by Bruce Baskin
July 1, 2019 - Mexican League (ML)
ACEREROS HANG TOUGH DESPITE LOSS OF ACE LOWEY
It's never good for a team to lose a pitcher many consider the best in their league, especially during a season in which batters are having a field day against most hurlers in the circuit, but that's the slice of reality that's been handed to the Monclova Acereros, who lost ace Josh Lowey to a knee injury during a May 24 game at Campeche. Lowey's injury ended his season and has left Mere scrambling to fill an unfillable void ever since.
A 34-year-old right-hander, Lowey was cruising along after five innings in his last start, holding Campeche scoreless on one hit (an Oscar Williams single) while striking out six Piratas, whiffing the side on ten pitches in the second. However, in the bottom of the sixth, he injured his knee after throwing one pitch to leadoff hitter Jose Guadalupe Chavez, who popped out to third baseman Rodolfo Amador. According to the Piratas' website, Lowey had run over to the third base line to field the pop-up and nearly collided with Amador, catching his spikes on the grass and wrenching his knee in the process. Wilmer Rios relieved the Floridian and although the Acereros went on to win, 8-2, raising Lowey's season record to 8-0 while lowering his ERA from 4.34 to 3.91, it couldn't have been a celebratory clubhouse afterward.
So how DOES one replace a two-time LMB Pitcher of the Year and three-time strikeout champion who'd gone 63-24 with a 3.04 ERA over 112 starts since joining the Acereros in 2014, whiffing 710 batsmen over 693.1 frames? So far, Mere hasn't found an answer. A Monday travel day after Lowey's Friday injury allowed the Monclova skipper to buy a little time but subsequent attempts to fill the slot have met with mixed success.
Former MLBer Darin Downs was brought in, gave up five runs without escaping the first inning in a June 7 home loss to Monterrey, and was released three days later. Reliever Geno Encina has had three starts since Lowey went down and although the 2017 Midwest League All-Star (while pitching in the Jays system) has won two of them, he hasn't been particularly impressive. Another reliever, ex-Rangers farmhand Adan Quintana, earned a June 12 win at Dos Laredos by allowing two runs in five innings but Mere returned him to his set-up role. Former Brewers and Royals minor leaguer Jon Perrin arrived June 25 and was rocked one night later in Oaxaca for five runs in 5.1 innings of an 8-5 Monclova win, so his status is tenuous. No word on whether Mere or Acereros owner Gerardo Benavides have contacted Lowey's twin brother Jason, who spent eight seasons bouncing between the Braves' system and indy leagues as a reliever before throwing his last pitch in anger five years ago.
Although the remaining Acereros staff (including starters Danny Rodriguez, Romario Gil, Andre Rienzo and Jaime Lugo) has been cuffed around a bit, showing a collective 5.08 ERA without Lowey, the team has continued winning. Mere has had the good fortune of penciling in lineup cards for a team leading the league in hitting (.323) with 112 homers while averaging 7.72 runs per game. Monclova is 44-24 for the regular season and sits one game behind Tijuana for the second half lead in the LMB North at 5-3. Reigning MVP Francisco Peguero is fifth in the loop at .382 with 15 homers and 62 RBIs while Amador has 13 homers and 69 ribbies to augment a .335 average, but it's been former National League home run champ Chris Carter who's caused the most fear among Liga pitchers.
In his first season south of the border, Carter belted a homer in Puebla Sunday to raise his season total to LMB-best 31 for the season and put him on track to belt 54 longballs over the 120-game schedule. The Mexican League record for homers in a single season is 54 by the late Jack Pierce for Leon in 1986. Pierce retired the following year but remained in Mexico until his 2012 death from a pulmonary embolism in Monterrey at age 63. Carter is also batting .321 with a league-best 73 RBIs. The 2005 White Sox' 15th-round draft pick appears to have gotten his groove back following a 2018 season that saw him struggle at the AAA level in the States after his release from the Yankees a year earlier. Carter is also leading the LMB with 88 strikeouts.
MENESES SUSPENDED ONE YEAR FOR ALLEGED PED USE IN JAPAN
For a second year in a row, a Mexican-born slugger playing in Japan has been suspended after failing a drug test, but this time the suspension has been doubled.
Last year, designated hitter Japhet Amador (now with the Mexico City Diablos Rojos) was suspended for six months after testing positive for chlorthalidone and furosemide while playing for the Rakuten Golden Eagles. This time, according to the SeptimaEntrada.com website, it's Culiacan native Joey Meneses getting the order to sit down for one year after testing positive for stanozolol, a substance considered to be an anabolic steroid by the World Anti-Doping Agency. Based in Montreal, WADA was formed in 1999 by the International Olympic Committee in response to past substance abuse by Olympic athletes and has since been given authority by over 600 sports organizations to monitor drug use among athletes.
Meneses, in his first year overseas with the Orix Buffaloes, first tested positive for stanozolol on April 9 after belting a homer in a 3-1 home win over Rakuten in Osaka, just eight games into the current regular season. SeptimaEntrada.com reports that after the initial test result, a second test on Meneses was carried out May 27 that reportedly confirmed the first finding. The suspension was handed down last Friday by Nippon Professional Baseball and the Buffaloes have asked for authorization to cancel the remainder of Meneses' one-year contract, estimated to be worth 100 million yen (or about US$925,000). The team says the 27-year-old has violated terms of the contract and NPB has given the go-ahead to move forward with their claim.
A first baseman and outfielder, Meneses signed a free agent contract with Atlanta as a 19-year-old in 2011. He went on to spend seven seasons in the Braves' system, earning All-Star mention in the AA Southern League in 2017 before signing with Philadelphia as a free agent following the season. Last year with the Phils' Lehigh Valley affiliate, he was both Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player of the AAA International League after batting .311 with 23 homers and 82 RBIs to lead the IronPigs to the playoffs, where they lost in the semifinals to the Yankees' Scranton/Wilkes-Barre affiliate. Meneses signed with Orix in late October. Hopes in Osaka were that the 6'3" 220-pounder would add power to the middle of the Buffaloes order. Instead, Meneses (now 27) struggled out the gate and was batting .206 with four homers and 14 RBIs in 29 games when his suspension was handed down.
It is not known whether Meneses will eventually appeal either the suspension or a contract revocation. Last year, Amador appealed his suspension with tepid support from the Eagles front office and lost. The Mexican League chose to honor the NPB ban and Amador was barred from playing last Fall for Mexico City, who owns his LMB rights. The Mexican Pacific League allowed him to perform last winter and he hit .283 with six homers in 27 games for Jalisco. The 32-year-old, listed conservatively at 310 pounds, is currently batting .312 along with 13 homers and 55 RBI with the Diablos.
MLB NOT PAYING 35% MEXICAN PROSPECT COMMISSIONS
Earlier announcements that Major League Baseball franchises would give 100 percent of signing bonuses to Mexican prospects, with 35 percent of bonus amounts earmarked for the Mexican League franchise holding the youngster's domestic rights, appear to be inaccurate. Editor Hector Bencomo of the Hitazo.com website says that while technically the 35 percent commission remains intact, certain conditions in the agreement between MLB and the LMB contain elements that will make collecting commissions difficult to impossible.
According to Bencomo, LMB owners meeting during All-Star Weekend in Mexico City earlier this month learned the agreement includes provisos that the prospect in question must A) be 16 years old, B) has lived at least two years in Mexico and C) has one year of experience in the Mexican League. While the first two conditions are not generally hard for Liga teams to work with, the third has been a sticking point with a number of signings occurring after the pact was signed in March. Most of the prospects had been playing at either the LMB academy near Monterrey or one of the smaller academies operated by individual Mexican League teams such as Tijuana, Monclova and Mexico City. The Liga reportedly sought to have the terms of the agreement changed but MLB responded that the deal will remain intact over its two-year life.
While Mexican League teams once held all the cards when selling prospects to Major League organizations, most (if not all) stand to receive nothing when prospects without LMB experience sign with big league teams. Bencomo says the result will be losses in the millions (of pesos) for Liga teams who historically have depended on selling prospects to MLB teams and likely put a brake on domestic development of talent south of the border, adding that he believes it's the fault of those who negotiated the contract with MLB for not paying attention to the fine print.
LMB teams are not obligated to sell prospects to MLB teams, Bencomo says, and one potential response would be to register their top prospects on their rosters for one year (whether they actually take the field in a Liga game or not) before selling them and collecting the commission. Bencomo warns that such an approach could be seen by parents of prospects as taking money out of their son's pockets, which could yield disastrous long-term results for Mexican teams.
Prior to March's agreement, Major League Baseball had prohibited teams from signing Mexican prospects for nearly a year due to "bad or dubious practices" among LMB teams who owned their rights.
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