The intensity in the Winter Leagues can be something hard for us to understand. After all, the major league season just ended–how could these tired players with little left in the tank be so competitive? However, the deeper we delve into the world of Caribbean Baseball, the more it more sense. You spend the season making your living, but then in the winter, you represent your hometown team and hope to win enough to represent your country. After another tough season for the Tigres de Quintana Roo in Cancun, Franco heads across Mexico to the Yaquis de Obregon, the team he grew up rooting for. To give the Yaquis anything less than his best play would be unacceptable.
Mexican Pacific League: Yaquis de Obregon 8, Aguilas de Mexicali 5 (12 innings)
Iker Franco drove in the first runs and the last runs for Obregon as they blew a 3-1 lead to trail 5-4 but found a way to make it to extra innings and come away with the victory. In the second inning, Franco drilled an RBI single to score Barbaro Canizares, and Doug Clark scored after an error by Chris Roberson. A pair of former big leaguers teamed up to get a run back for Mexicali as Mike Jacobs doubled and scored on Kevin Kouzmanoff‘s RBI single, but Dan Robertson‘s homer in the 5th appeared to mean that Obregon was pulling away. As it turned out, they were not. Ricky Alvarez drilled a solo homer in the 5th and a 2-run single in the 6th, and before they knew it, the Yaquis were down 5-4. But Sergio Contreras tied the game for the Yaquis on an RBI double off Jeremy Accardo in the 9th, and after Karim Garcia (yes, that Karim Garcia), gave them the lead on a sac fly in the 12th, Franco capped the game with an exclamation point as he drilled a two-run double to give Obregon the 8-5 lead that proved to be the final. Franco went 2 for 6 with a double and 3 RBI in the game, and the 32 year old catcher is 5 for 13 (.385) on the young season. Kouzmanoff went 2 for 5 with an RBI and Jacobs, the ex-Rays draft pick, went 1 for 4 with a double, a walk, and a run scored in the loss for the Aguilas. Also appearing for Mexicali was Edgar Gomez, a 20 year old right-hander who got hit hard in 11 appearances at Rookie-level Princeton in 2013 in the Rays organization. Gomez allowed an RBI triple to Agustin Murillo in his 0.2 innings of work, with the run charged to Jesus Sanchez. The Rays are expecting nothing from Gomez, but it would be great if he somehow turned himself around here in the Mexican Pacific League.
Venados de Mazatlan 6, Tomateros de Culiacan 5
For 5 innings, former Yankees reliever Amauri Sanit had a perfect game going against the Venados de Mazatlan, and for 7.1 innings, he had a no-hitter. Then he left and everything fell apart. Miguel Rubio allowed a 2-run home run to Jose Orozco, actually charging a run to Sanit, bu that was far from the most egregious offense. The 9th inning saw Bryan Peterson drill a two-run double before Issmael Salas put the Venados ahead with a two-run homer as Mazatlan shockingly won 6-5. Henry Mateo started the 9th inning rally by getting hit by a pitch and scoring a run.
Naranjeros de Hermosillo 3, Mayos de Navojoa 1
Wes Bankston had a big season for the Mayos last year, but his 2013 debut got off to a nondescript start as he went 1 for 4. The bigger story in this game was Barry Enright, the former Diamondbacks starter coming off a horrific year at Triple-A in the Angels system, who is hoping to get his career back on track in the MPL. Enright started for Hermosillo and went 5.1 innings allowing 1 run on 5 hits, striking out while walking none. So far, so good. Not as well known but still an interesting story is the pitcher who closed the game for the Naranjeros, Jason Urquidez. Drafted by the Rays in 2002, Urquidez didn’t sign until the Diamondbacks selected him three years later. Urquidez spent the seven years in the D-Backs system, becoming teammates with Enright at High-A in 2008, Double-A in 2009, and Triple-A in 2011, but he ended up in Independent Ball after becoming a minor league free agent. After a solid performance in 2012, Urquidez played with the Red Sox’ Double-A affiliate the rest of the year. Then after dominating even more in 2013 (0.25 ERA in 39 appearances), Urquidez got a Triple-A offer from (what would you know) the Angels, but he struggled, allowing 10 earned runs in 13 innings pitched. Nevertheless, Urquidez has pitched extremely well at Independent Ball the last two years, and how he performs in the Mexican Pacific League could be the difference between a return to Indy ball and an invite to big league camp for spring training. In his MPL debut, Urquidez nailed down the save, working around a walk while striking out 1.
Venezuelan Winter League: Tigres de Aragua 6, Cardenales de Lara 2
Hector Gimenez did his part as the Tigres improved to a perfect 4-0 on the year. Anthony Vasquez actually held the Tigres down, tossing 6 innings of 1-hit ball to begin the game, but Aragua responded with 6 runs in the 7th inning against the Lara bullpen to win this one 6-2. Juan Infante hit a grand slam for the big blow in the inning. Gimenez went 1 for 3 with a walk and a run scored in the contest. He is hitting just .214 (3 for 14) as Aragua’s 3 hole hitter, but he has walked 3 times while striking out just twice, leading to a strong .353 OBP.
Tiburones de La Guaira 6, Leones del Caracas 2
Daniel Mayora, who spent 2011 with the Durham Bulls, made the most of his first start of the season, but it was not enough as the Leones fell 6-2. Mayora went 2 for 4 with a double, but La Guaira held Carcas scoreless after the first inning. Bobby Abreu and Danny Dorn both went 1 for 4 for the Leones as well, with Abreu having a first inning RBI single. The Tiburones rolled despite Cesar Suarez having a rare bad game as he went 0 for 4. A pitcher named Mike Piazza, a right-hander in the Angels organization who is actually from the Mets’ spring training home in Port St. Lucie, started for La Guaira and allowing 1 run on 3 hits in 3 innings of work, striking out 3 while walking 1.
Navegantes del Magallanes 6, Aguilas del Zulia 4
Right-hander Deivs Mavarez, who was in the Rays system from 2007 to 2011, played a major role in the win for Magallanes. Unfortunately, he pitches for Zulia. Mavarez lasted just a third of an inning allowing a hit, 3 walks, and 2 runs as the Navegantes scored 2 runs in the 4th to take the lead and took all the momentum in the game. Mavarez’s issue as he got higher in the minors was always walks, and that certainly manifested itself in this game. Jesus Flores went 1 for 5 with an RBI and a run scored for Magallanes while Juan Apodaca went 0 for 4 for Zulia. Considering what the Rays’ catching corps have looked like the last few years, it’s almost unbelievable that there would ever be a semi-competitive game seeing former Rays catchers starting for the two teams.