New Look Lineup: Mexico Supplements Pitching Depth With Position Talent
Though he grew up about two hours from Dodger Stadium, Alejandro Kirk never visited Chavez Ravine as a child. He was born 17 years after Fernando Valenzuela captivated both sides of the Mexico-United States border in 1981, yet he knew all about the iconic lefthander and his legacy.
Kirk was eager to finally meet Valenzuela at the 2022 All-Star Game. He took the best seat in the house as the sellout crowd at Dodger Stadium roared at the sight of Valenzuela, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Kirk.
Four decades after Valenezuela became the first Mexican Cy Young Award and Rookie of the Year winner, Kirk became the first Mexican all-star catcher. As Team Mexico general manager Rodrigo Lopez looks at his roster for the World Baseball Classic, he views Kirk as an embodiment of the country’s recent progress.
“We had never had a catcher start in the All-Star Game,” Lopez said earlier this spring. “I’m fortunate to have him in the WBC.”
Kirk eventually had to withdraw from the WBC due to the birth of his child, but his presence nonetheless marks a promising development for the future of Mexican baseball.
Ever since Valenzuela gave the world Fernandomania, Mexico has sent a steady stream of quality pitchers to MLB. Beginning with a veteran Esteban Loaiza and a young Oliver Perez in the 2006 WBC, pitching has anchored Mexico in past tournaments.
Mexico had some solid position players, such as an aging Vinny Castilla captaining the 2006 team that included big leaguers Adrian Gonzalez and Karim Garcia.
But Kirk is an example of why Mexico may actually have the best generation of players at this time, especially considering the addition of Mexican Americans, bi-cultural players with Mexican roots as well as Cuban Randy Arozarena, the 2020 American League Rookie of the Year and postseason star.
As usual, Mexico’s pitching staff is loaded. It is anchored by Dodgers lefthander Julio Urias, who led the National League in ERA in 2022.
Astros righthander Jose Urquidy, who is 3-0, 1.23 in 14.2 World Series innings, is also in Mexico’s rotation, along with Mexican American Taijuan Walker of the Phillies.
“We’re going through a good moment in terms of players,” said Lopez, a former big league starter who serves as the D-backs’ Spanish-language broadcaster.
Lopez is grateful to Arozarena for anchoring an outfield that includes Boston’s Alex Verdugo, who returns for his second WBC. Arozarena was born in Cuba, but he settled in Mexico as his offseason home after defecting.
“With Randy Arozarena, he has great love for Mexico,” Lopez said. “And with his Mexican passport, he was one of the first who raised his hand to represent Mexico.”
Young D-backs center fielder Alek Thomas will fight for playing time in the outfield.
The infield is solid, but it could have been better if the Orioles’ Gold Glove-winning third baseman Ramon Urias had been allowed to play. Lopez cited insurance issues for Urias’ inability to be cleared to play in the WBC.
Urias’ brother Luis of the Brewers will participate, though. He’ll be joined by slugger Rowdy Tellez, who hit a career-high 35 home runs last season.
All are key players on Mexico’s best WBC roster ever.