So somewhat lost in all of the moves that have happened to the Cardinals in the offseason has been the departure of Jeff Luhnow. A former Vice President within the Cardinals organization, he has moved on to take the General Manager reigns in Houston - to turn around the flailing Astros organization and transition them into the all-of-a-sudden fierce AL West during his time there.
Luhnow is somewhat responsible for many things within the Cardinals organization. He seemed to be John Mozeliak's right-hand man in the statistical data and scouting department. Luhnow is from Mexico City and re-opened the Latino market to the St. Louis Cardinals (think Fernando Salas), opened up lines of thinking that were previously unthought-of (think moving Motte from C to P and Tony Cruz from 3B to C - also Skip Schumaker from OF to 2B, which I don't believe worked out quite as well). Lastly, he helped to draft a few people quite responsible for this most recent World Series winning team (think Allen Craig, Jon Jay, and Lance Lynn).
So, in a slight homage to Luhnow, I want to look at some Mexican League players' statistics to get thinking about the next steal for the organization in a market opened up to us by Luhnow himself. The Mexican League is seen like a AAA League in terms of size and attendance; however the talent is comparable to AA in MLB (according to B-R). In looking at the 2011 statistics, the Mexican League might be the best hitters' league in the world. The average OPS was .828 this season (compared to around .720 in the majors, and .735 in AA. Like I said, it is quite the hitters' paradise.
Therefore, I think it would be easiest to find pitchers who stand out. I'll start there. Since the average AA player is only 24 years old, I will look at players only under the age of 24 to find the diamonds in the rough.
League averages pitching: 5.19 ERA, 1.619 WHIP, 10.6 H/9, 4.0 BB/9, 5.9 K/9, 1.50 K:BB
22 year old relief pitcher, Enrique Gomez, pitched his third season in the Mexican League in 2011.
Career: 97 IP, 4.92 ERA, 1.485 WHIP, 9.5 H/9, 3.9 BB/9, 7.4 K/9, 1.90 K:BB
2011: 48 1/3 IP, 4.84 ERA, 1.428 WHIP, 8.8 H/9, 4.1 BB/9, 9.9 K/9, 2.41 K:BB
Gomez's ERA was 7% better than average; his WHIP was 13% better than average, and his K:BB was 61% better than average. He is doing it as a 22 year old. His innings pitched have gone from 17 1/3 to 31 1/3 to 48 1/3 each of his three seasons. His WHIP, K/9, and K:BB have all gotten much better each season.
23 year old relief pitcher Alan Guerrero pitched in his sixth season in the Mexican League in 2011.
Guerrero went from Tijuana to Reynosa after his first three seasons. He was primarily used a starter with Tijuana, but has been used exclusively as a reliever with Reynosa. He has thrown about 65 innings a season the last three years (all three years at 60 IP or better.) All three years have had a 1.500 WHIP or slightly better. All three years have been better than the league average of 4.0 BB/9 and have seen a K/9 of 8.1 or higher (9.1 and 9.3 the last two seasons). His 3.68 K:BB in 2010 was incredible.
Those two pitchers could be brought in and pitch in the hitter friendly Texas League right away, I believe...and quite possibly have better numbers because the Texas League pales in comparison as a hitters' league to the Mexican League.
League average hitting: .299/.374/.454/.828
21 year old center fielder, left fielder, and second baseman Leonardo Heras, played in his fifth season in the Mexican League in 2011.
In the last three seasons, Heras has averaged over 400 at bats a season. In 2009 and 2010, Heras had a .806 and .803 OPS (with a league average OBP, but slightly lower SLG) respectively. His OBP jumped to .399 in 2011 and his slugging to .536 (OPS to .935). He had 18 of his 25 career HR this season. Heras also had 25 of his 58 career stolen bases in 2011. He has a career .318 batting average that jumped to .342 last season. As long as the kid is simply building strength (like most 21 year olds) and not on steroids or some other performance enhancer, I'd say this kid is starting to become legit. The only question that I really have is that he moved from Reynosa to Mexico (the team) last season. Is the hitting environment just that much better in the home ballpark for Mexico, or did he make a leap.
21 year old outfielder, Sergio Perez, played in his third season in the Mexican League in 2011.
As a 19 year old in Chihuahua (2009), Perez had 351 at bats. Since going to Monterrey, his at bats have gone down from that career high of 351 to 189 and 245 in the past two seasons, respectively. His first two years showed OPSes less than .700. His OBP was subpar and his SLG was non-existent. Last season, Perez took a leap - similar to Heras. His .839 OPS was slightly above league average; Perez's OBP jumped to .406 (above league average) and his SLG jumped as well, but was slightly below league average at .433. So far, the 21 year old has shown very little speed or power, but his BB:K ratio last year was getting much better and his OBP rose greatly. Since that is one of the best offensive skills you can possess, he might be worth a look.
Let's go all Jeff Luhnow on the Astros here and steal those guys before he can rebuild our current division rival with those very same players.