The next nation to announce its Premier12 roster is México [list], which will feature some recognisable names in Christián Villanueva (above), Fernando Salas, and Horacio Ramírez, along with five other former major leaguers. As with the other COPABE (Americas) nations, the lack of forty-man roster players stings, though México’s strong national league provides a number of veteran players. Several minor leaguers and a CPBL star make up the rest of the roster, which was announced as the squad for the ‘Giants of Latin America’ exhibition series with Venezuela and, therefore, may change significantly before the Premier 12.
México will aim to improve on a fourth-place finish in 2015, in which it defeated Venezuela before losing to Japan, the USA, and South Korea, bouncing back against the Dominican Republic to squeak into the quarterfinals, where it defeated Canada 4-3 and then lost to USA again in the semis. Japan blasted the nation 11-1 in the third-place game. Astonishingly, only Juan Pérez and Brennan Berardino return from that squad, which had much less star power than this year’s edition.
The group is led by Villanueva (left), who burst onto the scene with an exciting 12-game callup by the Padres in 2017, during which he hit .344 with four home runs. A 20-homer season followed in only 110 games, with a .236 average and excellent defence at the hot corner. This season, the former top Cubs prospect played for Yomiuri in Japan, slashing .218/.322/.378.
Salas will likely serve as the team’s relieve ace after a 10-year, 496-game career that included three contests in 2019. In that time, the right-hander has a 3.91 ERA, .244 batting average against, and a 474/149 K/BB ration in 489.2 innings. Ramírez nade 169 games, including 105 starts, in MLB, but has only nine major league innings in the last decade. After bouncing around indy ball, the KBO, and winter leagues, the former Team USA southpaw has settled in the Mexican League where he has a 3.81 ERA in five seasons, with an otherworldly 1.7 BB/9 and 4.0 (!) K/9.
Another long-time veteran is Efrén Navarro, a 1B who got action in 157 games over six seasons, mostly with the Angels. Navarro has appeared in Japan, México, and the minor leagues in recent years and has a .283/.356/.395 line in 1,813 professional games.
Four players with cups of coffee are Matt Clark, Phillip Evans, Alí Solís, and Ryan Verdugo. Clark slugged three dingers in 27 at bats for Milwaukee in 2014 and has 253 career home runs in 1,309 professional games. The 1B added 27 for León in 2019. Meanwhile, Evans had 61 at bats over the 2017-18 seasons for the Mets before moving to the Cubs’ organisation for 2019. The utility infielder hit .283/.371/.470 for Iowa this season.
The final two big leaguers saw much less time. Solis was 0-for-10 in 2011 and 2014, but has 14 seasons of pro ball under his belt and drilled 18 home runs in LMB play this year. Ryan Verdugo returns to México, where he played in 2016-17, after two seasons in the CPBL and seven years past a single start in the bigs.
José Vargas last appeared in the minors in 2010, but put together six-straight solid seasons in independent leagues before moving Mexico. In those 12 seasons, he has slugged 205 home runs while playing a serviceable 3B. This year was his best, however, as he hit .363 with 30 home runs in 270 at bats. Second-baseman Juan Perez has also burst onto the scene recently, hitting .330 with a .565 slugging percentage in 545 LMB games since late summer 2018.
Esteban Quiroz and Humberto Castellanos are the notable minor leaguers. Quiroz was signed by the Red Sox after an excellent showing in the 2017 World Baseball Classic and was traded to the Padres after the 2018 season. Castellanos had a 2.89 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 83 strikeouts in 34 relief outings this year. The 21-year old has a 2.92 career ERA. Jesus Fabela is another youngster to watch after a .368/.436/.502 season for the Mexico City Red Devils at age 24.
Jesus Cruz has a big arm, but has yet to harness it in three minor league campaigns. This year, he struck out 89 in 61.1 innings, but walked 46 and gave up eight round-trippers. Carlos Bustamante, another reliever in his mid-20s, returned to LMB in 2019 and saved 30 games with a 2.57 ERA and 12.30 K/9.
Three unexpected players not to make the list are long-time national teamers Japhet Amador, Chris Roberson, and Brandon Laird. The first two had strong LMB seasons, while Laird has hit 163 home runs in Japan the last five years, including 32 in 2019. There has been some chatter that Amador may join the roster.
The most surprising omission from the above list is Adrián González, a current free agent and, therefore, not bound by MLB’s restrictions. It is possible, however, that González is making good on his boycott of national team events due to the controversy of the 2017 WBC Jalisco Round. We were the only anglophone source at the press conference where MLB appeared to have communicated to the Mexican federation that it had moved on to the Second Round [link]. González was so furious several weeks later when we attempted to interview him at Dodger Stadium that he refused to answer questions from the press.
Other players that may be eligible once they officially declare free agency are Sergio Romo and Marco Estrada, while Jorge de la Rosa, Yovani Gallardo, Jaime García, and Miguel González all did not appear in the majors in 2019 and could have earned places on the roster. Manny Bañuelos and Hector Velazquez could join the ranks of the unemployed after the World Series as well.
It is certain, however, that Alex Verdugo, Julio Urías, Roberto Osuna, Joakim Soria, Luis Urías, Oliver Pérez, and Luis Cessa will not be joining the team for the Premier 12 as all are likely to remain on major league rosters.
The Mexican selection will face Venezuela in Puebla on Oct. 26 and 27 before hosting the Dominican Republic on Nov. 2, USA a day later, and the Netherlands on Nov. 5, all at 7 p.m. (2 a.m. BST Nov. 3).
The full roster:
|P||Horacio Ramírez||Toros de Tijuana||LMB|
|P||Arturo Reyes||Tampa Bay||AAA|
|P||Ryan Verdugo||Uni Lions||CPBL|
|P||Manny Barreda||Toros de Tijuana||LMB|
|P||Adam Quintana||Acereros del Norte||LMB|
|P||Orlando Lara||Toros de Tijuana||LMB|
|P||Humberto Castellanos||Astros de Houston||A+|
|P||Justin Kelly||Acereros del Norte||LMB|
|P||Brennan Bernardino||Toros de Tijuana||LMB|
|P||Felipe Gonzalez||Sultanes de Monterrey||LMB|
|P||Jesus Cruz||Cardenales de San Luis||AAA|
|P||Carlos Bustamante||Acereros del Norte||LMB|
|C||Alí Solís||Sultanes de Monterrey||LMB|
|C||Armando Araiza||Diablos Rojos del México||LMB|
|IF||José Vargas||Acereros del Norte||LMB|
|IF||Esteban Quiroz||San Diego||AAA|
|IF||Javier Salazar||Toros de Tijuana||LMB|
|IF||Jorge Flores||Leones de Yucatán||LMB|
|IF||Christian Villanueva||Gigantes de Yomiuri||NPB|
|OF||Jonathan Jones||Leones de Yucatán||LMB|
|OF||Juan Pérez||Saraperos de Saltillo||LMB|
|OF||Noah Perio Jr.||Acereros del Norte||LMB|
|OF||Jesus Fabela||Diablos Rojos del México||LMB|
|DH||Matt Clark||Bravos de León||LMB|