Best Foreign Pitching Prospects for Taiwan’s CPBL 2019

The last few years I have been taking a greater interest in the foreign players, nearly all pitchers, who pitch in the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) each season.  Like every independent league, the CPBL is looking for the best, most immediately effective foreign pitchers it can find within the league’s salary structure for the three roster spots available to foreign players on each CPBL major league roster.

Foreigners signing a first CPBL contract typically receive a $45,000 to $55,000 guarantee for the season’s first three months.  If the foreign pitcher pitches well enough to be retained for a full season, said foreign pitcher can earn $120,000 to $150,000 for what amounts to an eight month season, given the many, many rainouts in Taiwan and including Spring Training.

A player with at least one day of MLB major league service cannot be paid less than $90,400 for minor league service time or less than $555,000 for major league service time in 2019.  Thus, most players with any amount of past MLB major league service time who are able to secure a contract to pitch in AAA in 2019 will elect to do so, rather than travel to Taiwan.  Further, these players can also usually secure an opportunity to pitch in one of the top four Caribbean Winter Leagues, where they can make as much as $50,000 or $60,000 if their Winter League team makes the playoffs, which run long relative to short Winter League regular seasons of 40 to 60 games.

The next best summer league after the CPBL is the Mexican League, and CPBL teams often sign American-born pitchers to contracts the off-season after the pitcher has a successful season in the Mexican League.  Mexican League salaries cap at about $8,000 a month for what is usually no more than a five month season, but there is rumored to be extensive cheating on salary caps for the best foreign players, real compensation may be closer to $60,000 for the season.

While Mexican League players definitely make less than CPBL players, Latin American players, particularly those from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico or Venezuela, typically prefer to pitch their summers in Mexico and then pitch in their home countries in the Winter, where they are big, big stars and likely have some endorsement opportunities if they play at home.  Because the CPBL 120-game season tends to run so long, pitching in the CPBL can interfere with the player’s ability to play the first month of the Winter Leagues, which is a definite drawback for these players.

The CPBL signs a relatively high number of first contracts with foreign pitchers age 32 or older.  A lot of pitchers who can still pitch have by their age 29 to 32 seasons aged out of the MLB system and either aren’t quite good enough or young enough to be signed by KBO or NPB teams.  KBO and NPB teams rarely sign any foreign player to a first contract over the age 31 unless the foreigner has a very substantial MLB major league record.

With those considerations in mind, here’s my list of the best pitchers who might reasonably sign with a CPBL team this off-season.  There are many available pitchers with the necessary talent to pitch in the CPBL, particularly among 2018 AAA starters who aren’t able to obtain an MLB minor league contract for 2019, so I don’t claim my list is definitive.  It’s simply too difficult predict whether any individual pitcher no older 28 with the necessary talent and track record will elect to pitch in the CPBL during the off-season.

Kyle Lobstein (age 29 in 2019).  Kyle Lobstein pitched 128 major league innings with a 5.06 ERA between 2014 and 2016 for the Tigers and the Pirates.  However, at the start of 2018, he found himself without an MLB minor league contract and thus began the season in the Mexican League.  He pitched well enough there in the first half (2.95 ERA in 11 starts with good ratios) to secure a contract in the Dodgers organization.  He pitched well at AA Tulsa (2.56 ERA in seven starts) but not as well at AAA Oklahoma City (5.14 ERA in seven starts).  He’s still unsigned for 2019 as I write this.  Lobstein tops my list because he’s still reasonably young and has a major league pedigree.  He’s also a left-hander, which doesn’t hurt.

Barry Enright (33).  Another former major leaguer with a career major league record similar to Lobstein’s, Enright also had a similar 2018 to Lobstein’s.  After pitching well in 13 Mexican League starts, he signed with the DiamondBacks organization.  He pitched O.K. at AA Jackson, but got bombed in four appearances totaling eight innings at AAA Reno.  Reno is a tough place to pitch, playing in possibly the best hitters’ park in the already hit-happy Pacific Coast League.

Lobstein is obviously a better CPBL prospect, but Enright is certainly more likely not to receive an MLB contract between now and when CPBL teams begin signing new foreign pitchers later this month or in February.

Josh Lowey (34).  Josh Lowey is to the Mexican League what Mike Loree is to the CPBL.  Mike Loree is currently the CPBL’s best starter and one of the most productive foreign pitchers in CPBL’s 29 season history.  Josh Lowey has never pitched in the MLB system, having worked his way up from the Independent-A Leagues.  In five Mexican League seasons, he now has a 55-24 record, which is fine indeed.

Lowey got a chance to pitch in the KBO in 2016, and he got hit pretty hard (6.30 ERA in 60 IP) and his command was poor.  However, he was playing for the KBO’s worst team that season, and he struck out 68 KBO hitters.  He certainly has the talent to succeed in the CPBL.

Lowey is getting up there in age, but he was still terrific in 2018.  He went 14-5 in Mexico during the summer with a 3.12 ERA, a 1.178 WHIP and 133 Ks in 144.1 IP.  This Winter he pitched in the Dominican Winter League (DWL), where he went 6-2 with a 2.26 ERA and 1.293 WHIP in 12 starts.  In the DWL’s post-season, he has a 2.45 ERA after three starts.

Lowey didn’t pitch in the Winter Leagues last year, which may have been the reason no CPBL team signed him then.  CPBL teams tend to like at least some Winter League performance the off-season before they bring a new foreign pitcher in.  Lowey has that in spades this year, as he was one of the best starters in what is probably this off-season’s best Winter League.

Tyler Alexander (27).  Another lefty, Tyler Alexander spent three full seasons pitching in Fargo in the Indy-A American Association.  He had been in the Brewers’ organization, but during a period when his grandmother died and his long-time girlfriend broke up with him, he tested positive twice for marijuana, which led to an 50-game suspension from MLB.  Because the Brewers released him, it meant that any signing team had to wait while Alexander served out the 50-game suspension.  So no MLB organization signed him, and he pitched in baseball’s boondocks for three years.

Alexander pitched well in the Mexican Pacific League (LMP), Mexico’s winter league, the previous two off-seasons, but he didn’t get a shot from a summer Mexican League team.  Instead, he joined the Indy-A CanAm League this past spring, which isn’t any better than the American Association, but gets more attention from scouts because the teams play on the East Coast.  He pitched reasonably well and was signed by the Quintano Roo Tigres to pitch in the Mexican League’s second half.  He went 4-3 with 3.81 ERA and a 1.223 WHIP and 48 Ks in 54.1 IP south of the border.

Alexander has been even better in the DWL this winter, posting a 2.68 ERA with a tiny 0.87 WHIP and striking out another 48 batters in 50.1 IP.  He also has a 1.42 ERA after three DWL post-season starts.  The DWL is an extreme pitchers’ league this off-season, but Alexander, like Lowey, has unquestionably been one of the league’s best starters.

After all these years, MLB has waived Alexander’s old 50-game suspension last spring, so an MLB organization could sign him without penalty.  MLB teams are fully aware of what’s going on in the DWL, as are NPB teams, to it’s quite likely either an MLB organization or an NPB team could soon sign him.  If not, he’d make a great prospect for the CPBL.

Tyler Cloyd (32).  Another pitcher with more than 100 MLB major league innings under his belt, Cloyd pitched badly in 17.2 major league innings with the Marlins in 2018, but pitched fairly well for the AAA New Orleans Baby Cakes in 2018, posting a 5.17 ERA in 15 starts with a 1.336 WHIP and 68 Ks in 85.1 IP while walking only 18.  Cloyd is still presumably looking for a minor league contract for 2019, but at his age probably won’t receive one.  He’s another pitcher I could definitely see pitching in Taiwan in 2019.

Bryan Evans (32).  Evans had an interesting 2018 season.  After spending 2017 in the Atlantic League, he started the 2018 season in the Mexican League where he went 3-3 with an unimpressive 4.82 ERA and a WHIP over 1.5 in 11 starts.  But that was good enough for the Mariners to sign him to pitch at AAA Tacoma, where he pitched better.  He went 6-3 for the Rainiers in 14 starts with a 4.40 ERA with a 1.262 WHIP and 71 Ks in 77.2 IP.

Evans also pitched this winter in the DWL where he went 0-3 with a 4.34 ERA, but struck out 29 batters in 29 innings pitched with a 1.372 WHIP.  Evans looks a lot like the kind of pitcher who pitches in the CPBL, and he hasn’t done so yet.  Maybe 2019 will be his year.

Patrick Johnson (30).  He had a good 2018 in the Mexican League, going 12-5 with a 4.02 ERA, 1.307 WHIP and 86 Ks in 116.1 IP.  He didn’t pitch for a winter league team this year, which I think will hurt him with CPBL teams, particularly since his 2018 season looks a lot like a small right-hander (5’10 and 170 lbs) about to have arm problems.

Will Oliver (31), Nate Reed (31) and James Russell (33).  Three 2018 Atlantic League stars who have pitched well in the LMP this winter.  Oliver and Reed are still pitching effectively in the LMP’s post-season, and James Russell has 394 career MLB major league appearances, mostly in relief.

Colin Rea (28), Burch Smith (29) and Sean Nolin (29).  Three pitchers with MLB major league experience coming back from Tommy John surgery, who are all still young enough that I expect they’ll be pitching in the MLB minors in 2019.  However, one could slip through to Taiwan.

Andre Rienzo (30), Paolo Espino (32) and Guillermo Moscoso (35).  Three Latino pitchers with MLB major league experience who I could see pitching in the CPBL in 2019.  Rienza is a Brazilian who has had arm problems, but he had an 0.76 ERA in nine second half starts in the Mexican League season and was brought in at the end of the LMP season to allow only two runs in 18.1 IP across three starts including one in the post-season so far.

Espino is a Panamanian who pitched effectively but certainly not spectacularly in 10 AAA starts for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox this past summer.  He’s been fantastic in the DWL so far this winter.

Guillermo Moscoso has already pitched in NPB, so he’s willing to play in Asia,  but he’s also a Venezuelan who has played eight seasons in the Venezuelan Winter League (VWL).  I could see him deciding that the situation is so dire in Venezuela now, what with two VWL players, including major leaguer and top VWL hitter Luis Valbuena, being murdered while driving back to their home city after a road trip this season, it’s time to go to Taiwan.  He’s enough of a star in Venezuela, they’ll let him start next year’s VWL season late.

Finally, the KBO jettisoned a lot of older but still effective foreign KBO veterans this off-season.  Dustin Nippert (38) rumoredly advised CPBL teams that he’d sign for $50,000 a month, although that’s a non-starter if typical CPBL salaries for first-year foreigners range from $15K to $18K a month.  $50,000 for three months?  Sign ‘im!

So which former KBOer would sign a $75,000 for three month contract?  Maybe Eric Hacker (36) who has previously been rumored as a CPBL prospect.  I see Dominican Henry Sosa (33) doing the Mexican League/DWL combo in 2019, hoping to catch on with an NPB team.

Because of his age, Taiwan’s Wang Wei-Chung (27) is more likely to pitch in AAA or NPB in 2019 than the CPBL.  David Hale (31) and Pat Dean (30) seem like better possibilities for the CPBL.

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21 Comments on “Best Foreign Pitching Prospects for Taiwan’s CPBL 2019”

  1. Rob Says:

    Do you have anymore information on how the MLB waived Tyler Alexander’s suspension? Because this could severally impact his chance signing with a Taiwanese team.

    Another update on Dustin Nippert, the Uni-Lions confirmed they were in touch with Nippert, but has backed out due to his price. So, that’s the Guardians and the Uni-Lions out of the picture. (but again, unless they filled their foreign players quote, I guess anything is still possible)

  2. Burly Says:

    My memory was wrong in that Alexander received a 50-game suspension for his “Drug of Abuse” positive tests — it was almost certainly for marijuana, because the articles reporting on his January 2015 suspension state that another player was suspended at the same time for stimulants, but that Alexander was suspended for an unnamed “drug of abuse,” which would include marijuana for minor league (but not major league) players. My post has been corrected.

    On one of my previous posts about Alexander, someone commented anonymously who is presumably close to Alexander, giving his side of the story and stating that MLB withdrew the suspension in the “spring of 2018” presumably because his effective three year banishment from the MLB system was punishment enough for the crime.

    As of this writing, marijuana is now legal to possess for recreational use in 10 U.S. States and the District of Columbia. Another 21 States currently allow possession of marijuana for medical use. According to financial magazine Forbes, as many as nine other States may legalize marijuana for recreational use in 2019. Given the current trend, I expect that ten years from now, Marijuana will be legal for recreational use in a majority of the 50 U.S. States, D.C. and Puerto Rico.

    In short, marijuana use is less frowned upon now in the U.S. than it was even four years ago when Alexander was suspended. The anonymous source suggests Alexander would successfully pass a drug test for marijuana now. It will depend on Taiwanese attitudes toward marijuana to determine if a CPBL team might sign him. His past misdeed certainly is not of the same magnitude as that of Luke Heimlich.

    • Rob Says:

      Just looking from stats, I really like Alexander, someone ought to give him a shot.

      Would be interesting to see how the league handle Alexander’s case, as former Phillies’ Kyle Simon had his contract voided for his “drug of abuse” violation in the MLB.

      But like you said, it is only marijuana and the MLB waived his suspensions, so should be okay in my opinion. The MLB’s stance on this would be the biggest deciding factor in the CPBL decision.

      As on the signing front. There’s a big pretty big signing (in terms of CPBL standard) coming to the Uni-Lions according to my source within the industry. It is someone that we talked about in our previous discussion.

      Just need to wait for team’s announcement before putting it on my blog. My concern would be whether he is actually healthy enough to pitch the full season, as it is a bit unusual to see CPBL going this type of players. But if he is healthy, then maybe he could be in the top 5 foreign pitchers in the 2019 season.

      • Burly Says:

        Alexander has certainly paid a heavy price for his past suspension, missing about four seasons now on his professional development, at least within the MLB system. If a CPBL team were to sign him, there is at least the chance that he could be a CPBL star for a number of seasons, since he is only going into his age 27 season.

        I look forward to finding out who the Uni-Lions intend to sign, particularly if it is something of a surprise. It actually does not look like there will be lot of new foreign pitchers brought in to start the 2019 CPBL season, since eight of last year’s foreign starters pitched well last season and could all be brought back in 2019.

  3. Burly Says:

    Barry Enright just announced his retirement, so he’s out of the running to join CPBL in 2019. He will reportedly join the Diamond Backs organization in a coaching capacity.

  4. Burly Says:

    I was right about an MLB organization signing Burch Smith. The Brewers just signed him to a minor league contract.

  5. Burly Says:

    In their respective fourth starts in the Dominican Winter League play-offs, Josh Lowey was great but Tyler Alexander got hit fairly hard. They’ve both done a lot of pitching this year, so it would be a surprise if either or both is starting to get tired.

    • Connor Says:

      Mexican media have reported that Alexander will return to the Quintana Roo Tigres in 2019 so he looks unlikely to sign w/ a team in Taiwan – at least to start the year. And it looks like the big signing that was alluded to was the Uni-Lions bringing in Austin Bibens-Dirkx, who pitched for the Rangers last season.

      • Burly Says:

        That’s too bad. In Alexander, the CPBL perhaps has an opportunity to add a pitcher younger and with more upside than the foreign pitchers the league is typically able to sign.

      • Burly Says:

        The A’s just signed Tyler Alexander to a minor league deal.

  6. Burly Says:

    The Fubon Guardians signed Henry Sosa, who elected to keep pitching in Asia.

  7. Burly Says:

    The Yankees have signed David Hale to a minor league contract. Perhaps Hale will be a CPBL prospect again a year from now when he will be 32 years old.

  8. Connor Says:

    I’m also seeing that Kyle Lobstein and Paolo Espino have signed minor league deals with the Athletics and Nationals, respectively. And Mexican media have reported that Andre Rienzo is likely to return to the LMB in 2019. I imagine Josh Lowey will as well, given how well he’s pitched down there and his rapport with the fans in Monclova. Will be interesting to see if the final two foreign player slots will be retreads (Roenicke/Kern) or if they bring in any new veteran arms from the KBO/LMB/Atlantic League

    • Burly Says:

      Roenicke and Kern both deserve to be brought back by their respective CPBL teams, given how well both pitched in 2018. Roenicke might decide that he’s ready to retire at age 36, after his season in Taiwan. That doesn’t leave many roster spots for new foreign pitchers for the CPBL.

      One of the things that I think keeps some players in the LMB, when they could make more money in the CPBL is the fact the players can keep coming back year after year to LMB until their late 30’s or early 40’s if they can stay healthy and still perform. I definitely think it’s harder to be consistent for many consecutive seasons in the CPBL.

      • Burly Says:

        CPBL Stats reports that Josh Roenicke just re-signed with the 7-11 Uni-Lions, so that leaves Bruce Kern’s roster spot as the last without a player yet signed. I would be extremely surprised if Kern did not fill that spot.

      • Burly Says:

        The Lamigo Monkeys elected to sign 35 year old Radhames Liz, who has MLB, KBO and NPB experience, rather than bring back 31 year old Bruce Kern. According to CPBL Stats, the Monkeys had concerns about Kern being unable to adequately control his emotions. Too bad — he pitched great in 2018.

  9. Burly Says:

    As a final note, I don’t see a lot of daylight between Tyler Cloyd, the pitcher I listed, and Austin Bibens-Dirkx, the foreign pitcher who actually signed with a CPBL team this winter. Cloyd is two years younger, but the two have similar career major league records.

    Bibens-Dirkx got signed for what seem like two obvious reasons. First, he was clearly willing to sign with a CPBL team for CPBL money, Who knows if Cloyd would have been willing to do so.

    Second, Bibens-Dirkx has more major league experience the last two seasons, which makes him more marketable to a CPBL team. He’s also a “safe” signing, in the sense if it turns out he doesn’t pitch well in Taiwan his team doesn’t lose face, since he was a major league pitcher (even if not a good one) the previous season.

    Tyler Cloyd is still looking for an MLB job, so it’s possible he could be pitching in the Atlantic League come next summer when CPBL teams are looking for replacements for the foreign pitchers who don’t cut the mustard in the first half of 2019.

  10. Burly Says:

    The Atlantic League has just announced the signings of Bennett Parry, a CPBLer last year, and Tyler Cloyd. Strong Atlantic League performances could get them CPBL contracts in the second half of 2019.


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