Archive for the ‘NPB’ category

The Best Foreign Pitchers in the History of Taiwan’s CPBL

October 14, 2018

This is the post-2018 season update on an article I published a year ago.  I have not published a piece on foreign hitters because no foreign position players have played in the CPBL since the end of the 2015 season.

WINS

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

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

3.      Mike Loree                72-41     MiLB, Indy-A stats

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

5.      Jose Nunez                56-25     MLB, NPB, KBO, etc Stats

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

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

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

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

Martinez and Hurst are the only long-term veterans among pitchers I could find in my search of the CPBL website.  Martinez pitched nine seasons, Hurst pitched seven.  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.  Loree didn’t pitch as well in 2018 as his 2017 season, in which he won his second pitching Triple Crown (2.18 ERA, 16 wins, and 154 Ks) in only four full seasons, but he was still an ace (one of the four best starters in a four-team circuit) and enhanced his credentials as one of the CPBL’s best foreign hurlers ever.

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 year old season.

ERA   (650 IP)

1.      Jose Nunez               2.13

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.     Osvaldo Martinez    3.20

7.     Enrique Burgos   3.20     MLB, MiLB Stats

9.     Mike Loree               3.26

10.    Orlando Roman     3.78

I set the 650 IP limit because I wanted to include both Nunez (687) and Roman (691).  Nunez won 56 games over three seasons, before moving on to greener Japanese NPB pastures.  He also pitched in the Taiwan Major League (TML) in 1998, during that competitor league’s six-year history before it folded/merged into the CPBL after the 2002 season. But, no surprise, I haven’t been able to find the stats for the TML on line.

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, based on their W-L records, the fact that Loree has been arguably the league’s best pitcher in each of his four 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.next season.

STRIKEOUTS

1.     Ozzie Martinez      1,286

2.     Mike Loree             797

3.     Jonathan Hurst     779

4.     Enrique Burgos     736

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

6.     Orlando Roman   564

7.     John Burgos          541

8.     Mark Kiefer           532

9.     Jose Nunez           511

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.

SAVES

1.     Mike Garcia             124

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

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

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

5T.   Dario Veras           49     MLB, MiLB, KBO etc Stats 

5T.   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 may have just decided that he’d had enough of pro ball.

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.

Unfortunately, the CPBL doesn’t hire foreign relievers much any more.  However, 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.  Right now, though, CPBL teams seem to 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.

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 come back to the CPBL a few years later for another go ’round when it’s 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 are interested in playing in Taiwan, because it interferes with their ability to play winter league ball in their home countries.  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 for off-season signings.

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Slugging It Out in Japan: A Listing of the Top Foreign Hitters in the History of Japan’s NPB

October 14, 2018

In the past several years, I’ve written a couple of posts on the all-time leaders among foreign hitters in the history of Japan’s NPB.  The articles have met with a positive response, so I am updating them whenever new or more complete information comes to me.  This iteration adds stolen base leaders.

BATTING AVERAGE (4,000 ABs)

1.  Leron Lee .320

2.  Boomer Wells .317

3.  Wally Yomamine .311

4.  Leon Lee .308

5.  Alex Cabrera .303

6.  .Alex Ramirez .301

BATTING AVERAGE (3,000 ABs)

1.  Bobby Rose .325

2.  Matt Murton .310

3.  George Altman .309

I received a comment last year arguing that Sadaharu Oh and Isao Harimoto should be treated as “foreign” players for NPB purposes, because neither was a Japanese citizen and were treated as “foreign” by their teams during their careers.  Oh was born in Japan to a Taiwanese (Chinese) father and a Japanese mother at a time when only the sons of Japanese fathers were automatically treated as citizens.  Instead, Oh was and remains a Taiwanese citizen.  Harimoto was an ethnic Korean born and raised in Japan, who nevertheless was and remains a Korean citizen.  Questions about who is and is not a “foreign” player for NPB raises difficult questions about the way Japan treats people of foreign ancestry born and raised in Japan.

I personally don’t consider Oh or Harimoto to be “foreign” NPB players, and I have left them off my lists for this year, at least.  You can make your own decisions regarding whether they should be considered “foreign” NPBers.  [Wikipedia lists seven Korean Zainichi players good enough to merit mention.]

Leron Lee was not, as his wikipedia page suggests, the first American player to go to Japan during the prime of his professional career.  However, he was the first first major leaguer of his ability and past MLB success to go to Japan before his age 30 season.  Lee is not just the best career hitter among North American players, he has the highest NPB batting average of any player with at least 4,000 at-bats, and he had almost 5,000 NPB at-bats, so it was no fluke based on a small data set.

Leon Lee was Leron’s little brother and the father of former MLBer Derrek Lee.  Pops never played in MLB, but he was nearly as great an NPB player as his big brother, and that’s saying something.

Wally Yonamine, a Nisei (Japanese American) from Hawaii, was the first foreign player to play in NPB after the Second World War, breaking in with the Yomuiri Giants, far and away NPB’s most popular team, in 1951.  Yonamine was sort of the poster boy for a class of Japanese American athletes during the era between about 1920 and 1950 who were famed on the West Coast and Hawaii for their abilities on both the baseball diamond and the gridiron in semi-pro leagues.

Yonamine was really an exceptional athlete.  He was 5’9″ and 180 lbs, fast and tough.  He was the first Asian American to play pro football that I am aware of, playing for the San Francisco 49ers in 1947, the team’s second season in the All-American Football Conference.  He played in 12 of the team’s 14 games that year and started three times.  He ran for 74 yards on 19 carries, caught three passes for 40 yards, ran back an interception for 20 yards and returned a total of nine punts and kick-offs.  He quit football after injuring himself playing baseball the next summer.

In his only season of minor league baseball, he hit .335 as a catcher in the Class C Pioneer League at age 25 in 1950.  At that age, his MLB chances were slim, so he went to Japan in 1951, where he mostly played outfield.  He had a major impact on NPB, bringing his tougher, more aggressive American style of base running.  He is one of only three only foreign player in the NPB Hall of Fame (NPB’s first 300 game winner Victor Starfin was born in Russia but grew up in Japan after his family fled the Russian Revolution), something I’ll comment on below.

HITS

1.  Alex Ramirez 2,017

2. In-cheon Paek 1,831

3. Tuffy Rhodes 1,792

4. Leron Lee 1,579

5.  Leon Lee 1,436

6.  Bobby Marcano 1,418

7.  Boomer Wells 1,413

8.  Alex Cabrera 1,368

9.  Wally Yonamine 1,337

10.  Shosei Go 1,326

11.  Jose Fernandez 1,286

12.  Bobby Rose 1,275

13.  John Sipin 1,124

14.  Roberto Barbon 1,123

15.  Daikan Yoh (Dai-Kang Yang) 1,091

16.  Ta-Feng Chen (Yasuaki Taiho) 1,089.

17.  Matt Murton, 1020.

Before I wrote the original piece in 2014, I’d never heard of Bobby Marcano, John Sipin or Roberto Barbon (or if I have I’ve long since forgotten).  Marcano hit .317 with an .857 OPS in the AAA Pacific Coast League at the age of 23, but elected to sign with an NPB team the next season.  I don’t know anything about his story, but it was apparently a good move, as he had a very successful 11 career in Japan playing mostly 2B.

John Sipin got into 68 games for the expansion San Diego Padres in 1969.  A couple of big years in the Pacific Coast League at ages 23 and 24, and off he went to Japan for a nine year NPB career.  He also mostly played 2B.  Both Marcano and Sipin played most of their NPB careers in the 1970’s.

Roberto Barbon was a light-hitting (.241 career NPB batting average) middle infielder from Cuba who played 11 seasons in Japan starting in 1955 at the age of 22.  His defense was probably very good for him to last so long, and his 308 career NPB stolen bases is the record for Gaijin players, at least according to some sources.  Here is a NY Times article about Barbon, who still lives in Japan and is involved in baseball.

Daikan Yoh is a Taiwanese player who was so good as a youngster that he was recruited to play high school ball in Japan and never left.  Because he played high school ball in Japan, he does not count as a foreign player for roster limit purposes.

HOME RUNS

1.  Tuffy Rhodes 464

2. Alex Ramirez 380

3. Alex Cabrera 357

4.  Leron Lee 283

5.  Boomer Wells 277

5.  Ta-Feng Chen (Yasuaki Taiho) 277

7.  Leon Lee 268

8.  Ralph Bryant 259

9.  Wladimir Balentien  255

NPB teams pay their relatively high-priced foreign position players to hit home runs, so it isn’t particularly surprising that eight foreign players have topped 250 career home runs in NPB.  Ralph Bryant hit a lot of home runs and also set strike out records, striking out 204 times in 127 games played in 1993, in his eight year NPB career.  Wladimir Balentien is the most recent in a long line of foreign sluggers to top the 250 home run mark.

RBIs

1.  Alex Ramirez 1,272

2.  Tuffy Rhodes 1,269

3.  Alex Cabrera 949

4. Leron Lee 912

5.  Boomer Wells 901

6.  Leon Lee 884

7.  Bobby Marcano 817

8.  Bobby Rose 808

RUNS

1.  Tuffy Rhodes 1,100

2.  Shosei Go 880

3.  Alex Ramirez 866

4. In-cheon Paek 801

5.  Leron Lee 786

6.  Alex Cabrera 754

NPB teams pay foreign hitters to drive in runs rather than score them, which is why the RBI totals are so much more impressive than the runs scored totals.

STOLEN BASES

1.  Shosei Go  381

2.  Roberto Barbon 308

3.  In-cheon Paek 212

4.  Wally Yonamine  163

5.  Daikan Yoh  140

6.  Larry Raines 114

As I’ve written before, it is no small task to determine who is “foreign” for NPB purposes and who isn’t.  At the time Shosei Go joined Japanese professional ranks in 1937, Taiwan was a Japanese colony, so Go was not considered a “foreign” player during his playing career.  However, as an ethnic Taiwanese born and raised in Taiwan (he attended high school there), he seems more “foreign” to me than Victor Starrfin, who lived in Japan since before his second or third birthday.  Go also seems more foreign than Hiroshi Ohshita, an ethnic Japanese who was probably born in Kobe, Japan but spent part of his childhood, including high school, in colonial Taiwan, but then attended Meiji University, one of Japan’s big six college baseball programs.

Another thing my original research in compiling these lists pointed out is just how much of a fungible commodity NPB teams apparently consider foreign players to be.  A total of fewer than 20 players made any of my six lists.  There are easily more than four times this many foreign players who were great in NPB from between three to seven seasons who didn’t stick around long enough to make my lists.

Since most foreign players are at least 26 to 28 years old in their first NPB season and often quite a bit older, a lot of them simply didn’t have much left by the time they reached their mid-30’s.  However, it’s just as true that in a majority of cases it only took one bad year, even after many good ones, for a foreign player to be sent packing.

Given the fact that NPB teams have become exceptionally good at picking out the most promising foreign players available (usually what we call 4-A players: guys who hit like major leaguers in AAA but have become too old to contend for major league starting jobs), but that even among these players only about half succeed quickly, long and consistently enough to stick around more than a year or two in NPB, its something of a shock how quickly NPB teams give up on foreign players with a proven track record.  This is so much the case that I’m always shocked on those rare occasions when a foreign hitter sticks around as long as three NPB seasons if he’s never had a single season OPS higher than about .815.

In fact, some of the best available foreign players are probably never considered by NPB teams, since their value is in their gloves rather than their bats.  In NPB, all the glove-tree guys are Japanese.

The best Gaijin hitter in NPB history has to be Tuffy Rhodes.  While he wasn’t a .300 hitter, his power and his ability to draw walks account for his exceptional RBI and Runs Scored totals, aside from the fact that he was once tied for the single season NPB home run record with the legendary Sadaharu Oh.

Foreign hitters who should eventually join Wally Yonamine in the NPB Hall of Fame are Rhodes, Alex Ramirez and Leron Lee.  Whether they will is another matter.  Apparently it takes a longer period of retirement before former players become eligible, and NPB’s Hall of Fame seems relatively more exclusive than MLB’s Hall of Fame, at least in terms of players.  The NPB Hall is particularly heavily stacked with non-players — for example, Lefty O’Doul is in Japan’s Hall of Fame for his goodwill tours to Japan in the 1930’s which increased the game’s popularity there, even though he isn’t in the MLB Hall of Fame despite an accomplished lifetime in the U.S. professional game.

The Best “Foreign” Pitchers in the History of Japan’s NPB

October 13, 2018

This is the post-2018 season update on a topic I’ve been writing about and updating for the last few years, when the all-time leader boards change. The post lists the best “foreign” pitchers (see discussion below) to have pitched in Japan’s NPB in terms of career NPB wins, ERA (800 innings pitched minimum), Strike Outs and Saves.

WINS

1. Tadashi Wakabayaski 237-144

2. Taigen Kaku (Tai-yuan Kuo) 117-68

3.  Genji Kaku (Yuen-chih Kuo) 106-106

4.  Gene Bacque 100-80

4. Joe Stanka 100-72

6. Randy Messenger 95-77

7. Jason Standridge 75-68

8. Nate Minchey 74-70

9. Jeremy Powell 69-65

10. Seth Greisinger 64-42

11. D. J. Houlton 63-39

One of the things you learn when blogging is that the answers to seemingly simple questions often aren’t that simple at all.  Who exactly qualifies as a “foreign” player for NPB purposes?  For some players, that is an extremely complicated question.

Tadashi Wakabayashi was a Japanese American born in Hawaii. He played in NPB from 1936 until 1953. He originally held duel citizenship but renounced his Japanese citizenship in 1928, but then renounced his U.S. citizenship in 1941 and became a Japanese citizen again, shortly after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.

On the other hand, Victor Starrfin, who went 303-176 as one of NPB’s all-time great aces, while being born in Russia, emigrated to Japan after the Russian Revolution in 1917 when he was a small boy. He grew up in Japan and went through Japan’s education and baseball systems, before becoming NPB’s first 300 game winner.  And what about NPB’s all-time wins leader, Masaichi Kaneda (born Kim Kyung-hong), a Korean citizen born and raised in Japan who was not allowed to become a citizen?

Wally Yonamine, another great Nisei star of NPB, clearly seems more “foreign” to me for NPB purposes than Wakabayashi because Yonamine had a professional sports in the U.S. before going to Japan, and he died in Hawaii as well as being born there.

Wakabayashi played high school ball in Hawaii and then went on a playing tour in Japan, where his pitching earned him a scholarship at a top Japanese University (Hosei University). That certainly makes Wakabayashi less “foreign” than Yonamine — even today foreign players who play at Japanese Universities for four years before going pro are not considered “foreign” for NPB roster-limit purposes.

Is Wakabayashi more foreign than Micheal Nakamura, mentioned below, who was born in Japan, but graduated from high school in Australia, played college ball in the U.S. and then had a long U.S. minor league career before joining NPB?  A comment to the original post said that Nakamura was treated as “Japanese” for NPB roster-limit purposes, presumably due to his Japanese birth.

Ultimately, I have decided this year to continue treating Wakabayashi as a “foreign” player, because he was born and raised in the United States.  But I have left Starffin and Kaneda off my lists because, they were products of Japan’s baseball system, even if they were denied equal treatment due to their ethnicities.  I have left it up to you, gentle reader, to make your own determination on this perhaps not very significant question.

Tai-yuan Kuo and Yuen-chih Kuo, known in Japan as Taigen Kaku and Gengi Kaku, respectively, were Taiwanese pitchers both of whom starred in NPB in the 1980’s and 1990’s.  The two Kuos/Kakus were the best pitchers to come out of Taiwan prior to Chien-Ming Wang breaking through to have MLB success in 2005.

Gene Bacque and Joe Stanka were two Americans whose Japanese careers roughly overlapped in the early and mid-1960’s.  Stanka was a marginal major leaguer of the type typical among players from the Americas who try to make a go of it in NPB.  He pitched in two games for the Chicago White Sox in 1959 at the age of 27, and apparently realized he had little chance of future major league success, and somehow got a job with the Nankai Hawks (now the Softbank Hawks) in 1960.

Gene Bacque was a mediocre minor league pitcher who got cut by the Hawaii Islanders of the AAA Pacific Coast League after only two relief appearances early in the 1962 season.  What he had going for him was the fact that he was still only 24 years old and apparently the physical proximity to Japan when his minor league career ended.  Japanese Hall of Famer and Hanshin Tigers teammate Masaaki Koyama taught Bacque how to throw a slider, and he also improved his knuckleball and became a star.

Bacque and Stanka both had their best NPB seasons in 1964.  Bacque went 29-9 with a 1.88 ERA and 200 Ks in 353.1 innings pitched, while Stanka went 26-7 with a 2.40 ERA and 172 Ks in 277.2 IP.  Bacque was awarded the Eiji Sawamura Award, NPB’s equivalent of the Cy Young Award, becoming the only foreign player ever to win that honor.

Bacque and Stanka faced off against each other in the sixth game of the Japan Series that season, which Stanka won, throwing a complete game shutout.  Stanka’s team, the Hawks, won the series in seven games, and Stanka was named the Series MVP.

Randy Messenger, the most successful foreign starter of his generation in career terms, managed to earn his NPB domestic free agent option with eight full seasons of NPB service earlier this year.  This means he will no longer be considered a “foreign” player in terms of NPB roster limits, thus increasing his value, since he will no longer be taking up one of the valuable four foreign player roster slots.  It is expected that he’ll return to the Hanshin Tigers for his age 37 season in 2019.

Jason Standridge’s very successful NPB career ended in 2017.

ERA (800+ IP)

1. Tadashi Wakabayashi 1.99

2.  Gene Bacque 2.34

3.  Glenn Mickens 2.55

4.  Joe Stanka 3.03

5. Randy Messenger 3.05

6. Seth Greisigner 3.16

7.  Taigen Kaku 3.16

8.  Genji Kaku  3.22

9.  Jason Standridge 3.31

Offense was up in NPB in 2018, and Randy Messenger’s career NPB ERA dropped below Joe Stanka in spite of a successful 11-7 season.  However, Messenger moved up to the number one slot as foreign strikeout king, at least so long as I don’t consider Masaichi Kaneda (4,490) and Victor Starffin (1,960) as “foreign” pitchers.

STRIKE OUTS

2.  Randy Messenger 1,420

3.  Genji Kaku 1,415

4.  Taigen Kaku 1,069

5.  Tadashi Wakabayashi 1,000

6.  Joe Stanka 887

7.  Jeremy Powell 858

8. Jason Standridge 844

9.  Gene Bacque 825

SAVES

1. Dennis Sarfate  234

2.  Marc Kroon 177

3.  Chang-yong Lim 128

4.  Eddie Gaillard 120

5.  Rod Pedroza 117

6.  Genji Kaku 116

7.  Micheal Nakamura* 104

8.  Dong-yeol Sun 98

9. Tony Barnette 97

Foreign relief pitchers have had quite a bit of success in Japan, going back to the late 1980’s, starting with Genji Kaku who both started and closed at different times in his NPB career.  Marc Kroon was an American with a high 90’s fastball, who didn’t throw enough strikes in the U.S. to have MLB success, but was dominating in NPB.

Dennis Sarfate broke Marc Kroon’s career saves record and NPB’s single-season save record (among everyone) in 2017.  His 54 saves broke the old record by seven.  Unfortunately, Sarfate hurt himself badly a month into the 2018 season, tearing something in his right hip requiring surgery, and he didn’t pitch again in 2018.  He has two years left of his deal with SoftBank, so hopefully he’ll be pitching again in 2019.

Dong-yeol Sun and Chang-yong Lim, like Seung-hwan Oh who saved 80 games in NPB in 2014-2015 before jumping to MLB, are products of South Korea’s KBO.  Sun and Lim were probably good enough to be successful MLB pitchers, but ended up starring in NPB instead.

Go East, Not So Young Men!

October 11, 2018

A couple of days ago mlbtraderumors.com posted a list of recently announced players who have elected free agency after being out-righted off of teams’ 40-man rosters and accepting minor league assignments during the season.  It’s a virtual who’s-who of players who should seriously consider playing in Asia in 2019 if any Asian teams will have them.  Players who might look particularly appealing to Asian teams based on age, past major league success and 2018 performance on this list are 1B Tommy Joseph (27 in 2018), SS/2B Dixon Machado (27), RHP Drew Hutchison (28), RHP Mike Morin (28), RHP Casey Sadler (28), RHP Chris Rowley (28), RHP Ryan Weber (28), RHP Jacob Turner (28), RHP Mike Hauschild (29), LHP Danny Coulombe (29), RHP Kevin Quackenbush (30), RHP Jhan Martinez (30), LHP Buddy Boshers (31) and LHP Tommy Milone (32).

A player I have thought for the last several years should take his talents to Asia is Jabari Blash.  He’s 29 now, hit a ton in the Pacific Coast League, but failed to take advantage of another major league opportunity with the Angels this season.  It’s not too late to become a star in Asia, Jabari, you certainly have the raw talent.

Slugging 1Bman Dan Vogelbach turns 26 in December, and he’s out of minor league options.  After a season in he hit at AAA but only hit .207 with a .691 OPS in 102 major league plate appearances, his best offer might come from Asia.  Socrates Brito is another out of options 26 year old with significant, but not yet successful, major league experience who could appeal to Asian teams.

1B/corner OF Jordan Patterson turns 27 in February.  He still appears to have options left, but hasn’t played in the majors since a 10-game cup of coffee in which he hit well for the Rockies back in 2016.  Despite solid, if unspectacular, AAA performance the last two seasons, he doesn’t appear to be in the Rockies’ future plans in any serious way.

Mike Tauchman, who turns 28 in December, has done much in a couple of brief major league cups of coffee, but he could likely be a starting center fielder in Asia.  Corner IF/OF Patrick Kivlehan who turns 29 in December got significant major league playing time with the Reds in 2017, but spent most of 2018 back at AAA.

Another soon to be 29 year old I root for is 2B Nate Orf.  He got a his first cup of coffee with the Brewers this year, which vastly improves his chances at interesting an Asian team.  Orf turns the double play well and has a career minor league .387 on-base percentage.  Unfortunately, he has little power, and Asian teams want their foreign players to hit for power.

Jose Fernandez was a 30 year old rookie 1Bman for the Angels in 2018 with a .697 OPS in 123 plate appearances, after joining the MLB system in 2017 following a long career in Cuba.  Asian teams have come to love their Cuban imports, who have had a great deal of success, particularly in Japan.

UT Danny Santana (28), UT Drew Robinson (27), and OF Noel Cuevas (27) are three more position players who may well both be available and draw interest from NPB and KBO teams.

Starting pitchers who fit the bill are (lefties in parentheses) Austin Voth (27), Adrian Sampson (27), Alec Mills (27), William Cuevas (28), Manny Banuelos (28, LHP), Daniel Corcino (28), Casey Kelly (29), Aaron Brooks (29), Drew Gagnon (29), Eric Jokisch (29), Asher Wojciechowski (30), Deck McGuire (30), Chris Bassitt (30), and Casey Lawrence (31).

Relievers I could see making the move to NPB (KBO wants starters only, thank you) are Joely Rodriguez (27, LHP), Jake Barrett (27), Tyler Duffey (28), Andrew Kittredge (29), Scott McGough (29), Chris Smith (30), Liam Hendriks (30), Neftali Feliz (31) and Josh Edgin (32, LHP).

Needless to say, most of the 48 currently marginal major leaguers I have listed above will be pitching in the MLB system in 2019 and at best I’ve named only half of the 2018 mlb system players who will be playing in the Asian majors at any time in 2019.  For example, I haven’t even identified most of the arbitration eligible players likely to be non-tendered when the time comes in November.  There are an awful lot of these guys every off-season for the Asian major league teams to choose from, and no more than half of them are willing to pitch in Asia in the first place.

Asia Pro Baseball Notes

September 28, 2018

With the KBO regular season approaching its close, attendance is down for the first time in five years.  Average per game attendance this year so far is 11,073 compared to 11,447 in 2017.  Factors for the decrease are poor air quality (South Korea is subject to brutal dust storms), a lop-sided pennant race (the Doosan Bears are 11 games up on everyone else with fewer than 10 to play), and possibly lingering effects from South Korea’s poor performance at that 2017 World Baseball Classic.

The KBO’s players’ association is also considering a proposal by the teams to change the league’s free agency rules.  Teams want a hard limit of four year maximum contracts (no big deal — I’m not aware of any free agent receiving more than a four year deal in recent years) and a hard 8 billion won (approximately $7.2 million) contract cap (a very big deal, as the richest KBO free agent contracts blew past 10 billion won during the 2016-2017 off-season).

Teams have offered to shorten the service time requirements for reaching free agency, as a sweetener.  However, the Yonhap article I read is not clear how much the service time requirement would be reduced.  I can’t see the players agreeing to hard caps without a significant service time reduction.

In Taiwan’s CPBL Elih Villanueva threw a no-hitter today, the second in the CPBL this season and only the 9th in the CPBL’s 29 season history.  Nick Additon threw the season’s first no-hitter back in June.

Two grizzled NPB veterans, Hiroke Iwase and Kazuo Matsui, have announced that they will be retiring at the end of the 2018 season.  The 43 year old Iwase is NPB’s all-time saves (407) and games pitched (1,000) leader.  The now 42 year old Kaz Matsui will retire with at least 2,703 major hits, 615 in MLB and 2,088 in Japan.

Tomoyuki Sugano threw his seventh shutout of the season today.  NPB starters only make one start a week and are given more opportunities to finish their games.  Unfortunately, I do not think it is highly likely that Sugano will one day pitch in MLB.  The Yomiuri Giants don’t post their players, and being a top veteran star for Yomiuri comes with endorsement deals that can’t be matched by all but the top one or two baseball stars in the U.S.

Arizona Diamondbacks Sign Japanese Amateur Pitcher Shumpei Yoshikawa

August 28, 2018

The Diamondbacks signed 23 year Japanese pitcher Shumpei Yoshikawa to a contract out of Japan’s industrial leagues a couple of days ago.  I wouldn’t bother with a post of this signing, except for the fact that it isn’t often I get to scoop mlbtraderumors.com on a signing.

Yoshikawa was expected to be a high draft pick in Japan’s NPB next year, and he’ the first premier amateur Japanese pitcher to sign with an MLB club rather than an NPB team since Junichi Tazawa back in 2008.

By signing with an MLB team first, Yoshikawa will never be allowed to play on the Japanese National team, and as a practical matter may never be allowed to play in the NPB under NPB rules designed to punish Japanese amateurs who sign with MLB organizations.  In that case, I hope Yoshikawa got a big signing bonus or guaranteed contract, since there’s no guarantee he will be as successful as Tazawa, who has earned close to $24 million in his professional career to date.

Tiago Da Silva

August 19, 2018

Tiago Da Silva has recently caught my eye.  He’s a 33 year old Brazilian who is currently a top starter in the Mexican League, and he has had quite a baseball odyssey.

Born in Sao Paolo, Da Silva has some Japanese ancestry — there are more Brazilians of Japanese ancestry than you might think and are probably part of the reason why baseball is more popular in Brazil than you might think.  Sao Paolo is something of a Brazilian baseball hotbed, what with Yan Gomes, Paulo Orlando and Andre Rienzo also hailing from Brazil’s largest city.

Presumably, Da Silva made a name for himself in Sao Paolo’s amateur baseball circuit, but didn’t attract any attention from MLB organizations because he’s a small right-hander — at age 33 he’s listed as 5’9″ and 180 lbs — he was almost certainly a lot lighter when he was prospect age.  However, Da Silva could pitch: from the video I’ve seen, he has an unusual, deceptive motion and gets good movement on his pitches.

After playing for Brazil in the 2003 Baseball World Cup, he was signed by and played briefly in Taiwan’s CPBL.  He got bombed in limited work, and ended up taking his baseball talents to Italy.  The baseball cognoscenti know that Italy and Holland have had professional baseball leagues for quite some time, although regular season schedules are typically only 42 to 60 games and played mostly on the weekends.

He was extremely successful there for T&A San Marino, going a combined 41-12 over his last six seasons, as the San Marino club went from a .500 team to a perennial powerhouse.

Da Silva pitched in the Venezuelan Winter League successfully in the winter of 2013-2014 and then moved up the Mexican League in 2014.  He was good enough to get a shot with the Blue Jays’ organization in 2015 pitching at the A+ (mostly) and AA levels, where he struck out 28 batters in 22.2 IP while allowing only 16 hits and four walks.  However, he was a small, 30 year old right-hander that season and returned to Mexico for the summer of 2016.

Da Silva was a top closer in the Mexican League in 2016 and 2017, combining for 49 saves, which is impressive when you remember that Mexican League teams only played about 110 games per season those years.

He’s become a starter again in 2018, and he’s been equally good in that role.  It has me wondering whether a CPBL team will give him another shot in 2019.  Da Silva is making a reasonable living pitching his summers in Mexico and his winters in Venezuela, but with things falling apart in Venezuala, a return to Taiwan might look a whole lot more appealing than it did even a year or two ago.

Da Silva is a great example of a player who has carved out a reasonably successful professional career without ever coming close to pitching in the MLB major leagues, or even the major leagues in Japan or South Korea.  He has a career record at all professional levels published by baseball reference of 81-34 with 83 saves and 2.47 ERA.  He likely hasn’t made enough money to retire on, even in Brazil, but he has probably lived comfortably at least since returning to Mexico in 2016.

Da Silva’s professional success may also have something to do with his smarts.  He speaks five languages — Japanese, Spanish, Italian, English and his native Portuguese.  If nothing else, he’ll probably be able to find paying work as a translator when his playing career is over.