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Baseball Analysis   Bruce Baskin 

B a s e b a l l   M e x i c o
Monday, November 8, 2021

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            Career changes involving two of the Mexican Pacific League's most notable pitchers over the past decade were in the news last week. Longtime Mexicali starter Javier Solano was sent to Guadalajara after the Aguilas announced a four-player trade with the Jalisco Charros while Mazatlan hurler Walter Silva announced his pending retirement as a player to focus on serving at the Venados pitching coach at a press conference.


            Solano, a 31-year-old righty who's in his 14th winter of LMP action, has pitched 177 games over the seasons (107 as a starter) and has a Mex Pac career record of 48-36 with a 3.44 ERA. The San Luis Colorado native nicknamed “El Terrorista” was the loop's Pitcher of the Year in 2015-16, the ERA champion in 2019-20 and won a Gold Glove last winter. Solano, who made his LMP debut in 2008-09 with Hermosillo, was off to a rough start for Mexicali this season with an 0-4 record and 8.37 ERA in five starts after going 2-6 and 7.12 for Quintana Roo in the Mexican League over the summer.


            The former Dodgers farmhand was sent to the Charros along with fellow right-hander Felipe Arredondo in exchange for pitchers Fredy Quintero and Jesus Cruz. Arredondo is a middleman who has yet to pitch this winter but was 2-0 and 2.75 for the Charros last season before coming to the border city in the offseason. In return, the Aguilas get a veteran reliever in Quintero who was 1-0 and 4.76 for Jalisco this season while Cruz (5-2 and 4.76 in four years for the Charros) is another reliever who pitched one MLB game for St. Louis in 2020.


            Meanwhile, Silva is calling it a career after 20 years on the mound. After signing with Monterrey in 2002 at the relatively advanced age of 25, the Mazatlan product pitched for the LMB Sultanes and his hometown Venados (along with a one-year stint in Taiwan) before inking a free agent deal with San Diego in 2009. The 6'1 righty pitched six times that year for the Padres (0-2, 8.76) as a teammate of brothers Edgar and Adrian Gonzalez, with whom he'd previously played winterball in Mazatlan.


            After returning to Mexico for good, Silva spent ten more years in the Liga (five with Monterrey) and compiled a lifetime record of 97-86 over 16 seasons with a 4.56 ERA. He pitched another ten winters for Mazatlan and two more in Guasave. He was picked up as an emergency pitcher for Panama in the Caribbean Series last February and appeared in two games out of the bullpen. Now 44, Silva will make his first start this season (and last of his career) for the Venados against Jalisco at home on Wednesday night before becoming a full-time pitching coach under Mazatlan manager Eddie Diaz. His number 39 will be retired.


            Surprising Navojoa has created some breathing room at the top of the Mex Pac standings with a 19-10 record, three games ahead of 16-12 Guasave. With three games remaining in the first half, the Mayos are within grasp of clinching first place and the 10 points that come with it. For their part, Nipping the Algodoneros' heels are Jalisco, Obregon and defending champion Culiacan , all with 16-13 ledgers. At the bottom of the standings, hapless Los Mochis (8-20) has clinched last place and 3.5 points.


            Christian Villanueva of Jalisco holds the batting lead over Navojoa's Tirso Ornelas by a slim .386 to .383 margin. Yoelkis Guibert of Culiacan is third at .354. Navojoa's Kyle Martin has taken the home run lead with seven longballs after just 16 games, one more than Mayos teammate Maikel Serrano and Nick Torres of Hermosillo. Guasave's Jesse Castillo are tied for the lead in runs batted in with 25 each and Luis Alfonso Cruz of Hermosillo) is third with 23 ribbies. Culiacan's Dairon Blanco is tops with 12 stolen bases while teammate Sebastian Elizalde and Los Mochis' Isaac Rodriguez tied for second with 10 swipes.


            Elian Leyva of Hermosillo finally allowed an earned run during his sixth start Friday when Jalisco's Felix Perez singled in Julian Ornelas during the fourth inning of a 5-1 Naranjeros win, but Leyva's 0.24 ERA over 37 innings still leads all LMP starters. Jalisco's Orlando Lara is right behind at 1.13 and Hector Velazquez of Obregon is third with a 1.64 mark. Navojoa's Carlos De Leon has won all five starts for a 5-0 record to lead in wins, one more than Leyva and Lara. Luis Escobar of Obregon has an LMP-best 34 strikeouts in 35.1 innings, ahead of Obregon's Arturo Lopez (32) and new Jalisco starter Javier Solano (28) on the K table. Mexicali's Jake Sanchez continues to top the saves category with nine in 12 outings as Fernando Salas of Hermosillo trails with eight and Navojoa's Carlos Bustamante is third with seven salvados.


MEXICAN PACIFIC LEAGUE Standings: Navojoa 19-10, Guasave 16-12, Jalisco 16-13, Culiacan 16-13, Obregon 16-13, Hermosillo 15-14, Mazatlan 13-16, Monterrey 13-16, Mexicali 12-17, Los Mochis 8-20.





            The final day of last month's WBSC Under-23 Baseball World Cup in Sonora saw the Cuba drop the Bronze medal game to Colombia, 5-3, in Hermosillo's Estadio Sonora. However, the Cubans suffered a greater loss with longer-lasting implications off the field after 12 young players had defected to Mexico by the time the tournament ended.


            Officials with the National Sports Agency in Havana referred to the largest group defection of Cuban athletes in years as “vile abandonments” involving players of “weak morals and ethics.” The remaining players and coaches returned to Cuba on Monday, October 4, two days after the loss to Colombia, during which 11 of 24 rostered players appeared.


            According to the Periodico Cubano website, the 12 players (all members of Cuban National Series teams) who remained behind in Sonora were LHP Dariel Fernandez (Pinar del Rio), LHP Leinel Zayas (Isla de Juventus), RHP Bryan Chi (Industriales), RHP Luis Dany Morales (Sancti Spiritus), RHP Uber Luis Medina (Santiago de Cuba), C Loidel Rodriguez (Sancti Spiritus), IF Miguel Antonio Gonzalez (Granma), IF Dismany Palacios (Sancti Spiritus), IF Yandy Yanes (Camaguey), OF Geisel Cepeda (Sancti Spiritus), OF Loidel Chapelli, Jr. (Camaguey), and OF Reinaldo Lazaga (Pinar del Rio).


            Gonzalez (.385), Yanez (.333) and Chapelli (.320) were Cuba's top three hitters in World Cup competition Chi went 1-2 with a 4.45 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 11 innings and Zayas struck out both batters faced in his lone appearance. While 11 of the 12 are technically free agents (Cepeda is under contract with Los Mochis of the Mexican Pacific League), all will first have to establish residency in Mexico or another country before being allowed to negotiate with any non-Cuban baseball organization.


            Cuban ballplayers have been defecting from the island nation for years since failed pitcher Fidel Castro took over in 1959 and subsequently ruled that baseball would henceforth be an “amateur” sport. Current Tampa Bay infielder Randy Arozarena defected to Mexico in 2016 after two seasons with Pinar del Rio and spent a year playing in the Mexican League for Tijuana and with Navojoa of the Mexican Pacific League (leading the loop in homers) after signing with St. Louis for $1.25 million. Arozarena still resides in Merida, Yucatan and has stated his desires for Mexican citizenship and a spot on the Mexican National Team. Several Cubans have made Mexico their permanent baseball home, including Ronnier Mustelier, Henry Urrutia, Daniel Carbonell and Elian Leyva.


            A 2018 deal between Cuban authorities and Major League Baseball allowing some players to sign directly with MLB organizations was canceled by then-president Donald Trump, signaling a return to the flotilla method of players leaving the island under the coak of secrecy hoping for higher pay and a better life elsewhere.


            A December 13, 2013 story in England's Guardian newspaper said Cuban star Yuliesky Gurriel (28 at the time and now playing for Houston) had just been given a “huge” standard salary raise to 13,000 Cuban pesos per month, or about US$414 at the time, to play for Sancti Spiritus of the National Series. In 2016, Gurriel signed a five-year, $47.5 million contract with the Astros five months after first defecting from Cuba during the Caribbean Series in the Dominican Republic and then establishing residency in Haiti.



MEX PAC ROAD TRIP: Los Mochis, Sinaloa


            Driving from Navojoa, Sonora 98 miles southbound on Highway 15 for about two hours, our virtual Mexican Pacific League Road Trip takes us into the state of Sinaloa and Los Mochis, our sixth stop and a city with 300,000 metropolitan residents founded in 1893 by Pennsylvanian Benjamin Johnson.


            While it's a wealthy city in a fertile agricultural area, Los Mochis (like most LMP sites) is not geared towards tourism. It's a hub of sorts, connected by ferry to La Paz, Baja California Sur; a busy airport with flights to and from Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Tucson; and the western terminus of the legendary Copper Canyon railroad, Mexico’s last major passenger railway featuring one of the most spectacular views in North American train travel.


            Los Mochis sits on the Rio Fuerte, which irrigates an extensive valley region whose main crops are vegetables (e.g., beans and corn) and sugar cane and for which the city is the commercial and financial center, and is 15 miles east of the Gulf of California port of Topolobampo, famous for its shrimp and fishing activity. Among the native animals is the yellow crocodile, which can grow as large as 38.8 feet and weigh over a ton.


            Visitors to town should check out Parque Sinaloa, which contains the most complete collection of palm trees in Mexico, including rare species imported from around the world, and is a great setting for a stroll in the cool of the evening. Parque Sinaloa is set in the old “Colonia Americana” section of Los Mochis, a former residential district for North Americans easily identified by its USA-style architecture featuring brick houses with front porches and yards on all four sides, giving a unique character to Los Mochis rarely seen in Mexico.


            Los Mochis can trace its baseball history to 1947 and the Pericos of the old Pacific coast League, a predecessor to the present-day Mexican Pacific League. The team was renamed Caneros, or “Cane Growers,” in subsequent seasons and after a couple of stops and starts, re-entered winterball for good in 1962. While the Caneros are rarely prime contenders for a title, Mochis has won three LMP pennants: in 1968-69 with manager Ben Valenzuela, 1983-84 under Vinicio Garcia and in 2002-03 for Chico Rodriguez.  In two Caribbean Series, the Caneros have gone 4-8.


            The Caneros play home games at Estadio Emilio Ibarra Almada, which opened in 1947 as Estadio Mochis with a capacity of 4,700 fans. The ballpark has undergone three renovations over the years: One in 1962 included expansion of seating to 6,000 and the addition of lights for night games; another in 1982 after Hurricane Paul devastated the facility nearly doubled the capacity to 11,000 and included a new lighting system; and finally a major 285 million peso upgrade completed in 2018 that raised capacity to 12,000 seats. The ballpark (which was renamed in 1972) has hosted six LMP All-Star Games, ten Mex Pac championship series and the 2015 WBSC U-15 Baseball World Cup.


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