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Baseball Analysis   Bruce Baskin 

B a s e b a l l   M e x i c o
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            The 2020 class of the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame was announced last Thursday at a virtual ceremony centered at the Salon de la Fama in Monterrey and led by Salon director Francisco Padilla Davila. Seven new inductees were introduced to the public, including former Major Leaguers Matias Carrillo and Vinny Castilla plus one-time Negro League player Bonnie Serrell.


            Carrillo led all vote-getters among 28 nominees in the Players category with 52 votes on 55 electoral committee ballots. Carrillo played 107 MLB games between 1991 and 1994, batting .251 for Milwaukee and Florida, but the Sinaloan outfielder was a major star south of the border. In 22 Mexican League seasons, mostly with the Tigres, he was considered by many to be Mexico's most complete ballplayer. He was the LMB Rookie of the Year in 1982 and eventually led the Liga in all three Triple Crown categories. Carrillo compiled a career LMB average of .336 with 330 homers, 1,554 RBIs and 276 stolen bases, raking among all-time leaders in all four categories. In 27 winterball seasons in the Mexican Pacific League, “El Coyote” hit .286 with 260 steals (the LMP career record) and 159 homers (third all-time) in 1,524 games and was MVP in 1992-93. He's also managed pennant-winners in both leagues.


            Castilla was an Obregon-born third baseman who went on to play in the Mexican League with Saltillo and Monclova but made his mark in MLB. In 16 seasons with six teams (most notably the Rockies) between 1991 and 2006, he leads all Mexican-born players with 320 homers and 1,105 RBIs during a career that saw him top 40 homers for the Rockies three consecutive years (1996-98), lead the National League with 131 in 2004 and play in two All-Star Games while winning three Silver Slugger awards. Castilla also spent 21 seasons playing in the Mex Pac and whacked 80 homers with 298 ribbies, including a rookie record seven runs driven in one game for Obregon against Mexicali in 1988. He managed the Hermosillo Naranjeros last winter.


            Isidro Marquez was a Navojoa-born reliever whose underarm pitching allowed him to spent 22 seasons in the Mexican League, primarily with Campeche, where he posted a career record of 97-78 with an ERA of 3.44 and an LMB record 301 saves. “Chilo” pitched 21 seasons of winterball, 16 with Mexicali, between 1985-86 and 2008-09, turned in a 2.88 ERA with 134 saves with a 44-48 record and is the all-time leader in saves in the LMP as well, leading the league in saves a record five times and earning two saves in one day three times during the 2001-02 season. Spent part of the 1995 season with the Chicago White Sox, going 0-1. Marquez is now the bullpen coach in Navojoa, where son, Isidro Junior, is a reliever.


            Jose Luis Sandoval was a standout shortstop with the Mexico City Diablos from 1990 through 2012, minus a short 1993 stint with the Pirates' AAA Buffalo affiliate and the 1997 season in Saltillo. A Los Mochis native, like Carrillo, “El Borrego” sparkled defensively for the Diablos and is the Mexican League's all-time leader with 2,219 game at shortstop, turning a record 1,731 double plays. A solid hitter as well, Sandoval stroked 2,263 safeties over 23 seasons, including 435 doubles and 253 homers, and is second all-time with 1,646 runs scored. He also played 21 winters in the LMP (20 with Hermosillo) and clobbered 98 homers over 1,137 games. Played with five Liga champions and six more in the Mex Pac.


            Burly Eduardo Jimenez was born in Tijuana and terrorized Mexican pitchers for two decades between 1986 and 2007. The lefthanded outfielder spent 21 years in the Mexican League, including seven seasons in Saltillo (leading the LMB with 45 homers in 2000) before playing his last two years with the hometown Potros before retiring at 42. Jimenez had a career .301 average in the Liga and is fifth with 351 homers. He also played 20 seasons in the LMP with six teams and crushed 199 homers, including six games in a row for Mexicali in 1990, and drove in a record nine runs hitting for the cycle in 1994.


            Second baseman Bonnie “Barney” Serrell, who was voted into the Salon as a Veteran, spent five years in the Negro American League (mostly with the Kansas City Monarchs) before emigrating in 1945 to Mexico, where he spent ten years and registered a career .311 Mexican League average on 1,099 hits while scoring 560 runs playing for five teams. Serrell was nicknamed “The Vacuum Cleaner” for his defensive work at second base and led the LMB in hits and triples for 1953 with Nuevo Laredo, then topped the loop in hits, doubles and triples in 1954 for the Tecolotes.


            Jorge Menendez Torre was elected as a journalist. A native of Merida, Yucatan, Menendez wrote under the pseudonym “George Squeeze-Play” for both the Diario de Yucatan and the now-defunct Novedades for over 30 years, serving as the sports editor for the latter. Beginning in 1960, he also published several books on baseball, won four Salon de la Fama journalism contests and in 2000 was awarded the Fray Nano National Sports Journalism Award. Menendez also served as a vice president with the LMB Yucatan Lions prior to passing away in 2013 at age 74.





            The Mexicali Aguilas stumbled out the gate at the outset of the current Mexican Pacific League season, losing their first eight games and costing manager Pedro Mere his job. Things have gone a trifle better for the Eagles under new manager Bronswell Patrick for the beginning of the LMP's second half, with the team winning seven of their first eight games to take a one-game lead over defending champion Jalisco in the standings.


            One prime reason for the border team's resurgence, during which Mexicali has gone 19-7 since Patrick took over, has been the mound work of starting pitcher Miguel Pena. The former Red Sox minor leaguer from Mission, Texas has a 1.72 ERA in six appearances (including five starts) and is a perfect 3-0 as the Aguilas lead the LMP with a team ERA of 3.55. Twenty-year-old setup man Fernando Lozano, a Phillies farmhand out of nearly Ensenada, has a 3-0 record and 1.84 in nine appearances. The Mexicali offense has struggled a bit with a collective .241 average, but veteran batsman Luis Juarez (.278 with 4 homers and 19 RBIs in 32 games) has kept rallies alive and baserunners moving while outfielder Michael Choice, a former Top 100 prospect with Oakland and Texas, is making the most of his .226 average with six homers, 18 RBIs, 20 runs scored and six steals.


            Jalisco dropped out of a first-place tie with the Aguilas following a 5-2 loss in Mazatlan Sunday to fall to 7-2 in the second half. The Charros are battering Mex Pac pitchers to the tune of a league-best .308 average while scoring 5.61 runs per game as seven Jalisco regulars are hitting .300 or better (Japhet Amador is at .341 with 7 homers and 32 RBIs in 33 games). However, manager Roberto Vizcarra's pitching staff has been generally awful this winter, with an LMP-worst 5.49 ERA, a number that would be far worse if not for starter Luis Ivan Rodriguez.


            The 5'9” lefty from Guadalajara has been average at best since his 2013 debut with Laguna in the Mexican League, but Rodriguez is a Pitcher of the Year candidate thus far after turning in a 6-0 record with a 2.83 ERA over seven starts for the Charros. While the team waits as usual for reliever Roberto Osuna to take the mound (both of Osuna's 17-year-old twin brothers have played this winter), MLB veteran Sergio Romo has arrived in Guadalajara and is preparing to pitch for the Charros this month. The 37-year-old “El Mechon” was 1-4 with five saves and a 4.05 ERA in 24 appearances for the Minnesota Twins this year, but is now a free agent. His arrival will be welcomed by both Vizcarra and his teammates.


            Navojoa is in the middle of the pack at 4-4 and tied with Culiacan for fifth place, one game behind Hermosillo and surprising Guasave. The Mayos made a move to bolster their lineup last week by signing reigning Venezuelan League batting champion Jay Austin. A 30-year-old Atlanta native, the lefty-batting Austin led the LVPB with a .392 average for the Aragua Tigres last winter. After playing five summers in the Astros system between 2008 and 2012, Austin spent most of the next five years in independent leagues before debuting in the Mexican League with Oaxaca and Quintana Roo during the Fall 2018 season, batting .304. The speedy outfielder then hit .329 for Campeche in 2019 with a career-high 15 homers while stealing 31 bases for the Piratas.


            Los Mochis continues to stagger after finishing last with a 9-20 mark in the first half. The Caneros fired manager Victor Bojorquez between halves and veteran Saul Soto, who has stepped into such situations before, filled in for the first three games in the second half (all losses) until the front office named Robinson Cancel as the team's new manager. The former big league catcher has previously managed Culiacan in 2018-19 and took the Tomateros to the playoffs, but was not brought back for last season. the Caneros had dropped 19 of their previous 20 games before Cancel led them to a 2-3 record last week, bringing Los Mochis' second-half record to 2-6, one game behind Mazatlan and Obregon (both 3-5) and one game ahead of cellar-dwelling Monterrey (1-7). The Caneros also signed Panamanian catcher Ivan Herrera, a 20-year-old Cardinals prospect eyed by some as a potential successor to Yadir Molina in St. Louis but who went just 2-for-15 in his first five games with Los Mochis last week.





            Although two Guasave players (including a potential MVP candidate) have higher batting averages over fewer plate appearances, Hermosillo outfielder Yadiel Hernandez is tops among qualifying batters in the Mexican Pacific League batting race with a .350 figure, one point ahead of Navojoa catcher Omar Renteria's .349. A 33-year-old who spent six winters in the Cuban National Series with Matanzas before defecting in 2015, Hernandez hit .336 for the Naranjeros last season before making his MLB debut this summer and batting .192 with one homer for Washington in 12 games. He has three homers and three steals for the Orangemen and has scored 21 runs thus far.


            Another Cuban product who, like Hernandez, played six seasons in the CNS (with Cienfuegos) before defecting is Guasave shortstop Erisbel Arruebarrena. Unlike Hernandez, Arruebarrena spent four years in the Dodgers system before going BACK to his homeland last winter and ironically playing for Matanzas, hitting .322 with 19 homers as the Cocodrilos won their first-ever CNS title. Making his debut in Mexican ball this winter, the 30-year-old Arruebarrena is batting .390 with nine homers in 21 games for Guasave after joining the Algodoneros during the first half. Teammate Jose Felix is hitting .376 while fellow Cuban Yadir Drake has .336/6/25 numbers but it's been Arruebarrena who has set the Cottoners batting order on fire.


            In other offensive categories, outfielder Leandro Castro has been one of the precious few bright spots in Los Mochis this season and leads the LMP with 10 homers, one more than Arruebarrena, Dustin Peterson of Monterrey and Culiacan's Sebastian Elizalde. Although Castro is hitting just .233, 13 of his 28 hits have been for extra bases. Japhet Amador of Jalisco has 33 RBIs to lead the loop, one more than teammate Dariel Alvarez and Elizalde, who is out of the Tomateros lineup for up to two weeks after suffering an ankle injury during a play against the Charros on November 30. Obregon's Alonzo Harris continues to lead the Mex Pac with 20 steals in 22 attempts but has not played for the Yaquis since going 2-for 4 against Los Mochis on November 26 to raise his batting average to .337. Harris has been taken off the roster on the Yaquis website but does not appear on the list of LMP transactions since his final appearance.


            Luis Ivan Rodriguez of Jalisco's beleaguered staff has been the surprise among Mex Pac pitchers this year, leading the loop with six wins and a 2.83 ERA. Hermosillo's Juan Pablo Oramas is just behind at 5-2. Navojoa's now-departed Felix Dubrount, who went home to pitch in his native Venezuela, leads pitchers who've tossed more than 35 innings with a 2.15 ERA while Mexicali's Eduardo Vera is second among starters at 2.45. Manny Barreda of Culiacan is tops in strikeouts with 37 in 42 innings, one more than Oramas' 36. Hermosillo closer Fernando Salas' nine saves are best in the LMP and his 1.38 ERA is a big reason. Jalisco's Brennan Bernardino, who was brought in after the Charros released former Pitching Triple Crown winner Elian Leyva last month, is second with six saves.


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