SIOUX CITY -- Ramping up for the team’s 26th season of independent professional baseball, the Sioux City Explorers have announced the signings of a former major league outfielder and a pitcher who split time last season with the New York Mets’ top two farm clubs.
Outfielder Luis Durango, a 31-year-old from Panama, will help continue the X’s recent emphasis on speed, topping 40 stolen bases in three different seasons while charting a 12-year career batting average of .298.
Righthander Luis Mateo, a 27-year-old from the Dominican Republic, spent the last seven seasons in the Mets’ farm system and fashioned a composite 3.07 earned run average with 316 strikeouts in 302.1 innings.
Durango earned promotions in three different seasons to the San Diego Padres, taking advantage of limited opportunities to bat .292 with 19 hits in 65 at-bats over 39 games. He stole a career-high 45 bases with the Atlanta Braves Class AAA Gwinnett Braves in 2012, hitting .289 in 132 games.
Also a former farmhand for the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox, the 5-9, 155-pounder had three hits and a stolen base in his first major league start on Sept. 16, 2009. Soon after that performance, his base hit off Randy Johnson wound up being the final career hit surrendered by the 6-foot 10-inch lefthander who logged 303 wins in his 22-year hall of fame career.
X’s Manager Steve Montgomery said Durango will likely be a candidate for the leadoff slot in a promising Sioux City lineup.
“He’s going to be a run scorer, a table setter,’’ said Montgomery. “He’s a switch hitter, which leads us to the next point, which is he adds some balance to our lineup.’’
The club already has two new lefthanded hitters under contract in outfielder Jay Austin and second baseman Nelson Ward while another anticipated regular yet to be signed also bats from the left side.
Mateo has worked in relief in 110 of his 141 appearances in the Mets organization, but he’s hoping to get an opportunity at a starting role with the Explorers. He was exclusively a starter in his first two seasons of minor league ball and had a 2.24 ERA to show for his 25 starts during that time.
Last season, Mateo pitched in 18 games (four starts) for the Mets’ Las Vegas 51’s of the Class AAA Pacific Coast League and 18 more with Binghamton (N.Y.) of the Class AA Eastern League
Coming off a year that saw the X’s battle major injury problems in their everyday lineup, pitching wound up being an even larger roadblock to a possible third consecutive American Association playoff berth.
After parading 14 different starting pitchers to the mound in 2017, Montgomery and Bobby Post, his pitching coach, have made it their top priority to shore up the staff for 2018. Mateo becomes one of at least seven potential starters on the unofficial roster thus far.
“We’ve gone out and committed more money on our salary cap than we ever have to pitching,’’ said Montgomery.
The Explorers open their 100-game season May 17 in Lincoln and will host the Cleburne (Texas) Railroaders in a May 29 contest that launches their slate of 50 home games.