Those of you who read the Winter Ball Edition of Around The Farm regularly may have noticed that Tomateros de Culiacan closer Derrick Loop has been a mainstay of the column. While he certainly is that, he is also one of the more interesting men playing baseball today, due in part to the lengthy road he has traveled toward finding a home in the game. I interviewed Derrick following the Caribbean Series and here are some highlights from our conversation:
Loop was drafted by the Indians in the 23rd Round of the 2006 Draft from Cal State-Los Angeles. His story of the pre-draft process is a classic example of how the relative anonymity of the MLB Draft differs so greatly from the glitz of its NFL and NBA counterparts. He filled out a form for the Indians but otherwise heard little from the Tribe prior to the draft. He was watching the Draft on the second day and saw that he had been selected.
He described it as “one of the happiest days of my life” and who could blame him. He had just achieved the goal of every baseball player – getting paid to play the game and a shot at the big leagues. On that day nearly 15 years ago, he had no idea of the journey he was about to embark on.
Professional debut (2006 Mahoning Valley Scrappers)
Derrick spent only one short season (RIP short-season A-ball) in the Indians organization, pitching in 22 games for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. It was a new experience for him in many ways.
“(Youngstown, Ohio) was clear across the country from where I’m from [California],” Loop said.
The experience in Niles was a positive one for him, however.
“The fans were great and my host family was absolutely wonderful,” Loop said. “I still keep in contact with them.”
He reported to minor league camp in ‘07, but was cut before the season started. He felt surprised given his performance in Niles the season before. He chalks it up to being “a casualty of Ross Atkins taking over the farm system and not knowing who he was”.
The road from Niles to Mexico
Loop’s next stop was back in California, where he played for the Chico Outlaws of the Golden League. He spent 2007 and part of the 2008 season there before his contract was sold to the Boston Red Sox, where he finished the ‘08 campaign in California for the High-A Lancaster JetHawks. He spent one more season in the Boston org playing mostly for their new High-A team, the Salem Red Sox, but also getting a cup of coffee in the high minors, pitching four games for the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs during the final week and a half of the season.
After electing free agency, Loop found himself back in independent ball to start the 2010 season, but this time far higher up the food chain with the Atlantic League’s Camden Riversharks.
He pitched well enough to earn another shot in affiliated ball with the Phillies organization (Double-A Reading and High-A Clearwater) in 2011 before finishing his affiliated career in the Dodgers org with the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes the next season.
Loop then returned to the Atlantic League for four more seasons, two with the Lancaster Barnstormers and a pair with the Sugar Land Skeeters, where a tip from his bullpen coach would change not only his career, but his life.
Sugar Land’s pitching coach got Loop in touch with some of his connections in Mexican baseball.. He made his Mexican debut for the Tomateros in the ‘16-’17 season and started his LMB career the following summer with the Piratas de Campeche.
In the years since then, he has made Mexico his home, become a dual citizen, married a Mexican woman, started a family, and become something of a cult hero in Culiacan.
Loop’s nickname is “El Gringolichi,” which roughly translates into – “A gringo more like them (residents of Culiacan.)
His exclusion from the Tomateros postseason roster was wildly unpopular with fans.
Needless to say, the adventure baseball has taken Loop on has given him a unique perspective on both the game and life in general.
Here’s a sampling of his thoughts on various subjects in baseball and beyond:
Mexican Ball vs the Minors
It might not be well documented enough that foreign leagues are much more focused on winning than the development-centric MiLB.
This is nowhere more evident than in the short-season crucible of winter ball.
“It’s a playoff atmosphere from day one,” he said. “If you’re not performing after a week, they’ve got somebody or they’re looking for somebody to replace you.”
Loop feels that this pressure is a positive for prospects who play in the Caribbean.
“Performing well there can be a sign to an organization that, ‘hey, this guy went to winter ball and did well against these veterans,” he said.
He also noted that struggles against the higher level of competition can be “a dose of reality” for guys who have not had to face it in the minors, especially prized prospects who are often protected by their organization.
As he has proven, however, going south to play baseball is not just for the young guys. Loop heartily recommended the Mexican League as a place where guys can keep playing and make a good living, as proven by the fact that he is still going strong in the LMB (and winter Liga ARCO).
“It was the best decision I’ve made,” Loop said of his Mexican League experience.
Correcting misconceptions regarding Mexico
“People have a perception that it’s a poor place that people just want to cross illegally to get out of,” Loop said. “That couldn’t be further from the truth, especially away from the border areas like in Culiacan, Monterrey, and Mexico City. In fact, Mexicans take a great deal of pride being Mexican.”
Minor League Contraction/Elimination of Short-Season Single-A
Unsurprisingly, given that Short-A was the level that he began his professional career at, he is not a fan of the class’s elimination.
“I thought it was a great first step in pro baseball. Being a senior sign, I was able to step right in and play with other first year professionals at or near my age.”
Finally, speaking of his aforementioned exclusion from the Tomateros’ postseason roster and subsequent time in LIDOM, he described the 2020-21 season as a crazy year, between travel, masks, tests, quarantine.
When he got to the Dominican, he found himself surrounded by an extremely talented squad.
“80% of the guys were in the major leagues on the Gigantes”, Loop recalled.
Leaving, however, resulted in some hard luck.
The Tomateros had recalled him to play in the Liga ARCO Serie Final.
It wasn’t to be, however.
After 18 days in the Dominican Republic, during which he passed eight COVID tests, he failed one upon returning to Mexico, making him ineligible for the Serie Final.
He did, however, get to rejoin the team in time to play for them in the Serie del Caribe.
For those unaware of the reason for his temporary exclusion, it was a necessary roster move as the Tomateros were over the reduced postseason limit on import players (naturalized players don’t count as Mexican in Liga ARCO, unlike in the LMB).
Loop described it as business, and not personal, but was a bit surprised as he assumed he was going to be playing with Culiacan all winter.
Thanks to Derrick Loop for taking the time to speak with me and a note from Loop to anyone who wishes to follow him in the upcoming LMB season, he will be returning to the Olmecas de Tabasco, whom he played for in the 2019 LMB season (the most recent one played) and who helped him with his Mexican citizenship paperwork.
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