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NARANJEROS, GUASAVE GET HOT; CANEROS TAKE HEAT FROM FANS
Any baseball player, manager or owner can tell you that life is different at opposite ends of the standings. The same holds true on both sides of the borders, as both the Hermosillo Naranjeros and Guasave Algodoneros have caught fire while the Los Mochis Caneros have taken heat from their own fans.
Both the Orangemen and Cottoneers have passed Mexicali in the Mexican Pacific League standings as all three teams entered this week only a game-and-a-half apart from each other in a battle for the LMP second half title (and the 10 playoff points that go with it). Meanwhile, the Caneros appear to be on their way to finishing in last place for a second time and (to their credit) the front office held a meeting with their frustrated fans.
Hermosillo held on to first place with a 13-7 record despite a heartbreaking 2-1 road loss to Mexicali Saturday night at El Nido as the Aguilas scored twice in the bottom of the ninth to take the win. Victor Ruiz scored from third on an errant throw by Naranjeros reliever Fernando Salas to tie the game and pinch-hitter Tristen Carranza's first career LMP hit plated Bernardo Heras with the walkoff game-winner.
The 24-year-old Carranza is a native of El Centro, California who hit .327 over four seasons at New Mexico State University before batting .268 with the Diamondbacks' Missoula affiliate in 2019, when he played in the Pioneer League All-Star Game. The outfielder was released during the purge of minor leaguers last May, making the son of former Rockies farmhand Pedro Carranza a free agent.
Guasave (12-8) dropped out of the Mex Pac lead by losing to Obregon, 10-3, at home on Saturday night. Algodoneros catcher Jose Felix drove in a pair of runs while centerfielder Samar Leyva scored twice, but Yaquis DH Jesus “Cacao” Valdez produced all the runs manager Sergio Gastelum's team would need with a three-run double and RBI single.
Guasave has been one of the surprises of the Mex Pac this season after going 26-37 in their first year in the league last winter. The Algodoneros were a middling 14-13 in the first half but had gone on a run to take the second-half lead with a 12-5 record before losing their last three straight. Guasave leads the LMP in batting with a .296 average while their pitching staff has a second-best 3.44 ERA under manager Oscar Robles.
On the other hands, Los Mochis' bad season continued Saturday night when the Caneros were blanked by visiting Monterrey, 8-0, as Sultanes starter Romario Gil and four relievers combined on a four-hitter. The loss buried Los Mochis (5-14) deeper in the LMP cellar, two-and-a-half games behind Monterrey (8-12). The Caneros finished last in the first half with a 9-20 record and have been hearing it from their fans. According to Jose Alfredo Otero of El Fildeo, team management held a meeting on Saturday afternoon with their followers who, Otero says, are not demanding heads but want to see better results, a plan that lifts the Caneros from also-rans to contenders and “pitching, pitching and more pitching.” To that latter point, Los Mochis is last in the LMP with a 5.44 team ERA while giving up 5.3 walks per nine innings, by far the most in the circuit.
Interestingly, the Caneros have loaned two foreign position players (including one of the LMP's leading home run hitters) to other clubs for the rest of the season, which concludes December 30. Outfielder Leandro Castro, whose .213 batting average included 10 roundtrippers and 21 RBIs was sent to Obregon while first baseman Josuan Hernandez (.254) was shipped to Navojoa. Los Mochis is said to be seeking a foreign pitcher and a hitter, but it's hard to envision much improvement over the next ten days.
With the arrival of Castro in Obregon, the Yaquis sent Cuban outfielder Felix Perez back to Monterrey, who'd loaned him to the first half champs after failing to comes to terms for the current season. Perez, who hit .200 with eight homers for Obregon, was then promptly loaned by the Sultanes to Mexicali. The Aguilas have needed offensive help all season and last week let hitting coach Eddy Castro go (with the usual “thanks for his dedication and professionalism, etcetera”) and replaced him with former batting star Luis Alfonso Garcia, who also happens to be the team's sports manager.
Finally, a member of the Monterrey Sultanes has parlayed a good winterball season into a minor league contract with the Milwaukee Brewers for 2021. First baseman Dustin Peterson was eighth in the LMP with a .316 average to go with a league-leading 11 homers (tied with Culiacan's Sebastian Elizalde) while his 29 RBIs were eighth in the circuit. The 26-year-old Peterson, whose brother D.J. is hitting .242 for Navojoa, was a second-round draft pick by San Diego pick in 2013 and while he went on to be a Top 30 prospect for both the Padres and Braves organizations. Peterson eventually played in MLB for Atlanta and Detroit (hitting .217 in 19 games), but never quite fulfilled the hopes his teams had for him. He'll get another shot at Milwaukee's minor league camp in the spring.
To replace Peterson, Monterrey signed outfielder Courtney Hawkins, a White Sox first rounder in 2012. The 6'3” Texan never rose higher than Class AA in seven years in the Chisox system before later spending time in both the Reds and Giants organizations. Hawkins played for Sugar Land in the independent Constellation Energy League this summer, batting .247 with six homers in 26 games.
Mex Pac teams have nine games remaining in the regular season, which concludes December 30 (with playoffs beginning January 2). Eight teams will reach the postseason. If the schedule were to end today, Hermosillo would be the top seed at 19.0 total playoff points, Obregon would be second with 16.0 while both Navojoa (8.5) and Los Mochis (7.0) would be eliminated.
SECOND HALF STANDINGS (as of 21 December 2020)
Hermosillo 13-7, Guasave 12-8, Mexicali 11-8, Jalisco 11-9, Culiacan 10-10, Mazatlan 10-10, Obregon 10-10, Navojoa 9-11, Monterrey 9-12, Los Mochis 5-14
AMLO PLANS MULTI-SPORT COMPLEX AT FORMER AIRPORT SITE
While presiding over a press conference earlier this month, during which Mexican League expansion teams were being awarded to Veracruz and Guadalajara, Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announced an ambitious plan regarding the development of a 250-acre sports complex 25 miles from Mexico City.
Lopez Obrador said at the National Palace that the proposed Ciudad Deportes (“Sports City”) would be built on the site of an abandoned international airport project in Texcoco, a city of 259,000 northeast of the nation's capital, and include 50 soccer fields, 20 baseball diamonds and another 20 basketball courts. “When I go to the towns and colonies,” he was quoted as saying in Proceso, “I was recently in Chimaluacan. It caught my attention that hundreds of families one Sunday were at the fields there, in this case, soccer. But I see the same when I go on tour.
“I've just been in Sinaloa and I was in Concordia, where they like baseball a lot, and Rosario, San Ignacio, Mazatlan... I was at a youth game on Sunday and was about to go out and grab the bat and try my hand because, as you can see, I'm hitting above .300.”
Although AMLO's sometimes-direct involvement in Mexico's professional game may at times appear questionable, his love of baseball is not. During his 2018 presidential campaign, Lopez Obrador often spoke of his devotion to the sport and desire to see it grow and since he was inaugurated, he's been as good as his word.
First he formed the Office of the President for the Promotion and Development of Baseball (or ProBeis) and named former MLB and NPB infielder Edgar Gonzalez to head the new agency, which seeks to build baseball at a grass-roots level while developing players from an early age. ProBeis has experienced financial difficulties in part because federal money earmarked for the program has slowly made its way through several layers of bureaucracy, but the effort has continued.
Next, Lopez Obrador announced plans to create a number of government-run baseball academies at which talent located throughout Mexico's 32 states can train, with a goal of 6,500 total prospects. Former Mexican League ballparks in Hermosillo and Obregon have been purchased for that purpose but the first baseball school slated to open, perhaps ironically, is in Texcoco.
A 70 million peso (US$3.5 million) investment from the local government led to a facility that will house up to 60 male and female students between the ages of 6 and 21 in a fully-equipped dormitory with bedrooms, a kitchen and gymnasium. There will be one professional-sized baseball field, two semi-pro diamonds and one for children at the school, located in the Xocotlan community.
The longterm goal of Probeis is to develop players who will form the backbone of Mexican baseball, with many moving on to either sign with Mexican League and MLB organizations or receive scholarships to colleges and universities north of the border.
According to an official ProBeis statement, "The regional baseball schools seek to position baseball as one of the recreational and professional options for Mexican children, adolescents and youth. It seeks to offer them training that contributes to their personal and professional development, which trains them as citizens capable of helping build a more just and peaceful society."
RAMOS YET TO REPORT TO NARANJEROS, KBO RETURN NOT CERTAIN
Slugging first baseman Roberto Ramos has not reported to his hometown Hermosillo Naranjeros as planned, and it's believed that ongoing contract negotiations with his team in the Korea Baseball Organization are consuming his attention these days. While Ramos might wish to play another season with the Busan-based LG Twins, the two sides have yet to come to terms and the 6'3” 220-pounder may opt to explore his options in Japan.
Although he was born in Hermosillo, Ramos attended high school in San Fernando, California and was drafted by Colorado on the 16th round of the 2014 MLB draft out of nearby College of the Canyons after batting .317 with seven homers for the Cougars over 37 games as a freshman. Although he struggled that summer, hitting a combined .213 with three homers for Rockies farm teams in Grand Junction (Rookie) and Tri-City (Short-Season A), Ramos spent the next five years working his way through the Colorado farm system. Along the way, he showed extra-base power and became more selective at the plate as both his home run and bases-on-balls totals gradually increased.
After hitting 32 homers and driving in 77 runs in 2018 while splitting time between High A Lancaster and AA Hartford (with an overall .269 average), Ramos put it all together for a strong first year in AAA ball at Albuquerque in 2019. The Pacific Coast League is a notorious hitter's circuit, and the mile-high New Mexico city did nothing to dispel the PCL's reputation as Ramos crashed 32 homers, collected 105 RBIs and hit .309 for the Isotopes to finish tied for sixth in roundtrippers and tied for second in ribbies. Although he led the loop with 141 strikeouts he also waited out a career-high 61 walks to tie for seventh.
Even though the parent club might have found a reason to invite Ramos (who turns 27 next Monday) to spring training and contest for the first base job held in 2019 by 34-year-old Daniel Murphy, the Rockies instead chose to sell his contract to the KBO Twins. As Murphy struggled through the abbreviated 2020 MLB season (.236/3/16 in 40 games), Ramos made the most of his debut in Asian ball and recorded a huge year for the Twins, hitting .278 with 38 homers and 86 RBIs in 117 games. At first glance, it would seem a given that Ramos could return to South Korea next season if he wished, but that's where things get complicated.
While he received a huge raise from his minor league salary by going overseas, with a one-year contract calling for a signing bonus of $50,000 and a base salary of $350,000 (with incentives making it as high as $500,000), Ramos was the second-lowest paid import in the KBO last season, with only Kiwoom's Taylor Motter earning less among 30 such players via a package topping out at $350,000. The two other imports on Ramos' Twins, pitchers Tyler Wilson and Casey Kelly, were paid up to a combined $3.1 million in 2020.
Ramos' performance this year suggests a 2021 salary well north of $1 million with the Twins, but the question is how far north. A pair of Korean media outlets, Star News and Sankei Sports, reports that the Twins have shown interest in former MLB first baseman Justin Bour in case they can't reach an agreement with Ramos. “There are many stories that come and go with Ramos,” says LG general manager Cha Myung-Seok. “At this time I can't speak in detail, but I don't know if his renewal will be achieved so we're looking for another alternative.” Bour, who played in the Majors between 2014 and 2019, batted .243 in 99 games for the Hanshin Tigers of Japan's Central League while hitting 17 homers and driving in 45 runs.
It's safe to assume that if Ramos can't come to terms with the Twins, other teams in the Far East will try to make it worth listening to what they have to offer.