Without a Minor League season in 2020, top prospects headed to various locations across the globe for offseason work. Over the next few weeks, MiLB.com will look at the highlights from winter ball seasons worldwide. First up was the Dominican Winter League, now the Mexican Pacific League.
Without a Minor League season in 2020, top prospects headed to various locations across the globe for offseason work. Over the next few weeks, MiLB.com will look at the highlights from winter ball seasons worldwide. First up was the <a href="https://www.milb.com/milb/news/winter-ball-roundup-dominican-republic" target="blank" >Dominican Winter League, now the Mexican Pacific League._
The 2020-21 season arrived with change for the Mexican Pacific League (LMP), as it has for most sports leagues around the world. As the coronavirus pandemic pressed on through the North American summer and into the fall, the league’s schedule was altered but still went forward, a designation that was welcome news to fans of Mexican baseball after the country’s summer league was forced to cancel its 2020 season.
After starting the campaign in mid-October, the league was forced to go on hiatus for over a week in mid-November as COVID-19 cases among players spiked. As a result, each of the circuit’s 10 teams played between 56-59 games, down from the roughly 68 played in a normal season.
For the second straight year, the team on top at the end of the regular season was the same. The Yaquis de Obregon, who captured the league’s regular season crown in 2019-20 at 43-22, finished the 2020-21 season at 37-22, 2.5 games ahead of the Naranjeros de Hermosillo.
With an eight-team playoff field, only the Mayos de Navajoa and Caneros de Los Mochis were left out. Obregon, Hermosillo, Monterrey and Culiacan all made it past the league’s best-of-7 quarterfinal series with Culiacan, the 2019-20 champs, proving to be the biggest surprise. The Tomateros finished the regular season at just 29-29, but took down the third-place Algodoneros de Guasave in six games to move on. In the semis, the Tomateros upset Obregon in six to move into the league championship series, where they faced Hermosillo, which took six games to sink Monterrey.
The final was a classic. After four one-run games in the first six, the series stood tied at three games apiece heading into a wild Game 7.
In the bottom of the seventh, Culiacan looked in control, leading 6-3 and needing just nine outs to seize the league crown, and with it, a berth in the Caribbean Series in Mazatlan. It didn’t come easy. Former Blue Jays prospect Norberto Obeso walked with one out, and former Rangers prospect Jose Cardona singled to left field. After the Nationals’ Yadiel Hernandez grounded out to first, the task fell to sixth-ranked Tigers prospect Isaac Paredes.
On the third pitch of his at-bat, Paredes barreled up a pitch from Culiacan reliever Carlos Torres, a 10-year big league veteran, and hammered it over the wall in left-center to draw the home team Naranjeros even.
The teams remained tied until the 10th when -- without the tiebreaker rules of Minor League Baseball in effect -- the Tomateros recovered. With one out and the bases empty, longtime Mexican Leaguer Jesse Castillo connected on a go-ahead homer to right-center. Former Mets and Cubs prospect Alberto Baldonado closed it out. Baldonado struck out two in the bottom of the 10th to seal his team’s third LMP title in four seasons.
Mexico’s circuit was light on import talent this year due to the travel restrictions, and the Tigers’ Paredes made the biggest impact in the LMP season for prospects ranked in their organizations' Top 30 by MLB.com. In 42 games with the Venados de Mazatlan, the Hermosillo native batted a whopping .379/.480/.579 with four homers and 26 RBIs. Paredes, who made his Major League debut and played in 34 games for Detroit in 2020, continued to show off the plate discipline that has become the signature of his professional career. The third baseman worked 27 walks while striking out just 12 times. After the conclusion of the LMP season, he was added to Mexico’s roster for the 2021 Caribbean Series, being hosted from Jan. 31-Feb. 6 in his home ballpark in Mazatlan.
The Rays’ Esteban Quiroz, formerly his organization’s No. 30 prospect, put in his best winter campaign yet with Los Mochis. The 28-year-old, who has only been in affiliated ball in the States since 2018, batted .299/.466/.483 with eight homers and 38 RBIs in 58 games. Like Paredes, his plate discipline stood out with 51 walks and 28 strikeouts.
Tyler Maun is a reporter for MiLB.com and co-host of “The Show Before The Show” podcast. You can find him on Twitter @tylermaun.