Top Japanese Pitching Prospects, Part 2: the Relievers
In compiling yesterday’s list of the top Japanese prospects who might one day pitch in MLB, I left out relief pitchers on the theory that the best pitchers outside of MLB are almost always starters who have enough different pitches that they will be better able to make the jump to MLB one day. Of course, this theory fails to address the fact that some top foreign relievers may be good enough to be starters, but their current teams presently think their greatest value is in the bullpen. That said, here are the three top Japanese relievers in terms of being future MLB pitchers.
Yuki Matsui. He’s a tiny left-hander (currently listed as 5’9″, 163 lbs) who is only 19 years old this season, but has already established himself as the Rakuten Golden Eagles’ closer. He currently has a 0.66 ERA with 60 Ks in 41 IP with a WHIP below 1.0. Last year, as an 18 year old rookie, he had a 4-8 record with a 3.80 ERA as a starter, but struck out 126 batters in 116 IP. The main question with Matsui is whether his arm can hold out long enough for him to reach MLB one day.
Yasuaki Yamasaki. Yamasaki is a 22 year old right-handed rookie, who has established himself as the closer for the DeNA Bay Stars. He presently has a 1.77 ERA with 47 Ks and only six walks in 35.2 IP. He’s listed at 5’10” and 183 lbs, which is small for an MLB right-hander.
Yuji Nishino. A 24 year old right-hander in his third full NPB season, Nishino was also a starter as a rookie and was then moved to the bullpen to become the Chiba Lotte Marines’ closer. He currently has a 1,97 ERA with 40 Ks in 32 IP. He’s presently listed as 6’0″ and 180 lbs, so he’s also small by MLB standards.