by Bruce Baskin, Baseball Mexico, http://baseballmexico.blogspot.com/
THE AXEMAN COMETH: THREE LMP SKIPPERS FIRED
Baseball Mexico readers for any length of time are familiar with what we lovingly call the Mexican Managerial Merry-Go-Round, in which baseball managers south of the border are hired and fired with almost alarming frequency. It’s something that didn’t happen as much last summer in the Mexican League, where most firings happened in early July between that league’s two seasons, but the Mexican Pacific League appears bent on making up for it. No less than three LMP skippers had already been dismissed before three weeks of the regular season schedule had been completed.
The first to go was Obregon’s first-year manager Oscar Robles, who was given his walking papers on October 24 just nine games into the 2018-19 season (during which the Yaquis went 3-6). Obregon was in last place at the time of the former MLB infielder’s dismissal, a little early for the panic button to be pressed but the Yaquis’ board of directors proved themselves up to the task. Robles was a late arrival in Obregon due to his managerial duties with the Tijuana Toros during the LMB’s Fall season in which his team stretched eventual champion Monterrey to a seventh game in their first-round playoff series before a season-ending 4-3 loss on September 17. Robles has been replaced on an interim basis in Obregon by Sergio Gastelum, a longtime former infielder who managed Oaxaca to a surprising Serie del Rey appearance in October after he replaced Joe Alvarez (who is managing in Mazatlan…for now) at the Guerreros’ helm in August.
Next to feel the axe was another ex-MLB infielder, Luis Sojo, who was jettisoned as manager in Mexicali on Friday after his Aguilas were swept in a three-game series at Hermosillo to fall to 7-9 on the young season. Sojo managed Los Mochis to an unexpected appearance in the MexPac finals in 2016-17 before losing to Mexicali but was fired by the Caneros during the season last winter. He had been tabbed during the offseason to replace Pedro Mere in Mexicali when Mere failed to lead the Aguilas to a second straight pennant in 2017-18 after taking over for the fired Roberto Vizcarra. In one of those ironic twists seemingly only seen in Mexican baseball, Mere had led Tijuana to the Mexican League pennant in 2017 after replacing none other than one Luis Sojo. Mere lasted with the Toros through the Spring 2018 schedule before being canned in Tijuana and eventually replaced by Robles. Back to Mexicali: Sojo will be replaced in the Aguilas dugout by yet another former Major League infielder, Juan Castro (a former Los Angeles Dodgers coach whose misadventures earlier this year with the Toros have rated their own stories here).
One day after Sojo’s exit from Mexicali, Lorenzo Bundy was handed his walking papers in Culiacan after the defending champion Tomateros started the season with an 8-10 record. Bundy has managed almost every MexPac team in several winters as a bench boss and it was thought his hiring in Culiacan would bring a calmer presence to the Tomateros dugout after replacing the successful but volatile Benji Gil (one more former MLB infielder…see a trend developing?) when Gil took the season off to devote more attention to his son Mateo’s first year in the St. Louis minor league system after the Cardinals took the 18-year-old in the third round of the June draft. Instead, the Culiacan front office decided that three weeks was enough to warrant another change. In a break with this story’s tradition, the Tomateros hired a former MLB catcher, Robinson Cancel, to replace Bundy at the helm. The team also let go bench coach Noe Munoz, who spent 24 seasons as a catcher in the LMB (mostly with Saltillo), along with Bundy. Munoz’ replacement in Culiacan? Luis Sojo.
ARIZONAN WADE LEADS FIRST-PLACE VENADOS MOUND STAFF
Although the Mazatlan Venados have the Mexican Pacific League’s highest team batting average at .285, eleven points ahead of Jalisco’s .274 mark, the port city franchise’s reputation over the years has been built on pitching and this winter appears to be no different. The Venados, who have shown little offensive power thus far in the 2018-19 campaign (their six homers over 19 games are tied with Obregon for last in the MexPac), also top the pitching stats with a sparkling 2.57 ERA, well ahead of Culiacan’s 3.30 mark.
One of the biggest reasons has been newcomer Konner Wade, who has moved to the head of manager Joe Alvarez’ mound staff. The former University of Arizona ace led the Wildcats to a 2012 NCAA championship before signing with Colorado as a seventh-round draft pick one year later. A 6’3″ right-hander, Wade went 29-35 with a 4.03 ERA over five seasons in the Rockies system before pitching with Sugar Land, Texas of the independent Atlantic League this summer, turning in an 8-6 record and a 3.10 ERA in 27 outings (including 21 starts) for the Skeeters. Wade was brought to Mazatlan this winter along with a Skeeters teammate, second baseman Anthony Giansanti, as one of the team’s import players and the Scottsdale native has definitely had an impact thus far.
Wade tossed six scoreless innings in Saturday night’s 6-0 Venados win in Mexicali, scattering three hits and walking one Aguilas batter while throwing 54 strikes in a tidy 77-pitch performance. He earned the win to go to 3-0 in four starts, tying relievers Dalton Rodriguez of Mexicali and Jesus Anguamea of Obregon for the LMP lead in wins while lowering his MexPac best ERA to 1.31, ahead of Navojoa’s Jaime Lugo (1.57) and Jalisco’s Elian Leyva (1.93). Frankie De La Cruz, who took Saturday’s loss for the Aguilas, is tied with Wade’s Mazatlan moundmate Jose Hernandez and James Russell of Culiacan for the lead in strikeouts with 22 each. Three relievers have six saves apiece for most in that category: Andres Avila (Los Mochis), Casey Coleman (Culiacan) and Grant Sides (Jalisco). Avila, who was named the LMP Reliever of the Year in 2016-17 after tying a league record with 23 saves for the Caneros, is coming off a forgettable season last winter in which he only earned one save in 26 trips from the Los Mochis bullpen.
Navojoa second baseman Alonzo Harris is continuing his breakout winterball season with the Mayos by leading the league in several offensive categories, including batting (.418), on-base percentage (.488), on-base+slugging (1.114), hits (28), runs scored (24) and stolen bases (8 in 9 attempts). Jalisco first baseman/DH Japhet Amador is tops in both homers (5) and RBIs (19) in his first action since last summer’s suspension in Japan for the use of banned substances, a suspension that was appealed but upheld by Nippon Professional Baseball and carried over by the Mexican League after his return home from Sendai.
Among the four players trailing Amador with four roundtrippers each is venerable Los Mochis slugger Saul Soto, who played in his 16th Mexican League All-Star Game over the summer. The 6’4″ Soto, a 245-pounder who turned 40 in August, belted a pair of homers in a 6-1 Caneros win against Hermosillo Saturday to tie and pass Ronnie Camacho for sixth-place in LMP career homers with 140. A Los Mochis native, Soto socked 14 homers over two Mexican League seasons this year to bring his LMB career total to 266 over 21 seasons for an overall number of 406 between the two leagues. He is just 42 hits away from 2,000 in Liga play en route to what will almost certainly be eventual election to the Salon de la Fama, although the still-not-enshrined Matias Carrillo (an LMB career .336 average with 2,531 hits, including 330 homers) might caution Soto to not hold his breath.
MEXICO CITY’S NEW BALLPARK INCHES TOWARDS 2019 DEBUT
The ongoing drama that has been the construction of Mexico City’s new 15,746-seat ballpark may actually be nearing its conclusion. The facility has been plagued by difficulties almost since ground was broken for it in late 2015, some of it brought about by last year’s tragic earthquake in the region. The countless delays have pushed back the Mexico City Diablos Rojos’ relocation from tiny Parque Fray Nano several times from an original opening target of May 2017. However, it appears that there may finally be light at the end of the proverbial tunnel and the Red Devils could in fact begin play at the start of the 2019 season.
Diablos owner Alfredo Harp Helu, who is privately financing the ballpark (which he is modestly naming after himself), recently toured the facility and was reportedly pleased by the progress he saw. Harp was joined by team president Othon Diaz and a number of team board members as he traversed the stadium’s exterior, including the stands, press and luxury boxes plus concessions areas. The group also went inside to take a look at the clubhouses, team offices and even the restrooms to gauge progress on the project.
The richest owner in Mexican baseball, with a fortune said to be worth over a billion dollars, Harp has come under fire for a number of things that have involved both his Diablos Rojos and their sister franchise, the Oaxaca Guerreros, with the Rookiegate imbroglio with the Quintana Roo Tigres being perhaps the most notable. However, the cousin of tech magnate Carlos Slim (who Forbes magazine rated the world’s wealthiest man between 2010 and 2013) has also been at the forefront of building a new Salon de la Fama for Mexican baseball in Monterrey after the former facility was shut down in 2012, leading to its treasures being boxed and placed in a storage unit until the new building opens next year.
As well, the 74-year-old Harp has opened a baseball academy in Oaxaca and met with incoming Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (himself a huge baseball fan) in September to discuss creating more academies across the country for developing young ballplayers. Harp is in a somewhat unique position in that while the LMB office reportedly supported Lopez Obrador’s opponents in last summer’s election, Harp was solidly behind the so-called AMLO and has the ear of Mexico’s new president. Lopez Obrador was quoted on Mexico City’s ADNpolitico’s website as saying about Harp, “His foundation supports communities and promotes education, culture and sports; he likes baseball and is building a stadium in Mexico City. He invited me to the inauguration and I accepted.”
It’s not clear whether even a tentative date for that opener has been set.