Something that so often happens is that when a team sees a player who came out of nowhere to have a breakout year, they send them to the Arizona Fall League or one of the Winter Leagues to see if they have truly turned the corner. At times, that can be a lot of pressure. Perform well and you may end up on the prospect radar while struggling will have everyone calling you a one-hit wonder. Reinaldo Lopez is feeling the pressure, and it got to him in his first time out for the Navegantes del Magallanes.
Venezuelan Winter League: Aguilas del Zulia 12, Navegantes del Magallanes 2
Reinaldo Lopez’s first inning for the Navegantes del Magallanes went extremely well. Entering with one out, nobody on, and four runs already in after the Aguilas drilled back-to-back homers off Horacio Estrada, Lopez allowed a single to Cyle Hankerd but retired the next two batters he faced, striking out former Durham Bulls catcher Juan Apodaca. The 6th inning, though, was a different story. Three singles and a walk plated two runs without recording an out, and Carlos Quevado allowed a pair of inherited runners to score Lopez the ugly line of 4 runs on 4 hits and a walk in just 0.2 innings pitched. His VWL ERA stands at 54.00. You have to hope that this game can serve as a wake-up call for Lopez. He pitched extremely well in the Low-A Midwest League, managing a 2.95 ERA and an 86-33 strikeout to walk ratio in 116 innings pitched, but the Winter Ball is going to be a much harder challenge and if he doesn’t execute his pitches, the result will be like this. Among the other ex-Rays, Apodaca went 1 for 4 with a walk, an RBI, and a run scored for Zulia while Erold Andrus and Jesus Flores both went 0 for 3 for the Navegantes.
Cardenales de Lara 8, Tiburones de La Guaira 2
For the second time in three games, a strong performance from Cesar Suarez could not prevent La Guaira from losing in a blowout. Suarez went 1 for 3 with a double an d a walk as the Tiburones’ DH, but a solo homer by Jose Martinez and a sac fly by Trayce Thompson was all they could muster in their 8-2 loss. Suarez is 6 for 12 with a pair of doubles to begin the year. The 12-year professional veteran, still just 30 years old, has mashed in the Mexican League the last two years, but he could never advance beyond High-A in the Rays and Dodgers organizaitons.
Tigres de Aragua 9, Leones del Caracas 8
This game was quite the back-and-forth affair. Aragua scored 5 runs in the bottom of the first but the Leones came back with 4 in the second. Caracas then took the lead with 3 more runs in the 6th, but the Tigres scored 4 more in the 7th as they held on to win. Hector Gimenez went 1 for 3 with a walk and a run scored for Aragua while Bobby Abreu had a nice game in the loss for Caracas, going 2 for 5 with a double.
Mexican Pacific League: Tomateros de Culican 3, Venados de Mazatlan 1
Rays beat Devil Rays in just about everything, but not in this game. Humberto Cota, who was a Devil Rays prospect from 1997 to 1999 before getting traded for Jose Guillen, went 1 for 4 with an RBI double in the victory for Culiacan while Henry Mateo, who was a Durham Bull in 2009, went 1 for 4 in the loss for Mazatlan. The funny thing about both Cota and Mateo is that both appeared in the major leagues for parts of several seasons with the same team but could not establish themselves as regulars. Cota made 562 plate appearances for the Pirates between 2001 and 2007 and Mateo made 280 plate appearances for the Expos/Nationals from 2001 to 2006.
Aguilas de Mexicali 7, Yaquis de Obregon 5
This game was fun because of the name recognition factor for Mexicali. Looking at a Mexican League boxscore would leave you lost just about every time, but this was one of the exceptions. Mike Jacobs and Kevin Kouzmanoff were the 4th and 5th place hitters for the Aguilas, and Jeremy Accardo nailed down the save. Jacobs, the former Rays draft pick much better known for his exploits with the in-state rival Marlins, went just 0 for 4 with a run scored, but Kouzmanoff did have a nice game, going 2 for 4 with a double, an RBi, and 2 runs scored. All three of the ex-big leaguers are hoping to ride a strong MPL performance to an opportunity to win big league playing time next year. Accardo could be an interesting reclamation project signing by a team like the Rays. Iker Franco, in the D-Rays’ system from 2000 to 2004, also went 1 for 3 with an RBI for Obregon.