Archive for the ‘NPB’ category

Yomiuri Giants Post RHP Shun Yamaguchi

November 18, 2019

The Yomiuri Giants have agreed to post their 32 year old ace Shun Yamaguchi for MLB.  Yamaguchi will be the first player ever posted by the Giants.  However, after playing parts of 14 seasons in NPB, it’s not clear to me why Yamaguchi had not already earned his international free agency rights.  At any rate, Yamaguchi will turn his back on what would likely be bigger guaranteed money to stay in Japan for a chance to show what he can do in the world’s best baseball leagues.

Jim Allen says that the MLB scouts he’s spoken to see Yamaguchi as a back-end starter or a relief pitcher in MLB, which was more or less the opinion I expressed when I wrote about Yamaguchi about a month ago.  For some reason, Yamaguchi reminds me of Koji Uehara — they are similar in size and each had success both starting and relieving in NPB before coming to MLB in their 30’s.

Just about every major league team could use another Koji Uehara out of the bullpen, so I have to think that Yamaguchi will generate serious interest.  However, I would guess that interest would be at set-up-man money, rather than as a starter.  So maybe $6M or $7M guaranteed for two seasons with a team option for a third year at $5M?  That would be my guess, but we’ll have to wait and see.

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.

NPB Signings, Rumors and Speculations

November 3, 2019

We are in the phase of the MLB post-season, where teams are mainly designating marginal players for assignment and players and teams are deciding whether to exercise their option rights.  It’s not a tremendously exciting time for anyone but the individual players involved and the real hot stove league die-hards.

Aroldis Chapman exercised his opt-out right to squeeze another season (2022) and $18 million out of the New York Yankees, which seems entirely reasonable for the parties concerned.  It’s hard to imagine a Cuban player like Chapman wanting to leave NYC.

Stephen Strasburg has also opted out of the last four years and $100M with the Nats.  My guess is that he could well command six years at $150M going into his age 31 season.  We’ll see if the Nats are willing to pay that, or if another team steps in and ponies up the bucks.

The most recent two signings of former MLBers by Japanese teams are the Yakult Swallows signing former Kansas City Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar for a reported $800,000 for 2020 and the Hiroshima Toyo Carp signing former Padres and Phillies 2Bman Jose Pirela for a reported $600,000 plus another $250,000 in performance incentives.

Escobar spent most of 2019 at AAA Charlotte in the White Sox organization, until he was released on August 2nd, probably because Escobar was frustrated the Sox had’t promoted him to Chi as he had expected.  Escobar will 33 in 2020, which is old for a foreign player signing a first contract with an NPB team, but Escobar has a record of staying healthy and playing every day.  He posted a .787 OPS in the suddenly hitter-friendly International League in 2019, which seems in line with his past MLB performance.

The most interesting thing about the Escobar signing is whether it means the Swallows are more likely to post 2Bman Tetsuto Yamada this off-season.  Escobar will presumably play SS for the Swallows in 2020, because that’s where is value (mostly defense) is greatest.  The Swallows’ main shortstop in 2019 was Taishi Hirooka, who batted a feeble .203  and struck out an awful lot.  However, Hirooka was willing to take a walk and hit 10 home runs, resulting in a .710 OPS, which isn’t bad for a 22 year old middle infielder.

I don’t really see the point in signing Escobar, unless the Swallows plan to post Yamada and move Hirooka, who is still worth trying to develop into an NPB star, to 2B.  With Yamada going into his age 27 season in 2020, he should bring the Swallows a pretty penny if posted to MLB teams.  We’ll see soon enough.

Pirela is no spring chicken either, going into his age 30 season.  He also mostly played at AAA in 2019.

Rumors have it that Seibu Lions’ star outfielder Shogo Akiyama wants to play in MLB in 2020 now that he’s earned his international free agents rights.  However, he suffered a broken toe on a HBP on November 1st while playing in a post-season exhibition game.  An untimely injury makes it at least a little more likely he remains in Japan.

The Hanshin Tigers reportedly offered 2019 break-out relief pitcher Pierce Johnson a two year contract for 2020-2021.  However, Johnson’s wife just had a baby, leading to speculation he’ll want to return to the U.S. if he can get a major league contract offer from an MLB team.

Rumors also have it that the Hanshin Tigers are targeting Adam Duvall and Tyler Austin this off-season.  I would expect Duvall to get a major league contract offer from an MLB team after his strong late-season performance with the Braves, although the Tigers could certainly offer him more money than an MLB team might guarantee.  Tyler Austin is now a free agent after being outrighted off the Brewers’ 40-man roster.  Going into his age 28 season, Austin looks like a prime candidate for NPB, as does former Brewer and Padre Corey Spangenberg, who turns 29 next March and was also just outrighted by Milwaukee.

Other news out of Japan is that Scott Mathieson, who had by and large eight very successful seasons pitching out of the bullpen for the Yomiuri Giants, announced his retirement at the end of the 2019 Nippon Series, in which the SoftBank Hawks swept the Giants in four games. He won’t be well remembered in MLB circles, but he’s unlikely to be forgotten any time soon by Japanese baseball fans.  And, of course, he made a pile of money playing in Asia.

I haven’t seen anything yet on signings of new foreign players by KBO teams, which usually all take place by the end of November.  Most likely the signings will start once all MLB teams get closer to making their final 40-man roster cut-downs going into the free agent signing period, which starts tomorrow.

Hiroshima Carp Sign DJ Johnson

October 25, 2019

The last few off-seasons I have been writing posts about 4-A stars who would be good bets for Asia’s NPB and KBO.  I’m not motivated to do so this off-season, but I will be noting some of the signings by Asian teams.

NPB’s Hiroshima Carp just signed former Colorado Rockies’ reliever DJ Johnson.  He’s a big right-hander who will be 30 in 2020.  He has major league stuff, at least based on his strikeout rates, but not enough command for MLB.

In recent years, we’ve seen just about every NPB team bring in relief pitchers like Johnson, guys with great stuff but not quite the command they need to be successful in MLB.  The NPB team’s hope is that the particular pitcher of this type will be able to take advantage of the wider NPB strike zone and will gain confidence by being able to get away with fastballs out over the plate more often in Japan than they can in MLB.

Sometimes it works out for the player and NPB team, and sometimes it doesn’t.  Needless to say, some pitchers can’t find the level of command they need to succeed in Japan, while some do.  The ones who do often are extremely successful.  Dennis Sarfate and Marc Kroon are examples of hard throwers who were record-setting relievers in Japan.

South Korea’s KBO and Taiwan’s CPBL only want foreign starters, so NPB is the only real option for 4-A relievers.  If they are not quite good enough for NPB, then the next best option is the Mexican League, which means the Mexican League usually has half a dozen high-quality closers every season.

However, NPB really loves its 4-A relievers.  Although there are only four major league roster spots for foreign players per NPB team, all NPB teams now sign an additional 2 to 4 foreigners to pitch at the minor league level.  These players can and will typically be promoted to the NPB majors as soon another foreigner gets hurt or is ineffective.

Also, NPB has a less than free-market salary scale under which top relief pitchers are relatively better paid than their MLB counterparts.  Every off-season in MLB features a large number of marginal major league relievers who won’t get major league contracts entering the upcoming season.  By going to Japan these players can make major league money while playing in a league where they are more likely to be successful.  They are also a good bet for NPB teams, because even if they aren’t great, they are usually adequate NPB major league relievers.

This is the time of year that 4-A relievers are starting to be non-tendered or electing free agency after being designated for assignment.  Aside from Johnson, former Detroit Tigers’ pitchers Daniel Stumpf and Victor Alcantara just became free agents.

Strumpf is a marginal MLB major league left-handed specialist who has the strikeout rates NPB teams prefer.  He’ll be 29 next season.  Alcantara’s strikeout rates aren’t as impressive, but he’s two years younger than Strumpf.  NPB teams love foreign players going into their age 27 seasons.

Of course, there is always the question of whether an individual MLB system player is willing to play in an Asian league, even for considerably more money.  Many Latin American born players go to Asia, because for them, it isn’t as big a deal to leave the United States.

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.

Wang Po-Jung’s Disappointing First Year in NPB

October 12, 2019

After all the hype and the significant three-year deal the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters gave Taiwanese outfielder Wang Po-Jung to leave the CPBL for Japan’s greener pastures, Wang’s actual rookie season in NPB was a major disappointment.

After a slow start, Wang began to hit and even had a five hit game in early June.  As late as late June, he was still hitting around .290, which was in the top 10 or 15 in NPB’s Pacific League.  However, he hit his third and final home run of the season on June 14, 2019 and didn’t hit many more doubles (13 on the season) after that point either.

Wang missed 11 games to injury in early May and then lost another month after injuring his right shoulder in early July.   He wasn’t the same when he returned in August and didn’t play much in the season’s final month, either because he was still not 100% or simply because he had stopped hitting.

Wang finished the season with a .255/.321/.327 slash line in 88 games and 340 plate appearances.  He had a total of only sixteen extra base hits for the season.  He didn’t contribute much on defense either, as he frequently served as a designated hitter.  Despite reaching 1B at least 93 times during the season, he stole exactly one base in one attempt.  In short, except for his 5-for-5 game on June 2nd, it was an entirely forgettable and disappointing season for Wang.

Where does Wang go from here?  Well, if’s he fully healthy in 2020, he’ll almost certainly play better than he did in 2019, particularly now that he has most of a season of NPB play under his belt.  Wang hit well in 10 games for the Fighters’ minor league club, but he wasn’t given much time there to build up his confidence and his power stroke, most likely because of the big salary he was receiving.

Wang will be 26 next season, so he’s still young enough to make the roughly $3.5 million guarantee the Fighters gave him for the 2019 through 2021 seasons a reasonable investment.  However, it could just as well be a major bust if Wang does not hit significantly better in 2020 than he did this season.  We’ll find out next season.

Top MLB Prospects in South Korea’s KBO 2019/2020

October 10, 2019

As was the case last off-season, there aren’t many 2019 KBO players likely to join MLB in 2020.  We had a flurry of hitters a few years ago who got their shots at MLB, but they have mostly returned to the KBO and are too old to be reasonably likely to return to the States.

The best starter in the KBO for the second year in a row was foreigner Josh Lindblom.  He went 20-3 with a 2.50 ERA and 189 Ks in 194.2 IP.  He led the KBO in wins, winning percentage, innings pitched, and strikeouts and finished 2nd in ERA.

Given Merrill Kelly‘s success with the Diamondbacks in 2019, it’s certainly possible that an MLB team will offer Lindblom a similar two-year $5.5M contract.  However, Lindblom is going into his age 33 season in 2020, so he may already be too old to interest an MLB team, in spite of the fact that he enjoyed some MLB success before he went to South Korea a few years ago.

I’m also kind of hoping Lindblom signs the first two-year guaranteed deal for a foreigner in KBO history this off-season, maybe $3.5M guaranteed and another $500,000 in possible performance incentives.  KBO attendance was down in 2019, but Lindblom’s team, the Doosan Bears, is the one KBO team that could readily afford the risk of a two-year deal.

Kim Kwang-hyun and Yang Hyun-jong continued to be the KBO’s two best domestic starters in 2019, but their windows for moving up to MLB appear to have passed.

Cho Sang-Wo (26) reportedly has the KBO’s best fastball, which touched 97.7 mph early in the 2019 season.  He had a 2.66 ERA as a reliever in 2019 and has struck out 283 batters in 281.1 career KBO IP.  Shim Chang-min (27) has a live arm (474 Ks in 409.2 career KBO IP) and plenty of KBO service time, but not the level of KBO success to suggest MLB teams would be particularly interested in him.

Youngsters Ko Woo-seok (21) and Koo Chang-Moo (23) look very promising.  In his age 20 season, Ko posted a 1.52 ERA and 35 saves, while striking out 76 batters in 71 IP.  As a 22 year old starter, Koo went 10-7 with a 3.20 ERA and 114 Ks in 107 IP.  Both are many seasons away from being posted, however.

Among position players/hitters, no KBOer is jumping to MLB for at least a couple of years, but there are three very promising youngsters.

After a tremendous age 19 season, Kang Baek-ho (20) looks like the best hitting prospect since Lee Dae-ho or Kang Jung-ho.  Kang Baek-ho slashed .336/.419/.495, giving him the 10-team circuit’s 5th best batting average, 2nd best OBP, and 8th best SLG.  Extremely impressive for an age 19 season.  He’s listed at 6’0″ and 215 lbs and does not appear to be particularly fast, so there may be some question regarding how well he runs when it’s time for him to be posted.

It also does not appear that young Kang has performed his two years of required military service, which could be an issue later on.  The two years of mandatory military service in South Korea is a real killer when it comes to South Korean KBO players making the jump to MLB.

In his third KBO season, Lee Jung-hoo (22) slashed .336/.388/.456.  While that is down from his 2018 numbers, league offense was down even more, so 2019 probably represented continued incremental improvement.   In particular, he showed greater power potential this year. Both Lee and young Kang are corner outfielders, so they’ll have to hit to reach the MLB majors some day.

SS Kim Ha-seong (24) slashed .307/.394/.491 in 2019, a definite improvement from 2018, not taking into account the KBO’s drop in offense due to less resilient baseballs introduced in 2019.  Kim has five years of KBO service through his age 23 season, so if he can play MLB average defense at SS, 2B or even 3B, he should be an MLB major league player two or three years from now.

Catcher Yoo Kang-nam (27) has five years of KBO service time through his age 26 season.  If his defense is good, he has a chance to be an MLB major leaguer, also in two or three years’ time.