by Bruce Baskin
April 9, 2019 - Mexican League (ML)
RUDY AMADOR SIZZLES AS MONCLOVA SWEEPS SALTILLO
The Mexican League opened their 2019 season over the weekend with a full slate of games among its 16 teams. As usually happens in baseball, some hitters have been red-hot coming out the gate but it would be hard to find an LMB batter who's off to a more torrid start than Monclova third baseman Rodolfo Amador.
Although the Loreto, Baja California native may be the least famous of three Amadors performing in the Liga this year (behind Mexico City slugger Japhet and new teammate Jose, a perennial .300 hitter who the Acereros signed as a free agent last Wednesday), Rodolfo has already earned a reputation as one of the best hot-corner gloves in Mexico over eight seasons in the LMB. However, even though he is a career .302 batter who represented Mexico during last month's Samurai Series in Japan, Rudy has been regarded more as pesky hitter but not one of the Steelers' big guns.
The 26-year-old Amador took a big step towards altering those impressions during Monclova's three-game sweep at home of Saltillo over the weekend by going 7-for-11 (.636) with a homer and six RBIs over the series. He was not flawless in the field, however, committing two errors in eleven chances and while he did start one double play against the Saraperos, Amador's fielding percentage stands at an uncharacteristic .818. It's certain that his batting average will decline and his fielding percentage will rise in short order as more games are played but if last weekend was any indication, he may be one more Amador who pitchers will not be able to look past in the order.
Monclova was one of four teams to win all three games in their respective weekend opening series, along with Monterrey and Dos Laredos in the LMB North and Oaxaca in the South (each copping sweeps in their own ballpark). The Sultanes may have been the most impressive in their broom job over Spring 2018 champion Yucatan, including a six-run outburst in the eighth inning of Friday's 7-1 triumph over the Leones as 20,533 watched in Estadio Monterrey. The Fall 2018 kingpin Sultanes sent all nine batsmen to the plate, with Agustin Murillo capping the scoring with a two-run homer off Yucatan reliever Maikel Cleto.
Dos Laredos made short work of Union Laguna with three big wins at Nuevo Laredo's venerable Parque La Junta. The Tecolotes are one of the more interesting teams in the LMB this year. After a Spring 2018 debut season (after moving to the Texas border from Veracruz) in which they finished last in the LMB North under then-manager Eddie Castro with a 22-35 record, the Owls turned things around under new skipper Felix Fermin in the Fall campaign with a 30-26 mark and qualified for the playoffs. This year's edition of the Tecos has a mix of players like former Phillies All-Star outfielder Domonic Brown, speedster Johnny Davis (a former Brewers farmhand), versatile vet Balbino Fuenmayor, powerful ex-Diamondbacks minor leaguer Rudy Flores, one-time MLB pitcher Sergio Mitre, ex-phenom Luis Heredia (back in Mexico after a record 2012 $igning with the Pirates) and fellow hurler Jose Oyervidez, one of Mexico's better pitchers over the past few years when healthy.
Added to the starting rotation will be former Oregon State star Luke Heimlich, the 2018 College Pitcher of the Year who has not pitched an inning of pro ball after word of a sexual misconduct conviction at age 15 surfaced and in effect made Heimlich globally radioactive. The Mexican League office conducted their own investigation after he was signed by Dos Laredos last month and recently okayed to play. Heimlich is expected to start Tuesday night in the Tecos' return-series opener against Laguna in Torreon.
Meanwhile, the Oaxaca Guerreros won all three of their opening contests against Tabasco over the weekend to be the only LMB South team to go unbeaten in their opening series. Granted, the Olmecas have not exactly been juggernauts in recent history (although the franchise is showing some signs of life under new owner Juan Carlos Manzur), Oaxaca batted .358 with eight homers during their trio of trouncings in which they outscored the visitors, 29-18.
Former big leaguer Eury Perez patrols the Guerreros outfield with Alonzo Harris and Alan Sanchez while longtimers Erick Rodriguez and Iker Franco share the catching chores for manager Sergio Gastelum. Jaime Brena stroked an RBI single in Sunday's game during which he subsequently turned second base over to 22-year-old Omar Meza after patrolling the Oaxaca middle infield for 20 years. Despite possessing little power or speed afoot, Brena kept rallies going by topping the .300 mark nine years and walking over 600 times while displaying a proficient glove in the field en route to five All-Star Game selections. His number 10 was retired by the Guerreros A good comparison might be made with former Cubs All-Star Glenn Beckert.
Among pitchers, the best start over opening weekend might've belonged to Puebla's Travis Barnwart, a former Wichita State standout and seven-year A's minor leaguer who comes to Mexico after three years in Korea, a season in the Cleveland system and an 8-4 record with Wichita in the indy American Association last year. Barnwart scattered six hits over five innings against Campeche on Saturday night in a 13-5 bopping of a Piratas team with some decent hitters like C.J. Retherford, Olmo Rosario, Paul Leon and 2018-19 LMP Rookie of the Year Jasson Atondo.
Attendance was solid in most of the eight cities hosting opening weekend series. As expected, Mexico City did the best with an average of 19,387 fans clicking the turnstiles at the futuristic Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu. Tijuana fans came out to the tune of 16,191 per opening to see their Toros while Monterrey had a decent opening series at the gate with Yucatan, drawing just under 15,000 per night. At the other end of the spectrum, just over 10,000 spectators in Oaxaca attended the entire set against Campeche, a disappointing turnout after the Guerreros were surprise entries in last autumn's Serie del Rey with eventual flag-winners Monterrey.
GUEST GAME REPORT: RIELEROS AT BRAVOS (SUNDAY) IN LEON
One of our BBM readers, Bob Broughton, is a former Vancouver, Canada resident who now lives in Guanajuato and has become a devoted Leon Bravos fan. He posted the following report and photos from Sunday's Leon-Aguascalientes game at Estadio Domingo Santana on his CourtesyRunner.com website, which intersperses stories on Mexican baseball with outstanding coverage of NAIA college baseball and is well worth a look-see:
The Rieleros (Railroaders) de Aguascalientes (2-1) defeated the Bravos de Le?"n (1-2) 15-9 at Estadio Domingo Santana in Le?"n on April 7. After an excellent start by RHP Yasutomo Kubo in the season opener, the Bravos have given up 37 runs in their last two games.
The Bravos led this game 6-4 going into the seventh inning, but the Rieleros put up ten runs in the top of the seventh. The inning started with RHP Normand Mendoza on the mound. He gave up a three-run home run by DH Saul Soto. He was replaced by LHP Marco Ramirez, who walked the only batter he faced. The next pitcher was RHP Tony Amezcua, and he was greeted with a two-run home run by 3B Jose Vargas. Amezcua walked the next two batters, then a run scored on a single by RF Edson Garcia. That chased Amezcua, and he was replaced by RHP Fredy Quintero. Quintero struck out the first batter he faced (he had an ERA of infinity coming into the game), but the next batter, SS Richy Pedroza, hit a two-RBI single. He was followed by 2B Michael Wing, who hit a two-run home run, his second hit of the inning, and second home run of the game. Quintero gave up another home run, by Vargas, in the eighth inning.
The Bravos trailed 15-6 going into the bottom of the eighth, but they nearly got back into it. The got a three-run home run by LF Felix Pie (his second home run of the game). The Bravos loaded the bases on a walk, a single by 2B Brandon Macias, and another walk. However, pinch-hitter Luis Medina struck out to end the inning and the scoring.
The Rieleros opened the scoring with an RBI single by Soto in the top of the first inning. The Rieleros answered with a solo home run by Pie in the bottom of the second. A two-run home run by Wing gave the Rieleros a 3-1 lead after 2 ½ innings. The Bravos took a 5-3 lead with a two-run home run by CF Cedric Hunter and a two-RBI single by C Isidro Pina. They made it 6-3 when 1B Eduardo Arredondo scored on a ground out by Pie in the bottom of the fourth. Wing hit an RBI double in the top of the fifth (Hunter lost it in the sun) to make it 6-4. Hunter hit a triple with two outs in the bottom of the sixth, and two walks loaded the bases, but the inning ended with a strikeout by DH Matt Clark.
Wing finished 4-for-4 with two home runs, a double, five RBI, and four runs scored. Saul Soto went 3-for-4 with a home run and four RBI. Hunter went 3-for-4 with a home run, a triple, and two RBI for the Bravos. The Bravos left 14 runners on base.
Hector Silvestre, who pitched the sixth inning, got the win. Mendoza got the loss.
During the past off-season, the Mexican League decided to shut down both of these teams. However, intervention by the President of Mexico kept them alive. The Bravos added a new ownership partner, Grupo Multimedios.
Vargas (Ventura, CA) was in the White Sox organization 2008-10. Pedroza (Covina, CA) played college ball for Cal State Fullerton, was in the Cardinals organization 2013-15. Wing (Upland, CA) was in the Angels and Padres organizations 2007-13. Silvestre (San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic) was in the Nationals organization 2011-17.
Amezcua (Bellflower, CA) was drafted by the Reds in the seventh round in 2010; he was in the Reds organization through 2014. Clark (West Covina, CA) played college ball at LSU, was drafted in the 12th round by the Padres in 2008. He was also in the Mets, Brewers, and Cubs organizations. Pie (La Romana, Dominican Republic) played six seasons in the Major Leagues with the Cubs, Orioles, and Pirates. His career average was .246, and he hit 17 home runs. Hunter (Decatur, GA) was drafted in the third round of the 2006 draft by the Padres. He played a total of 19 games for the Padres and Phillies. Macias (Flagstaff, AZ) played college ball at Kansas, spent six seasons in the Brewers organization.
RANGERS PURCHASE TIJUANA PITCHING PROSPECT SERRANO
The Texas Rangers have bought the contract of 19-year-old pitcher Florencio Serrano, a product of the Tijuana Toros Academy. According to the Hitazo website, the March 14 deal between the two franchises marks the first between Major League Baseball and a Mexican League franchise after MLB lifted a ban on signing Mexican prospects until a new agreement was hammered out earlier this year between the two organizations.
While he goes to the Rangers organization via an Mexican League club, the transaction marks a homecoming of sorts for the 6'1" right-hander, who was born in Corpus Christi and played high school ball in Texas as a freshman prior to his 2016 arrival at the Tijuana academy at 16. The LonestarBall site reports that Serrano agreed to a deal with the Chicago Cubs one year later for a $1.2 million signing bonus (with the Toros getting $900,000 of that), but MLB later voided the contract after learning that Serrano received more than the stated amount and violating international pool money rules. He's said to have been rated as Baseball America's 29th best prospect that year.
This time, the contract with the Rangers is reportedly worth $850,000. As per the new pact between MLB and the LMB, Serrano will receive 100 percent of the purchase price directly from the Rangers, while the Toros will get 35 percent of that as a commission. Serrano, whose fastball touches 95 miles per hour, is expected to be assigned to one of Texas' lower minor league affiliates pending his passing a physical exam, perhaps the Rangers' Arizona Rookie League team but more likely their Class A Northwest League affiliate in Spokane.
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