Archive for the ‘CPBL’ category

ChinaTrust Brothers Sign Casey Harman

June 27, 2019

The ChinaTrust Brothers of Taiwan’s CPBL have apparently reached a deal to sign Casey Harman, who is currently pitching for the Pericos de Puebla (Puebla Parrots) of the Mexican League (“LMB”).  Foreign pitchers playing in the CPBL come and go like minor-hit pop songs and their performers, and what I’m more interested in his how Casey Harmon got to this point in his professional career.

Originally a 29th round draft pick out of Clemson by the Chicago Cubs in 2010, Harman didn’t start pitching professionally until the 2011 season.  He reached AA ball in 2012 at age 23.  While he wasn’t terrible there, he wasn’t very good either and found himself pitching in the Indy-A Can-Am League and American Association in 2013 and 2014.

Then he appears to have had a three-year absence from professional baseball.  If I had to, I’d guess he tore and replaced his elbow tendon and/or tried to get a real job for a while before deciding to give pro ball another try.  He caught on with the Wichita Wingnuts back in the American Association in 2018, pitched reasonably well (although not in a brief two game trial in the better Indy-A Atlantic League), and parlayed that into a winter assignment starting in the Mexican Pacific League.

Harman pitched well in seven Mexican Winter League (“LMP”) starts and landed a job with the Pericos this summer, where he is 8-1 with a 4.57 ERA and 54 Ks in 69 innings pitched so far.  While the ERA doesn’t look impressive, it’s currently 17th best among qualifying starters in LMB’s 16-team hit-happy circuit.  So the Brothers came calling.

I’m always interested in figuring out how and for how much players end up moving between leagues throughout the world of professional baseball.  The Atlantic League is the best of the Indy-A leagues.  However, every Indy-A League has caps on how many “veteran” players each franchise can carry at any given time.  Thus, some good players (relatively speaking) filter down to the second- and third-tier Indy-A leagues.  This both keeps team salaries low, and allows teams in the second- and third-tier leagues to develop and hold onto their own local “stars.”

Anyway, the LMP seems to have some kind of relationship with the American Association whereby the best AA starters each season in each of the last few years have ended up pitching in the LMP the following winter.  A good winter in the LMP can lead directly to a job in the LMB the next summer, where salaries are better than in the Atlantic League ($10,000/month salary cap v. $3,000/month).  It certainly gives veteran pitchers a round-about incentive to pitch in the American Association if they can’t secure a job in the Atlantic League.

I was surprised to see the Pericos were willing to let Harman leave for Taiwan mid-season, since the Pericos are a contending team this year, and Harman had been well more than adequate as a starter for them.  CPBL teams can and do pay foreign players more than LMB teams, but CPBL teams can’t afford to pay high purchase fees of the kind that LMB teams typically charge for players they sell directly to MLB, NPB or KBO teams.

One thing I’ve noticed is that throughout pro baseball, teams generally don’t charge big (or at least market-rate) transfer fees when transferring a player to a league that isn’t much better, or is worse, but which will pay the player better.  MLB organizations do sometimes charge KBO and NPB teams meaningful transfer fees in the $500,000 to $1M range, but it’s usually less than what the player is actually worth either to the MLB or the KBO/NPB team.

Obviously, players sometimes negotiate contract terms that let them leave for a better paying opportunity in a different league for nominal or no transfer fees.  However, I also think that MLB organizations are willing to let their 4-A players go to Asia for less than market value, because of the good will it generates among the MLB organization’s minor league players by letting players who can’t establish themselves as regular major league roster-holders go to Asia where they’ll make a lot more money.

The same thing may be going between LMB and the CPBL.  MLB, NPB and KBO teams only seek to acquire the very best LMB players, who are naturally worth the most money, and LMB teams try to sell these players for market value or something close.  A player like Harman, while playing well in LMB, is more readily replaceable by signing the best current pitcher in the Atlantic League willing to play in LMB.  Meanwhile, Harman might not make it in the CPBL, in which case the Pericos could always bring him back and probably for a contract amount significantly lower than the $10,000 cap, since both player and team know that even $5,000 or $6,000 a month is lot better than the $3,000 a month Atlantic League cap, assuming Harmon could even get a max Atlantic League salary after washing out in Taiwan.

Earlier this season, the Fubon Guardians signed former KBO foreign Ace Henry Sosa, after tax law changes forced Sosa out of South Korea.  Given that Sosa had been one of the KBO’s top five or six starters in 2018, the Guardians likely had to pay Sosa a hefty-for-CPBL $25,000 or $30,000 per month (although probably with only a three-month guarantee) to start the 2019 season for them.  Sosa pitched like gang-busters in Taiwan, and after only 12 starts the Guardians sold him to the KBO’s SK Wyverns (all of Sosa’s signing bonus will reportedly be paid to the South Korean government as part of Sosa’s back-taxes).

Because the Guardians were still well in the hunt for the CPBL’s first-half pennant, I assumed that the Wyverns had had to pay the Guardians $150,000 to $200,000 for Sosa’s rights, in line with what the KBO’s KT Wiz had reportedly had to pay LMB’s Acereros de Monclava for LMB Ace Josh Lowey‘s rights mid-season in 2016.  However, Rob over at CPBL Stats guestimated that the buyout for Sosa’s rights was more likely in the $50,000 to $100,000 range.

Now, it’s possible that at the CPBL season’s half-way point, Sosa could have signed with a KBO or NPB team with no money payable to the Guardians, which would have greatly weakened Fubon’s ability to demand a big buy-out price.  It’s also possible that because CPBL teams make the biggest chunk of their revenues during the post-season, which is still a long way off, the Guardians were willing to get out from under whatever relatively high salary was being paid to Sosa.  The Atlantic League is full of much less expensive, although also much less effective, pitchers to replace Sosa.

However, it’s also possible that the Guardians figure that by letting Sosa return to the KBO, where he’ll make a lot more money, it will be easier for the Guardians in the future to lure in other foreign pitchers who are trying to work their way back to the KBO or NPB after a down season.  Unfortunately, unless you know all of the contract terms and what each organization’s and league’s unwritten rules are on these matters, it simply isn’t possible to know for sure.

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2019 NPB Update

June 21, 2019

Up until March of this year, yakyudb.com was my go-to source for Japanese baseball news beyond the box scores available on NPB’s English-language website.  However, Yakyu DB hasn’t posted since the eve of the 2019 season, and until about a week ago, I was hard pressed to find any good information in English.  Then I found Jim Allen’s blog, and I can start to get a little “color” again beyond the box scores and leader boards.

Here is a run-down of some of the things that have been happening in NPB as we approach the 2019 season’s half-way mark.

Former New York Yankee Zelous Wheeler became the Rakuten Golden Eagles’ first foreign player to reach 100 NPB home runs a few days ago.

Former Seattle Mariner Jose Lopez set an NPB record for 1Bmen by playing 1,632 consecutive chances without an error.  The streak began on August 31, 2017 and ended on June 2, 2019, thus enabling Lopez to become in 2018 the first qualifying NPB 1Bman to record a 1.000 fielding percentage for a full season.  You may remember that Lopez played mostly 2B and 3B in the MLB majors.  He’s now an bigger, slower power-hitter, but he’s still got the same soft hands.

Shinnosuke Abe, a catcher who was an MLB major league talent who never left Japan, became the 19th player in NPB to hit 400 home runs on June 1st.

Rakuten Golden Eagles ace and likely future MLBer Takahiro Norimoto made his first minor league rehab appearance a few days ago.  He hit 150 kph (93.2 mph) on consecutive pitches.  Norimoto says he’s now at “60%” but he should be pitching in the NPB majors within about a month.  He had his elbow cleaned out of loose bodies in late March.

Another MLB major league caliber star, Yuki Yanagita won’t be back until late July after tearing a muscle behind his knee early in the season.  Yanagita became only the second player in NPB history (the other being Sadaharu Oh) last season to lead his league in on-base percentage and slugging percentage for the fourth year in a row.  He’s unlikely to get enough plate appearances this year to do it for the fifth consecutive season.

Daisuke (“Dice-K”) Matsuzaka is at age 38 working on another come back.  He’s pitched effectively in two minor league appearances for the Chunichi Dragons.  Former Seattle Mariner Hisashi Iwamura is also attempting to come back at age 38.  He’s training at the Yomiuri Giants’ minor league facility but hasn’t pitched in game-action yet.

Former MLBer Norichika Aoki collected his 1,500th NPB hit and 100th NPB home run early this season for the Yakult Swallows.  Although Aoki has played well, it hasn’t been a good year for the Swallows — they tied an NPB record with 16 consecutive losses in a streak that ended on June 2nd.  The NPB Central League’s best team of the last few seasons, the Hiroshima Carp, turned their 2019 season around recently with an 11 game winning streak.

Another former MLBer reliever Ryota Igarashi celebrated his 40th birthday on May 29th by pitching his 800th NPB game.  Including his 83 MLB major league appearances, he’s pitched in 889 major league games and counting.

A 20 year old minor leaguer named Yuto Furuya became the first Japanese left-hander to throw a 100 mph pitch in game action earlier this season.  Unfortunately, he still has no idea where the strike zone is, so it may be some time before he reaches the NPB majors.

A couple of NPB foreign “rookies” I’ve been watching closely this year are Taiwan’s Wang Po-Jung and the Virgin Islands’ Jabari Blash.

Wang hit .400 in consecutive seasons (2016-2017) in Taiwan’s CPBL, earning him a lucrative three-year deal to play with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters starting in 2019, his age 25 season.  Wang’s .291 batting average is currently 10th best in NPB’s Pacific League, but his OPS is only .744, because he has yet to hit for any power in Japan.  There has been talk that Wang might one day be an MLB-level talent, but for now I expect him to peak as an NPB star.

After a slow start, Blash has gotten hot and is now one of the Pacific League’s most productive hitters.  I’ve been writing for a couple of years now that he was an ideal candidate to try to become an NPB star.  He waited until he was an old 29 (he turns 30 on July 4th), but it looks like he has now firmly established himself as an NPB star.  I’d guess he has at least four more good NPB seasons in him after this one.

Cuban players have an out-sized role now among NPB foreign players, nowhere more so than for the SoftBank Hawks. Four of the Hawks’ seven foreign players starting the 2019 season are Cubans — Alfredo Despaigne, Yurisbel Graciel, Livan Moinelo and Ariel Miranda.  Miranda is the only defector and former MLB-system player in the bunch: Despaigne, Graciel and Moinelo are all the product of contracting between Cuba’s baseball federation and the Hawks.

There are reasons to believe that none of Despaigne, Graciel or Moinelo were prime MLB prospects, and that this was part of the reasons why they never defected, but they’ve all sure played great in NPB and are making a hell of lot more money in Japan than they’d ever make in Cuba.

The Hiroshima Carp have something of a similar relationship with Dominican players.  Until recently a small market team, the Carp have maintained a baseball academy in the Dominican Republic, looking to turn up players who got overlooked by MLB.  They currently have two players — Xavier Batista and Geronimoa Franzua — who washed out of the low MLB minors, but are now helping the Carp win ballgames a few years after asking for a second chance at the Carps’ Dominican academy.  Sometimes beating the bushes will turn up some legitimate baseball talent.

My Favorite Minor League Stars 2019

June 8, 2019

Every year I like to write about current or former minor league stars who have particularly captured my attention and/or imagination.  Here is this season’s edition:

Mike Loree and Josh Lowey.  Two pitchers who never reached the major leagues (or even got close), but have carved out professional success because they can pitch.  Both are 34 this year.

Mike Loree is currently in his seventh CPBL season and continues to be the best pitcher in Taiwan, although another former SF Giants farm hand, Henry Sosa, gave Loree a run for his money this season until having his contract purchased for a return to South Korea’s KBO last week.  I wrote about Mike Loree yesterday.

Josh Lowey is in his sixth season in LMB and he is to the Mexican League what Loree is to the CPBL.  Lowey is also 33.  Lowey has started the 2019 LMB season 8-0, and his 3.91, while on its face high, is actually the ninth best in a 16-team circuit known for its offense.  Lowey is now an incredible 63-24 in LMB play, a .724 winning percentage.  Unfortunately, Lowey has missed his last two starts.  He’s on the reserved list, rather than the Injured List, so maybe he’s dealing with a family emergency.

Cyle Hankerd and Blake Gailen.  Two more 34 year oldss who have never reached the MLB majors (or come particularly close) but who can play.  Hankerd, who was once a 3rd Round draft pick out of USC, is in his sixth season in LMB.  He has a 1.011 OPS so far in 2019, although he’s only played in 30 games.

A strong season in the Atlantic League last year got Blake Gailen a job playing for the Dodger’s AAA team in Oklahoma City.  I suspect he’s doing double duty as a coach, whether officially or not, based on the fact that he’s spent a lot of time on the Injured List and is only 3 for 19 when he’s played.  He won’t last much longer on the roster hitting like that, but I expect he’ll go into coaching when they tell him he can’t play any more.

Chris Roberson.  Now in his age 39 season, he’s still the undisputed American King of Mexican baseball.  He’s played nine seasons in LMB and at least 14 seasons in Mexico’s even better winter league (MXPW or LMP).  However, his current .893 OPS isn’t even in the LMB’s top 40 in what has been a great season for hitters south of the border.  If any American is making a good living playing baseball in Mexico, it’s Chris Roberson.

Another Mexican Leaguer who has captured my attention in the last year is Jose Vargas.  Once a 22nd round draft pick out of Ventura College, a JC in Ventura, California, Vargas quickly washed out of the White Sox’ system, after which he spent six (!) playing for the Traverse City Beach Bums of the Indy-A Frontier League.  Traverse City is by most accounts a great place to spend one’s summers; however, it’s hard to imagine being able to have a whole lot of fun on $1,600 a month, which is about where Frontier League salaries max out.

Vargas is big, has power and is able to play 3B, 1B and LF.  After paying his dues in the Frontier League, he was able to catch on with an LMB team in 2017, possibly due to the fact that LMB began treating Mexican American players as “domestic,” rather than “foreign” players for roster purposes around that time.

In his age 31 season, he’s leading LMB with 27 HRs in only 222 plate appearances, and his 1.220 OPS is third best in the league in spite of the fact that he doesn’t walk much.  I’m somewhat doubtful that Vargas is currently making the LMB’s $10,000 salary cap, because his team’s attendance is terrible (just below 2,200 per game), but the odds are good that if he isn’t earning it this year, he’ll get it next year in light of how well he’s now playing.

Karl Galinas .  A 35 year old Can-Am League pitcher, Galinas is the modern day equivalent of Lefty George.  George was a marginal major leaguer who pitched nearly forever in his adopted home town of York, Pennsylvania, where he also ran a bar.

Orlando Roman‘s baseball odyssey may not yet be over.  He’s made nine starts in the Puerto Rico Winter League over the last three winter seasons, so you can’t completely count him from making one or more in 2019-2020.  He pitched professionally for about 20 years in just about every league except the MLB majors.  He’s another pitcher like Mike Loree and Josh Lowey who has leveraged a not quite major league talent into the most successful professional career possible.

A couple of guys in the MLB minors I’m following are Tyler Alexander and John Nogowski.  Tyler Alexander got his start in Brewers’ system but was effectively banished from MLB after testing positive for pot a couple of times while he was having some personal problems.  He spent three years pitching great for Fargo-Moorhead in the American Association and wintering a couple of season in the LMP.

Last year, Alexander pitched effectively in LMB in the summer and in the Dominican League in the winter.  That got him a minor league contract with the A’s, who sent him to AAA Las Vegas.  So far, the results have not been encouraging.  Alexander has a 6.85 ERA after 11 start.  Although he’s struck out 46 batters in 47.1 innings pitched, the long ball has killed him.  I suspect the A’s haven’t yet moved him to the bullpen because they don’t have anyone they reasonably expect to pitch better as a starter in what is probably a terrific hitters’ park.

Last off-season, I thought that Alexander would be a great prospect for Taiwan’s CPBL.  It could still happen, since Alexander will be 28 next season, and isn’t going to last long with a 6.85 ERA at AAA, even in a hitters’ park.

I wrote about John Nogowski two years ago when, after getting bounced out of the A’s system, I noticed he was batting over .400 in the American Association at the still young age of 24.  I “predicted” he’d get signed by another MLB organization soon, and he was within about a week by the Cardinals’ organization.  More importantly, John wrote a comment on my article, becoming the first and so far only active professional player ever to comment on one of my articles.  Needless to say, I’ll be a fan of John’s for life.

Nogowski played well at AA Springfield in in 2018 and is playing fairly well this season at AAA Memphis at age 26.  He’s currently slashing .267/.402/.400.  He’s got major league get-on-base skills, but doesn’t have the power he needs for the position he plays (1B).  His talents might be more suited to Japan’s NPB, where the outfield fences are a little shorter.

At any rate, there’s still a chance that Nogowski could get a major league look this year, if things break right for him.  Unfortunately, he’s not currently on the Cards’ 40-man roster, which means he’ll have to get truly hot at AAA Memphis to bump somebody else off.

Mike Loree: The Best Pitcher You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of

June 7, 2019

Mike Loree just won his 77th CPBL game, moving him past Jonathan Hurst for second most by a foreign pitcher in the Taiwanese league’s history.  Although he still has to win another 31 games to catch all-time foreign leader Ozzy Martinez, an argument can be made that Loree is already the best foreign pitcher in the CPBL’s 30 year history.

It isn’t easy to have a long career in the CPBL, in part because it’s an in-between league, a little better than the Atlantic League and the summer Mexican League, from both of which the CPBL draws many of its foreign players, but not as good as South Korea’s KBO or Japan’s NPB.

Like the KBO and NPB, turnover among foreigners in the CPBL is high.  Many foreign pitchers are already 30 when they start their CPBL careers, so they tend to get old fast.  Also, the CPBL currently has only four teams, which means that starting pitchers face each other team’s line-up eight to 12 times a season.  In other words, by the end of a pitcher’s first full season, all of the league’s hitters know the pitcher intimately.

On the other hand, if a pitcher dominates in the CPBL, the odds are good a KBO or NPB team will come calling.  That just happened with Henry Sosa, who because of tax problems in South Korea and a trend in the KBO this past off-season to weed out older, highly paid foreign players in favor of younger, lesser paid foreign players, started this year in the CPBL.  After 12 starts, he was leading the CPBL in wins, ERA and strikeouts, and the SK Wyverns came and bought out his rights, so Sosa is back the KBO, and Mike Loree is back to being the CPBL’s undisputed best starter.

Mike Loree has been able to stick in the CPBL for so long because he doesn’t have conventionally great stuff.  He did get a shot in the KBO in 2014, but he only lasted one season at the minor league level for the expansion KT Wiz, because the team elected to bring back another foreign pitcher who hadn’t pitched as well but had better stuff.

What has made Loree so successful in the CPBL, I believe, is his ability to pitch.  His best pitch is a forkball, which really falls off the table and burrows into home plate.  He mixes that pitch mainly with a fastball in the 88 to 90 mph range, which he commands extremely effectively, as well as a couple of other pitches he uses to keep the hitters guessing.

No matter how many times CPBL hitters have seen Loree’s forkball, they still can’t lay off it, and they’re usually well out in front of it.  Like a good change-up, it makes Loree’s fastball much better.  In watching highlights of Loree’s stikeout pitches in games when he’s pitching well, he gets a lot of called strikes on fastballs an inch or two off the plate away, because he throws to the catcher’s target, and, I suspect, Loree well knows which CPBL umpires will give him that call.

For a pitcher who can out-think the hitters and keep them guessing, playing in a small league can actually benefit a pitcher like Loree.  Loree knows all the hitters and umpires in the CPBL like the back of his hand, which gives him a good idea what to throw and when.

With Sosa back in the KBO, the odds are good Loree will finish the season leading the CPBL in wins, ERA and strikeouts, as he did in 2015 and 2017.  Loree is now 34 years old, so there’s no good way to tell just how many more years he’s got in him.  However, he’s settled into a groove in the CPBL that has really allowed him to show just how good he can be, and he’s earning well more (probably between $250,000 and $300,000 this year) than he could make in the MLB minor leagues (assuming he could even get a job there at his age) or in Latin America.  It certainly seems like Mike Loree has found a home in Taiwan and will keep pitching there as long as he can.

As a side note, it’s a good time for CPBL fans to see some of the best pitchers the league’s history right now.  Aside from Loree, all-time CPBL wins leader Pan Wei-Lun is still active and off to one of his best starts in many years.  Pan’s story is typical of a lot of pitchers: he was great when he was young, but heavy workloads took their toll.  He’s now 37 years old, and clearly he still knows how to pitch.

What to Do about Luke Heimlich?

May 10, 2019

Down in Mexico, lefty Luke Heimlich is busy proving he’s a legitimate major league prospect.  Unfortunately, he’s also a convicted child molester.

After six starts in the Mexican League (LMB) so far this season, Heimlich has a 3.41 ERA with 32 Ks in 34.1 innings pitched.  While I believe the LMB is really a AA level of play, rather than the AAA status it is granted by MLB, for a rookie professional pitcher, even one now 23 years old, to pitch this well at this level says a great deal about Heimlich’s abilities as a pitcher.

You will note that Luke Heimlich’s page on MiLB.com to which I link above does not contain a photo for Heimlich even this late into the season.  It’s like everyone wants to do everything they can to have Heimlich fly under the radar to the extent possible.

I don’t see an MLB organization trying to acquire Heimlich this season.  My guess is that Heimlich, assuming he stays healthy, will attempt to pitch in the upcoming Mexican Winter League (LMP) or the Dominican Winter League (if he can find a team) and hope that a strong performance there will compel an MLB organization to sign him in spite of all his very heavy baggage.

As I’ve written before, I don’t see an MLB organization signing Heimlich until he’s put in at least two full seasons in the LMB, so that the signing organization can credibly argue that Heimlich has proven he can keep his nose clean and has paid his dues.  Even so, any MLB organization to sign Heimlich will still face a firestorm, because his history is too well known now for the media not to immediately raise his child molestation conviction as soon as he is signed.

Would an NPB or KBO team be willing to sign Heimlich before the 2021 or 2022 season?  I kind of doubt it.  NPB or KBO teams have a lot of choices in terms of the foreign players available to them, and the media in Japan in particular can be every bit as thorough as the U.S. media, particularly when it comes to baseball.  I don’t see Heimlich’s conviction record being tolerable in South Korea either.

The Lamigo Monkeys of Taiwan’s CPBL tried bringing in Heimlich last season, but the Taiwanese media got hold of Heimlich’s story soon enough and the league voided the contract within a week of its signing.

As for Heimlich, I’m sure that all he wants to do is keep his head down and continue to have the opportunity to pitch professionally somewhere.  If he continues to pitch well in the two Laredos — U.S. and Mexican — he can at least look forward to making living pitching there going forward.

Early Season Asian Baseball Run-Down

April 28, 2019

The elite few who have read this blog with any regularity know that I follow Asian major league baseball quite closely.  Here’s a run-down on what’s happening in the Far East so far in 2019.

Japan’s NPB

So far, it feels like a fairly typical NPB season.  The high revenue Yomiuri Giants and SoftBank Hawks are leading their leagues respectively.  However, the small or mid-market Yakult Swallows, Chunichi Dragons, Hiroshima Carp and Rakuten Golden Eagles remain within close striking distance.  Of course, only 25 games into the NPB season, no one is yet truly out of it.

Most of the top NPB hitters are off to good starts, including Hayato Sakamoto, Tetsuto Yamada, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, Nori Aoki and Dayan ViciedoTomoyuki Sugano is off to a not so hot start after a recent rough outing and Takahiro Norimoto is still recovering from non-Tommy-John elbow surgery to clean out loose bodies and bone chips, but Kodai Senga is still showing MLB-level stuff.

I am convinced that Tetsuto Yamada is going to be an MLB player.  The most important stat for NPB hitters in terms of future MLB success is on-base percentage, and Yamada has that in spades.  He has a .513 OBP so far this season and an NPB career OBP of .404.  He plays 2B, he runs well (142 career NPB steals at an 82% success rate) ,and he plays for the small market Swallows.

Yamada should be posted this post-season, so he can join MLB in 2020 for his age 27 season.  The relatively new posting fee regime gives NPB teams the most money based on the greatest value of the player to an MLB team.  Yamada’s value to an MLB team will be highest this coming post-season if he doesn’t get hurt or slump.

South Korea’s KBO

The SK Wyverns and Doosan Bears are off to the best starts, with LG Twin, NC Dinos and Kiwoon Heroes leading the field for the KBO’s five playoff spots.  Foreign Aces Tyler Wilson and Josh Lindblom are off to great starts.  Lindblom is the KBO’s highest paid foreign player this year at somewhere between $1.7M and $1.9M, so if he can keep up this exemplary performance so far, he could challenge Dustin Nippert’s $2.2M single season record for foreign player compensation in 2020.

Former MLBers Jose Miguel Fernandez, Byung-ho Park, Jerry Sands and Darin Ruf are among the top six KBO hitters in terms of OPS so far.

Offense is down in the KBO so far this season, apparently due to less zing in the baseballs per fangraphs.com.

I’ve noticed the out-sized effect Cuban players have had in Asia in recent years.  Part of it is that Cuba produces a great deal of baseball talent, at least as much as the Dominican Republic or Venezuela, and only the Cuban players with a reasonable shot at playing in the MLB majors go through the very arduous process of defecting.  Needless to say, the Cuban defectors don’t all live the MLB major league dream, but many of those that haven’t have lived the dream in Asia.

I think that one of the things that help Cuban players is that, because they come to the MLB system later, they have to make a bigger adjustment than the Dominicans and Venezuelans who come to the MLB system between age 17 and 21.  If the Cuban players can succeed as AAA players in the MLB system, they’ve done something, and it’s relatively not as big a deal for them to adjust to playing and living in Asia.  That’s my theory anyway.

Taiwan’s CPBL

The big story in the CPBL this year is the performance of former KBO Ace and marginal MLB major leaguer Henry Sosa.  After six starts, his 1.26 ERA leads the league by nearly a run-and-a-half and his 48 Ks (in 43 IP) leads the league by an even dozen.

The CPBL got lucky in signing Sosa, who was one of the KBO’s top starters in 2018, when/where he finished third in ERA (3.52), sixth in run average (4.12), second in strikeouts (181) and third in innnings pitched (181.1).  Sosa didn’t return to the KBO for 2019 because of South Korean tax law changes which would have required him to pay most of his salary to the government, and at age 33 (he turns 34 in July), he was too old to interest any MLB team.

Sosa at 95-to-97 mph consistently throws harder than any other pitcher in the CPBL, and he’s learned from his time in the KBO that he throws hard enough at the KBO level to attack the strike zone.  Rob over at CPBL Stats opined before the season started that the signing of recent MLB major leaguer Austin Bibens-Dirkx would create a test for how good CPBL hitters currently are.  I think that Sosa is a better test — the extent to which CPBL hitters can eventually catch up to Sosa will show just how good or not they are.

The second best pitcher in the CPBL so far this year is another Dominican former KBO Ace Radhames Liz.  The 35 year old Liz has been recorded as throwing even bigger fast balls than Henry Sosa, but Liz can’t do it as often as Sosa.

In recent years, CPBL teams (there are currently only four of them) have focused mostly on North American pitchers as their foreign imports.  I think part of that is that even though the CPBL pays better, there is more longevity for Latino pitchers to pitch in the summer Mexican League and their home country’s winter league than to try to jump to the CPBL’s slightly higher salaries.  In Sosa’s case, I believe he is looking at jumping to Japan’s NPB if he can dominate in Taiwan.

Anyway, I think that Sosa and Liz will have CBPL teams looking at Latin pitchers more next off-season.

Luke Heimlich May Have Finally Found a Pro Team

March 7, 2019

It is being reported that the Mexican League’s Dos Laredos Tecolotes (Owls) have signed former Oregon State pitcher Luke Heimlich to a contract for 2019.  For those who don’t remember, Heimlich was at least a 2nd round talent whom no MLB team signed because it was discovered that while in high school he pleaded guilty to molesting his then six year old girl niece.

The Lamigo Monkeys of Taiwan’s CPBL briefly tried to sign Heimlich in the second half of last season, but when his criminal record got wide reporting in Taiwan the CPBL voided the contract and declared that Heimlich wouldn’t be eligible to sign with any team in the circuit.

It remains to be seen whether enough of a furor will be raised in Laredo or the offices of the Mexican League to cause this most recent signing to be voided as happened in Taiwan.

The final paragraph of espn.com’s article on the current Heimlich signing says that major league scouts who saw Heimlich pitch at a showcase in January thought his pitches had improved to the point where he could now be “a viable major league starter.”

I have mixed feelings about Heimlich pitching professionally.  The crime he pleaded guilty to is disgusting, but he was allegedly only age 13 to 15 when the crime(s) happened, and he has stayed out of trouble since then, completing his probation without incident.  Also, he won’t get rich pitching in the Mexican League.

It would certainly be interesting to see what he can do in the Mexican League, a league that I consider to play at a AA level.  It seems like a good place to start Heimlich’s pro career in light of his ability and situation.

Even if Heimlich plays up to his potential in the Mexican League, it remains to be seen whether an MLB or NPB team would be willing to sign him.  It’s possible that by 2021 or 2022, the heat will have died down somewhat and an MLB or NPB team would be willing to take a chance on signing him, under the theory that he’s been punished enough by having to play in the Mexican League for several years for relative peanuts.

The fact that Heimlich told the NY Times in 2018 that the act(s) he pleaded guilty to “never happened” and that he only pleaded guilty to resolve the matter within the family greatly complicates the situation.  It’s a lot harder for a pro team to sell the idea that Heimlich has paid for his crime(s) and cleaned up his act when he refuses to admit that he actually committed the crimes he pleaded guilty to.  It is a lot harder to forgive someone who isn’t willing to take responsibility for what he previously confessed to doing.