Archive for the ‘Mexican League’ category

Luke Heimlich May Have Finally Found a Pro Team

March 7, 2019

It is being reported that the Mexican League’s Dos Laredos Tecolotes (Owls) have signed former Oregon State pitcher Luke Heimlich to a contract for 2019.  For those who don’t remember, Heimlich was at least a 2nd round talent whom no MLB team signed because it was discovered that while in high school he pleaded guilty to molesting his then six year old girl niece.

The Lamigo Monkeys of Taiwan’s CPBL briefly tried to sign Heimlich in the second half of last season, but when his criminal record got wide reporting in Taiwan the CPBL voided the contract and declared that Heimlich wouldn’t be eligible to sign with any team in the circuit.

It remains to be seen whether enough of a furor will be raised in Laredo or the offices of the Mexican League to cause this most recent signing to be voided as happened in Taiwan.

The final paragraph of espn.com’s article on the current Heimlich signing says that major league scouts who saw Heimlich pitch at a showcase in January thought his pitches had improved to the point where he could now be “a viable major league starter.”

I have mixed feelings about Heimlich pitching professionally.  The crime he pleaded guilty to is disgusting, but he was allegedly only age 13 to 15 when the crime(s) happened, and he has stayed out of trouble since then, completing his probation without incident.  Also, he won’t get rich pitching in the Mexican League.

It would certainly be interesting to see what he can do in the Mexican League, a league that I consider to play at a AA level.  It seems like a good place to start Heimlich’s pro career in light of his ability and situation.

Even if Heimlich plays up to his potential in the Mexican League, it remains to be seen whether an MLB or NPB team would be willing to sign him.  It’s possible that by 2021 or 2022, the heat will have died down somewhat and an MLB or NPB team would be willing to take a chance on signing him, under the theory that he’s been punished enough by having to play in the Mexican League for several years for relative peanuts.

The fact that Heimlich told the NY Times in 2018 that the act(s) he pleaded guilty to “never happened” and that he only pleaded guilty to resolve the matter within the family greatly complicates the situation.  It’s a lot harder for a pro team to sell the idea that Heimlich has paid for his crime(s) and cleaned up his act when he refuses to admit that he actually committed the crimes he pleaded guilty to.  It is a lot harder to forgive someone who isn’t willing to take responsibility for what he previously confessed to doing.

 

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Bruce Maxwell Signs with Mexican League’s Acereros del Norte

March 7, 2019

It sure is unusual to see a 28 year old once promising major league catcher sign with a Mexican League team, but Bruce Maxwell has done it, due to conduct the last two seasons that has made him unappealing to all 30 major league organizations.

Maxwell is the only major league player to have taken a knee during the National Anthem to protest racial discrimination in America back in 2017.  My first thought in reading that he had signed with a Mexican League team is that he has been unfairly black-listed because of the National Anthem issue.  However, I resisted my gut reaction, because Maxwell’s situation is a lot more complicated than that.

He was arrested during the 2017-2018 off-season for allegedly pulling a gun on a fast-food delivery person and charged with aggravated assault and disorderly conduct.  He ultimately pleaded out to disorderly conduct, which mlbtraderumors.com describes as a “class 6 undesignated offense,” which I assume means not very serious, and received probation and community service.  Presumably, the probation period has expired, or he wouldn’t be able to play in Mexico.

Also, Maxwell was absolutely horrible in 2018, both for the A’s and also at their AAA affiliate in Nashville.  The A’s also reportedly had concerns about his conditioning (he’s currently listed at 6’1″, 250 lbs — conditioning is always going to be an issue for someone with those dimensions).

As such, teams could legitimately believe that Maxwell is a head-case and would prefer that he work out his issues some place else before signing him.  It certainly raises issues when a player his age and on the verge of major league stardom engages in crazy behavior and doesn’t keep himself in shape.  Add to that the fact that as a major league veteran, Maxwell couldn’t be signed to play at the minor league level for less than about $90,000, it is not entirely surprising that all 30 major league teams would take a pass on him.

The Acereros de Monclova (the city in which the team plays) are one of the top Mexican League teams and routinely collect the best foreign players (which in this case includes Americans) to play for them, so it’s no surprise that they would jump at the chance to sign a player of Maxwell’s talents.  Obviously, NPB and KBO teams will be keeping an eye on how Maxwell performs in Mexico, although neither league likes to sign foreign catchers because of worries about foreign catchers’ ability to communicate with domestic pitchers — although the ability of foreign pitchers to communicate with domestic catchers is not considered an issue at all, as both leagues routinely sign foreign pitchers.

If nothing else, playing in Mexico should determine pretty quickly whether Maxwell now has his head on straight.  It’s a big let-down playing in Mexico under Mexican League conditions for Mexican League money (probably no more than $5,000 or $6,000 a month for rookie foreigners), and it takes a certain determination to move past that and put in the work to succeed even in what is probably a AA class league.  If Maxwell plays up to his abilities, MLB teams (or NPB or KBO teams) will come calling soon enough.  If not, then maybe we’ll see Maxwell playing next in the Indy-A Atlantic League or American Association.

David Harris and Other Winter League Batting Leaders

November 12, 2018

A player who has caught my eye this year is David Harris.  He turned 27 last August and was the best hitter in the Indy-A Can-Am League this past summer, slashing .331/.435/.590 in more than 400 plate appearances.  Although he’s still reasonably young, no major league organization was willing to sign him, even to fill in for late season injureds.

After 25 games in the Mexican Pacific League (LMP) this Fall, Harris is leading LMP with a 1.066 OPS.  Sure, it’s only a 25 game sample, but if Harris manages to stay hot and finish in the LMP’s top five in OPS, it will be a distinctly more impressive feat than leading the Can-Am League, particularly for a non-Mexican player.

Harris washed out of the Blue Jays’ system after two 100+ plate appearance trials at Class A+ Dunedin a few years back, and he may already be too old to seriously tempt MLB organizations.  Where does a player like Harris go from here?

The most likely answer is that Harris will be playing in the Atlantic League or Mexico’s summer league (LMB) next summer.  A really hot first half in LMB in 2019 could get him a contract to play in Japan’s NPB, but the odds of him being LMB’s OPS leader (or at least in the top three) in the first half of 2019 are probably slim.  It takes a lot of luck to be a consistent league leader even at the LMB/LMP level if MLB has already made a judgment that you don’t have the talent to merit another contract even though you haven’t yet reached age 28.

Ramon Urias, Saul Soto and Japhet Amador are other top hitters in the LMP this winter.  Ramon Urias had some big seasons in LMB until the Cardinals finally purchased his rights, and he’s still young enough to have some kind of an MLB major league career in the future.

Saul Soto is one of the best LMB players of his generation.  Soto slashed .262/.366/.401 as a 22 year old C/1B in nearly 300 Class A Sally League plate appearances, but was returned to LMB the next summer season.  Playing summers in LMB and winters in LMP mostly as a catcher, which equates to about the same number of games as a full MLB major league season, Soto has slugged well more than 350 career home runs south of the border.  At age 40 now, he’s been exclusively a 1Bman since the start of the 2016 winter season.

Japhet Amador had a nice little NPB career going until a positive steroids test this summer likely sent him back to LMB/LMP for good.  He’ll hit a lot more home runs in Mexico until his 300+ lbs body breaks down for good.

Soon to be 26 year old middle infielder Hanser Alberto is currently leading the Dominican Winter League with a .911 OPS.  Alberto has already received MLB major league playing time in three different seasons, but has batted dreadfully because he has no strike zone judgment.  Alberto appears to have the raw batting abilities of a major leaguer, particularly when you take into account his defense, but he may have to go to Asia to become a major league star.

Delmon Young is currently tied for the Venezuelan Winter League lead with five home runs.  Young played pretty well in LMB this past summer, and I’m not particularly surprised.  He only turned 33 in mid-September, and he had the raw athletic and batting abilities to be a No. 1 overall MLB draft pick once upon a time.

However, I don’t see Young returning to MLB.  He’s the same player now he was as an MLBer, meaning he won’t walk enough to be successful at the MLB major league level.  If he can lead the VWL in home runs, though, he might be able to catch on with an NPB team in search of right-handed power.

The Best Foreign Pitchers in the History of Taiwan’s CPBL

October 14, 2018

This is the post-2018 season update on an article I published a year ago.  I have not published a piece on foreign hitters because no foreign position players have played in the CPBL since early in the 2016 season.

WINS

1.      Osvaldo (Ozzy) Martinez  108-85     MiLB, WiL Stats and more MiLB Stats

2.      Jonathan Hurst       76-52     MLB, NPB, MiLB Stats

3.      Mike Loree                72-41     MiLB, Indy-A stats

4.      John Burgos             58-34     MiLB, Indy-A Stats

5.      Jose Nunez                56-25     MLB, NPB, KBO, etc Stats

6.      Mark Kiefer               55-27     MLB, MiLB, KBO stats

7.     Joe Strong                  47-33     MLB, MiLB, Indy-A Stats

8.     Orlando Roman       44-28     MiLB, NPB Stats, WiL

9.     Gabriel “Gab” Ozuna     43-39     MiLB Stats

Martinez and Hurst are the only long-term veterans among pitchers I could find in my search of the CPBL website.  Martinez pitched nine seasons, Hurst pitched seven.  Burgos had a terrific 4.5 seasons, Kiefer had four terrific seasons, and Nunez had an even better than either three seasons.  Kiefer won 34 KBO games over three seasons later in his career.

Mike Loree is the most successful foreign pitcher currently pitching in CPBL or since Oswaldo Martinez’s and Jonathan Hurst’s CPBL careers ended after the 2005 season.  Loree didn’t pitch as well in 2018 as his 2017 season, in which he won his second pitching Triple Crown (2.18 ERA, 16 wins, and 154 Ks) in only four full seasons, but he was still an ace (one of the four best starters in a four-team circuit) and enhanced his credentials as one of the CPBL’s best foreign hurlers ever.

Joe Strong was a 37 year old MLB rookie in 2000 for the Florida Marlins, but he pitched better in the Show in limited use in 2001.  He pitched professionally through his age 41 year old season.

ERA   (650 IP)

1.      Jose Nunez               2.13

2.     Jonathan Hurst       2.56

3.     Joe Strong                 2.71

4.     Mark Kiefer              2.82

5.     John Burgos             2.84

6.     Gab Ozuna                3.16

7.     Osvaldo Martinez    3.20

7.     Enrique Burgos   3.20     MLB, MiLB Stats

9.     Mike Loree               3.26

10.    Orlando Roman     3.78

I set the 650 IP limit because I wanted to include both Nunez (687) and Roman (691).  Nunez won 56 games over three seasons, before moving on to greener Japanese NPB pastures.  He also pitched in the Taiwan Major League (TML) in 1998, during that competitor league’s six-year history before it folded/merged into the CPBL after the 2002 season. But, no surprise, I haven’t been able to find the stats for the TML on line.

In this extreme hitter-friendly era of the CPBL, Mike Loree’s and Orlando Roman’s higher ERAs are at least equivalent to what the best foreign pitchers accomplished in different, less offensive eras than today, based on their W-L records, the fact that Loree has been arguably the league’s best pitcher in each of his four full CPBL seasons, and the fact that Roman used the CPBL as a springboard to a four year NPB career, where he won a total of 18 games and saved another six, before returning to CPBL in 2016.  Alas, Roman’s CBPL career ended after the 2017 season.next season.

STRIKEOUTS

1.     Ozzie Martinez      1,286

2.     Mike Loree             797

3.     Jonathan Hurst     779

4.     Enrique Burgos     736

5.     Michael “Mike” Garcia      651     MLB, MiLB, KBO etc Stats

6.     Orlando Roman   564

7.     John Burgos          541

8.     Mark Kiefer           532

9.     Jose Nunez           511

10.    Gab Ozuna           508

Enrique Burgos had some of the best strikeout stuff CPBL had ever seen, but it didn’t translate into his W-L record.  He finished his CPBL career an even 36-36.

SAVES

1.     Mike Garcia             124

2.     Ryan Cullen           70     MiLB, Indy-A, WiL Stats

3.     Brad Thomas        59     MLB, NPB, KBO etc Stats

4.     Alfornio (“Al”) Jones     50     MLB, MiLB Stats

5T.   Dario Veras           49     MLB, MiLB, KBO etc Stats 

5T.   Tony Metoyer       49     MiLB, Indy-A Stats

Mike Garcia is far and away the best foreign closer in CPBL history, and certainly one of the best in league history overall, second only in career saves to Yueh-Ping Lin.  He pitched five seasons in Taiwan (1996-1998, 2004-2005) in between which he was a 31 year old MLB rookie for the 1999 Pittsburgh Pirates.  His career CPBL ERA is an even 2.00.  He last pitched professionally at age 39.

Ryan Cullen pitched 3+ seasons in Taiwan, saving a then record-setting 34 games for the Brother Elephants in 2010 and recording a career CPBL ERA of 1.60.  Cullen is best remembered for his final CPBL game, when he threw a pitch, felt pain in his throwing shoulder, and walked off the mound and off the field without motioning to the dugout and waiting for the manager to take him out of the game.  He was released the next day.

Cullen said he didn’t intend to disrespect anyone, but it does not appear that he ever played professional baseball again.  Since he was only 32 and still pitching effectively at the time of his release, I suspect that he may have just decided that he’d had enough of pro ball.

Brad Thomas is an Aussie who pitched professionally in at least seven countries on four continents, concluding his baseball odyssey with 2.5 seasons in Taiwan.  Tony Metoyer pitched parts of seven seasons in the CPBL, where he was used as both a closer and spot starter.

Unfortunately, the CPBL doesn’t hire foreign relievers much any more.  However, Werner Madrigal saved 16 games for the 7-11 Uni-Lions as recently as 2015, and in 2014 Miguel Mejia saved a record-setting 35 games and posted a 1.24 ERA for the Lamigo Monkeys, although that record was bested in 2017 by Chen Yu-Hsun, who recorded 37 saves for a Lamigo Monkeys team that set a league record for wins in a season.  Right now, though, CPBL teams seem to have decided that starting pitchers are just too valuable for their three available foreign player roster spaces, even though there are almost always some good relievers in the Mexican League to choose from.

It’s hard for a foreign player to have a long career in the CPBL.  If the player has a bad year or even a bad half-season (most foreigners initially receive half-season contracts), he’s too expensive to keep around and too easily replaced.  There are a lot of players of the age and talent level to whom the CPBL salary scale is highly appealing, so CPBL teams can pick and choose their foreign players.

If a foreign player has a great full season or two, he typically moves on to NPB, KBO or back to MLB AAA.  However, a lot of departing foreign players come back to the CPBL a few years later for another go ’round when it’s their last best chance to make a substantial wage playing summer baseball.

In its early days, the CPBL appears to have recruited heavily among Latin American players who put up successful seasons in the winter leagues, which makes a lot of sense, since the Latin American winter leagues are pretty good and pay accordingly.  However, with the CPBL season now longer (it has climbed from an initial 90 game season to 120 games today), fewer Latin players are interested in playing in Taiwan, because it interferes with their ability to play winter league ball in their home countries.  In recent years, the independent-A Atlantic League has been a major source for CPBL teams looking for in-season pitching help, and the (summer) Mexican League has been a prime source for off-season signings.

Independent-A Run-Down

August 21, 2018

Here are some comments on the top prospects at this moment in the Indy-A Leagues.

27 year old Bennett Parry signed with the CPBL’s ChinaTrust Brothers as their back-up foreigner more than two weeks ago.  He still leads the Atlantic League in strikeouts as I write this.

Dave Kubiak also escaped the Atlantic League for the warmer climbs of Mexico.  Alas, his brains have been beaten out his first two Mexican League starts.

Blake Gailen is the Atlantic League’s best hitter for the umpteenth time, but at age 33 this year, there is nowhere for him to go except Mexico, where he has played successfully before and thus may not be interested in playing there again.  Otherwise, go to Mexico, Blake.

Former major leaguer David Rollins pitched his way out of the Can-Am League to the AAA Tacoma Rainiers, but, alas, he got bombed in his first Pacific Coast League start.

Just turned 27 year old outfielder David Harris deserves another shot with an MLB organization.  Still 22 year old Martin Figuero also deserves another shot with an MLB organization, although he’s come down to earth since I wrote about him six weeks ago.

In the American Association, 25 year old Dillon Thomas did not go gentle into the good night of his career after the Rockies released him.  He’s leading the AA in with a 1.021 OPS.

Also 25 year old Dylan Tice earned his way back into the Mets’ organization.  Just turned 28 year old Jay Austin has earned his way up to the Mexican League, where so far so good.

28 year old Tommy Collier needs to pitch in the winter leagues this off-season to boost a move up to a better league, but I sure wouldn’t want to pitch in Venezuela again this winter.

The Wichita Wingnuts’ Travis Banwart, now 32, might more properly be pitching in the CPBL for a lot more money, what with his three seasons of KBO experience, but he’s actually from Wichita, which complicates the matter.  Banwart is one of the best American pitchers not to have pitched at all in the majors.

If you want to read more about Indy-A players who recently signed with major league organizations, go to the Atlantic League’s, the Can-Am League’s and the American Association‘s respective websites.  The Indy-A Leagues scream from the rooftops every time one of their boys signs with a major league organization — that’s what gets most of their boys to play for peanuts.

Tiago Da Silva

August 19, 2018

Tiago Da Silva has recently caught my eye.  He’s a 33 year old Brazilian who is currently a top starter in the Mexican League, and he has had quite a baseball odyssey.

Born in Sao Paolo, Da Silva has some Japanese ancestry — there are more Brazilians of Japanese ancestry than you might think and are probably part of the reason why baseball is more popular in Brazil than you might think.  Sao Paolo is something of a Brazilian baseball hotbed, what with Yan Gomes, Paulo Orlando and Andre Rienzo also hailing from Brazil’s largest city.

Presumably, Da Silva made a name for himself in Sao Paolo’s amateur baseball circuit, but didn’t attract any attention from MLB organizations because he’s a small right-hander — at age 33 he’s listed as 5’9″ and 180 lbs — he was almost certainly a lot lighter when he was prospect age.  However, Da Silva could pitch: from the video I’ve seen, he has an unusual, deceptive motion and gets good movement on his pitches.

After playing for Brazil in the 2003 Baseball World Cup, he was signed by and played briefly in Taiwan’s CPBL.  He got bombed in limited work, and ended up taking his baseball talents to Italy.  The baseball cognoscenti know that Italy and Holland have had professional baseball leagues for quite some time, although regular season schedules are typically only 42 to 60 games and played mostly on the weekends.

He was extremely successful there for T&A San Marino, going a combined 41-12 over his last six seasons, as the San Marino club went from a .500 team to a perennial powerhouse.

Da Silva pitched in the Venezuelan Winter League successfully in the winter of 2013-2014 and then moved up the Mexican League in 2014.  He was good enough to get a shot with the Blue Jays’ organization in 2015 pitching at the A+ (mostly) and AA levels, where he struck out 28 batters in 22.2 IP while allowing only 16 hits and four walks.  However, he was a small, 30 year old right-hander that season and returned to Mexico for the summer of 2016.

Da Silva was a top closer in the Mexican League in 2016 and 2017, combining for 49 saves, which is impressive when you remember that Mexican League teams only played about 110 games per season those years.

He’s become a starter again in 2018, and he’s been equally good in that role.  It has me wondering whether a CPBL team will give him another shot in 2019.  Da Silva is making a reasonable living pitching his summers in Mexico and his winters in Venezuela, but with things falling apart in Venezuala, a return to Taiwan might look a whole lot more appealing than it did even a year or two ago.

Da Silva is a great example of a player who has carved out a reasonably successful professional career without ever coming close to pitching in the MLB major leagues, or even the major leagues in Japan or South Korea.  He has a career record at all professional levels published by baseball reference of 81-34 with 83 saves and 2.47 ERA.  He likely hasn’t made enough money to retire on, even in Brazil, but he has probably lived comfortably at least since returning to Mexico in 2016.

Da Silva’s professional success may also have something to do with his smarts.  He speaks five languages — Japanese, Spanish, Italian, English and his native Portuguese.  If nothing else, he’ll probably be able to find paying work as a translator when his playing career is over.

Japhet Amador

August 1, 2018

Japhet Amador has a special place in the hearts of American baseball nerds like myself.  Amador, like Alfredo Despaigne, is one of the answers to the questions “Who are the best baseball players not in the major leagues?” and “Who are the best baseball players most Americans have never heard of?”

Amador was a Mexican League player who was long recognized in geek circles as a player obviously too good for the Mexican League but still obviously not good enough to play in the MLB majors.  Amador could certainly hit, but his was not a major league body.  Specifically, since Amador turned 25 more than six years ago, he has likely never weighed less than 290 lbs and often quite a bit more.  He’s one of those baseball players who probably hits better fat and sassy, but these kinds of players usually have little defensive value and clog up the base paths.

Amador has been playing in Japan’s NPB the last three seasons, and this year at age 31 he’s finally having the breakout season at least a few observers thought he might be capable of.

Until July of 2018, there was some question how long Amador could last in NPB.  However, the fates have conspired in his favor.

Amador’s one elite skill is power hitting, and luckily for him this is a skill that NPB value very highly in their foreign imports, because most Japanese NPB major leaguers simply don’t hit with a lot of power, even in NPB’s small ballparks.  I think that NPB hitters are beginning to adopt MLB hitters’ obsession with launch angles and power hitting this season, but there aren’t nearly as many Japanese players capable of hitting 20 home runs a season in NPB as there are players in MLB capable of hitting 20 HRs in the majors.

Also, coming out of the Mexican League, Amador likely required a large initial investment in the form of a buyout of his rights from the Mexico City Red Devils that probably amounted to something between $750,000 and $1,000,000, but his salaries have been low by the standards of foreign players since his acquisition.  Amador reportedly was paid about $275,000 in each of 2016 and 2017 and $550,000 in 2018.  With a large initial investment followed by relatively low salaries, the Rakuten Golden Eagles have had good reason to show more patience with Amador than NPB teams typically do with their foreign imports.

In his first two NPB seasons, Amador hit for power (32 HRs in 598 plate appearances), but hit less than .250, had an on-base percentage right around .300 and grounded into 24 double plays.  This year Amador was plodding along with similar numbers and missed some games due to injury, which can be expected from a 31 year old player who weighs around 300 lbs.

In July, however, Amador got hot.  He’s now hit 20 HRs in 231 plate appearances this season and gotten his batting average up to .273 and his OBP up to .342 to go with a .589 slugging percentage.

Amador has hit only six doubles and no triples (although he did steal the first base of his NPB career this year) and has grounded into eight double plays.  However, just about any NPB team, or at least the poorest six to nine out of 12, would put up with his failings if his OPS is over .900 and he’s costing well less than $1M a year.

It gives me a certain sense of satisfaction that Amador has reached the place where his talents can be best appreciated and best compensated.  It is somehow reassuring when the world rewards performance and people find the level where they can accomplish the most within their specific abilities.