MEXICO CITY -- Considering they've yet to reach the Major Leagues, the amount of media attention the Mexican-born players participating in this weekend's Mexico City Series attracted was proof how much the country desires to find the next wave of homegrown talent.The Astros and Padres had four Mexican-born players starting
MEXICO CITY -- Considering they've yet to reach the Major Leagues, the amount of media attention the Mexican-born players participating in this weekend's Mexico City Series attracted was proof how much the country desires to find the next wave of homegrown talent.
The Astros and Padres had four Mexican-born players starting in Sunday's 21-6 Padres win -- Leo Heras in left field for Houston, and Luis Urias at shortstop, Ricardo Valenzuela at designated hitter and righty Cesar Vargas starting for San Diego, much to the delight of the press and the crowd at Estadio Fray Nano.
Vargas, who's from nearby Puebla, threw three scoreless innings. Vargas, who was signed to a Minor League deal last year after spending the previous seven seasons in the Yankees' organization, said it was the first time his family got to see him pitch professionally.
"I think everybody dreams of growing up and playing in front of their home country, the Major League Baseball team," Vargas said. "You don't know what's going to happen, but fortunately things went well for me today."
Meanwhile, Urias went 2-for-5 with two runs scored and two RBIs, and Valenzuela was 1-for-5 with two runs. Urias, 18, was signed as a non-drafted free agent in 2013 and split last year between Class A Tri-City and Fort Wayne. He's from Magdalena del Kino. Valenzuela, 25, is from Hermosillo and split last year between Tri City and Class A Lake Elsinore.
"Probably the most exciting thing for me was seeing the Mexican players flourish today," Padres manager Andy Green said. "Vargas faced a very good lineup at the top of the order and worked right through some very easily. He pitched very, very well. You can see that showing up in San Diego someday soon. You come down here to represent baseball, enjoy the culture, to enjoy the environment, but the exciting thing to me on top of all that was seeing our young Mexican players play very well today."
That was the sentiment echoed by Heras, a 25-year-old who spent seven years playing in the Mexican League, including three in Mexico City (2011-13), before joining the Astros' organization. He went 3-for-4 with two runs and two RBIs on Sunday.
"I'm so excited to be here," Heras said. "I played here about four years ago, so this is so amazing to be back in Mexico. It's good to play with your people."
Astros manager A.J. Hinch was thrilled with Heras' performance.
"We really like his potential," he said. "He's been through our system at various levels. We think he's a good player. We know he's a very popular player here and loves to play in Mexico, and we look forward to him being a Major League player in an Astros uniform someday."
Whether they represent the next wave of Mexican stars remains to be seen, but Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said Saturday part of growing the game in Mexico includes having more Mexican players in the Major Leagues.
Adrian Gonzalez of the Dodgers, Yovani Gallardo of the Orioles and Joakim Soria of the Royals represent some of the game's top Mexican stars, with 19-year-old left-handed prospect Julio Cesar Urias of Culiacan on the rise. Still, the country hasn't produced the quantity of big league talent as smaller countries like the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Puerto Rico.
Baseball is hoping increased efforts to grow the game in Mexico, which include the opening of an office and stronger relationships with the Mexican league clubs, will open the pipeline wider.
"I know there are a lot of great baseball players here in Mexico," Manfred said. "One of the topics of conversations last summer with the professional leagues here was how to facilitate more Mexican players playing in Major League Baseball. A greater presence of Mexican players in Major League Baseball will increase the strength of the ties of the games here in Mexico and our great game in the United States."
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, who was born and raised in Mexico City, said that while soccer will always be the most popular sport in Mexico, baseball thrives in pockets in places like Veracruz, Yucatan, Culiacan and Mazatlán. Much of the talent has yet to be discovered, and increased scouting efforts in Mexico could pay dividends.
"There's a lot of good players in Mexico, many of which never get to the big leagues," he said. "They stayed in Mexico and played their careers, so there's a lot of good Mexican players we've never heard of."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.