Archive for the ‘Independent-A Leagues’ category

Best Foreign Pitching Prospects for Taiwan’s CPBL 2020

January 21, 2020

Last off-season I had fun writing a post on the best foreign pitching prospects for Taiwan’s CPBL.  Henry Sosa was the one of many players I name-checked in the article, and I predicted he’d sign with a Mexican League team.

The point is there are so many pitchers available with the right talent level and potentially in the CPBL’s price range that it’s kind of a fool’s errand to try to predict who exactly CPBL teams will sign, unless you are reading reports out of Taiwan in Chinese coming from sources that actually work for one of the CPBL’s four teams.

Nonetheless, it’s still fun to identify some pitchers most MLB fans have never heard of but who still have enough left they could be stars in the CPBL earning at least $150,000 to start if they can last a full season. There were a flurry of foreign pitcher signings in the CPBL last week, but there still appear to be as many as four remaining roster spots available for foreign pitchers as I write this.

Former foreign KBO pitchers are always very popular with CPBL teams.  Christian Friedrich (32 years old in 2020), Joe Wieland (30), Deck McGuire (31), Felix Doubront (32), Pat Dean (31), Ryan Feierabend (34), David Hale (32), Tyler Cloyd (33) and Scott Copeland (32) are all over age-30 former KBOers who are still looking for a contract somewhere.

Christian Friedrich is my favorite as a potential CPBLer.  He hasn’t pitched in the MLB-system since 2017 due to an arm injury.  In 2019, he split the season between the Atlantic League and the KBO and pitcher very well in both places.  He’s not returning to the KBO to start the 2020 season (all the KBO roster spots for foreign pitchers are now filled), and at age 32, he might find it hard to get a call from an MLB organization.

Also, by my calculation Friedrich only earned about $160K last season, which is an amount a CPBL team could easily afford.  Almost all of these pitchers would be a good bet for a CPBL team, so long as any of them are willing to pitch in Taiwan for what the Rakuten Monkeys or the 7/11 Uni-Lions are willing to pay.  The ChinaTrust Brothers and the Fubon Guardians spent big on foreign pitchers this off-season, but their roster spots are now filled.

I like Feierabend too, because as a knuckleballer, he could still potentially pitch for years in the CPBL even though he’s already 34.

Pitchers who pitched well in the Caribbean Winter Leagues are a good bet for CPBL teams.  Teddy Stankiewicz (26) , who pitched well at AAA for the Red Sox last year and in both Mexico and the Dominic Republic this winter, would be a great prospect, but I expect an MLB organization will eventually get around to signing him.  David Kubiak (30) pitched so well in the Dominican Republic this winter, he deserves another shot in the CPBL.

Eric Stout (27), Jason Garcia (27), Justin Nicolino (28), Jake Paulson (28), Giovanni Soto (29), Mitch Lambson (29), Forrest Snow (31), Joe Van Meter (31), Hector Santiago (32) and Mitch Atkins (34) round out a list of pitchers who were good this winter and are still looking for summer 2020 jobs.

CPBL teams like AAA pitchers who have aged out and didn’t quite pitch well enough the previous season to receive a contract for next season.  The current possibilities include Dan Camarena (27), Dillon Overton (28), Tyler J. Alexander (28), Ryan Merritt (28), Parker Bridwell (28), Daniel Corcino (29), Drew Hutchison (29), Dietrich Enns (29), Erasmo Ramirez (30), Kyle Lobstein (30), Seth Maness (31), J.J. Hoover (32), and Logan Ondrusek (35).

I still like Tyler Alexander and Kyle Lobstein, whom I listed last off-season, as potential CPBL pitchers, but any of these pitchers would be good bets.  J.J. Hoover pitched in the Australian Baseball League this winter, which is great back door to the CPBL, because it’s easier and cheaper for CPBL teams to scout players Down Under than in the Americas.  Thomas Dorminy (28) and Rick Teasley (29) are two former CPBL pitchers pitching in Australia this winter, who, I bet, would jump at the chance to pitch in Taiwan again at CPBL salaries, even at the low end.

CPBL teams like Mexican League pitchers too.  Matt Gage (27), Andre Rienzo (31) and Dustin Crenshaw (31) are current Mexican League pitchers who might be available this off-season.

Needless to say, many of the pitchers I’ve listed will get minor league offers between now and the end of Spring Training, or they will elect to pitch in the Atlantic League or the Mexican League in the hopes of working their way back to the MLB system.  Even so, there are lots of options out their for CPBL teams, if they are willing to turn over every stone and kick a few tires.

Indy-A CanAm and Frontier Leagues Have Merged

November 27, 2019

I only just discovered (the move was announced about a month ago) that the independent-A CanAm League and Frontier League will merge for the 2020 season.  Five Can-Am League teams (the New Jersey Jackels, Quebec Capitales, Rockland Boulders, Sussex County (NJ) Miners and Trois-Rivieres Aigles) will join nine Frontier League teams (all but the River City Rascals) will form two seven-team divisions.  As you might have guessed, the River City Rascals had the Frontier League’s worst overall attendance in 2019; however, the possibly now defunct Ottawa Champions had attendance better than three of the merging CanAm League teams.  You can read more about the merger here.

What I find interesting about the merger is that the two leagues have traditionally featured different levels of Indy-A play, with the Frontier League featuring more 23 year old college grads who went undrafted by MLB, while the CanAm featured older players and was more in line with the higher American Association level of play.  In fact, for a number of years the CanAm League had a relationship with the American Association whereby the leagues would play a certain number of inter-league games each season.

However, CanAm league attendance never approached that of the better drawing American Association teams, but was able to maintain a high level of play because it was seen as the best place to get noticed by MLB scouts if you weren’t quite good enough to get an Atlantic League roster spot entering the season.

The Frontier League draws slightly better than the CanAm League, but also traditionally had lower total payrolls in accordance with playing generally younger players.  Will the quality of merged league play be closer to the CanAm League or the Frontier League?  That remains to be seen.  The finances suggest that former CanAm League teams will sign more 23 and 24 year olds than previously and play at closer to a Frontier League level, however.  The merged league hopes to expand further, perhaps to a 16- or 20-team circuit, but that remains to be seen.

The merger will probably mean fewer jobs for older players cut loose from the MLB system.  Both the American Association and Atlantic League have roster limits on the number of older veteran players, and the attendance for the weaker teams in each circuit don’t suggest that either league can afford to pay for more older veteran players unless the vets can be forced to take a class pay cut — players are in both leagues are usually paid a flat monthly salary based on years of professional experience.

It’s possible that a few vets will be willing to play for less money in the fly-by-night Indy-A leagues like the Pacific Association and the Empire League, but again, that remains to be seen.

KBO’s KT Wiz Sign Pitcher Odrisamer Despaigne

November 12, 2019

The KT Wiz of South Korea’s KBO signed RHP Odrisamer Despaigne for 2020 at a $750,000 salary and another $150,000 in performance incentives.  The only thing unusual about the signing is that Despaigne will be 33 in 2020, which is about two years older than the typical cut-off age for players going to South Korea or Japan to start the season.

In Despaigne’s favor are the facts that he has the kind of MLB experience Asian teams look for, and he had a good year at AAA in 2019.  His 3.47 ERA was third best out of 23 International League starters who threw at least 100 innings in the suddenly hitter-friendly circuit.  His 124 Ks was also third best in the IL, and struck out almost exacty one batter per inning pitched.  Finally, Despaigne is Cuban, and Cubans are a hot commodity in the Asian majors right now.

Despaigne is a great pitcher who doesn’t have major league stuff.  Sometimes, guys like him can be very successful in Asia, at least so long as they find the league in which their stuff is good enough to take advantage of their ability to pitch.  Asian teams generally prefer foreigners with major league stuff, who haven’t been able to put it together in the MLB majors, usually because their command isn’t quite good enough.  Pitchers with big fastballs, a sharp breaking pitch and a little brains can be very successful in Asia if they figure out that they can afford to miss out over the plate more often than they could in MLB.

The nice thing for the Wiz is that Despaigne is a relative bargain.  His level of past MLB major league experience would usually require a total commitment at the $1M KBO cap for first year foreign players.  Despaigne would likely have gotten the full $1M if he were two years younger.

In a related note, I saw that Tim Adleman recently re-signed to a minor league deal with the Detroit Tigers for 2020.  Too bad — he had as good a season in the International League as Despaigne did.  He pitched in the KBO in 2018 on a $1.05M contract the Samsung Lions had given him (the KBO’s $1M cap was imposed the next off-season), after he led the Cincinnati Reds in innings pitched in 2017 (the Reds’ pitching that year was bad and hurt).

Adleman wasn’t terrible, with an 8-12 record and a 5.05 ERA when the KBO was still an extreme hitters league, but it wasn’t good enough for the money he was making, and he found himself starting the 2019 season in the Atlantic League, almost certainly because he was already 31 entering the 2019 season.  The Tigers signed him after only three Atlantic League appearances, and he put in a fine season for them at the AA and AAA levels.

All of which means, Adleman wouldn’t be a bad bet for a KBO team on a contract paying a $600,000 salary and another $200,000 in performance incentives.  Now that Adleman knows the league, he might be better in a second go ’round.  Of course, that could occur only if Adleman was willing to spend another year in South Korea.  Some American players don’t enjoy the experience of playing and living in a foreign country for six months out of the year.

Hiroshima Carp to Post 2B Ryosuke Kikuchi

November 8, 2019

NPB’s Hiroshima Toyo Carp have announced their intention to post their slick-fielding 2Bman Ryosuke Kikuchi for MLB teams this off-season.  I don’t think this Kikuchi has the bat to draw major league interest, but we’ll have to wait and see.

mlbtraderumors’ post on the subject notes that Kikuchi is an absolutely terrific defender and provides numerous video clips to prove it.  I’d guess that Kikuchi would prove an elite defensive 2Bman even in MLB.

However, Kikuchi just does not get on base enough to hold a major league regular position for long.  The last three seasons, his age 27-29 seasons, Kikuchi has posted on-base percentages of .311, .301 and .313.  I feel with near certainty those NPB numbers would translate to less than .300 in MLB.  Kikuchi has some pop, hitting 13 or 14 HRs each of last three seasons, along with between 27 and 36 doubles.  However, the home runs are likely to all but disappear in MLB’s larger ballparks against better league-average pitching.

Could Kikuchi be worth a two-year, $2M guarantee from an MLB team to be a middle infield super-sub? Maybe.  I will note that with all the infield shifting and launch angle swinging in today’s game, Kikuchi’s 2B defense probably isn’t as valuable to an MLB team as would be to an NPB team.  I don’t see him having the opportunity to make as many plays in MLB as he has in Japan, not least because he’s no spring chicken going into his age 30 season.

The Carp are posting Kikuchi because the team feels fairly certain they will lose Kikuchi next off-season when he gets his domestic free agent rights.  It would not surprise me to see Kikuchi get at least a three-year $12M offer from one of NPB’s wealthy teams next off-season, and he’d be worth it to those teams.  I don’t see him being worth that kind of money to an MLB team, where glove-tree middle infielders are a dime a dozen.

As a completely unrelated note, the Padres just released RHP Eric Yardley.  He pitched pretty well for the Friars last year in ten relief appearances as a 28 year old rookie, but, again, he’s no spring chicken.

What is interesting about Yardley is that he’s one of those extremely rare players who started his pro career in the Independent-A Pecos League but ultimately reached the majors.  Players only earn $50 a week to play in the Pecos League, and they are almost exclusively players who just finished a four-year college career, aren’t good enough to make even a Frontier League roster, but just can’t give up the pro baseball dream.

The Pecos League website lists all of 20 players to have reached even the affiliated minor leagues in the Pecos League’s nine year history.  Chris Smith also accomplished the feat of eventually reaching the majors, but I’m not sure there are many (or any) others.  I hope another MLB team picks up Yardley in time for the start of the 2020 season, but guys with Yardley’s Indy-A ball roots usually don’t get much respect from MLB organizations.

Venezuelan Pro Baseball Takes a Hit

November 8, 2019

Venezuela’s Winter League started this week, and I, for one, was interested to see how the new American sanctions regime would affect this year’s rosters.  Indeed, it looks like there are not only no American-born players playing in Venezuela this winter, but no active MLB-system minor leaguers either.  Engelb Vielma and Luis Ysla both played in the affiliated minors in 2019, but both are currently free agents whose future MLB-system prospects do not look encouraging.

There are still a few foreign (to Venezuela) players in the VWL this winter, including Brazilian Tiago Da Silva, Cuban Yadir Drake and a number of Dominicans including Welington Dotel and Denis Phipps.  Da Silva and Drake played in the Mexican League this past summer, and Dotel and Phipps played in the Indy-A Atlantic League.

By way of comparison, as recently as last season the VWL featured among others, Willians Astudillo, Franklin Barreto and former MLB star Delmon Young.

Needless to say, even aside from the sanctions, the deaths of former major leaguers Luis Valbuena and Jose Castillo — they were murdered by attempted car-jackers/highway robbers while traveling to their home city after an away-series during the 2018 VWL season — had to have discouraged a lot of foreigners from playing there in the future.  The fact that the VWL still has some foreign players says a lot about how much those players need the $10,000 to $15,000 in total they make playing there for the winter season.

Venezuela produces so many baseball players, that even relying heavily on over-the-hill Venezuelan players who are years removed from the MLB system and no longer good enough to hold a job in the Mexican League, the VWL can still put a professional-level product on the field, even if not a very good one.  In fact, with the league loaded for bear with washed-up Venezuelans this season, it is probably costing the Venezuelan government less money to keep play going than it did only a year ago.  $2,000 or $3,000 a month in today’s Venezuela at least puts food on the table and then some.

I saw this article on line today.  It says that the price of two tickets, two beers and two hot dogs “easily costs $15” in the VWL this season, which is roughly twice the minimum wage most Venezuelans earn each month.  The VWL is thus a privilege for the few remaining relatively well-off people in Venezuela and for those who are “gifted” free tickets from the government as a reward for their continued loyalty to the regime.  The article contains a photo of a couple of Venezuelan hotties sitting in what appears to be the front row — I’d guess they are either girlfriends of the relatively well-paid ballplayers or the girlfriends of wealthy men connected to the regime.

Meanwhile, I also read an article about how the “special police” called the FAES created in 2017 have been accused by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet of engaging in extra-judicial killings of regime opponents in Venezuela’s slums.  Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro says Bachelet is lying, but I know which of the two I believe.  You can’t keep control of a country in its fourth year of economic free fall without murdering a few hundred dissidents to keep everyone else in fear and in line.

God, what a way to run a country!  That said, if the current administration’s sanctions regime simply turns Venezuela into another Cuba, which is still a Communist state as U.S. sanctions against that regime enter their 60th year, I’m not sure what will be accomplished other than making millions of Venezuelans suffer even more and further de-stabilizing the rest of Latin America.

Ubaldo Jimenez Sighting And Other Winter League Notes

October 17, 2019

It looks like Ubaldo Jimenez is starting a comeback in the Dominican Winter League this month.  He lost his first start, but allowed only one run in five innings and struck out five.  Before this start on October 12th, Jimenez appears not to have pitched anywhere since his final season with the Orioles in 2017.

Whether Jimenez is intent on pitching again in the MLB system, or more likely the Mexican League given that he’ll be 36 in January, remains to be seen.  Jimenez is Dominican so his goal may only be to pitch in front of his home fans and make good money for 2.5 months of play that comes with his status as a former major league star.

I noticed that Evan MacLane is back for another winter in the Dominican Republic at age 36 (he turns 37 on November 4th).  This is his 12th season in the DWL, the last 11 with the Estrellas (Stars) de Oriente.  Interestingly, MacLane appears not to have played summer baseball anywhere since 2015, with the exception of an unsuccessful three-game trial in the Mexican League in 2018.

Typically, a player of Evan MacLane’s talent level and experience will play summers in one of the top three Independent-A leagues, often doing double duty as a pitching or hitting coach in order to earn a living wage and to keep one’s skills sharp for better paid Winter League play.  At MacLane’s age, he apparently doesn’t need to play in the summer to continue to be successful in the Dominican Winter League.  I’d guess that MacLane earns his living in the States coaching baseball somewhere during the summer and is thereby free to continue pitching in the Dominican Republic each winter.

MacLane got a cup of coffee with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2010 and played parts of two seasons with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s NPB in 2011-2012.  He hasn’t made a lot of money or succeeded at the pro game’s highest levels, but he’s put together a nice little career as an Estrellas’ ace.

Another of my favorite minor league players, John Nogowski, is also playing in the Dominican Republic this winter.  So far, so good: after three games, he’s 3-for-8 with a double and four walks.

Nogowski had a good year with the AAA Memphis RedBirds, slashing .295/.413/.476 in 463 plate appearances.  Unfortunately, he turns 27 in January and hasn’t yet played in the Majors, so his window is closing fast.  I’m hoping he can get some major league playing time in 2020, and then if he hasn’t established himself as a major league player by the end of the 2020 season, go to Asia.  We’ll see…

Meanwhile, now 40 year old Chris Roberson has opened up his ninth season with the Aguilas (Eagles) de Mexicali and his 15th in the Mexican Pacific League (LPM) overall.  He slashed .338/.405/.512 this past summer in the Mexican League, but injuries limited him to 72 games played.

Interestingly, both Evan MacLane and Chris Roberson played baseball at Feather River Community College in remote Quincy, California.  MacLane is originally from Chico and Roberson is from Oakland, so they’re both Northern California boys.  Feather River CC apparently has a pretty good baseball program, as it has produced three major leaguers including MacLane and Roberson (the third is Cody Anderson who pitched briefly for the Indians this summer), and 12 players drafted by MLB organizations.  They probably did not attend the school at the same time, and I don’t know if they’ve ever had the opportunity to face each other professionally.

The Best Foreign Pitchers in the History of Taiwan’s CPBL, Post-2019 Season Update

October 5, 2019

This is the post-2019 season update on an article I first published two years ago.  I have not published a piece on foreign hitters because no foreign position player has played enough in any relatively recent CPBL season to qualify for the batting title.

WINS

1.      Osvaldo (Ozzy) Martinez  108-85     MiLB, WiL Stats and more MiLB Stats

2.     Mike Loree                84-50     MiLB, Indy-A stats

3.     Jonathan Hurst        76-52     MLB, NPB, MiLB Stats

4.      Jose Nunez                62-30*     MLB, NPB, KBO, etc Stats

5.      John Burgos             58-34     MiLB, Indy-A Stats

6.      Mark Kiefer             55-27     MLB, MiLB, KBO stats

7.      Don August               52-48*   MLB, MiLB Stats

8.     Joe Strong                  47-33     MLB, MiLB, Indy-A Stats

9.     Orlando Roman       44-28     MiLB, NPB Stats, WiL

10.     Gabriel “Gab” Ozuna     43-39     MiLB Stats

Martinez, Loree and Hurst are the only long-term veterans among pitchers I could find in my search of the CPBL website.  Martinez pitched nine seasons, while Loree and Hurst each pitched seven with Loree likely to return for an eighth season in 2020.  Burgos had a terrific 4.5 seasons, Kiefer had four terrific seasons, and Nunez had an even-better-than-either three seasons.  Kiefer won 34 KBO games over three seasons later in his career.

Mike Loree is the most successful foreign pitcher currently pitching in CPBL or since Oswaldo Martinez’s and Jonathan Hurst’s CPBL careers ended after the 2005 season.  After missing the first month of the 2019 season with an abominal strain, the same injury that caused him to miss about the same amount of time at the beginning of the 2017 season, Loree was once again the CPBL’s best starter.  While his 12-9 record wasn’t particularly impressive (but still tied for second most wins), he led the circuit with a 2.78 ERA and finished second with 167 strikeouts.  Loree passed Jonathan Hurst on the all-time wins list this season, but still has about two more full seasons at his current performance level to catch up to Ozzie Martinez.

Joe Strong was a 37 year old MLB rookie in 2000 for the Florida Marlins, but he pitched better in the Show in limited use in 2001.  He pitched professionally through his age 41 season.

* Jose Nunez and Don August both later pitched a season in Taiwan’s other major league, the Taiwan Major League (TML).  Don August only won 18 games in the CPBL, but he then went went 34-30 in the TML, the same as his career MLB major league record.  The CPBL counts TML stats for purposes of career records, but unfortunately does not publish the TML records on its website, making it very difficult for a non-Mandarin speaker to obtain these records.  Thanks to Rob over at CPBL STATS for providing the TML stats necessary to make this year’s edition of this post as accurate as possible.

ERA   (650 IP)

1.      Jose Nunez             2.18

2.     Jonathan Hurst        2.56

3.     Joe Strong               2.71

4.     Mark Kiefer              2.82

5.     John Burgos             2.84

6.     Gab Ozuna               3.16

7.     Mike Loree              3.19

8.     Osvaldo Martinez    3.20

8.     Enrique Burgos     3.20     MLB, MiLB Stats 

10.  Don August              3.49

11.    Orlando Roman     3.78

I set the 650 IP limit because I wanted to include Jose Nunez (687 CPBL innings, but he topped 700 with TML innings included) and Orlando Roman (691).  Nunez won 56 games over three seasons, before moving on to greener Japanese NPB pastures.  As mentioned above, he returned to pitch in the TML in 1998, during that competitor league’s six-year history before it folded/merged into the CPBL after the 2002 season.

In this extreme hitter-friendly era of the CPBL, Mike Loree’s and Orlando Roman’s higher ERAs are at least equivalent to what the best foreign pitchers accomplished in different, less offensive eras than today.  I base this claim on their W-L records, the fact that Loree has been arguably the league’s best pitcher in each of his six full CPBL seasons, and the fact that Roman used the CPBL as a springboard to a four-year NPB career, where he won a total of 18 games and saved another six, before returning to CPBL in 2016.  Alas, Roman’s CBPL career ended after the 2017 season, but he was still around to pitch in three Puerto Rican Winter League games last winter as he approached his 40th birthday.

STRIKEOUTS

1.     Ozzie Martinez      1,286

2.     Mike Loree             964

3.     Jonathan Hurst      779

4.     Enrique Burgos      736

5.     Michael “Mike” Garcia      651     MLB, MiLB, KBO etc Stats

6.     Orlando Roman    564

7.     Jose Nunez            545

8.     John Burgos          541

9.     Mark Kiefer           532

10.    Gab Ozuna           508

Enrique Burgos had some of the best strikeout stuff CPBL had ever seen, but it didn’t translate into his W-L record.  He finished his CPBL career an even 36-36.

Ozzy Martinez is the CPBL’s career strikeouts leader.  I know this because I recently saw a twitter that now all-time CPBL wins leader Pan Wei-lun is currently second on the list with 1113 careers K’s.

SAVES

1.     Mike Garcia             124

2.     Ryan Cullen           70     MiLB, Indy-A, WiL Stats

3.     Brad Thomas        59     MLB, NPB, KBO etc Stats

3.     Brandy Vann         59     MiLB, Indy-A Stats

5.     Alfornio (“Al”) Jones     50     MLB, MiLB Stats

6.   Dario Veras           49     MLB, MiLB, KBO etc Stats 

6.   Tony Metoyer       49     MiLB, Indy-A Stats

Mike Garcia is far and away the best foreign closer in CPBL history, and certainly one of the best in league history overall, second only in career saves to Yueh-Ping Lin.  He pitched five seasons in Taiwan (1996-1998, 2004-2005) in between which he was a 31 year old MLB rookie for the 1999 Pittsburgh Pirates.  His career CPBL ERA is an even 2.00.  He last pitched professionally at age 39.

Ryan Cullen pitched 3+ seasons in Taiwan, saving a then record-setting 34 games for the Brother Elephants in 2010 and recording a career CPBL ERA of 1.60.  Cullen is best remembered for his final CPBL game, when he threw a pitch, felt pain in his throwing shoulder, and walked off the mound and off the field without motioning to the dugout and waiting for the manager to take him out of the game.  He was released the next day.

Cullen said he didn’t intend to disrespect anyone, but it does not appear that he ever played professional baseball again.  Since he was only 32 and still pitching effectively at the time of his release, I suspect that he either just decided that he’d had enough of pro ball or the injury he suffered that caused him to walk off the field was more serious than it looked in the video of it I’ve seen.

Brad Thomas is an Aussie who pitched professionally in at least seven countries on four continents, concluding his baseball odyssey with 2.5 seasons in Taiwan.  Tony Metoyer pitched parts of seven seasons in the CPBL, where he was used as both a closer and spot starter.

Brandy Vann was a former 1st round MLB draft pick by the Angels.  He had good stuff, but not enough command to reach the MLB majors.  He pitched three years in the CPBL, followed by two more in the TML.  Vann may well be the first foreign player signed by a CPBL team out of an Independent-A league, something that happens all the time today.

Unfortunately, the CPBL doesn’t hire foreign relievers much any more.  Werner Madrigal saved 16 games for the 7-11 Uni-Lions as recently as 2015, and in 2014 Miguel Mejia saved a record-setting 35 games and posted a 1.24 ERA for the Lamigo Monkeys, although that record was bested in 2017 by Chen Yu-Hsun, who recorded 37 saves for a Lamigo Monkeys team that set a league record for wins in a season.  Today, though, CPBL teams have decided that starting pitchers are just too valuable for their three available foreign player roster spaces, even though there are almost always some good relievers in the Mexican League to choose from.

It’s hard for a foreign player to have a long career in the CPBL.  If the player has a bad year or even a bad half-season (most foreigners initially receive half-season contracts), he’s too expensive to keep around and too easily replaced.  There are a lot of players of the age and talent level to whom the CPBL salary scale is highly appealing, so CPBL teams can pick and choose their foreign players.  For example, Brian Woodall entered 2019 appearing ready and able to make his way onto my lists by the end of the season, but he was ineffective and released well before the 2019 season ended.

If a foreign player has a great full season or two, he typically moves on to NPB, KBO or back to MLB AAA.  However, a lot of departing foreign players have come back to the CPBL a few years later for another go ’round when it was their last best chance to make a substantial wage playing summer baseball.

In its early days, the CPBL appears to have recruited heavily among Latin American players who put up successful seasons in the winter leagues, which makes a lot of sense, since the Latin American winter leagues are pretty good and pay accordingly.  However, with the CPBL season now longer (it has climbed from an initial 90 game season to 120 games today), fewer Latin players seem willing in playing in Taiwan, because it interferes with their ability to play a full season of winter league ball in their home countries.  However, this trend didn’t prevent the Lamigo Monkeys from inking Dominican former KBO star Radhames Liz — at age 35 in 2019, he led the CPBL this year in wins (16) and strikeouts (179).

In recent years, the independent-A Atlantic League has been a major source for CPBL teams looking for in-season pitching help, and the (summer) Mexican League has been a prime source particularly for off-season signings.

The Best Foreign Pitchers in KBO History

October 5, 2019

We are currently in what amounts to the Golden Age of foreign starters in South Korea’s KBO, with most of the leaders listed below still active or only a season or two removed from the KBO.  The KBO decided around 2006 that what it needs in terms of foreign players is starting pitchers.  Two of every KBO team’s current three roster spots for foreign players are held by starting pitchers, with the third spot typically going to a power hitter only because current KBO rules provide that the third foreign player cannot be a pitcher.  As a result, the all-time leader boards for foreign pitchers is changing on an annual basis.

Wins

1.  Dustin Nippert   102-51

2.  Danny Rios           90-59

3.  Henry Sosa           77-63

4.  Andy VanHekken   73-42

5.  Josh Lindblom     63-34

6.  Eric Hacker          61-37

After last off-season’s purge of expensive, veteran foreign aces, I was thrilled to see Henry Sosa dominate Taiwan’s CPBL for the first half of the 2019 season and earn another shot in the KBO in the second half.  He pitched well enough that he should be back in South Korea in 2020 in spite of his on-going South Korean income tax issues — he can’t pay those back taxes if he isn’t working!

It remains to be seen where Josh Lindblom pitches in 2020.  He was so good in 2019, going 20-3 with a 2.50 ERA (2nd best) and 189 Ks (1st), that he’s the odds-on favorite for the KBO MVP Award, but he may also have pitched his way to a lucrative MLB contract.  He earned about $1.92 million in 2019, making him the year’s highest paid foreign player, but that’s an amount an MLB team could easily beat.  The knock on Lindblom is that he will be 33 next season, which may keep him in the KBO.  I’m still he hoping he gets the KBO’s first multi-year guaranteed deal provided to a foreign player.

Andy VanHekken, like Danny Rios in 2008, tried jumping to Japan’s NPB in 2016 immediately following his strongest KBO season.  As with Rios in 2008, it did not work out for VanHekken.  He was able to return to the Nexen Heroes, but they weren’t going to show him much loyalty once they decided he’d gotten old.  VanHekken spent most of 2018 in the Atlantic League, but finished the season with his second stint (the first in 2007) in Taiwan’s CPBL.  He appears to have retired after the 2018 season, during which he turned 39.

Eric Hacker also tried to catch on with a CPBL team in 2019 after getting dumped by the Nexen (now Kiwoom) Heroes last off-season.  However, his salary demands were more than any CPBL team was willing to pay, particularly coming off a not very successful KBO campaign.

 

ERA (800 Career Innings Pitched)

1.  Danny Rios    3.01

2.  Josh Lindblom  3.55

3.  Andy VanHekken  3.56

4.  Dustin Nippert    3.59

5.  Eric Hacker    3.66

6.  Chris Oxspring    3.90

7.  Brooks Raley   4.13

8.  Henry Sosa     4.28

As far as I am aware, these eight are the only foreign pitchers in the KBO’s history to reach my 800 career innings pitched cut-off.  Brooks Raley was reasonably effective in 2019, although he recorded a 5-14 record for this season’s worst team, the Lotte Giants.  He’s relatively high paid and may fall victim to what is likely to be another off-season of re-trenching by KBO teams.

Stikeouts

1.  Dustin Nippert   1,082

2.  Henry Sosa    1,059

3.  Andy VanHekken   860

4.  Danny Rios   807

5.  Brooks Raley  755

6.  Josh Lindblom 750

7.  Eric Hacker 675

8.  Merrill Kelly 641

As everyone should know, Kelly returned to MLB in 2019 and had a season that turned out to be a tremendous bargain for the Diamondbacks in terms of the two-year $5.5M contract Kelly received.

Saves

Jose Cabrera   53

With a limited number of roster spots for foreign pitchers, KBO teams want starting pitchers, not relievers.  The 23 foreigners who pitched in the KBO in 2019 appeared in a combined 560 games, only one of which was a relief appearance.

The best season by a foreign reliever was Scott Proctor‘s 2012, when he had a 1.79 ERA and saved 35 games.  However, he returned to the U.S. in 2013 to play at AAA.  The KBO has yet to have a foreign closer last more than a couple of seasons and not even one in the last five seasons.

Daniel Nava Sighting

August 9, 2019

Boy, I thought Daniel Nava had retired.  I was wrong.

Nava didn’t play in 2018, so imagine my surprise to see that he’s back in the Indy-A Leagues at age 36.  He’s currently slashing .269/.377/.418 as mainly a 1Bman for the Kansas City T-Bones of the American Association.  He’s played in 55 games, and has filled in an emergency in the corner outfield positions, as well as 1B.

I always liked Nava because he was a SF Bay Area guy, and he made his way up to the majors and really amounted to something after playing in an Indy-A League to start his pro career.  That’s really an accomplishment, in terms of the few players who actually do it.  Glad to see him staying true to his roots.

If he’s willing to play in an Indy-A League at age 36, one would have to think he’ll go into coaching as soon as they tell him he can’t play anymore.

Carter Stewart Pitches in First Japanese Game Action

July 11, 2019

MLB Draft buster Carter Stewart made his first game-action pitching appearance for the SoftBank Hawk’s third team against Mitsubishi Motors’ industrial league team based in Kyushu.  He threw two shutout innings after surrendering a lead-off double, and hit 93.8 miles per hour on the radar gun, throwing at what Stewart described as “90%”.

NPB teams maintain a second team which plays at NPB sole minor league level, while the third team of players, whom I assume are mostly young players just getting started in professional baseball, play mainly against independent minor league teams, industrial league teams and university teams, at least according to jballallen.com.

As I understand it, there are several independent minor leagues in Japan, including the Baseball Challenge (BC) League, in which Eri Yoshida famously pitched, and the Shikoku Island League, which has sent All-Stars teams to play against teams in the Indy-A Can-Am League for at least several of the last five seasons.  There are urban areas in Japan not big enough for the 24 major and minor league NPB teams which are likely good homes for independent minor league teams, particularly with so many NPB teams centered around Japan’s three largest metropolitan areas.  Indeed, my review of wikipedia indicates that the vast majority of Japanese independent minor league teams play in prefectures underserved by NPB.