Archive for the ‘Seattle Mariners’ category

More Asian Comings and Goings

December 2, 2019

In terms of players moving between MLB and the Asian majors, the biggest news since my last post on the subject is that slugging 1Bman Justin Bour will be playing for the Hanshin Tigers of Japan’s NPB in 2020.  No word yet on what Hanshin will be paying him, but it’s likely for a guarantee of over $1 million, given Bour’s major league pedigree.

I don’t think it’s necessarily a great signing by Hanshin.  Bour is entering his age 32 seasons, and players of his talent level and size (he’s listed at 6’4″ and 270 lbs).  His 2018 season was a big step down from 2015-2017, and in 2019 he played his way out of a major league contract for 2020.

Bour also has a big career platoon split, which helped make him a useful major league platoon player, but which doesn’t bode well for Japan, where he will expected to play every day for the money he’s getting.  If Bour can hit NPB right-handers well enough to stick, it may just be a matter of time before we see him getting a day off to “rest” every time Hanshin faces a tough lefty starter.

The Hiroshima Carp have signed South African born Tayler Scott to a deal that pays him a $175K signing bonus and a $525K salary, which may or may not be guaranteed.  Scott has major league stuff, but not major league command — sometimes these kind of pitchers do very well in NPB, where the margin for error is greater than the MLB majors.

Drew VerHagen and Aderlin Rodriguez are two more MLB system products who will be playing in NPB next year.  VerHagen has enjoyed some MLB major league success and should be a good bet to perform well for the Nippon Ham Fighters in 2020.  Aderlin Rodriguez is something of a bargain-basement player for a bargain-basement team, the Orix Buffaloes.

Rumors have it that Pierce Johnson and Joely Rodriguez will be returning to MLB for 2020, at least if they get the contract offers they are hoping for.  IMHO they are both likely to receive major league contract offers.

The SK Wyverns of the KBO will be posting South Korean ace Kwang-hyun Kim.  You may remember that Kim was posted a few years’ back, but failed to reach agreement with the winning bidder, the San Diego Padres, and returned to South Korea.  Kim then promptly tore his elbow tendon and missed a season.

Since then, Kim has firmly re-established himself as one of the KBO’s two best domestic starters, and he wants to give MLB another shot, although he’s already 31 years old.  Reports have it that MLB teams are interested, but we’ll see what kinds of offers he gets or doesn’t get.

New MLB system players who will be plying there trade in the KBO in 2020 are Aaron Altherr, Mike Wright, Adrian Sampson, Dixon Machado and Nick Kingham.  The NC Dinos signed both Altherr and Wright and is giving them the best deals so far for first year foreign KBOers this off-season — both Altherr and Wright will reportedly receive $200K signing bonuses and $800K guaranteed salaries, which is the most they can make under the league’s salary cap.  Nick Kingham will also reportedly receive a $900K guarantee, although $200K of that is for a team option for 2021, most likely also for $900K, so if things go right for Kingham and the SK Wyverns, he’ll earn $1.6M over two seasons.

Meanwhile, the low-budget Kiwoom Heroes re-signed pitcher Eric Jokisch for a second KBO season at a modest $700K max, which includes have-to-earn-’em performance incentives.  No one ever said life was fair.

Milwaukee Brewers Decline Eric Thames’ $7.5 Million Option

November 5, 2019

In a move that caught my attention, the Brewers declined Eric Thames‘ $7.5 million option for 2020, instead electing to pay Thames a $1M buy-out.  In other words, it was a $6.5M decision, which is surprising only in that fangraphs valued Thames’ 2019 performance at $15.4M, his three year contribution under his current contract at $39.8M and never less than the $7.2M fangraphs says he was worth in 2018.

Of course, the Brewers could well value Thames’ contribution differently, and Thames will be going into his age 33 season in 2020.  Thames strikes out a lot, can’t hit lefties, and doesn’t have any defensive value.  He does, however, draw walks and hit for power, two skills that tend to age well.  The Brewers have also made the play-offs the last two seasons, presumably at least in part due to Thames’ contributions.  It’s strange that they would consider $6.5M too much for Thames’ services in 2020.

The Brewers have already made it known that they might be willing to take Thames back at a lower price than $6.5M.  Clearly, the team doesn’t seem to think anyone else will offer Thames a one-year $6.5M deal.  I, however, would be surprised if at least one team did not offer Thames at least $5M for 2020.  Jose Abreu will also be 33 in 2020 and hasn’t been significantly more productive the last two seasons than Thames, but baseball reference still predicts Abreu will get two years and $28M this off-season, not to mention the fact that the ChiSox have already made Abreu a $17.8M qualifying offer.  Further, baseball ref predicts that Edwin Encarnacion, going into his age 37 season, will get an $8M contract for 2020.

Paired up with a right-handed hitting slugger who pounds lefties, Thames would be a bargain at $5M.

For MLB as a whole, there is relatively little down-side for owners to non-tender players whom they might like to bring back at a lower price.  The Braves also rejected Julio Teheran’s $12M option in favor of a $1M buyout, but have suggested they might also be willing to re-sign Teheran at a lower price.  Given Teheran’s age and relative effectiveness in 2019, though, I’d be surprised if he does not get a two-year offer from someone else for significantly more than $11M.

The advantage to non-tendering players is that more players on the open market drives down their prices as a basic matter of supply and demand.  The more teams non-tender close calls like Thames and Teheran, the less teams will likely have to pay for them or their replacements.  The Brewers’ decision to non-tender Thames seems like clear evidence that the Brewers think this will be another tough off-season for free agents, because even one-dimensional players with .850 OPS numbers are hard to come by.

Although Milwaukee is a small market, the Brewers were 8th in attendance in 2019 and 10th in both 2017 and 2018, as they have fielded winning teams the last three seasons, again in some part due to Thames.  The fact that they see Thames as too great an investment at $6.5M suggests the Brewers know something about the current market for free agents that the general public doesn’t.

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.

Is It Worth Tanking to Improve Your MLB Draft Position?

September 25, 2019

My team, the SF Giants, are currently in line to get either the 13th or 14th pick in the 2020 June Draft.  Gints fans will remember that the team made deals at the trade deadline, but they were kind of push.  The team sold on a couple of relievers, but also made trades designed to help the team going forward in 2019.  The Gints still had an outside shot at making the play-offs at the trade deadline, and they play in a market large enough to make total rebuilds relatively expensive.

Is it worth tanking, at least once the team has realized it has no reasonable chance of making the post-season, in order to get a higher selection in the next MLB draft?

I looked at the first twelve draft picks from the June drafts starting with 1987 (the first year the June draft was the only MLB amateur draft conducted for the year) through 2009 (which is long enough ago that we should now know whether the players drafted were major league success stories).  Suffice it say, with the first 12 draft picks of each June draft, the team imagines it has drafted a future major league star in compensation for sucking ass the previous season.

In order to keep things simple, I used baseball reference’s career WAR totals to determine whether each drafted player was a major league success.  Not precise, I’ll admit, since what drafting teams really care about is the first six-plus major league seasons of control.  However, I don’t know how to create a computer program to figure out the years-of-control WAR for each drafted player, and I’m not sure I’d be willing to spend the time to do so even if I knew how.  Career WAR seems a close enough approximation.

Also, for purposes of my study, no player is considered to have lower than a 0 career WAR — you cannot convince me that a drafted player who never reaches the majors is worth more than a drafted player who played in the majors but had a negative career WAR.  A player reaches and plays in the majors 9 times out of 10 because he is the best player available at that moment to take the available roster spot.  The tenth time, he is worth trying to develop as a major league player because of his potential upside.

As a result, I did not bother with averages.  Instead, I looked at median performances (i.e., for the 23 players picked at each of the first 12 draft slots during the relevant period, 11 players had a higher career WAR and 11 players had a lower career WAR than the median player.

Also, if a player was drafted more than once in the top 12, because he didn’t sign the first time drafted, I still counted him as his career WAR for each time he was drafted.

Here we go:

1st Overall Pick.  Median player:  Ben McDonald (1989, 20.8 Career WAR).  Best Players drafted with the No. 1 pick: Alex Rodriguez (1993, 117.8 career WAR); Chipper Jones (1990, 85.3 WAR); Ken Griffey, Jr. (1987, 83.8 WAR).  Odds of drafting a 15+ WAR player = 61%.  [Examples of 15+ WAR players are Mike Lieberthal (15.3 WAR); Gavin Floyd (15.6 WAR); Eric Hosmer (15.7+ WAR); and Phil Nevin (15.9 WAR).]  Odds of drafting a 10+ WAR player = 65%.  [Examples of 10+ WAR players are Rocco Baldelli (10.2 WAR); Shawn Estes (10.4 WAR); Todd Walker (10.5 WAR)  ; and Doug Glanville (10.9 WAR).]  Odds of drafting a 5+ WAR player = 70%.  [Examples of 5+ WAR players are John Patterson (5.0 WAR); Mike Pelfrey (5.3 WAR); Billy Koch (5.4 WAR); and Sean Burroughs (5.5 WAR).]

2nd Overall Pick.  Median player: Dustin Ackley (2009, 8.1 WAR).  Best Players drafted with the No. 2 pick: Justin Verlander (2004, 70.8+ WAR); J.D. Drew (1997, 44.9 WAR).  Odds of drafting a 15+ WAR player = 35%.  Odds of drafting a 10+ WAR player = 43%.  Odds of drafting a 5+ WAR player = 70%.

3rd Overall Pick.  Median player:  Philip Humber (2004, 0.9 WAR).  Best Players drafted at No. 3: Evan Longoria (2006, 54.2+ WAR); Troy Glaus (1997, 38.0 WAR).  15+ WAR player = 22%10+ WAR player = 35%5+ WAR player = 43%.

4th Overall Pick.  Median player: Tim Stauffer (2003, 3.8 WAR).  Best Players drafted at No. 4: Ryan Zimmerman (2005, 37.7+ WAR); Alex Fernandez (1990, 28.4 WAR).  15+ WAR player = 17%10+ WAR player = 26%5+ WAR player = 39%.

5th Overall Pick.  Median player: zero value.  Best players drafted at No. 5: Mark Teixeira (2001, 51.8 WAR); Ryan Braun (2005, 47.7+ WAR).  15+ WAR player = 30%10+ WAR player = 35%5+ WAR player = 39%.

6th Overall Pick.  Median player: zero value.  Best players drafted at No. 6: Derek Jeter (1992, 72.6 WAR); Zack Greinke (2002, 71.3+ WAR).  15+ WAR player = 9%10+ WAR player = 13%5+ WAR player = 26%.

7th Overall Pick.  Median player: Calvin Murray (1992, 2.1 WAR).  Best players drafted at No. 7: Frank Thomas (1989, 73.9 WAR); Clayton Kershaw (2006, 67.6+ WAR).  15+ WAR player = 30%10+ WAR player = 39%5+ WAR player = 48%.

8th Overall Pick.  Median player: zero value.  Best players drafted at No. 8: Todd Helton (1995, 61.2 WAR); Jim Abbott (1988, 19.6 WAR).  15+ WAR player = 13%10+ WAR player = 26%5+ WAR player = 39%.

9th Overall Pick.  Median player: Aaron Crow (2008, 2.6 WAR).  Best players drafted at No. 9:  Kevin Appier (1987, 54.5 WAR); Barry Zito (1999, 31.9 WAR).  15+ WAR player = 26%10+ WAR player = 26%5+ WAR player = 48%.

10th Overall Pick.  Median player: Michael Tucker (1992, 8.1 WAR).  Best players drafted at No. 10: Robin Ventura (1988, 56.1 WAR); Eric Chavez (1996, 37.5 WAR).  15+ WAR player = 39%10+ WAR player = 48%5+ WAR player = 52%.

11th Overall Pick.  Median player: Lee Tinsley (1987, 1.7 WAR).  Best players drafted at No. 11: Max Scherzer (2006, 60.5+ WAR); Andrew McCutchen (2005, 43.6+ WAR).  15+ WAR player = 13%10+ WAR player = 17%5+ WAR player = 22%.

12th Overall Pick.  Median player: Bobby Seay (1996, 3.0 WAR).  Best players drafted at No. 12: Nomar Garciaparra (1994, 44.2 WAR); Jared Weaver (2004, 34.4 WAR).  15+ WAR player = 26%10+ WAR player = 39%5+ WAR player = 48%.

What do I conclude from all of the above number-crunching and name-dropping (and my cursory review of the Nos. 13-15 draft picks during the relevant period)?  It’s worth tanking to get the first or second pick in the June Draft or to get one of the top ten picks.  Since teams bad enough at the trade deadline to have a reasonable shot to get the No. 1 or 2 picks will be tanking no matter what, the only real lesson is that teams that have the 11th to 15th worst record in MLB approaching the trade deadline and realize they have no reasonable shot to make the post-season should SELL, SELL, SELL in order to get one of the top ten draft picks the next June.

The second lesson I take from my study is that teams should ALWAYS draft the player they think to be the best available/remaining if they have a top 12 or 15 draft pick and PAY what it takes to sign the player, unless the potential draftee has made it clear he will not sign with the team under any circumstances.  After the two best players in any given draft, there is too much uncertainty for teams not to draft the player they think is the best available.  Drafting a player the team thinks is a lesser player in order to save $2 million to throw at a high school player drafted in the 11th round is going to be a bad decision in most cases, particularly in the current regime where teams get a finite budget to sign their first ten draft picks, and the draftees know the cap amounts.

I see no obvious difference in the results for the third through tenth rounds, because, I assume, after the first two consensus best players in any given draft, teams have different opinions about the merits of the next, larger group of potential draftees, to the point where it more or less becomes a crap shoot.  After the first two rounds, and with the notable exception of the 10th round, the median player drafted with the third through 12th pick isn’t really worth a damn, and the odds of selecting a 15+ WAR player, a true star, are considerably less than one in three.

As a final note, I don’t like the fact that post-trade-deadline waiver deals can no longer be made.  I don’t see the downside in allowing losing teams to dump their over-paid veterans after the trade deadline (but before the Sept. 1st play-off eligibility deadline) in exchange for some, usually limited, salary relief and prospects, while play-off bound teams get to add veterans so they can put the best possible team on the field come play-off time.  I hope MLB can find a way for these deals to resume in the future.

Will the Baltimore Orioles Finally Dump Chris Davis?

August 8, 2019

News out of Charm City is that Chris Davis had to be restrained from going after manager Brandon Hyde today after being pinch hit for in the bottom of the 5th inning.  You know what?  You don’t get to cop an attitude when you’re an aging slugger with a .589 OPS in August.  Not now, not ever.

If I were the Orioles’ General Manager, or whomever holds the real power in the Orioles’ organization, I’d release Chris Davis tomorrow and eat the remaining $69M+ on his contract.  When a player is playing as far as Davis is playing below replacement, you just have to eat the contract and hope somebody else is willing to pay him the major league minimum — the same cost to the O’s as the replacement level player they should be able to find to replace him.  A team can’t afford to accept attitude from a worse-than-marginal player no matter how much he is being paid.

It’s uncertain if Hyde will last beyond the end of the 2019 season, but that’s beside the point.  Even if Hyde is proving he’s no better as a manager than Davis is a 1B/DH, you can’t hold onto a player who isn’t performing now and isn’t likely to perform in the future.  Hyde’s record as a manager would certainly be better if word wasn’t coming from somewhere higher that he has to keep playing Davis solely because of all the money the O’s committed to Davis.

Just admit that a mistake was made, and move on.  The Orioles are so bad that it is certain that no matter how much of a comeback Davis could potentially make going forward, he won’t be good enough to make the Orioles a post-season contending team.  Find that replacement-level player now, and try to develop a real star for 2020 or 2021 or 2022 and on.

Chris Davis’ contract is yet another reason why teams have gotten a whole lot stingier on free agents thanks to sabrmetrics than they once were.  Hope springs eternal, but the objective data says that free agents are way overpaid when they ought to be merely overpaid.  For every Chris Davis and Albert Pujols, there is a Nelson Cruz, but those aren’t great odds.  And teams have been generally stingy with their contracts to Cruz since his PED positive test to their great benefit.

The objective lesson is treat ’em all like Nelson Cruz and then some.  The Mariners gave Cruz a four-year $57M deal going into this age 34 season, so even in Cruz’s case, the team took some risk.  Teams collectively only benefit by holding the line on free agent salaries, and superstar players will still get paid because many teams still believe and will likely continue to believe that they are only one or two free agents away from contention.

If Davis gets the axe in Baltimore, it will be interesting see if another team signs him to a major league contract, even at the MLB minimum salary.   If Davis can’t hit playing half his games in Baltimore, is a change of scenery really going to make a difference.  Maybe the Rangers would sign him to play at the major league level — Davis is from Texas, and there’s no better place to hit in the Junior Circuit than the Ballpark at Arlington (or whatever it is now called).  The O’s should let the Rangers give Davis a shot.

All Those 4-A Outfielders

July 18, 2019

Former SF Giants Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker both cleared waivers today and out-righted back to AAA.  They’ve both hit great in the Pacific Coast League this year, which isn’t surprising given their talent levels and the amount of offense in the PCL.  Hitting in the majors is a whole ‘nother story.

At this point, it seems clear that neither Williamson nor Parker has any reasonable shot as regular major league roster spot holders and both should immediately begin looking into opportunities to play in the Asian majors.  Parker, in particular, needs to move fast, or he’ll be too old to interest a KBO or NPB team.

It feels like every single player the Giants have used in the outfield this season should seriously consider trying to get a high paying job in Asia no later than next off-season.  The only exceptions are Brandon Belt and Steven Vogt who played the outfield for the Gints this year mainly out of pure desperation.  Obviously, Kevin Pillar won’t be going to Asia anytime soon, but his career is fast approaching a stage where he should at least give it some consideration.

Yangervis Solarte, in fact, has already signed with an NPB team.  I am certain that between now and the end of the 2020, he won’t be the last former Giants outfielder to go to Asia.

2019 NPB Update

June 21, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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