The Deer have been led by two Cardinals farmhands, second baseman Edgar Gonzalez and left-handed starting pitcher Troy Cate. Gonzalez is tied for the league batting lead in the playoffs, hitting .444, while Cate is also tops with a 0.00 ERA.
Gonzalez was among a group of minor league free agents signed in November by the Cardinals organization, coming over from the Florida Marlins. He led their entire minor league system with a .327 batting average in 2006.
For Mazatlan, the 28-year old slammed a solo home run in the eighth inning Sunday, giving his club a 5-3 lead. His younger brother Adrian, the San Diego Padres starting first baseman, hit his third home run of the playoffs in that same contest.
Following Sunday's action, the elder Gonzalez was second in the league with a .545 playoff on-base percentage and also second in runs scored with five while hitting in the important number five position of the Mazatlan line-up.
Earlier this winter, Edgar hit a solid .282 during the regular Mexican Pacific winter season, over 220 at-bats. Twenty of his 62 hits went for extra bases, including 13 doubles and five home runs. His two triples tied for second-best in the league. Gonzalez drove in 24 runs and swiped seven bases.
Gonzalez scored 32 runs, walked 29 times, but also had 54 strikeouts, leading his club in all three categories. He is expected to be assigned to Memphis (Triple-A) in 2007.
Cate recently converted back to starting after relieving the past two seasons, including his first in the Cardinals system during 2006. Cate was rewarded for a fine year with Palm Beach and Springfield by being added to the Cardinals 40-man roster following the 2006 season.
The 26-year old lefty has been a pleasant surprise as a standout starter on the mound for the Deer this winter. He has been working there under the tutelage of Mazatlan pitching coach Sid Monge, the former major leaguer who has been a pitching coach in the Cardinals minor league system for eight years. Monge will be the leading the staff at Johnson City of the Appalachian League this coming season.
During the regular season for Mazatlan, Cate posted a stellar 1.21 ERA, striking out 24 batters in 29-2/3 innings, while walking nine. Then, he was given the ball to open the playoffs. Cate responded by tossing seven four-hit shutout innings with no walks and four strikeouts in Game One.
Still, while Cate has been pitching very well, it should be kept in perspective. Given the number of lefties in front of him, including Randy Flores, Tyler Johnson, Ricardo Rincon, Chris Narveson and Randy Keisler, and the fact he has no Triple-A experience, Cate would have to be the longest of longshots to make the 2007 Cardinals. And, he'll have to work hard to crack what looks to be a much-improved Memphis rotation next season, too.
Looking ahead, the Deer will play the winner of the series between the Obregón Yaquis and Culiacán Tomato Growers in the next round. But in the weird format of the Mexican League playoffs, that series' loser continues on as well, meeting the other playoff winner, the Hermosillo Orange Growers, in the semifinals.
The Mazatlan versus Obregón or Culiacán semifinal series starts on Friday, January 12 at the Deers' home park, Estadio Teodoro Mariscal. Cate again gets the call to take the mound in the opener.
Looking back, the Deer have represented Mexico in the last two Caribbean Series, winning it all in 2005 in their home park. It was Mazatlan's first-ever Series championship. The club finished last among the four participants in the 2006 Series, held in Venezuela. They have won the League pennant, representing Mexico in the Caribbean Series, five other times since 1974.
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Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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