto Kelly's Sultanes some breathing room over fading Dos Laredos with just three series remaining in the regular season.

Monterrey swept three-game home sets over Dos Laredos and Tijuana last week to go to 27-22 in the second half, trailing Saltillo (33-17), Monclova (31-20) and TJ (29-22) in the standings.  The Sultanes capped their broom job over the Toros Sunday with a 5-4 win as 9,136 fans braved 102 degree temperatures to watch at Estadio Monterrey. The Sultanes chased Tijuana starter Carlos Hernandez with four runs in the bottom of the second inning to go up 5-0, then had to hang on as the Bulls sent Edgar Gonzalez to the showers by scoring three in the sixth.  Juan Gamez combined with four other relievers to hold Tijuana to one more run over the final ten outs as Wirfin Obispo pitched a perfect ninth to register his 28th save.

While Monterrey, Monclova and Tijuana are virtual locks for the playoffs even if Dos Laredos passes the Sultanes in the next ten days, the Tecos need to move up in the standings to reach the postseason if Saltillo holds on to first place.  If the season ended today, the Saraperos would finish the two halves with 12 points while the Owls would only have 9 points to show for themselves. The Tecos salvaged a road series in Monclova Sunday with an 11-9 win powered by five Dos Laredos homers (including Balbino Fuenmayor's 30th longball of the season) to halt a five-game losing skid.  The Tecos are now 24-27 to trail Monterrey by four games and while they should hold off Aguascalientes (21-29), Durango (17-33) and Union Laguna (16-34), standing pat likely means being spectators when the playoffs open next month.

Things are no better defined in the LMB South, where Yucatan (33-18) leads Quintana Roo (32-18) by just half a game with Mexico City (30-21) creeping up on both teams by winning seven of their last ten games.  Should the Diablos remain in third place they would finish with 13 points and qualify for the playoffs even if Campeche (24-24) or Oaxaca (24-26) overtake them, but that's about the only certainty. Yucatan had only four points in the first half while the Tigres picked up just three while Oaxaca won the division and eight points while Puebla finished third and collected six points.

The Leones and Guerreros will probably join Mexico City in the playoffs next month, but the Pericos are plummeting after losing eight of their last ten games to fall to seventh at 19-28.  Quintana Roo will not fall below third, meaning they'll finish with at least nine points for the year. Puebla needs to overtake sixth-place Tabasco (21-28) to finish with nine points. The Pericos will host Yucatan and Tabasco this week before finishing the regular season next week with a series in Mexico City, so they've got their work cut out for them.  Puebla didn't help themselves by dropping two of three games against Tabasco in Villahermosa over the weekend, including an 8-4 Olmecas win Sunday as every Tabasco player in the lineup had at least one hit (Roel Santos had three) and eight scored a single run, with Jose Luna knocking out a solo homer in the second off Scott Harkin. Tabasco has been one of the Liga's problem franchises for years and only 1,847 were in the Parque Centenario de 27 Febrero on Sunday, but new owner Juan Carlos Manzur has reportedly brought the beleaguered franchise a sense of order and direction that was lacking when the Olmecas were owned by the Dagdug brothers.

LMB strikeouts leader Yasutomo Kubo of Leon
After batting over .400 most of the season, Leon outfielder Felix Pie's recent freefall continues as the ex-Oriole went 3-for-20 over his last six games to drop out of the LMB lead into third place in the batting derby with a .387 average, trailing new leader Francisco Peguero of Monclova (.389) and Durango's Daniel Mayora (.388).  Peguero is the defending Liga MVP after batting .368 with 13 homers and 60 RBI's over 52 games in the league's shortened Fall season. Acereros teammate Chris Carter's memorable campaign continues after the ex-Brewers slugger cracked three homers last week to bring his season total to 46, nine more than Puebla's Danny Perez and Alonzo Harris of Oaxaca.  Harris now has 43 stolen bases (second to fellow Guerrero outfielder Johnny Davis' 54) to go with his .336 average and needs three homers to become the first-ever 40/40 man in Mexican baseball history. He and Carter (who also leads with 114 RBIs) are dueling for the MVP trophy, although Mexico City's massive Japhet Amador has been heating up and shows .354/27/109 numbers despite missing ten days in June due to injury.  Amador is batting .436 with four homers and 13 ribbies over his last ten games.

The league office may as well have their Pitcher of the Year trophy engraved because there's little chance Yucatan's Cesar Valdez won't get it despite losing his second game of the season Sunday, 2-0, to Campeche despite allowing two runs and striking out five in seven innings.  The Piratas' Manuel Flores pitched his league-leading second shutout of the year, scattering three hits to go to 9-7. Valdez leads the league in wins (14-2 record), earned-run average (2.30) and WHIP (1.07) while standing fifth in strikeouts (115). Leon's Yasutomo Kubo has struck out 23 batsmen in 19 innings over his last three starts to take control in that category with a total of 144 whiffs.  Kubo also gave up 15 earned runs in that span to fall to 8-13 with a 5.97 ERA. He's allowed just 29 walks in 144.2 innings this year. Obispo's save Sunday over Tijuana put the Monterrey closer one save behind leader Roman Mendez, who has 29 for Dos Laredos. Mendez finally won a game outright Sunday in Monclova to go to 1-6 for the year.

Most series are taking on added importance these days, but few among the midweek sets are bigger than Oaxaca's trip to Cancun to face the Tigres in a series with playoff implications for both teams.  The same can be said when Yucatan visits Puebla and Saltillo travels to Tijuana. Next weekend's biggest series appears to also be in Cancun, when rival Mexico City visits Quintana Roo, although it'll matter when Tijuana hosts Monterrey in the LMB North.


New LMB commissioner Fernando Valenzuela
No fireworks were reported from last Thursday's Mexican League owners meeting in Monterrey, but one surprising development has emerged: former Cy Young Award winner Fernando Valenzuela has been named to fill the newly-created Commissioner position.  

According to Martha Cedillo of Milenio, a national newspaper owned by Monterrey Sultanes co-owners Grupo Multimedios, says the position of LMB Commissioner will be "even above its president, Javier Salinas."  Puro Beisbol was a bit more vague describing El Toro's new job, stating simply that "Valenzuela will address sports issues independent of the presidency of the circuit."

Whatever Valenzuela's role as Commissioner will be, the announcement from Monterrey was made by Monclova Acereros owner Gerardo Benavides, a Salinas ally and head of the Liga's Board of Presidents.  Cedillo reports that the next LMB league meeting will be held in September, during which Salinas' status as president will be discussed. Salinas was not at the Monterrey gathering.

Valenzuela's two-year travails as owner of the Quintana Roo Tigres has been broached here numerous times so we'll avoid another at-length rehash of the difficulties he and wife Linda have encountered ever since they entered negotiations to buy the legacy franchise from Carlos Peralta in February 2017, but it's safe to say the couple does not feel they've received their pesos' worth since then.  There’ve been past rumors that the Valenzuelas were so fed up with their experience owning an LMB team, they were considering putting the franchise back on the market, but last month's league-wide retirement of Valenzuela's number 34 and accompanying pregame celebrations (Fernando took part in one at his home ballpark in Cancun) may have mollified them somewhat.

Valenzuela in his role as Dodgers broadcaster
As reported last week, there is a split among LMB team owners whether to retain Salinas as president and conjecture is that his opponents may break away from the league and form their own summer loop if Salinas stays on, and the one owner said to be on the fence was Valenzuela.  With divisions within the league as even as they are on this matter, it's not beyond the pale to speculate that the Commissioner position was created specifically for Valenzuela in an effort to swing his vote to the Salinas camp. It's not known whether his appointment will have any effect on his duties as a color commentator on Los Angeles Dodgers Spanish language broadcasts, a post he's held for 17 years. 

Also at last week's meeting, a new committee on league relations was formed with Valenzuela, Francisco Gonzalez (Monterrey), Erick Arellano (Yucatan) and Jose Miguel (Puebla), the latter three in the camp favoring the retention of Salinas.  The role and duties of that committee was not given in the Puro Beisbol writeup while the formation of the committee was not mentioned in Milenio.


Octavio Becerra (c) signing with Dodgers
The Los Angeles Dodgers have signed an 18-year-old lefthanded pitcher considered by many to be the Mexican League's number one prospect.  Aguascalientes hurler Octavio Becerra came to terms with the defending two-time National League champions late last month. One of the sticking points within the Liga regarding their March agreement with Major League Baseball regarding the signing of prospects controlled by LMB franchises is that the prospect is required to be on the Liga team roster for at least one year in order for the team to receive a portion of the player's signing bonus.  Since Becerra made his LMB debut on July 18, 2018, the Rieleros expect to receive 35 percent of his bonus.

A native of Tepatitlan, Jalisco, Becerra signed with Aguascalientes as a 16-year-old in February 2017 and was assigned to the LMB Academy near Monterrey.  He was brought up to the Rieleros during the Fall 2018 season and was less than overwhelming, turning in a 7.94 ERA over 11.1 innings in seven relief appearances.  Things had not gone any this season for the portsider before he signed with the Dodgers. In seven more relief outings, Becerra allowed ten earned runs, including six homers, in seven innings for an ERA of 12.86 (although he did strike out 11 batters in that span).  His last outing for Aguascalientes came on April 23 at home against Monclova, when he tossed one inning and gave up a roundtripper to 2017 LMB Rookie of the Year Ricky Rodriguez. He was subsequently sent back to the academy in El Carmen for more seasoning.

Becerra posing in his Aguascalientes uniform
Despite his lack of early success at the AAA level in a hitter's league or size (he stands 5'9" and weighs just 165 pounds), he was ranked the Academy's top prospect this year prior to signing with the Dodgers.  Rieleros team president Jose Eustacio Alvarez said at the contract ceremony, "We know that today is the first step to achieve the dream of reaching the big leagues. He is a player with discipline and a lot of work, so we are sure he will have a career full of successes."  Dodgers scout Juvenal Soto commented, "He was a pitcher who from the beginning, more than six months ago when we started to look more at him, he always caught our attention, not just because of the speed of his pitches.  He also has a very good selection of secondary pitches. All the evaluations we did were positive, so we did not hesitate to follow up until we got his signature."

Becerra is expected to be assigned to the Dodgers team in the Dominican Rookie League next month.

Monday, August 12, 2019


Saltillo slugger Rainel Rosario connects
With 15 games remaining in the Mexican League's second-half schedule, the Saltillo Saraperos and Quintana Roo Tigres continue to lead their respective divisions as the September playoff picture begins to come into focus.

The Saraperos had Sunday off after sweeping a doubleheader over Union Laguna Saturday in Torreon, 15-6 and 7-5.  Rainel Rosario cracked two homers and drove in five runs in Saltillo's opening win, then he stroked two doubles and a single in the nightcap to finish the twinbill 5-for-6 at the plate with seven RBIs and four runs scored.  Saltillo is now 28-16 for the half, leading Tijuana and Monclova (both 26-18) by two games while 22-22 Dos Laredos and 21-21 Monterrey are tied for fourth, six games out of first. Aguascalientes (17-27), Durango (16-28) and Union Laguna (15-29) are all well behind and out of the playoff picture.

In the LMB South, Quintana Roo has the best record in the league at 30-14 but Yucatan is hot on the Tigres' tail with a 29-16 mark, 1.5 games out.  Mexico City won both ends of a doubleheader in Puebla Saturday for the Diablos' eighth win in ten outings, including their last four games, to go to 27-18 and trail the Tigres by 3.5 games.  Campeche is holding fourth with a 21-21 record, ahead of Oaxaca (20-24), Puebla (18-23), Tabasco (17-26) and Leon (16-28).

The Tigres won their fifth straight Sunday by crushing Tabasco, 8-0, in Cancun as Jorge Castillo tossed three-hit ball over the first six innings and striking out seven to go to 10-8 on the season. Although he's pitched in three All-Star Games and is a decent 73-60 over his LMB career, the 37-year-old Castillo reached double figures in wins for the first time since debuting in 2003.  It was a 1-0 game until Quintana Roo exploded for six runs in the bottom of the seventh inning, highlighted by Manuel Orduna's three-run homer off reliever Antonio Guzman.

Although the Mexican League is using points to determine playoff seedings, a la the Mexican Pacific League, the numbering system is different, with 8.0 points for first (like the LMP) but awarding one less point per standings placement down to 1.0 point for eighth place.  Monclova, Monterrey and Tijuana are all but assured three of the four LMB North postseason berths but the final slot will be a battle between Saltillo and Dos Laredos. The Saraperos got 4.0 points in the first half, one fewer than the Tecos' 5.0, so it's imperative to manager Roberto Vizcarra's team to finish two places above Dos Laredos for that last slot in September.

While the LMB North is fairly clear-cut, it's a little more muddled in the LMB South. Oaxaca got 8.0 points for finishing on top in the first half and while the Guerreros are struggling in fifth place for the second half, the 4.0 they'd receive should be enough to punch a playoff ticket.  Quintana Roo, on the other hand, got only 3.0 first-half points after finishing sixth so the Tigres really need those 8.0 points they'd get for winning the second half. Likewise, Yucatan got just 4.0 points in the first half so finishing second and picking up 7.0 points might not be enough.  Mexico City is in a position to burnish their 7.0 first-half points with another 6.0 if they don't move up or down and that would be enough for the top division seed. If the season ended today, Puebla would be the fourth seed, following a 6.0 first half with a sixth-place finish and 3.0 points for a total of 9.0.

Leon's Felix Pie still leads the batting race but the ex-Oriole has dropped to .399, falling below the .400 mark since May 12.  Pie also has 22 homers and 78 RBIs. Chris Carter of Monclova continues his monster season, leading the LMB with 43 homers and 104 RBIs.  Carter is redefining "risk/reward" by leading the Liga with 137 strikeouts but trailing only Pie (.483) in on-base percentage at .460. Johnny Davis continues to lead the loop with 53 stolen bases, but the Compton Comet is doing it for Oaxaca now after the Guerreros received him on loan from Dos Laredos on July 29.  It's a hard move to figure out because the Tecos are fighting for the playoffs without many outfielders, but the Guerreros ARE owned by Alfredo Harp Helu and Tecos owner Jose Antonio Mansur can ALWAYS use any cash considerations a loan might bring.

Dos Laredos lefty Luke Heimlich shows form
At this point, the Pitcher of the Year award is Cesar Valdez' to lose.  The Yucatan righty has won five of his seven starts after losing at Durango on June 28 to go to 14-1 with a 2.42 ERA on the campaign and now leads the LMB in wins, ERA and WHIP (1.09).  In 126.2 innings, Valdez has walked just 14 batters while striking out 104. He stand sixth among Liga pitchers in whiffs, where Leon's Yasutomo Kubo is now tied for the lead with Juan Pablo Oramas of Tabasco at 138 each. Roman Mendoza continues to lead the league in saves with 29 (in 31 opportunities).  Mendoza has lost three games in his last ten trips from the bullpen to fall to 0-6 on the season, but the Dominican is a big reason the Tecos are in the playoff picture. Another is rookie Luke Heimlich, the former NCAA Pitcher of the Year from Oregon State who is 8-7 for Dos Laredos and ranks fifth in strikeouts with 109 over 118 innings pitched.  Heimlich's season ERA is an unimposing 4.58, but that's still just outside the top ten in that category and he gave up just one run over 19.2 combined innings in three of his last four starts.

The biggest upcoming midweek series will be a crossover matchup when Tijuana visits Mexico City while the most important weekend set may be when Dos Laredos travels to Monclova hoping to keep their postseason hopes stoked with Saltillo heavily favored in a home set against Union Laguna.


Javier Salinas (r) with Plinio Escalante
After serving several months as a de facto leader-in-waiting, Javier Salinas took the reins from Plinio Escalante as Mexican League president after the 2017 season on the heels of a schism among team owners that had threatened to split the LMB into two separate eight-team loops or cancel the 2017 schedule altogether.  Although neither fate came to pass, Salinas (a former marketing executive for Mexico's popular top-tier Liga MX soccer league) inherited a mess and events of the past two-plus years have not made his job any easier. Now Salinas is staring down the barrel of another in-house insurrection that may cost him his job. Although Salinas has had his difficulties, he's also had successes to point to.

Under his watch, the LMB has been more proactive about putting its product on the internet, with games streamed nightly during the regular season and playoffs.  Also, the popular Quien es Quien annual yearbook with statistics and records (think of something The Sporting News might've published during its heyday) has been digitized the past two years and made available free online under Salinas' watch.  Although many of the Liga's 16 teams have been financial basket cases, Salinas has been able to find new owners to keep the teams alive on the field, if not necessarily at the ticket office. Even after new Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador rescinded the decision last winter to have four of those LMB franchises take 2019 off, Salinas managed to find investors (for better or worse) for all the teams to continue this season.  He even managed to pull off a league-wide tribute to pitching legend Fernando Valenzuela that the former Dodgers star took part in this summer, two years after a number of Quintana Roo prospects were surreptitiously transferred to the Mexico City Diablos Rojos roster while Valenzuela and his wife were in the process of buying the Tigres franchise, a move that embittered the most popular figure in modern Mexican baseball history.

However, there've been some low points during Salinas' two-year reign, too.  He pushed through last year's two-season schedule, which turned out to be a disaster (especially at the gate in the Fall season).  His league’s Monterrey franchise now owns a team in the rival Mexican Pacific League while Mexico City owner Alfredo Harp Helu is paying for ballpark renovations in Guasave, the Mex Pac's other new team (conveniently owned by Durango's LMB owner Alfredo Aramburo.  Among several franchise shifts and sales since 2017, only last winter's resurrection of the Puebla Pericos appear to be working out artistically and financially and while attendance has risen from the Fall 2018 season, nine of the Liga's 16 teams are drawing fewer than 4,000 fans per opening (with four of them below the 3,000 mark).  However, the deal Salinas signed that broke a Major League Baseball ban on signing Mexican prospects may be the final straw.

After some shady player sales between LMB and MLB teams over the years, things came to a head when it was discovered that the Pittsburgh Pirates, Latin American scouting director, Rene Gayo, received illegal payments from more than one Mexican League team as part of player sales involving players whose rights were owned by LMB teams. Gayo was subsequently fired, but MLB commissioner Rob Manfred placed a signing ban on Mexican prospects in June of last year.  While the new deal brokered in part by Salinas and signed in March meant the ban was lifted, it came at a price that was not discovered until after the fine print was looked at closer.

While Mexican League teams can indeed recoup 35 percent of the bonus one of their players is given, as was touted when the new agreement was announced, the player has to have been on an LMB roster for one season, a condition that does not apply to prospects developing at the numerous baseball academies in the country.  Since the ban was lifted, none of the players signed by MLB teams has reportedly had to give up any of their bonus money. That latter point is what may get Salinas fired, since the sale of prospects in the past has meant the difference between a profit or loss for the year with LMB teams.

Monclova Acereros owner Gerardo Benavides
A league meeting has been scheduled for this Thursday that will likely bring things into the open, although Puro Beisbol editor Fernando Ballesteros believes Salinas will not be let go at that meeting.  Still, there are deep divisions that nearly split the Liga down the middle. According to Ballesteros, seven team owners seek to either replace Salinas or form their own league: Mexico City, Monterrey, Oaxaca, Puebla, Leon, Union Laguna and Durango. Eight of the remaining nine LMB teams do not seek to fire Salinas while, perhaps surprisingly, the Tigres are somewhat on the fence.  Ballesteros says that while the Valenzuelas are not against letting their embattled league president walk, they do not want to break up the league if Salinas survives.

It should be noted that Ballesteros is admittedly not a Salinas fan (and considers Monclova owner Gerardo Benavides the puppet-master), but he's also one of Mexico's best-sourced baseball scribes and, as such, should be taken seriously.


2019 LNM champion San Luis Algodoneros
The San Luis Algodoneros defeated Caborca, 8-3, on July 28 to top the Rojos in five games to win the Northern Mexico League championship series, four games to one.  The pennant is the third for the Cottoneers in the present-day Liga Norte's 12-year history and their first since 2014. Ensenada won consecutive flags in 2017 and 2018 but the Marineros were eliminated in this year's playoff first round by Caborca.  San Luis, whose players are supplied by Monterrey and Leon of the Mexican League, knocked out San Quintin in the opening round after going a combined 33-27 over two halves during the regular season.

In the deciding Game Five, held in Caborca, San Luis left-hander Alsis Herrera tossed the first five innings and gave up three Rojos runs while striking out six before the Algodoneros bullpen held Caborca scoreless over the final four innings.  Herrera, who earned the win, was named the Finals MVP. Bryan Sosa went 2-for-4 with two RBIs for San Luis in Game Five while Caborca's Jorge Sesma led both teams with three hits in four at-bats.

The Algodoneros were led offensively this season by Danry Vasquez, who led the team in all three Triple Crown categories by batting .380 with nine homers and 46 RBIs in 53 games.  Vasquez was an Astros farmhand until he was caught on video assaulting his then-girlfriend while playing for Corpus Christi in the AA Texas League, leading to his 2016 release. Vasquez is now batting .340 with three homers after 11 games for Aguascalientes in the Mexican League.  Longtime indyball figure Jermy Acey hit .324 with five homers and 35 RBIs in 30 contests after signing with San Luis in midseason. The 38-year-old Acey played three years (2003-05) in the Jays organization and spent parts of three seasons in the Mexican League between 2010 and 2014 with Minatitlan, Tabasco and Veracruz and hit .295 and belted seven homers in 53 total games.

Jermy Acey with Acayucan in 2014
Although Herrera was named Finals MVP, he was not San Luis' most effective pitcher this season.  That distinction goes to Gabriel Arias, who went 6-1 in seven starts with a 1.71 ERA. Arias, who spent ten years in MiLB (including seven years in the Phillies system), struck out 49 batters in 42 innings for Cottoneers manager Hector Garcia.  His summer in San Luis Rio Colorado was bookended by stints with Yucatan and Puebla in the LMB, where he's gone 2-1 with a 2.25 ERA in eight appearances since the Pericos picked him up in late June.

The Algodoneros' playoff pennant run capped a most interesting season in the Liga Norte, considered a AA loop in the country's pro baseball structure.   The LNM welcomed an expansion team in La Paz to mark pro baseball's debut in Baja California Sur but also was marked by the loss of formal affiliation and subsidies with the Mexican League (although Liga teams were able to cobble their own deals with LNM franchises) after losing existing teams Tecate and Puerto Penasco due to financial problems.