The Next Great Japanese Position Player
Back about seven or eight years ago, it looked like we were going to get a steady stream of position players jumping over from Japan’s NPB to MLB with at least one or two Japanese position players coming over every off-season. That hasn’t happened, thanks to some high-priced busts (namely Kosuke Fukudome‘s $48 million deal with the Cubs) and the general underwhelming American performances of the NPB stars who followed.
I’m still on the look-out for young NPB stars who might one day have what it takes to cross the ocean. Last year I wrote briefly about Seibu Lions’ 1Bman Hideto Asamura who had a terrific season in 2013 at age 22. This year, however, he hasn’t played as well and has missed significant time with a left knee injury.
The Japanese youngster who’s caught my attention this year is Yakult Swallows’ 2Bman Tetsuto Yamada. He turned 22 on July 16th, and he’s currently second in the Central League with a .332 batting average. His .969 OPS is third best in the league behind only big boppers Brad Eldred (.979) and Wladimir Balentien (.970).
The only other player in NPB with a higher OPS than Yamada is the Pacific League’s Yoshio Itoi (.981), who is widely regarded as one of the very best, all-around players in NPB but probably won’t be coming to MLB because he turns 33 next week.
Yamada hit a home run in one of this season’s two NPB All-Star games, and he’s hit 15 regular season HRs as well, pretty impressive for a youngster who is listed at only 167 lbs. I don’t know anything about his defense, however.
22 year old LF for the DeNA Bay Stars Yoshitomo Tsutsugo also deserves a mention due to his current .907 OPS and the fact that he’s obviously big and strong (listed as 6’1″ and 213 lbs). Looks like he’s already none too fast at age 22, though.