Bruce Baskin / Latin Insider
B a s e b a l l M e x i c o
DECEMBER 19, 2 0 1 5
BAN OVER, SIX MiLB VETS PICKED IN LMB DRAFT
Trying to be as good as their word, Mexican League teams last week held a draft of returning minor league veterans who'd signed directly with Major League Baseball organizations as prospects without first agreeing to terms with domestic teams. Ordinarily, Mexican League teams own the rights to talented youngsters who would then routinely give 70 percent of signing bonuses to the LMB team that held their rights. Prior to this winter, an informal gentleman's agreement effectively blacklisted players who didn't submit to the system from playing in the Liga in the future.
Here are the six returning minor league veterans picked by Mexican League teams, with their former big league organizations in parentheses:
TABASCO - P Edgar Osuna (Atlanta, Kansas City)
MONCLOVA - IF Amadeo Zazueta (Houston, Atlanta, San Diego, Toronto)
CAMPECHE - 1B/OF Francisco Rivera (St. Louis)
SALTILLO - P Marco Camarena (NY Mets, St. Louis)
QUINTANA ROO - C Santiago Chavez (Oakland)
MONTERREY - P Melchor Urquidez (Seattle)
Three other players were allowed to sign with Liga teams they'd already been negotiating with in anticipation of the ban being lifted:
LAGUNA - OF Rogelio Noris (Pittsburgh)
TABASCO - C Sebastian Valle (Philadelphia) pictured above
MONTERREY - Oscar Alejandro Astorga (no info available)
Nine teams chose to sit out the chance to sign returnees, most notably the Mexico City Diablos Rojos. Team president Robert Mansur has said the Red Devils would continue to build their roster with prospects from within their own system rather than employ returning minor leaguers.
MAYOS SWEEP ROAD TWINBILL, LEAD MEXPAC BY 3 GAMES
After sweeping a Sunday doubleheader over the Jalisco Charros in Guadalajara, the Navojoa Mayos ended the weekend with a 15-6 record and a three-game lead in the Mexican Pacific League's second-half standings. Obregon is second at 12-9 and Los Mochis is third with an 11-10 mark.
Let's take a look at how all eight LMP teams are faring with two weeks left in the regular season schedule:
NAVOJOA (15-6) has livened up considerably under new manager Enrique "Che" Reyes. Orioles farmhand OF Quincy Latimore, an Eastern League All-Star last summer, leads Mayos starters in all Triple Crown categories (.307/8/38) and 3B Jesus Castillo is hitting .292 with 7 homers, but 18-year minor league veteran 1B John Lindsey is only batting .143 with one homer and 4 RBI's after swatting a dozen roundtrippers for the Mayos last winter. Pitcher Eddie Gamboa is 4-1 and third in the league with a 2.76 ERA and both Hector Velazquez and Jose Oyervides each have 5 wins. Velazquez has a 3.11 ERA.
OBREGON (12-9) is getting a standout winter from 3B Christian Villanueva, who is third on the LMP table with a .337 average, tied for fourth with 9 homers, trails only Mazatlan's Jeremias Pineads with 35 runs scored and is tied for ninth with 31 RBI's. His on-base percentage of .444 tops the loop. OF Reynaldo Rodriguez is second in the LMP with 10 homers (tied with Mexicali's Yuniesky Betancourt). Rolando Valdez is having a good winter for the Yaquis, with a 5-4 record and a 3.03 ERA that stands third in the LMP. David Reyes (5-2/4.40) has had his moments and middleman Victor Arano (4-0/0.75) has been superlative in 23 appearances.
LOS MOCHIS (11-10) has been steady if unspectacular. Caneros 3B Emmanuel Avila is fifth in the MexPac batting race with a .321 average while OF D'Arby Myers' .338 average would rank higher with more plate appearances. Mexican League All-Star Saul Soto is only batting .232, but the 37-year-old 1B leads the Caneros with 9 HRs and is tied for fourth in the LMP with 35 RBI's. Ageless 1B Ramon Orantes is batting .321 as a part-timer. P Derrick Miramontes is 5-4 and leads the MexPac with a 2.31 ERA but the real story has been closer Andres Avila, whose 21 saves are two away from the LMP record set by Obregon's Mark Zappelli in 1990-91.
HERMOSILLO (10-10) needs just one more win to match their first-half total with 14 games to play as Lorenzo Bundy has steadied the ship since replacing Jose Luis Sandoval three weeks ago. Former White Sox OF Jerry Owens lead Naranjeros batters with a .318 average over 38 games and 3B Jose Amador is having a solid all-around season with .296/9/36 numbers. Hermosillo isn't breaking even by virtue of batting, as their .238 team average is a distant last. An LMP-best 3.41 ERA is more responsible, led by Nate Reed (3-3/2.52), 2009 LMB Rookie of the Year Juan Pablo Oramos (3-3/3.39) and ex-MLBer Edgar Gonzalez (2-4/3.88).
MEXICALI (9-11) has been so-so after winning the first half title but the Aguilas probably have a lot of people nervous as the playoffs loom. OF Welington Dotel is batting .333, fourth in the LMP but nothing like the .379 average he had going into December. 2B Ramon Urias has raised his own average to .351, which would lead the league if he had more at-bats. SS Walter Ibarra (.321), 3B C.J. Retherford (.309/8/33) and vet OF Chris Roberson (.304) have all helped Mexicali to a team .297 BA. P Javier Solano (7-2/3.57) still leads the circuit in wins, but pitching coach Jose Silva's bullpen has fared much better overall than his starting rotation.
JALISCO (9-12) has the only offense to rival Mexicali's, as the Charros hot .288 as a team and plates 4.79 runs per game. 2B Amadeo Zazueta went 14-for-35 for his past ten games to take over the LMP batting leadership at .348 while OF Jesus Valdez is now second at .339. 3B Alex Liddi continues to rake with .314/6/32 numbers and 1B Japhet Amador has raised his BA to .289 and still leads the MexPac with 14 homers and 46 RBI's. Jalisco's pitching has been mostly adequate, although (like Mexicali) the starters are not as good as the bullpen, where ex-Cards P Brian Broderick (1-2/2.33) has saved 14 games, third-best in the LMP.
CULIACAN (9-12) has been packing the stands at their new ballpark, with an average crowd of 16,815 over 28 home games, but the picture is less rosy on the playing field. The Tomateros ARE third in the league with a .267 batting average (3B Oscar Robles leads regulars with a .316 average), but with little power, and manager Benji Gil still hasn't settled on a starting lineup. And Culiacan's mound staff has been a "pitch-and-duck" proposition all winter, with an LMP-worst 4.97 ERA. Hector Daniel Rodriquez (4-3/3.45) is eighth in ERA among MexPac hurlers and 2015 PCL All-Star Ryan Buchter (3-0/0.72) has 10 saves, but that's pretty much it.
MAZATLAN (8-13) has even less power than Culiacan but at least they've got pitching. Alejandro Soto (3-4/2.79) is fourth in ERA in the LMP and Amilcar Gaxiola (4-3/2.70) has been as good, closer Steven Hensley (1-1/2.05) is second with 16 saves and Walter Silva (5-4/4.31), who turns 39 next months, just keeps rolling along like Old Man River. SS Esteban Quiroz lead Mazatlan hitters with a .316 average (seventh in the league), OF Jeremias Pinedas has a .300 average and 22 steals and 1B Cyle Hankard, a former D-Backs minor leaguer, is hitting .298 with 6 homers. The Venados should reach the postseason, but will not be favorites going in.
RAKUTEN EAGLES LOOKING AT AMADOR
Rumors have swirled for weeks that mountainous slugger Japhet Amador may be heading to Japan for the 2016 season. While Mexico City Red Devils president Roberto Mansur claims he has not heard from any Japanese teams inquiring about the 6'4" Amador, who plays for the Diablos during the summer, Puro Beisbol columnist Fernando Ballasteros has named at least one team that may be interested in the 310-pounder.
The Rakuten Golden Eagles are Japan's newest team, debuting in 2005 after the Pacific League's Orix BlueWave and Kintestu Buffaloes merged and left the circuit with five teams. The Eagles, whose first GM, Marty Kuehnert, became the first American to run a Japanese team, got off to a predictably horrible start by winning just 38 of 136 games their first year. The Sendai-based team improved until finally winning the Japan Series by beating the Yomiuri Giants in 2013. Among players who've worn Rakuten's red-and-gold togs are Dodgers pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, Yankees hurler Masahiro Tanaka and Mexican products Luis Alfonso Garcia (in 2011-12) and Agustin Murillo (in 2015).
Ballasteros said that while Amador's tendency to be overweight and fielding difficulties at first base would be issues in Japan, he has hit a combined 55 homers this year between Mexico City and his winter team, the Jalisco Charros, and hitting for both average and power is the hardest thing to do in baseball at any level anywhere.
The 28-year-old Mulege native has already won the Mexican League MVP and is a legitimate contender for the same honors in the Mexican Pacific League. Ballasteros added that while he has searched online and not found any player who won the MVP in both leagues within the same 12-month period, a reader told him the legendary Hector Espino did the double for Tampico of the LMB in 1975 and Hermosillo of the LMP for 1975-76.
OJEDA NAMED MANAGER OF GIANTS' AA AFFILIATE
Former major league catcher and Mexico City Diablos Rojos manager Miguel Ojeda has been hired to manage the San Francisco Giants' Class AA Southern League affiliate in 2016. Ojeda will replace Venezuelan Jose Alguacil as head man for the Richmond Flying Squirrels.
A Guaymas, Sonora native who turns 41 next month, Ojeda made his pro debut in 1993 as an 18-year-old catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates' Gulf Coast League rookie club. After spending the following season with Welland in the Class A New York-Penn League, Ojeda returned south of the border in 1995 for the first of nine seasons with the Diablos Rojos (plus a short stint at AA Carolina in 1998).
The 6'1", 230-pounder was sold during the 2003 season to the San Diego Padres, for whom he hit .234 with 4 homers over 61 games. Ojeda played all or part of four MLB seasons with the Padres, Mariners, Rockies and Rangers, batting .224 with 15 longballs in 212 career games. He returned to the Diablos in 2007 and played another four years for them and spent 2011 in Reynosa before retiring from Quintana Roo in 2012 at age 37 after 20 years playing pro ball.
Ojeda was named manager of the Diablos for 2013 and proceeded to win 201 of 333 regular season games over the next three seasons for a .604 record, finishing first in the North Division all three years and copping the team's record 16th Mexican League pennant in 2014. The Red Devils posted a 73-39 record last summer before losing to Tijuana in the first round of the playoffs.
Earlier this month, Ojeda resigned as manager of the Mexican Pacific League's Mazatlan Venados with the team mired in last place in the MexPac's second half standings. He's been replaced at the helm by longtime Mexican baseball figure Juan Jose Pacho, who led the Venados to the 2006 Caribbean Series crown in front of hometown fans at Estadio Teodoro Mariscal.
MEXICAN PRO BASEBALL LEAGUES: A Primer
While starting to do some research for an upcoming post about what's happening in the Veracruz Winter League, I started looking into just how many professional baseball leagues Mexico has. I'd known of the existence of most of them but when I wrote out a list and came up with three summer leagues, three winter leagues and one that plays both seasons, I was a little surprised. Given that I started writing about Mexican baseball ten years ago, I should've already known that a nation of 123 million people where baseball has been played since the late 19th century is likely going to have a decent infrastructure in place in 2015.
Since I've never done an overview of all the pro leagues in Mexico, this seems to be a good time for a few capsule observations from an extranero fanatico. I'll be giving designations from AAA on down, but those will mostly be how I think they're perceived within the Mexican system, which is largely overseen by the Mexican League. I'll split this into two sections: Summer and Winter Leagues.
MEXICAN LEAGUE (AAA)
Definitely the straw that stirs the drink in Mexican baseball. The LMB has been around since 1925 and is the unquestioned "national" league. Also the only league outside the USA that is a member of Minor League Baseball, where it's classified as AAA and is the only independent league officially recognized by MiLB. The LMB consists of 16 teams from Tijuana to Cancun, run its 110-game regular season from April through mid-July, with three-tier playoffs lasting into September. Except for the Mexican Pacific League, All pro baseball in Mexico flows from this league.
NORTHERN MEXICAN LEAGUE (A)
The LNM's eight franchises are located in Mexico's northwest corner, with franchises in Baja California and Sonora mostly on a line with the American border, including winter league cities Mexicali and Hermosillo. Teams in the Liga Norte play 84-game schedules between April and mid-July with a six-team playoff similar to the Mexican Pacific League's stretching into September. Teams are are LMB affiliates shared by two teams as their collective "Class A" feeder squad.
There was a similar A loop, the Nothern Sonora League, that operated for 60 years before closing after the 2014 season due to financial problems. A Champion of Champions Series between the two pennant winners was held that final year, with LNS kingpin Hermosillo defeating LNM titlist San Luis Rio Colorado in six games.
ACADEMY LEAGUE (A)
Opening in 1995, the Mexican Baseball Academy near Monterrey is something that has no counterpart in the USA, a complex for players as young as 14 or 15 to live in dormitories while honing their ballplaying skills full-time. Prospects are housed, fed, schooled and coached under the auspices the Mexican League. Umpires also attend the academy before being assigned to an outside league. Eight teams shared by two LMB franchises each play daily schedules from the end of March to late July. The Academia website calls this a "AA" league but other sources classify it as an "A" league and that may be closer to reality.
NORTHERN COAHUILA LEAGUE (I)
This is perhaps the most "entry-level" circuit in Mexican pro ball. The LNC is an instructional loop consisting of eight teams in the state of Coahuila near the Texas border. Teams in the LNC play a Sunday-only, double round-robin schedule of 14 doubleheaders between March and June with no postseason. Although not officially tied with the Mexican League, the Monclova Acereros and Puebla Pericos each own two teams and the Saltillo Saraperos own one. The LNC can trace its roots to the 1940's.
MEXICAN PACIFIC LEAGUE (AAA)
Kings of winterball in Mexico since forming in the late 1940's, the MexPac (or LMP) has been the preferred winter home for both top domestic players and prospects sent by MLB organizations to Latin America for extra seasoning between October and January. The league's eight unaffiliated teams stretch in the Mexican west from Mexicali on the California border south to Mazatlan. The stream of minor leaguers from the north has slowed in recent years, but fans have responded with the largest attendance of any non-MLB in the northern hemisphere. The LMP champion represents Mexico in the Caribbean Series against teams from Cuba, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Not officially AAA, but generally regarded as playing at that level.
VERACRUZ WINTER LEAGUE (AA)
Unlike the MexPac, the Veracruz Winter League consists of six teams (four in the state of Veracruz and two more in Chiapas) that are affiliated with Mexican League clubs. Since many LIV players perform in the LMB during the summer, the quality of play is comparable to the LMP, although the crowds don't come close to their western counterparts. The LIV regular season runs just 30 games compared with the LMP's 70-game schedule. Their playoff champion takes part in the Latin American Series against flag-winners from Colombia, Panama and Nicaragua. The "AA" designation is purely personal on my part but all things considered, it seems accurate.
MEXICAN WINTER LEAGUE (A)
The LIM was created three months ago in the wake of the collapse of the Nayarit-based Northwest Baseball League (LBN) following its season last winter. Six teams in the Central Mexican states of Aguascalientes and Guanajuato as well as Mexico City embarked on 62-game schedules October 17 with January playoffs scheduled. The league is considered "developmental," with most players on the LMB-affiliated teams ranging from their mid-teen to early-20's, worthy of a Class A designation in Mexican ball. The Mexico City Diablos Rojos' farm team, managed by ex-Diablos star Victor Bojorquez, currently top the standings by three games with two weeks left in the regular season.
ACADEMY LEAGUE (R)
"Wait a minute," you're saying, "Isn't there already a Class A Academy League?" Well, yes, there is...in the spring and summer. During the fall, a separate Academy League playing with the "Rookie" designation plays a shorter season running from mid-October to mid-December. This year, five teams with shared LMB affiliations (Saltillo fielded a single team) played 27 games each over eight weeks, all on the Academy grounds with daily doubleheaders. A team co-owned by Mexico City and Oaxaca won the pennant with a 21-4-2 record earlier this month.
Much credit is due to Mexico City Diablos Rojos owner Alfredo Harp Helu for creating and funding a baseball academy in his native Oaxaca in 2009. As someone who was intrigued as a kid by the Kansas City Royals Academy that Ewing Kaufmann (a great and visionary owner, IMHO, as is Harp) ran in the early 70's, I'm convinced there is value to them. Two thumbs up to both Harp and late Quintana Roo Tigres owner Alejo Peralta (founder of the LMB Academy in El Carmen) for taking lead roles in developing academies south of the border.
EX-MLBer NYJER MORGAN SIGNS WITH PERICOS
From its 1531 founding by Spaniards through centuries as the scene of some of Mexico's most important historic moments (including the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, in which Mexican forced defeated French invaders in an event celebrated today as Cinco de Mayo), Puebla is known as a dignified, cultured and relatively quiet colonial city of 2.5 million residents.
Enter Nyjer Morgan.
The volatile ex-Major Leaguer has signed a deal to play for the Puebla Pericos in 2016. Morgan had an abbreviated stay last summer with the Korea Baseball Organization's Hanwha Eagles, for whom he batted .273 in ten games. The 2014 season was also a relatively inactive one for the San Francisco-born outfielder, who batted .341 over 15 games for the Cleveland Indians but posted just .200 in as many games for the Tribe's AAA Columbus affiliate. He spent the entire 2013 campaign in Japan, where he hit .294 with 11 homers for the Pacific League's Yokohama BayStars.
It's been a tough few seasons for the 34-year-old, who attended high school in Canada before being picked by Pittsburgh out of Walla Walla (WA) Community College in the 33rd round of the 2002 draft. Morgan toiled five seasons in the Pirates system before hitting .299 for Pittsburgh in a late-season call-up in 2007. He split the following year between AAA and MLB, but 2009 was his breakout year. Despite a June trade that sent him to Washington, Morgan hit .307 for the year (.351 for the Nats) to finish tenth in the National League while his 42 stolen bases ranked second in the senior circuit. His performance dipped in 2010, however, and he was dealt again prior to the 2011 campaign, this time to Milwaukee. As with Washington, Morgan got off to a strong start with the Brewers, batting .304 his first season, but his average fell to .239 in 2012 and he was granted free agency following the season after he refused to be assigned to the Brewers' AAA Nashville affiliate, leading to his journey to Japan.
Along the way, Morgan built a reputation both as a centerfielder whose speed allowed him to cover a lot of ground while being a threat on the basepaths and as a temperamental player capable of sometimes-entertaining outbursts in the middle of a game. He once threw his glove and walked away after he thought he'd deflected a fly ball from Baltimore's Adam Jones over the fence for a home run when, in fact, he'd knocked the ball back onto the playing field and Jones ended up cruising around the bags for an inside-the-park home run. Morgan also once threw a ball at a fan in Philadelphia, received a suspension after precipitating a brawl by charging the mound after two beanballs innings after slamming into a Marlins catcher and separating his shoulder, and he was criticized after shouting two obscenities picked up by TV microphones after the Brewers won the 2011 NL Division Series.
A career .282 hitter who appeared in seven MLB seasons, Morgan was also a very talented hockey player as a teen, reaching the Major Junior Regina Pats before settling on baseball as a career choice. He had a Twitter following of over 80,000 during his big league days, where he gave himself the nickname of "Tony Plush" as a sort of alter-ego.
Regardless of how Nyjer Morgan performs on the field in Mexico this summer, Pueblans in the stands at Estadio Hermanos Serdan will not be bored.
ROJAS REPLACES NAVARRETE IN JALISCO
The Jalisco Charros have fired manager Juan Navarrete and replaced him with Homar Rojas, who won Mexican Pacific League pennants with Obregon and Hermosillo, beating Mazatlan in both title series.
Navarrete, a Salon de la Fama second baseman who batted .327 in 16 Mexican League seasons between 1970 and 1990 (mostly with Saltillo), led the Guadalajara squad to an 18-17 record and five points in the first half of the current season (his second with the Charros), tying with Obregon for fourth in the standings. However, Jalisco fell to 9-15 and dropped behind Mazatlan into last place following a 4-1 loss in Hermosillo Thursday night while the Venados were holding off Mexicali, 2-1. Navarrete led the Charros to an LMP-best 42-26 record and a top playoff seed in his first winter with the club in 2014-15, losing to Culiacan in five games in the MexPac championship series.
The 51-year-old Rojas broke in as a catcher with Monterrey at age 18 in 1982 and went on to play 23 seasons in the minors, including four years in the Dodgers system between 1987 and 1990. He played for six different teams in the LMB, gaining a reputation as a solid defensive catcher who could hit for power. Since retiring in 2004, Rojas has managed in both the Liga and MexPac. Rojas skippered Obregon to their first LMP pennant in 27 years in 2007-08 and took Hermosillo to the title and a Caribbean Series berth two winters later. The Nuevo Leon product has not enjoyed similar success during the summer, where stints at the helm in Oaxaca, Reynosa, Campeche and Monclova have been pennant-free, although he did take the Acereros to the MLB championship series this year before losing to the Quintana Roo Tigres in five games.
Rojas' first game as Jalisco manager was Friday night at home against Los Mochis.