2009 produced the weakest NPB free agency class we’ve seen in quite some time. In the end, only Japanese veterans made the leap over the Pacific, and both landed with the Mets. So let’s take a look at how Ryota Igarashi and Hisanori Takahashi have done so far with the Amazin’s.
Igarashi joined the Mets on a two-year, $3m MLB deal. Long known as one of Japan’s premier power pitchers, he doesn’t quite have the same velocity that he used to, but was still working in the mid-90’s last season. The story of Igarashi’s spring was that the Mets had him tinker with a slider, which was never in his repertoire in Japan. He’s reportedly gone back to his fastball/forkball arsenal and getting game-ready with those two pitches. For fantasy owners, Igarashi is probably a little bit of a risk. He’ll get K’s in middle relief, but he won’t get any save opportunities with K-Rod around, and will struggle if his command deserts him.
Takahashi signed a minor league deal with the Mets late in the offseason, and joined camp after pitchers and catchers had reported. He’s had a much better spring than Igarashi, surrendering only four hits and no earned runs in 8.1 innings of work and drawing positive reviews from his coaching staff. I’m a little surprised, though I’ve always seen his screwball as a plus pitch, and it’s spring training so a grain of salt must be applied. Another grain of salt is that Jon Niese is reportedly closing in on the 5th starter job, which would squeeze Takahashi to either the bullpen or 3A. My biggest concern with Takahashi has always been stamina, so this may be for the best. I’d suggest that fantasy owners consider him as a spot starter or innings-eating reliever, depending on what role he winds up in.
The same disclaimer that I gave for the pitchers applies here: it’s highly likely that none of the following pitchers will be in MLB in 2011. So read this post with an eye to the future.
1. Norichika Aoki (OF, Yakult Swallows): Japan’s top contact hitter got off to a terrible start last season, but rebounded in the second half to hit over .300. Has made repeated overtures to his management for posting, but been rebuffed each time.
2. Hiroyuki Nakajima (SS, Seibu Lions): The best shortstop in NPB played well for Japan’s WBC team last year, and anchors one of NPB’s top offenses.
3. Takeya Nakamura (3B, Seibu Lions): Nicknamed "okawari-kun" ("another round") for his weight, Japan’s Prince Fielder has slugged over 45 home runs in each of the last two seasons.
4. Seiichi Uchikawa (1B/OF, Yokohama BayStars): Dominated to the tune of a .378 BA in 2008; fell back to earth at .319 last year. Still knows how to make contact and control the strike zone.
5. Tony Blanco (1B, Chunichi Dragons): Despite minimal experience above 3A, Blanco won Chunichi’s starting first base job last spring, and proceeded to hit 39 home runs playing in the spacious Nagoya Dome. He begins a two-year contract this season.
Bonus: Sho Nakata (OF/DH, Nippon Ham Fighters): Nakata was heavily hyped coming out of high school, even drawing big-money contract offers from a couple MLB clubs. He’s finally earned a job with the Fighters in his third professional season, so we’ll see if he can make the most of it.
Coming up next, I’ll have an update on the Mets’ import duo, Ryota Igarashi and Hisanori Takahashi.
Disclaimer: it’s entirely possible that none of the following pitchers will be in MLB in 2011. But if you’re in a keeper league or just keeping an eye to the future, the following players belong on your watch list:
1. Yu Darvish (SP, Nippon Ham Fighters): by now, Darvish needs no introduction. He’s coming off his third straight sub-2.00 ERA season. Daisuke Matsuzaka never managed an ERA better than 2.13.
2. Kyuji Fujikawa (RP, Hanshin Tigers): Japan’s most dominant relief pitcher since Kazuhiro Sasaki. Still a few years away from free agency, but has repeated spoken publicly about wanting to test his game against MLB competition.
3. Wei-Yin Chen (SP, Chunichi Dragons): Chen is a Taiwanese lefty with an electric arm. He’s under team control for several more years, but pushing hard to be posted.
4. Chang-Yong Lim (RP, Yakult Swallows): Stateside fans might remember that Lim surrendered the winning hit in the 2009 WBC, but is entering his third season as an effective NPB closer. Offers a rare mix of side-arm delivery and velocity.
5. Hisashi Iwakuma (SP, Rakuten Golden Eagles): 2009 WBC is an extreme groundball pitcher, and has two years left on his contract.
Bonus: Yusei Kikuchi (SP, Seibu Lions): Kikuchi made waves last autumn by entertaining the idea of skipping NPB for MLB, but ultimately entered the NPB draft. He’ll remain a name to watch for the duration of his Japan career.
I’ll look at hitters to keep an eye on in the next edition.
Good day everyone, and welcome to my first post here at Rotosynthesis. Some of you may be familiar with my work at npbtracker.com and hopefully all of you picked up this year’s Rotowire Fantasy Baseball Guide 2010, which I had the honor of contributing an article to. I’ve been contributing player updates for Rotowire subscribers for about a year now, and this season I’ll be taking a spot on Rotosynthesis as well.
So let’s start by taking a look at this year’s foreign player cheatsheet, which Peter Schoenke and I collaborated on. My specialty is Japanese baseball, so I’ll only focus on the players active in Japan.
The overall list looks only at players young and talented enough to be considered legitimate MLB prospects. So Alex Ramirez, despite back-to-back MVP awards in the two seasons, at 35 was left off. I value overall upside higher than proximity to MLB, which is why Masahiro Tanaka, with his superior velocity and youth, outrank defending Sawamura Award (Japan’s Cy Young) winner Hideaki Wakui. So far we’ve seen more pitchers than hitters transition from Japan to MLB, and our rankings reflect that, but there are hitters on the list, such as WBC stars Norichika Aoki and Hiroyuki Nakajima.
The soonest MLB eta list is much harder to assemble, given that we can never really predict when a Cuban player will defect or when an NPB star will get posted. Kyuji Fujikawa and Wei-Yin Chen, two dynamite NPB pitchers, have both made it clear that they want to be posted, but if and when that happens is up to their respective clubs. Impending free agents like Chang-Yong Lim, Tatsuhiko Kinjoh, and Hiroyuki Kobayashi are closer to free agency and have more definite etas, but lower performance upside, and thus don’t rank as highly.
We’ll keep you posted on how these players do these season, so don’t touch that dial.