Going Deep: The Mexican League’s Best Performers
This is part three of Pitcher List’s series on the best performers in the Winter Ball leagues. Check out part one of the series, our best of the Dominican League, for a primer on Winter Ball and an introduction on who is being covered and why. Or check out part two of the series to see who the best performers in the Puerto Rican League are.
The Mexican Pacific League
The Mexican Pacific League, what I’ll be referring to as the MPL, begins its season on the 12th of November. The league consists of eight teams which play a 58 game season that ends on December 30th. The hefty amount of games featured gives us a good sample size to look at. In terms of league comparison, the MPL is similar to the Puerto Rican league in that it is hitter-friendly, but more akin to the Dominican League in terms of level of competition.
Due to a delay in the updating of statistics on Baseball-Reference, the stats presented below will differ from those featured in the Dominican League article. Unfortunately the most up-to-date website, MLB.com, does not feature PA or SF, which precludes me from using K%, BB% and BABIP. However, I will use them in league averages below. Baseball-Reference has data on about 95% of the games, so I figure best to include slightly imperfect league averages as opposed to none at all.
Batting League Averages
Pitching League Averages
Ramon Urias (2B – St. Louis Cardinals) Age: 24, Bats: R
Signed out of the Mexican League in January 2018, Ramon Urias – brother of Padres 2B Luis Urias – had a fair amount of success in the minor leagues last year. His first stop in the Cardinals system was at AA where he slashed .333/ .406/ .589 with an impressive 170 wRC+ over 194 PA. That earned him a promotion to AAA where the results were a bit less noteworthy. Over 149 PA, Urias’s K% went from 14.9% to 19.5%, his slash dropped to .261/ .291/ .420 and his wOBA fell from .434 to .314. The Cardinals 2B also saw a sharp 7% increase in his GB ratio, too. The numbers Urias is putting up in the MPL are certainly encouraging for the Cardinals fan base: he leads the league in OBP and OPS, is 3rd in SLG, and 6th in AVG. Urias has a 55/60 Hit grade so his successes hitting shouldn’t catch too many by surprise. The most encouraging number to me is the 10 HR. Urias showed pop in his AA stint with 8 HR but hinted at falling off a bit in AAA. The pitching quality in the MPL is probably high AA, low AAA so this doesn’t so much signal a step forward for the prospect, more so proof that his AA numbers weren’t a fluke. As the roster stands now for the Cardinals, I don’t see Ramon Urias making the team out of Spring Training. However, if Jose Martinez does end up getting moved and Ramon starts off well in AAA, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him by the beginning of May as a utility bench guy.
Elian Leyva (RP – Atlanta Braves) Age: 29, Throws: R
Born and raised in Cuba, Elian Leyva has had an interesting path to the minor leagues. Leyva began his career in the Cuban National Series where he pitched nine seasons as a reliever and put up sub-par results (5.98 ERA, 90/100 K/BB ratio). The righty then went to play in Spain where he was completely dominant. 0.70 ERA, 82/17 K/BB. At that point, things become a bit…grey. There are suggestions he was in the Mexican League though no website can prove that statistically. The trail picks up again in late 2016 when Leyva signed a minor league deal with the Braves. Then falls off again as Leyva – for some reason unbeknownst to me, despite my best efforts – doesn’t pitch in 2017. Instead, Leyva’s debut comes in 2018 where he puts up a 2.69 ERA, a 2.83 FIP and an 8.80 K/9 in 60.1 IP at AA before pitching to a 2.70 ERA, a 3.45 FIP and a 6.75 K/9 in 26.2 IP at AAA.
As if I wasn’t intrigued already: Elian Leyva is the best pitcher in the Mexican league and not by a small margin. He leads the league in ERA, WHIP, W (if you care about that sort of thing), games started and is tied for most K’s. The Braves still plan to utilize him as an RP, and for good reason. While his curve (76 mph) and split-finger (84 mph) have some nice movement, his four-seam sits in the high-80’s and his change-up in the mid-to-low 80’s. Overall, unless the Braves can work to give him more velo, I think Leyva is strictly a finesse and command guy who could be an ok bullpen piece at the Major League level.
Free Agents / Other Leagues:
Dariel Alvarez (OF – FA) Age: 30, Throws: R
Before there was Shohei Ohtani there was Dariel Alvarez. The Cuban prospect was known for being a two-way player back in 2006 before the Orioles went to acquire him in 2013. Instead of allowing Alvarez to pitch and hit however, the Orioles opted to have him focus on just hitting where he showed a lot of promise. In 2014, he slashed .301/ .328/ .439 in 183 PA at AAA and while he was able to combine a below average K rate with some pop, he was never able to really take the next step. The Orioles converted Alvarez back to a pitcher in 2017 where he met the fate of all Orioles pitching prospects: broken. Alvarez had to have Tommy John surgery and though he was able to make a comeback in the minors, he elected free agency in late 2018. The MPL is his first solid stretch of AB in almost two years and he is certainly making the most of them. Alvarez’s 14 HR are 2nd in the league, as is his .943 OPS. His .571 SLG leads the league and his .315 AVG is good enough for 7th. Alvarez is two seasons removed from an above average .288/ .324/ .384 season at AAA. The fact that he’s showing an above average amount of power in a league equivalent to that, with a K rate lower than 12% means he certainly merits another look.
Isaac Rodriguez Salazar (2B – Mexican League) Age: 27, Throws: R
One of the younger prospects on this list, Isaac Rodriguez Salazar has never played outside of Mexico. If he keeps putting up numbers like he has in the MPL though, that may change. Salazar has played professionally in the Mexican League for three full seasons now, the last of which was simply dominant. In 254 PA, Salazar slashed .371/ .430/ .507 with a .441 wOBA and a 152 wRC+. He had an 11.5% K rate and while he had a below average .136 ISO, he made up for it with 20 stolen bases. The 2018 MPL season so far has showed that those numbers weren’t a fluke. Salazar is 6th in steals – though the six caught stealings are certainly a cause for concern – 5th in AVG and 3rd in OBP. Salazar is also the only player in the MPL to finish with more walks than strikeouts (min 150 PA). I’m not certain whether these metrics compared with the others in the league will merit a minor league deal, especially considering those above him on the leaderboards are also unsigned. However, Salazar’s age may make him more appealing to a professional club than the older prospects, whether they’re above him on the leaderboards or not.
Francisco Peguero (OF – Mexican League) Age: 30, Bats: R
Francisco Peguero likes to swing. While he doesn’t lead the MPL in K’s – that belongs to Alex Liddi who has struck out 70 times in 234 AB – his K/BB ratio is 6th worst in the league (min 150 AB). Peguero’s high K rate almost made me leave him off of the list but it’s hard to ignore the player leading the entire MPL in AVG. Especially when that player was once a top 10 San Francisco Giants prospects. An international signing back in 2005, Peguero never struggled to hit for AVG in the Giants organization. The outfielder hit .300 over 200+ PA in A, high-A, AA and AAA. Scouts with the Giants at one point claimed he had the best bat speed in the organization. Obviously, that’s a skill that Peguero has maintained over time; the issue was Peguero’s ability to hit for power and his aggressive approach at the plate. While the latter hasn’t appeared to change much, the former has. Peguero has been able to find some power in the Mexican league where he’s spent the past four years, averaging about 14 HR over 400 PA. Peguero’s last stint with an MLB club was with the Orioles AAA affiliate in 2014 where he slashed an above average .294/.341/ .488 over 320 PA. Considering how swing-and-miss happy the MLB is right now, I think clubs could do worse than Peguero, though I’m concerned his age may preclude him from a minor league deal.
Dennis O’Grady (RP – Independent League) Age: 29, Throws: R
Much like the Puerto Rican League, the MPL tends to be very hitter friendly. Therefore, any pitcher that is 2nd in the league in ERA is going to stand out. Especially when that pitcher is closely tailing a minor league prospect while he himself just finished a season pitching for the Long Island Ducks. Dennis O’Grady – a former San Diego Padres prospect – was originally an SP before quickly being converted to an RP. The change unfortunately didn’t bring him much success. After five years, O’Grady was able to work his way to the Padres AAA affiliate but never posted a sub 3.86 ERA. O’Grady did post 10.50+ K/9’s sporadically, but he was never able to sustain that over a long sample size. Pair that with a BB/9 that was frequently in the mid-to-high 4’s and a 5.42 ERA over 91.1 IP of AA ball in 2015 and it becomes clear why he and the Padres parted ways.
After taking 2016 off, O’Grady had some success in Independent ball but this years MPL has far and away been his career best. My excitement doesn’t stem from the 2nd best ERA or 48 K’s; it’s the career low 2.01 BB/9 that has me intrigued. While one could ostensibly dismiss this as a by product of the free swingers in the MPL, it’s important to note that O’Grady’s BB/9 has gone down every year now for 3 consecutive years. From what I’ve seen, he still has some nasty movement to some pitches. Whether that will be enough for a big league club to give him another shot in the minors though remains to be seen.
Casey Coleman (RP – FA) Age: 31, Throws: R
If you’ve read part one and two of the series so far, you know that I have a soft spot for guys with heart. Those players that refuse to give up on their dream no matter how many organizations may have passed on them or how many years they have on their arm. Casey Coleman is that guy for part three. Originally drafted by the Cubs in 2008, Coleman has bounced between five different organizations. In his 10+ year career he’s gone from a starter to a reliever and thrown a total of 177.2 IP at the Major League level. Unfortunately, in those innings he has a career 5.72 ERA with a 6.23 K/9 and a 4.51 BB/9. As a result, Coleman hasn’t pitched in the bigs since 2014. Instead, he’s gone through four clubs in two years all at the AAA level. While Coleman did pitch to a 2.08 ERA in his 39 IP with the Mariners in 2016, his most recent shot came with the Cubs last season: 28.2 IP, 6.91 ERA, 1.26 HR/9. So did Coleman give up? Well, I wouldn’t be writing about him if he did.
Coleman leads the MPL in saves (22), and WHIP (30 IP min.). He has the 3rd best K/BB ratio and the 3rd fewest HR allowed. While Coleman may be 31 years old, his arm doesn’t show it as his fastball is still hitting 97 mph. The swing-friendly MPL may be doing Coleman a favor as he doesn’t always have the best command. With that said, he has an almost Johnny Cueto like delivery in that he shows a lot of his back to the pitcher before uncorking his stuff. While the talent level in Mexico may not be the same as the MLB, Coleman is still dominating a very hitter friendly league. In my mind, these numbers should be enough for him to get a minor league deal.
UPDATE: Corey Coleman was signed to a minor league deal with the New York Mets right as this article was published.
Jesus Anguamea (RP – Mexican League) Age: 25, Throws: R
Of all the pitchers in the MPL yet to appear in a minor league system, I think Anguamea should garnish the most interest. Anguamea’s 11.02 K/9 leads the MPL by a nice margin (min 30 IP) and the fact that’s wracked up 51 K’s over 41.2 IP with a sustainable FIP should not be overlooked. The righty made his first appearance in the Mexican League in 2013 with poor results but each year he has improved. His K/9 went from 7.78 in 2017 to 9.41 in 2018 while his ERA shrunk from 4.29 to 3.39. While the 3.24 BB/9 may be a small cause for concern, it’s actually another area in which Anguamea has improved as the metric has decreased ever year for the past 3 seasons: 6.00 to 5.40 to 4.32 and now to 3.24 in the MPL. Unfortunately, there is little to no video of Anguamea online right now nor is there much information on his arsenal. Even with that under consideration, Anguamea is only 25. He is striking out batters at league leading rates and has the 4th best WHIP (min 30 IP) in the MPL. I think that merits a deeper look from MLB clubs.
Jesus Valdez (OF – Mexican League) Age: 34, Throws: R
Jesus Valdez has yet to hit below .300 in the past four years. All four of those years have come in the Mexican League but I’m not sure that makes it that much less impressive. That likely isn’t what Major League scouts are noticing about the outfielder however. It’s likely his age. Valdez started playing rookie ball for the Cubs back in 2003. Over the course of the next nine years, he worked his way up to the Nationals AAA affiliate but was never able to break into the bigs. This is despite some really solid years where Valdez would hit anywhere between .261 and .297. The issue seemed to be that making contact was all Valdez was capable of. Only once in his almost decade of playing in the minors did he hit 10 HR or record 10 SB. While his K rates weren’t abysmal – they often hovered around 16% – his BB rates often were. While Valdez hasn’t been able to add power in the past few years, he certainly has not lost the ability to hit. 34 or not, the outfielder is still 3rd in the league in AVG and 4th in OBP.
Victor Mendoza (1B – Mexican League) Age: 28, Throws: L
Even in the internet age it is difficult to find meticulous information on every baseball player. While I know that Victor Mendoza hit .355 in 2017 and .364 in 2018, I also know he did it over 66 PA and 43 PA respectively. While I’m unable to find the exact reason as to why he recorded so few PA over the past two years, I think it safe to say that Mendoza was likely injured. Whether that’s true or not, the fact remains that the 186 AB Mendoza has recorded in this years MPL is a more than he’s put up in his six year career in the Mexican League. Before 2018, the most AB Mendoza had strung together in a single season was 157 in 2015 where he slashed .268/ .326/ .350. The year prior however, Mendoza had 146 AB with a .308/ .381/ .432 slash line. Mendoza has shown that, when he gets consistent playing time, he can perform and his MPL results are further evidence of that. Mendoza is 2nd in the league in OBP, 4th in AVG and OPS, and 6th in OBP. His mediocre pop is buttressed by his ability to drive the ball and take a walk. While Mendoza is trending in the right direction, I think he’d need to put these results up – and stay on the field – a bit more consistently before a Major League team would consider him.