Archive for the ‘Mexican League’ category

ChinaTrust Brothers Sign Casey Harman

June 27, 2019

The ChinaTrust Brothers of Taiwan’s CPBL have apparently reached a deal to sign Casey Harman, who is currently pitching for the Pericos de Puebla (Puebla Parrots) of the Mexican League (“LMB”).  Foreign pitchers playing in the CPBL come and go like minor-hit pop songs and their performers, and what I’m more interested in his how Casey Harmon got to this point in his professional career.

Originally a 29th round draft pick out of Clemson by the Chicago Cubs in 2010, Harman didn’t start pitching professionally until the 2011 season.  He reached AA ball in 2012 at age 23.  While he wasn’t terrible there, he wasn’t very good either and found himself pitching in the Indy-A Can-Am League and American Association in 2013 and 2014.

Then he appears to have had a three-year absence from professional baseball.  If I had to, I’d guess he tore and replaced his elbow tendon and/or tried to get a real job for a while before deciding to give pro ball another try.  He caught on with the Wichita Wingnuts back in the American Association in 2018, pitched reasonably well (although not in a brief two game trial in the better Indy-A Atlantic League), and parlayed that into a winter assignment starting in the Mexican Pacific League.

Harman pitched well in seven Mexican Winter League (“LMP”) starts and landed a job with the Pericos this summer, where he is 8-1 with a 4.57 ERA and 54 Ks in 69 innings pitched so far.  While the ERA doesn’t look impressive, it’s currently 17th best among qualifying starters in LMB’s 16-team hit-happy circuit.  So the Brothers came calling.

I’m always interested in figuring out how and for how much players end up moving between leagues throughout the world of professional baseball.  The Atlantic League is the best of the Indy-A leagues.  However, every Indy-A League has caps on how many “veteran” players each franchise can carry at any given time.  Thus, some good players (relatively speaking) filter down to the second- and third-tier Indy-A leagues.  This both keeps team salaries low, and allows teams in the second- and third-tier leagues to develop and hold onto their own local “stars.”

Anyway, the LMP seems to have some kind of relationship with the American Association whereby the best AA starters each season in each of the last few years have ended up pitching in the LMP the following winter.  A good winter in the LMP can lead directly to a job in the LMB the next summer, where salaries are better than in the Atlantic League ($10,000/month salary cap v. $3,000/month).  It certainly gives veteran pitchers a round-about incentive to pitch in the American Association if they can’t secure a job in the Atlantic League.

I was surprised to see the Pericos were willing to let Harman leave for Taiwan mid-season, since the Pericos are a contending team this year, and Harman had been well more than adequate as a starter for them.  CPBL teams can and do pay foreign players more than LMB teams, but CPBL teams can’t afford to pay high purchase fees of the kind that LMB teams typically charge for players they sell directly to MLB, NPB or KBO teams.

One thing I’ve noticed is that throughout pro baseball, teams generally don’t charge big (or at least market-rate) transfer fees when transferring a player to a league that isn’t much better, or is worse, but which will pay the player better.  MLB organizations do sometimes charge KBO and NPB teams meaningful transfer fees in the $500,000 to $1M range, but it’s usually less than what the player is actually worth either to the MLB or the KBO/NPB team.

Obviously, players sometimes negotiate contract terms that let them leave for a better paying opportunity in a different league for nominal or no transfer fees.  However, I also think that MLB organizations are willing to let their 4-A players go to Asia for less than market value, because of the good will it generates among the MLB organization’s minor league players by letting players who can’t establish themselves as regular major league roster-holders go to Asia where they’ll make a lot more money.

The same thing may be going between LMB and the CPBL.  MLB, NPB and KBO teams only seek to acquire the very best LMB players, who are naturally worth the most money, and LMB teams try to sell these players for market value or something close.  A player like Harman, while playing well in LMB, is more readily replaceable by signing the best current pitcher in the Atlantic League willing to play in LMB.  Meanwhile, Harman might not make it in the CPBL, in which case the Pericos could always bring him back and probably for a contract amount significantly lower than the $10,000 cap, since both player and team know that even $5,000 or $6,000 a month is lot better than the $3,000 a month Atlantic League cap, assuming Harmon could even get a max Atlantic League salary after washing out in Taiwan.

Earlier this season, the Fubon Guardians signed former KBO foreign Ace Henry Sosa, after tax law changes forced Sosa out of South Korea.  Given that Sosa had been one of the KBO’s top five or six starters in 2018, the Guardians likely had to pay Sosa a hefty-for-CPBL $25,000 or $30,000 per month (although probably with only a three-month guarantee) to start the 2019 season for them.  Sosa pitched like gang-busters in Taiwan, and after only 12 starts the Guardians sold him to the KBO’s SK Wyverns (all of Sosa’s signing bonus will reportedly be paid to the South Korean government as part of Sosa’s back-taxes).

Because the Guardians were still well in the hunt for the CPBL’s first-half pennant, I assumed that the Wyverns had had to pay the Guardians $150,000 to $200,000 for Sosa’s rights, in line with what the KBO’s KT Wiz had reportedly had to pay LMB’s Acereros de Monclava for LMB Ace Josh Lowey‘s rights mid-season in 2016.  However, Rob over at CPBL Stats guestimated that the buyout for Sosa’s rights was more likely in the $50,000 to $100,000 range.

Now, it’s possible that at the CPBL season’s half-way point, Sosa could have signed with a KBO or NPB team with no money payable to the Guardians, which would have greatly weakened Fubon’s ability to demand a big buy-out price.  It’s also possible that because CPBL teams make the biggest chunk of their revenues during the post-season, which is still a long way off, the Guardians were willing to get out from under whatever relatively high salary was being paid to Sosa.  The Atlantic League is full of much less expensive, although also much less effective, pitchers to replace Sosa.

However, it’s also possible that the Guardians figure that by letting Sosa return to the KBO, where he’ll make a lot more money, it will be easier for the Guardians in the future to lure in other foreign pitchers who are trying to work their way back to the KBO or NPB after a down season.  Unfortunately, unless you know all of the contract terms and what each organization’s and league’s unwritten rules are on these matters, it simply isn’t possible to know for sure.

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Houston Astros Sign Felipe Paulino

June 18, 2019

Remember Felipe Paulino?  He had a six year major league career with his last appearances for the White Sox back in 2014, and it wasn’t particularly memorable.  Paulino was mostly an ineffective major league starter with a career record of 13-34 with a 5.22 ERA.

He’s 35 now and has been effective closer in the Indy-A Atlantic League for much of the past three summers.  The Astros just signed him to a minor league contract which is notable solely because major league teams almost never sign players this old with such spotty past major league records out of the Independent-A leagues.  A pitcher who once an effective major league closer or legitimate No. 2 or 3 starter, maybe, not someone like Paulino who was never very good even at this best.

Paulino really has been good in what amounts to two full seasons played over the last three summers in the Atlantic League.  His ERA has been consistently under 2.00, he’s recorded 63 saves and 154Ks in 116.1 IP.  On its face, that would suggest he deserves another look at AAA from a team with a major league bullpen need.

However, Paulino was brutally bad in half a season in the Mexican League in 2017 and pitched poorly in the Venezuelan Winter League last off-season.  Neither league is significantly better than the Atlantic League or as good as other AAA leagues (the Mexican League is labeled a AAA league by MLB, but is really closer to a AA level of play).

It’s a rare thing indeed for a player like Paulino to get another MLB-system shot at age 35, so it’s worth taking notice of it, and I’ll certainly be rooting for him, even if I’m doubtful he can cut the mustard in the heavy-hitting Pacific Coast League.

My Favorite Minor League Stars 2019

June 8, 2019

Every year I like to write about current or former minor league stars who have particularly captured my attention and/or imagination.  Here is this season’s edition:

Mike Loree and Josh Lowey.  Two pitchers who never reached the major leagues (or even got close), but have carved out professional success because they can pitch.  Both are 34 this year.

Mike Loree is currently in his seventh CPBL season and continues to be the best pitcher in Taiwan, although another former SF Giants farm hand, Henry Sosa, gave Loree a run for his money this season until having his contract purchased for a return to South Korea’s KBO last week.  I wrote about Mike Loree yesterday.

Josh Lowey is in his sixth season in LMB and he is to the Mexican League what Loree is to the CPBL.  Lowey is also 33.  Lowey has started the 2019 LMB season 8-0, and his 3.91, while on its face high, is actually the ninth best in a 16-team circuit known for its offense.  Lowey is now an incredible 63-24 in LMB play, a .724 winning percentage.  Unfortunately, Lowey has missed his last two starts.  He’s on the reserved list, rather than the Injured List, so maybe he’s dealing with a family emergency.

Cyle Hankerd and Blake Gailen.  Two more 34 year oldss who have never reached the MLB majors (or come particularly close) but who can play.  Hankerd, who was once a 3rd Round draft pick out of USC, is in his sixth season in LMB.  He has a 1.011 OPS so far in 2019, although he’s only played in 30 games.

A strong season in the Atlantic League last year got Blake Gailen a job playing for the Dodger’s AAA team in Oklahoma City.  I suspect he’s doing double duty as a coach, whether officially or not, based on the fact that he’s spent a lot of time on the Injured List and is only 3 for 19 when he’s played.  He won’t last much longer on the roster hitting like that, but I expect he’ll go into coaching when they tell him he can’t play any more.

Chris Roberson.  Now in his age 39 season, he’s still the undisputed American King of Mexican baseball.  He’s played nine seasons in LMB and at least 14 seasons in Mexico’s even better winter league (MXPW or LMP).  However, his current .893 OPS isn’t even in the LMB’s top 40 in what has been a great season for hitters south of the border.  If any American is making a good living playing baseball in Mexico, it’s Chris Roberson.

Another Mexican Leaguer who has captured my attention in the last year is Jose Vargas.  Once a 22nd round draft pick out of Ventura College, a JC in Ventura, California, Vargas quickly washed out of the White Sox’ system, after which he spent six (!) playing for the Traverse City Beach Bums of the Indy-A Frontier League.  Traverse City is by most accounts a great place to spend one’s summers; however, it’s hard to imagine being able to have a whole lot of fun on $1,600 a month, which is about where Frontier League salaries max out.

Vargas is big, has power and is able to play 3B, 1B and LF.  After paying his dues in the Frontier League, he was able to catch on with an LMB team in 2017, possibly due to the fact that LMB began treating Mexican American players as “domestic,” rather than “foreign” players for roster purposes around that time.

In his age 31 season, he’s leading LMB with 27 HRs in only 222 plate appearances, and his 1.220 OPS is third best in the league in spite of the fact that he doesn’t walk much.  I’m somewhat doubtful that Vargas is currently making the LMB’s $10,000 salary cap, because his team’s attendance is terrible (just below 2,200 per game), but the odds are good that if he isn’t earning it this year, he’ll get it next year in light of how well he’s now playing.

Karl Galinas .  A 35 year old Can-Am League pitcher, Galinas is the modern day equivalent of Lefty George.  George was a marginal major leaguer who pitched nearly forever in his adopted home town of York, Pennsylvania, where he also ran a bar.

Orlando Roman‘s baseball odyssey may not yet be over.  He’s made nine starts in the Puerto Rico Winter League over the last three winter seasons, so you can’t completely count him from making one or more in 2019-2020.  He pitched professionally for about 20 years in just about every league except the MLB majors.  He’s another pitcher like Mike Loree and Josh Lowey who has leveraged a not quite major league talent into the most successful professional career possible.

A couple of guys in the MLB minors I’m following are Tyler Alexander and John Nogowski.  Tyler Alexander got his start in Brewers’ system but was effectively banished from MLB after testing positive for pot a couple of times while he was having some personal problems.  He spent three years pitching great for Fargo-Moorhead in the American Association and wintering a couple of season in the LMP.

Last year, Alexander pitched effectively in LMB in the summer and in the Dominican League in the winter.  That got him a minor league contract with the A’s, who sent him to AAA Las Vegas.  So far, the results have not been encouraging.  Alexander has a 6.85 ERA after 11 start.  Although he’s struck out 46 batters in 47.1 innings pitched, the long ball has killed him.  I suspect the A’s haven’t yet moved him to the bullpen because they don’t have anyone they reasonably expect to pitch better as a starter in what is probably a terrific hitters’ park.

Last off-season, I thought that Alexander would be a great prospect for Taiwan’s CPBL.  It could still happen, since Alexander will be 28 next season, and isn’t going to last long with a 6.85 ERA at AAA, even in a hitters’ park.

I wrote about John Nogowski two years ago when, after getting bounced out of the A’s system, I noticed he was batting over .400 in the American Association at the still young age of 24.  I “predicted” he’d get signed by another MLB organization soon, and he was within about a week by the Cardinals’ organization.  More importantly, John wrote a comment on my article, becoming the first and so far only active professional player ever to comment on one of my articles.  Needless to say, I’ll be a fan of John’s for life.

Nogowski played well at AA Springfield in in 2018 and is playing fairly well this season at AAA Memphis at age 26.  He’s currently slashing .267/.402/.400.  He’s got major league get-on-base skills, but doesn’t have the power he needs for the position he plays (1B).  His talents might be more suited to Japan’s NPB, where the outfield fences are a little shorter.

At any rate, there’s still a chance that Nogowski could get a major league look this year, if things break right for him.  Unfortunately, he’s not currently on the Cards’ 40-man roster, which means he’ll have to get truly hot at AAA Memphis to bump somebody else off.

What to Do about Luke Heimlich?

May 10, 2019

Down in Mexico, lefty Luke Heimlich is busy proving he’s a legitimate major league prospect.  Unfortunately, he’s also a convicted child molester.

After six starts in the Mexican League (LMB) so far this season, Heimlich has a 3.41 ERA with 32 Ks in 34.1 innings pitched.  While I believe the LMB is really a AA level of play, rather than the AAA status it is granted by MLB, for a rookie professional pitcher, even one now 23 years old, to pitch this well at this level says a great deal about Heimlich’s abilities as a pitcher.

You will note that Luke Heimlich’s page on MiLB.com to which I link above does not contain a photo for Heimlich even this late into the season.  It’s like everyone wants to do everything they can to have Heimlich fly under the radar to the extent possible.

I don’t see an MLB organization trying to acquire Heimlich this season.  My guess is that Heimlich, assuming he stays healthy, will attempt to pitch in the upcoming Mexican Winter League (LMP) or the Dominican Winter League (if he can find a team) and hope that a strong performance there will compel an MLB organization to sign him in spite of all his very heavy baggage.

As I’ve written before, I don’t see an MLB organization signing Heimlich until he’s put in at least two full seasons in the LMB, so that the signing organization can credibly argue that Heimlich has proven he can keep his nose clean and has paid his dues.  Even so, any MLB organization to sign Heimlich will still face a firestorm, because his history is too well known now for the media not to immediately raise his child molestation conviction as soon as he is signed.

Would an NPB or KBO team be willing to sign Heimlich before the 2021 or 2022 season?  I kind of doubt it.  NPB or KBO teams have a lot of choices in terms of the foreign players available to them, and the media in Japan in particular can be every bit as thorough as the U.S. media, particularly when it comes to baseball.  I don’t see Heimlich’s conviction record being tolerable in South Korea either.

The Lamigo Monkeys of Taiwan’s CPBL tried bringing in Heimlich last season, but the Taiwanese media got hold of Heimlich’s story soon enough and the league voided the contract within a week of its signing.

As for Heimlich, I’m sure that all he wants to do is keep his head down and continue to have the opportunity to pitch professionally somewhere.  If he continues to pitch well in the two Laredos — U.S. and Mexican — he can at least look forward to making living pitching there going forward.

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.

 

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.