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Baseball Analysis   Bruce Baskin 

B a s e b a l l   M e x i c o
Monday, April 12, 2021

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            The brand-new Guadalajara Mariachis are looking to make a splash in their inaugural Mexican League season. However, while adding prominent players to their roster, they've created a logjam for themselves at one position. According to Roberto Espinosa of Beisbol Puro, the Mariachis have picked up veteran first baseman Jesse Castillo after already signing longtime LMBer Saul Soto and former major league All-Star Adrian Gonzalez, who also play the initial hassock.


            While the threesome would have the potential to belt a combined 75+ homers in a full season for the Jalisco squad (if each was healthy and played every day), even if they split time between first base and designated hitter, someone would be sitting because the 42-year-old Soto hasn't caught a game since 2016, the 38-year-old Castillo has played three games at third base since 2015 and Gonzalez (who turns 39 next month) last played the outfield in 2012. It might make the most sense to rotate the three between first and DH over the upcoming 66-game season, meaning each would play 44 times, but it remains to be seen whether any would be willing to sit every third day.


            Castillo comes with some risk after missing all of the 2019 LMB season due to a blown knee suffered when he was rounding first base while batting for Monclova during the Fall 2018 North Division championship series. The Mexicali-born slugger did play winterball in Venezuela during the 2019-20 campaign and with Guasave last season in the Mexican Pacific League season before being named the LMP Finals MVP and belting a homer and driving in five runs for Culiacan as a reinforcement in the Caribbean Series, so it does appear that his bat is back in shape. Castillo was training to play for Leon last spring before the Wuhan virus-caused pandemic led to the Liga's 2020 season being canceled.


            Prior to his injury, Castillo may have been the most feared hitter in the Mexican League between 2015 and 2018. Over that timespan, the 6'1” lefty swinger never batted below .324 while leading the LMB with an aggregate 557 hits, 315 RBIs and 322 runs scored. He was second with 108 doubles and 293 walks while belting 66 homers to rank sixth in the loop en route to winning consecutive MVP trophies in 2017 and Spring 2018. In other words, he has legitimate bonafides. But so do El Jefe (Soto) and El Titan (Gonzalez).


            With the start of the Mexican League's shortened schedule less than six weeks away, Guadalajara manager Benji Gil will have to determine what kind of balancing act he'll have to use in the regular season over the next two months. If he goes with the three-man, two-position rotation mentioned above, the trio would at worst be fairly well-rested heading into the playoffs in early August.





            Two Mexican League teams will be playing a pair of exhibition games in San Antonio later this month when the defending LMB champion Monclova Acereros take on the Dos Laredos Tecolotes.  The games will take place Thursday, April 29 and Friday, April 30 at Nelson Wolff Stadium, home of the Class AA San Antonio Missions, a San Diego Padres affiliate.


            The Acereros will have a major league look on their roster, starting with their manager.  The American League's 1992 Rookie of the Year, Pat Listach, took the reins of the team during the 2019 season and led them to the city's first Mexican League pennant 45 years after Monclova's debut season. One of Listach's coaches is former Phillies second baseman Juan Samuel, a three-time National League All-Star. Then there's the Monclova playing roster.


            Former Cubs World Series shortstop Addison Russell signed with the Steelers last month and another big name is reportedly on the way for 2021. Russell will be joined by outfielder Rajai Davis (who played for Cleveland against Russell's Cubs in the 2006 Fall Classic), first baseman Chris Carter (2016 National League home run champion), Erick Aybar (former American League All-Star) and Bartolo Colon, the AL's 2005 Cy Young Award winner. The Acereros have also picked up former Nationals infielder Danny Espinosa, who is slated to play at shortstop while Russell moves over to third base in initials plans for the upcoming season.


            The Tecolotes will not have nearly the same star power as Monclova brings over the Texas border. The biggest name on the Dos Laredos roster may well be their manager, former pitching star Pablo Ortega. A 44-year-old Nuevo Laredo native, Ortega retired in 2019 after 19 seasons in the Liga, finishing with a 156-101 career record and a 4.41 ERA along with 1,119 strikeouts over 2,072 innings pitched. He reached double figures in wins seven times (five times between 2008 and 2012), pitched in six All-Star Games and was the LMB Comeback Player of the Year in 2011. Ortega served as interim manager last winter in Mazatlan, where he led the Venados to a winning record and a Mexican Pacific League playoff berth after replacing Juan Jose Pacho, but will not be back for the 2021-22 season.


            Ortega's charges will include a pair of former MLBers from Brazil. Outfielder Paulo Orlando was a member of Kansas City's 2015 American League pennant-winning team as a rookie while fellow Andre Rienzo pitched for the White Sox and Marlins between 2013 and 2015. Both spent time in the Mex Pac with the Obregon Yaquis last winter.


            Some familiar names in Mexican baseball dot the Tecos roster. The border team recently dealt for veteran Oaxaca centerfielder Alan Sanchez, a 2017 All-Star and .305 batter since his 2010 Liga debut. Orlando and Sanchez will be joined in the outfield by Roberto Lopez, who was the 2017 Serie del Rey MVP after leading Tijuana to the pennant that year. First baseman Balbino Fuenmayor, who hit .334 with 31 homers for Dos Laredos in 2019, is back in Mexico after finishing the winterball season in his native Venezuela. One notable member of the Owls' roster is pitcher Luke Heimlich, the Pitcher of the Year in 2018 at Oregon State, who went 8-7 with a 4.58 ERA over 21 starts with the team in his 2019 pro debut.


            Game times in San Antonio for the series will be 7:05PM both night. Ticket prices for the exhibition games will range from $10 to $30 each.





            The Mexican contingent that opened the 2021 Major League Baseball season this month consisted of 16 players. While Oliver Pérez is adding a 19th MLB season to his resume, eight other players of Mexican descent had their first experience on a big league Opening Day roster, including brothers Luis and Ramón Urías.

            The Urías brothers are not the first Mexican-born pair of siblings to open the season on a Major League Baseball roster. Adrián and Édgar González, Mexicans born in California, did it playing for the San Diego Padres in 2009. In the case of Oliver Pérez, he will continue to set the record for most seasons by a Mexican in MLB, In 2020, he passed Fernando Valenzuela, Aurelio Rodríguez and Juan Gabriel Castro, who participated in 17 calendars in The Show.


            Eight of the 16 players who opened the season in the Major Leagues experienced an Opening Day at that level for the first time: José Urquidy (Houston), Giovanny Gallegos (St. Louis), Alejandro Kirk (Toronto), Luis Urías (Milwaukee), Ramón Urías (Baltimore), Víctor González (Dodgers), Río Ruiz (Baltimore) and Felipe “Tres” Barrera (Washington). Last year, Urquidy and Gallegos were scheduled to start the campaign with their teams but the pandemic prevented that from happening.


            The number of 16 Mexicans opening the 2021 MLB season is the most since the same number was recorded in 2017, but still far behind the record of 24 Mexican nationals on Opening Day rosters in the 2003 campaign.


Felipe “Tres” Barrera (Washington Nationals)

Luis Cessa (New York Yankees)

Phillip Evans (Pittsburgh Pirates)

Giovanny Gallegos (St. Louis Cardinals)

Victor Gonzalez (Los Angeles Dodgers)

Alejandro Kirk (Toronto Blue Jays)

Oliver Pérez (Cleveland Indians)

Daniel Ponce de León (San Luis Cardinals)

Sergio Romo (Oakland Athletics)

Rio Ruiz (Baltimore Orioles)

Joakim Soria (Arizona Diamondbacks)

Julio Urías (Los Angeles Dodgers)

Luis Urías (Milwaukee Brewers)

Ramón Urías (Baltimore Orioles)

José Urquidy (Houston Astros)

Alex Verdugo (Boston Red Sox)


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