Go East, (Not So) Young Man!
Here are several minor league hitters I reasonably expect will be playing in Asia next season.
Matt Hague. Hague was the top hitter in the AAA International League this year, at least among players with enough plate appearances to qualify. He led the IL with a .338 batting average and an .885 OPS. It was an extremely poor year for offense in the International League in 2015, with Hague the only qualifier to post an OPS over .850 and only three other qualifiers finishing over .800.
Hague turned 30 in late August, and while he received a September call-up from the Blue Jays to reward him for his fine minor league performance, his MLB future looks doubtful. He’s a 1Bman and emergency 3B with not enough power to be a major league player. He presently has a career major league OPS of .527 in 78 plate appearances, which is just enough to gain him serious consideration by a Japanese NPB or South Korean KBO team.
In fact, I think Hague is an ideal NPB prospect in that players like him who can hit for average and have alley power often succeed in NPB, where the caliber of pitching is relatively high, thus favoring players who can hit and don’t strike out too much, and where the smaller ballparks can boost power production for these players significantly.
Jamie Romak. Romak turns 30 at the end of this month, and like Hague, he received a September call-up from the Diamondbacks for his strong performance this year at Reno in the Pacific Coast League, where his .912 OPS was fifth best among qualifiers. Romak isn’t as good a pure hitter as Hague, but he has more power, and he has more defensive value.
Romak played mostly 3B at Reno this year, and his raw defensive numbers look good enough for him to be a league-average 3Bman in NPB. Romak also played games at 2B, 1B and the corner outfield positions, meaning he’s a potentially a useful bench player, and this could keep him in MLB. Given his age and the fact that his major league career to date constitutes only 34 plate appearances, however, his brightest future, at least financially, is probably in Asia.
Jason Pridie. Pridie turns 32 in October, and also received a September call-up from the A’s for posting the 6th best OPS (.894) in the PCL at Nashville. Pridie still runs well enough to play center field, at least in a pinch, although he played mostly the corner outfield positions at AAA this year.
Pridie has more MLB experience than Hague or Romak (273 MLB plate appearances). He hasn’t played too badly as a major league back-up outfielder, so it’s possible he could hang around as a sometime major league bench player, particularly because he runs well. However, at age 32, this would definitely be the time to see if he can become an NPB or KBO star if he’s open to the idea.