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.