The Winter Leagues are an interesting animal. When the big leaguers arrive, they are still the stars, the players all the fans come to the stadium to watch. But as the big leaguers take some time off after a long regular season and even once they resume play, the dynamic of the leagues is different then any level of the minor leagues. The best performers are often the veterans of the Mexican League or Independent ball, the players in their prime who have been through the rodeo before. Prospects litter the rosters, but it is tough for them to play against older competition. It also has the effect of distinguishing the breakthroughs from the strong performances that don’t mean as much. When a 29 year old first baseman has a big year in the Venezuelan Winter League, that is nice but nothing out of the ordinary. But if a 20 year old catcher stands out in the Mexican Pacific League, maybe you have something. The MPL season has just begun, but Armando Araiza is making an impression.
In 2013 for the Princeton Rays, Armando Araiza was a bright spot on a team that had an especially tough year, going just 26-42 and ranking last in the Appalachian League in batting average and on-base percentage. Araiza hit to a .277/.361/.322 line with 6 doubles and 10 RBI in 203 plate appearances, standing out most for his 20 walks versus 31 strikeouts. His .683 OPS doesn’t look like much in a vacuum, but it was actually the second-highest on the P-Rays minimum 200 plate appearances (the team average was just .635) and just a touch below the .684 league average. Araiza also impressed behind the plate, allowing 5 passed balls, a decreasing total for the third straight season, while throwing out 37% of attempted basestealers. Araiza has not shown much power–he’s still waiting for his first American home run after 329 plate appearances, but between his plate discipline, arm strength, and athletic ability behind the plate, he could be a player worth a look at the catcher position in the Rays system. He punctuated that point with his performance this past Saturday.
When former Rays prospect Iker Franco received a day off, the Venados de Mazatlán resorted to their backup catcher, Armando Araiza. As it turned out, Araiza had a quite a game. Araiza went 2 for 4 with an RBI, and they weren’t cheapies either as both were hit hard. And behind the plate, Araiza called a good game and threw out the lone runner against him that attempted to steal. He was a kid among men, but he was not playing like it. It was only one game, but sometimes one good game can make an impression, build some confidence and change the course of a career. Will it do that for Araiza? Let’s see what happens to Araiza over the remainder of the Mexican Pacific League season and next year at A-ball, and find out whether the Rays have found another potential option for catcher of the future.