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OBREGON WINS MEX PAC FIRST HALF BY 4.5 GAMES
Despite a 16-10 loss at home to Culiacan last Thursday in the final game of an abbreviated first half, the Obregon Yaquis were able to capitalize on their hot start to finish first in the Mexican Pacific League's opening stanza with a 21-8 record, four-and-a-half games ahead of 15-11 Hermosillo and good enough to capture ten playoff points. The Yaquis were just 4-5 after the LMP's unscheduled eleven-day layoff due to the Wuhan virus, but their 17-3 mark before play was halted provided enough padding to make for a soft landing from their fall back to earth. Obregon then opened the second half with a pair of losses to Guasave in Estadio Yaquis, so the road appears to be harder traveling for Sergio Gastelum's squad through the end of the regular season.
Puro Beisbol editor Fernando Ballesteros provided his readers an analysis of the Mex Pac's first round for each team, of which we present a lightly edited version here:
OBREGÓN YAQUIS (21-8, 10.0 POINTS): They only lost two of their ten series, one against Hermosillo and the other against Mexicali. OF Alonzo Harris was the offensive spark plug with a .337 average (ninth in the LMP) and 20 stolen bases in 22 attempts, leading the circuit. Sebastián Valle arrived to bring order to the pitching staff as their catcher (LMP leaders in ERA at 3.97), even when they traded their best starter, Octavio Acosta.
HERMOSILLO NARANJEROS (15-11, 9.0 POINTS): Unimpressive like last year, the multi-champions did enough to take over the runner-up and 9 points. Special mention of OF Norberto Obeso (LMP batting sub-leader at .371), OF Yadiel Hernandez (.341) and 3B Luis Alfonso Cruz (4HR, 19 RBI) as well as starting pitcher Juan Pablo Oramas (4-2 and 3.38) and closer Fernando Salas (7 saves, 0.93 ERA).
MONTERREY SULTANES (14-12, 8.0 POINTS): With 2B-OF Alejo López as the only one in the league's top ten batting (sixth at .348), the Sultanes surprised in the first half. Dustin Peterson contributed 6 homers and 21 RBIs in his first 23 games while in pitching, Édgar González stands out with a 3-2 record and 4.32 of ERA, ninth in the Mex Pac.
CULIACAN TOMATEROS (15-13, 7.0 POINTS): If it weren't for OF Sebastián Elizalde, they could've possibly finished in the bottom three. Elizalde has 9 homers and 32 RBIs, leading the LMP in both departments, although he slumped in recent games. 3B Joey Meneses is hitting .275 with 4 HR and 15 RBIs. Without OF Rico Noel and C Alí Solís, Culiacan's goal was one of the first four positions and they succeeded.
GUASAVE ALGODONEROS (14-13, 6.0 POINTS): They closed the first half with seven wins in their last eight games to reach 6 points. Cuban P Yoenis Yera (3-0, 2.37) arrived to reinforce the starting rotation. Closer Gene Encina has 8 saves while on offense, OF Yadir Drake (.343/6HR/20RBI) and SS Arisbel Arruebarruena (.373/7HR/12RBI) stand out, despite the latter missing 14 games.
JALISCO CHARROS(15-14, 5.5 POINTS): They have again had serious problems with their pitching, not only releasing Cuban P Elián Leyva (a former Triple Crown winner) but allowing 25 runs in their last three games against Navojoa. 1B Henry Urrutia has stood out for the defending champions with .355/5HR/21RBI numbers while DH Japhet Amador has turned in .342/6/28 numbers over 29 games.
MAZATLÁN VENADOS (14-14, 5.0 POINTS): The arrival of Pablo Ortega at the helm rescued them from falling into the basement. The Venados closed with seven consecutive wins and are going to improve a lot in the second half with the arrival of P Mitch Lively and other players. Detroit Tigers IF Isaac Paredes has responded with a .390 average, one home run and 12 RBIs in 12 games.
MEXICALI AGUILAS(13-16, 4.5 POINTS): After starting 0-8, the team closed with a 13-8 mark under the command of Bronswell Patrick. 1B Balbino Fuenmayor (.273) went home to Venezuela and it's striking that none of Patrick's players hit .300. Even Cuban OF Rusney Castillo has been a disappointment with a .212 average no homers and one RBI in 9 games. P Eduardo Vera is the LMP sub-leader with a 2.64 ERA.
NAVOJOA MAYOS (10-19, 4.0 POINTS): The Mayos have had a season full of ups and downs. The highlight was their 4-for-1 trade with the Yaquis, although Tirso Ornelas will miss the rest of the season with injury. Individually, C Omar Renteria leads the LMP batting race at .397 and P Felix Dubrount was 3-2 with a 2.32 ERA before (like Fuenmayor) returning to play in his native Venezuela, where the season is just now getting underway.
LOS MOCHIS CANEROS (9-20, 3.5 POINTS): Their pitching has been a disaster and they continue to suffer from the absence of OF Jonathan Jones, 2B Ramón Urías and, of course, Cuban starter Yoanys Quiala, who last winter fought for the Triple Crown of Pitching. SS Isaac Rodriguez is batting .366 while OF Leander Castro has 8 HR. The panorama in Los Mochis is very difficult, but the postseason is not impossible.
MANSUR SAYS TECOS ARE “VERY HAPPY” PLAYING IN LAREDO
A Mexican baseball website reports rumors the Dos Laredos Tecolotes may be seeking greener pastures, although owner Jose Antonio Mansur gave assurances that the Tecos' current dispute with the City of Laredo, Texas will not result in the Mexican League team moving out of the border region.
Beisbol Puro says the dispute between the Tecos and City of Laredo centers on control over concessions at Laredo Ballpark, a facility completed in 2012 with naming rights paid for by a local shipping company.* Presently, the Tecos operate concessions at Laredo Ballpark for eight months a year while another company is allowed to organize events and handle concessions over the remaining four months. Mansur wants a year-round concessions contract, something the City has yet to agree to.
The standoff has led to speculation that Mansur might move the team (which arrived from Veracruz following the 2017 LMB season) out of both Laredo and Nuevo Laredo altogether. “We have some differences in the way in which the renewal of the concession contract for the stadium in Laredo, Texas is being considered,” Mansur told Beisbol Puro in a phone interview, “but that is something that we hope can be resolved. We are very happy and very comfortable playing both in Laredo and in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas.”
The Tecos split their home schedule between the two cities that are separated by the Rio Grande, with games south of the border played at aging Parque la Junta, a 6,000-seater built in 1947 that has housed five LMB pennant-winners since, including a powerhouse Tecolotes squad that played in six Serie del Reys between 1985 and 1993, winning two titles. The current Tecos franchise initially played their Mexican home games at 12,000-seat Estadio Nuevo Laredo in 2018.
Despite being a newer (opened in 2008) better facility than Parque la Junta and was one of three LMB ballparks with artificial turf at the time, Estadio Nuevo Laredo sits outside Nuevo Laredo in an area considered unsafe by many fans, leading to poor attendance. The Tecos moved their Mexican home games to the older ballpark in 2019 but while crowds did increase, it is not considered an optimal Mexican League venue moving ahead.
Laredo Ballpark, which was built for $18 million, has 3,940 permanents seats and can accommodate up to 6,000 spectators for baseball when picnic areas and grass berms are factored in. While it's one of the smallest ballparks in the LMB, it's also one of the more modern ones and affords the Tecos the unique status of being the world's only baseball team that considers two nations “home.” Mansur says that while he would prefer to keep things where they are, he's prepared play all home games in Mexico, if not necessarily in Nuevo Laredo.
“We're not leaving here,” he told Beisbol Puro. “What could happen if we don't reach an agreement is that we don't play in Laredo, Texas but our home would continue to be Nuevo Laredo.” He added that farming some games to other cities might be considered. "It really would be an extreme case, but we could look to play some games in Reynosa, or even play in McAllen, Texas to continue with the idea of being a two-country team, but for now those are only options that we have as a possibility.”
*Like all media outlets, Baseball Mexico is not obligated to recognize naming rights deals that generate no revenue for BBM.
LOOKING FORWARD: MENESES, BANUELOS, VILLANUEVA
With the 2020 baseball season in the rear-view mirror and winterball in full swing, three veteran Mexican players are weighing their options for the 2021 campaign. While one of them has been invited to a Major League Baseball training camp and another appears likely to be returning to Taiwan, one former MLBer among the trio finds himself at loose ends.
Culiacan infielder Joey Meneses, who is playing third base for the first time this winter to allow Tomateros manager Benji Gil to put Efren Navarro and his .303 average at first base while slugger Japhet Amador is the designated hitter. Meneses has struggled at times on defense, but he's hit .292 with four homers and 15 RBIs in 30 games.
The Boston Red Sox, who invited the 2018 International League MVP to their training camp last spring, have announced they'll bring the 6'3” 220-pounder back for another look-see as a free agent in February. The 28-year-old Culiacan native struggled with Japan's Orix Buffaloes in 2019, batting just .206 with four homers in 29 games before being suspended by NPB after testing positive for steroids, but the BoSox were intrigued by his breakout performance with the Phillies' AAA affiliate in Lehigh Valley two years and want to see whether his right-handed power can translate to success with Fenway Park's Green Monster.
Left-handed pitcher Manny Banuelos has already endured a sometimes-bizarre 2019 during which he began the year pitching for Culiacan in the Mexican Pacific League playoffs in January, followed by a start in February as a reinforcement for Jalisco at the Caribbean Series in Puerto Rico and a stint in Arizona as a free agent hurler in the Seattle Mariners spring camp in March before the Wuhan virus shut down baseball north of the border that month. Ranked as high as 13th among all prospects by MLB.com as a Yankees farmhand in 2011, Banuelos was subsequently released by Seattle but eventually signed with the Fubon Guardians of the Chinese Professional Baseball League.
Once he reached Taiwan and cleared quarantine, Banuelos pitched well for the Guardians, going 6-3 with a 2.60 ERA in nine starts and striking out 62 batters in 52 innings for a team that went 54-69 for the year. It's almost a given that the 29-year-old Durango product will be offered a contract by the Taipei-based team for the 2021 season.
The player looking over his options (and perhaps licking his wounds after two tough seasons in Japan) is former San Diego third baseman Christian Villanueva. The 29-year-old from Guadalajara made his MLB debut in September, batting .344 with four homers in 12 games for the Padres. He had a hot start for San Diego in 2018, earning National League Rookie of the Month honors in April after hitting .321 with eight roundtrippers in 23 games. Villanueva hit less than .200 over the next three months before rebounding with a .356 average in 12 August games before suffering a season-ending injury.
Despite finishing with 20 homers to augment his .236 season average, his contract was sold the following offseason to the NPB Yomiuri Giants. Villanueva struggled with injuries both years, hitting .223 with eight homers for the Giants in 2019 while spending time on their farm team before being let go. He was picked up by the Nippon Ham Fighters for 2020 but moving from the Central to Pacific League had no effect as he hit just .220 with four longballs for the Fighters, spent time with THEIR farm team and was released on November 18. Villanueva began playing for the hometown Jalisco Charros last week, homering in one of his first five games, but he's essentially playing for a spring training invitation at this point. His Mexican League rights were acquired by the Monterrey Sultanes from Yucatan late last year.