Title Time in the Caribbean
It’s down to the wire in this year’s Winter League season, with Championship Series matchups underway in each league. The winners from each of the four countries will then advance to the Caribbean Series, which will be held in Hermosillo, Mexico from February 1-7. The Venezuelan Championship has a definite York Revolution flavor to it, as Joe Thurston’s Cardenales de Lara take on Chris Nowak and the Navegantes del Magallanes. Both advanced after going 10-6 in the round robin playoffs. Game 1 is tonight, first pitch at 7:30 p.m. from Estadio Jose Bernardo Perez in Valencia, home of Nowak’s Navigators.
A quick Wikipedia search reveals that the Navegantes’ mascot is a bird named “the Capy” who wears a navigator costume, and has a girlfriend named Lola, a “very charming parrot.” Ok then.
Games 3, 4, and 5 (if necessary) will be held in Lara, before the series would shift back to Valencia for Games 6 and 7.
Thurston is coming off a .260 regular season with two homers and 23 RBI in 45 games played, and is listed as a left fielder. Johan Limonta batted .240 in his 29 games for Lara.
Ryan Feierabend was with the Cardenales earlier in the year, posting a 3.26 ERA in six starts. Other current or former Atlantic League pitchers who are / were there at one point or another include Justin Cassel (Somerset), Jarrett Grube and Nick Green (Southern Maryland), and Scott Patterson (Lancaster). It’s almost impossible to know who’s currently active, as guys come and go by the month, if not the week.
I can tell from following Thurston on Twitter @Joeyballgame that he’s pretty fired up for the Cardenales’ run along with everyone else down there. He’s been hashtagging some tweets as #cardenalitude.
Nowak hit .311 with six homers and 16 RBI in 37 games played for the Navegantes, playing third base. Both Andrus brothers are on the team as well, with former Revs outfielder Erold actually hitting better than his little bro Elvis (.269 to .234). There was also plenty of Atlantic League company on the pitching staff including Paul Oseguera and Juan Rincon (Bridgeport), Southern Maryland’s Hunter Jones, former Duck Gustavo Chacin, Skeeters opening night starter Matt Wright, and former Bluefish and Barnstormer Eric Junge. Carlos Zambrano was a high-profile member of their rotation, going 4-2 with a 3.90 ERA in six starts.
With the regular season now over, an end-of-year look at the stats across the league shows some pretty good success from Atlantic League names. Among those is Lancaster’s Dwayne Pollok, the Atlantic League Pitcher of the Year this past season, who went 7-2 with a 2.36 ERA in 13 starts for Aguilas de Zulia. Jon Meloan and Jon Hunton, both of whom have been closers for Long Island in recent years, posted seven saves and eight saves respectively for Caribes de Anzoategui. Camden catcher Raul Padron had a great winter, batting .396 in 28 games for Leones del Caracas. Lancaster’s Les Walrond (3.62 ERA despite a 1-4 record) and Bridgeport’s Julio DePaula (4-1, 3.75) both pitched well for Tiburones de La Guaira. Former Revs infielder Ramon Castro hit .333 in 19 games for Tigres de Aragua, and was a teammate of former Revs lefty Justin Hampson who allowed just one run in four appearances this winter after making it back to The Show with the Mets last season.
Things are already decided in the D.R. where the Leones del Escogido have punched a ticket to the Caribbean Series, finishing a five-game sweep of Aguilas Cibaenas for their second straight title, and eliminating a lineup that had Manny Ramirez and Miguel Tejada in the middle. The defeat also ended the Winter Ball season for former Revs starter Lorenzo Barcelo (4-2, 2.63, league-leading 65.0 innings), Sugar Land’s Dustin Richardson (1-0, 2.57) and Lancaster’s Gilberto Mejia (.304).
Major Leaguers Starling Marte and Fernando Tatis came up big for Leones in that series, who also had Long Island lefty Randy Keisler (0-2, 3.86), and for you Orioles fans, reliever Pedro Strop (1-0, 2.79, 4 saves).
Elsewhere around the D.R., there was some pretty good pitching with Estrellas de Oriente. Former Revs righty (now San Francisco Giants property) Omar Javier went 1-0 with a 2.27 ERA in 11 games (six starts), while Bridgeport reliever Rommie Lewis (4-0, 1.23, 5 saves) and York alum Scott Rice (2.45 ERA in 10 games) both excelled as well. We’ve been keeping tabs on Rice ever since his departure from York in 2011 for the L.A. Dodgers organization, hoping he’ll make it to the Majors at some point. Rice will open 2013 with Hampson in the Mets organization.
After a full year in Taiwan, Matt DeSalvo made one start for Tigres del Licey, allowing one run in three innings of work.
Former Barnstormers infielder Ozzie Chavez batted .300 for Toros del Este, while Atlantic League vet Willis Otanez had a solid winter batting .298. Salvador Paniagua appeared in eight games for the Toros, and Yunior Novoa appeared in two. Lancaster’s Horacio Ramirez had a good season, going 0-2 despite a 3.18 ERA in 10 games (seven starts) for the Toros.
The Championship Series is underway in Mexico, where Yaguis de Obregon leads the best-of-seven 1-0 over Aguilas de Mexicali after a 5-3 win in Game 1 last night. Obregon is led by Southern Maryland’s Jesse Gutierrez who led the league with 20 home runs (mostly for Hermosillo). Another former Atlantic League power-hitter bats cleanup for Mexicali, that being former Bluefish Wes Bankston. Reliever Mike Benacka, acquired by York late last year, had a spectacular winter in the Mexicali bullpen, going 2-1 with three saves and a 0.75 ERA in 30 appearances. He struck out a dominating 55 in 36.0 innings.
Elsewhere around Mexico, R.J. Rodriguez was 4-3 with a 4.86 ERA for Algodoneros de Guasave. That came in 17 appearances… including five STARTS! He was even credited with a complete game!
Former Revs slugger Jason Botts had a huge winter with Caneros de los Mochis, hitting .342 with 17 home runs and 17 doubles in 63 games, good for a slugging percentage of .640.
Long Island’s Kraig Binick hit .328 with 19 stolen bases for Mayos de Navojoa. Ex-Road Warrior Amadeo Zazueta also batted .300 helping to lead that offense. Bankston spent most of his winter there, smashing 13 homers while hitting .289. Steve Moss connected on nine homers despite only hitting .248. Matt Esquivel batted .231 with six home runs, and Matt Padgett batted .222 in 12 games. On the pitching side, Navojoa featured Somerset’s Andrew Dobies (3-0, 1.96 in 15 games) and Camden / Long Island reliever Leo Rosales (9 saves).
Revs alum Mike DeMark pitched for Hermosillo (0-0, 4.85 in 14 games).
York fan-favorite Chris Walker played with Venados de Mazatlan, batting .289 with four homers and nine stolen bases.
In Puerto Rico, we have a pivotal Game 5 on tap tonight, Indios de Mayaguez at Criollos de Caguas. Mayaguez has won the last two to even things up, 2-2 in the best-of-seven. That includes a 6-5 win in 11 innings last night. Perusing the box score, I noticed that former ALPB umpire Delfin Colon had second base in that game.
Caguas is loaded with familiar names. Andy Gonzalez is a big part of their offense, having been playing third base. Gonzalez was with York in spring training 2011 before signing with Milwaukee, and batted .311 with five home runs this winter. Former York outfielder Edgard Clemente, part of the playoff team in 2008, hit .282 for Caguas this winter. Ricardo Gomez was added to their bullpen which also includes Sugar Land’s Saul Rivera (2-0, 1.02, 9 saves) and former Bluefish closer Eddy Ramos (3.31 ERA in 14 games). Michael Nix allowed just one earned run in 16.2 innings over four games (three starts), and Sugar Land lefty Kelvin Villa also had a good winter, going 3-2 with a 2.93 ERA in nine games (eight starts). In fact, Villa struck out 10 and carried a no-hitter with two outs in the eighth in Game 2 of the series before former Revs shortstop and former Road Warriors teammate Danny Gonzalez broke it up with a single, but Villa hung in for the 3-1 win.
Danny Gonzalez is indeed playing for Mayaguez, and batted .308 this winter, a strong bounce back from this past summer. He’s actually played mostly third base this winter.
Gomez spent most of the winter with Cangrejeros de Santurce, saving 14 games and going 1-0 with a 1.02 ERA. From Lancaster, J.D. Durbin went 2-1 with a 1.88 ERA for Santurce. Offensively, Lancaster’s Fehlandt Lentini batted .284.
One of the more interesting stories in the Atlantic League this past summer was Scott Kazmir’s comeback with Sugar Land. Once a young phenom and ace for a Tampa Bay club that went to the World Series, Kazmir got better and better as the summer wore on, and finished strong enough to earn a contract with the Indians in December. He also made five starts this winter for Gigantes de Carolina, and was 0-2 with a 4.37 ERA. Southern Maryland’s Gaby Hernandez, Deinys Suarez, and Eddie Morlan were on that team as well.
Ex-York reliever Juan Padilla pitched for Leones de Ponce, going 2-1 with a 4.58 ERA in 16 outings.
Up next: The Caribbean Series
So with one league champion decided, three other trips to Hermosillo and this year’s Caribbean Series are on the line. The Series will commemorate the opening of Estadio Sonora, a brand new 16,000-seat ballpark, and future home of the Mexican League’s Naranjeros (Orange Growers).
Click this link to an MLB.com article detailing the new facility.
Also, here’s a photo of what they’re leaving behind, 15,000 seat Estadio Hector Espino, which opened in 1972:
We should get a chance to see some Caribbean Series action on MLB Network in a couple weeks. One way or another, at least from the Venezuelan draw, the Series is guaranteed to have some Revolution representation. Stay tuned!