Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Best Pitching Prospects in Japan’s NPB 2017/2018

October 24, 2017

Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball produces an increasing share of top MLB pitchers.  Here are some prospects (in terms of MLB) I’m keeping my eyes on:

Shohei Otani (age 23 in 2018; MLB ETA 2018-2020).  By now, just about everyone following MLB has heard of Otani, particularly because rumor has it he wants to join MLB in 2018 in spite of the fact that he would make at least $100 million more by waiting two more years until he turns age 25 and is no longer subject to signing bonus/contract limits.  Otani is generally regarded as the next Yu Darvish / Masahiro Tanaka, except that Otani is also a legitimate elite MLB prospect as a hitter.

Otani injured his hamstring running the bases early in the 2017, which limited his pitching efforts to a mere 25.1 innings pitched this season.  MLB teams couldn’t care less, because Otani can command a 102 mph fastball and has a number of other MLB plus pitches.

Otani wants to continue hitting as well as pitching in MLB, and who can blame him.  He slashed .332/.403/.540 in the 65 games he played after coming back from the hamstring injury.  He slashed .322/.416/.588 in 104 games last year.

Did I mention he’s only 23 years old and commands a 102 mph fastball?  The question is which MLB team will win the Otani sweepstakes if he elects to sign this off-season.

Miles Mikolas (29; 2018).  Mikolas is a former MLBer who elected to take guaranteed money to pitch for NPB’s Yomiuri Giants three seasons ago.  It has worked out extremely well for him and his wife, who has also become a celebrity in Japan.  This year Mikolas’ 2.25 ERA was the second best in Japan’s Central League, and he led the six-team circuit with 187 strikeouts in a league-leading 188 innings pitched.

Mikolas now has a combined 2.18 ERA across his three NPB seasons and has steadily improved most of his peripheral numbers.  In particular, he walked only 23 and allowed only 10 home runs in his 188 IP this year.

Mikolas looks to be the next Colby Lewis.  However, an MLB team will likely have to beat the two-year $10 million offer the Yomiuri Giants will likely offer to keep him.  Given what MLB starters are now getting that seems likely.

Yusei Kikuchi (27; 2020-2021)  Kikuchi moves up sharply from last year’s list, because one of last year’s negatives has become a positive.  Prior to 2017, Kikuchi had never pitched more than 143 innings in an NPB season.

This year, at age 26 he led NPB’s Pacific League with 187.2 IP.  He also led the league with a 1.97 ERA and finished a close second with 217 Ks, while allowing only 122 hits.

I rank Kikuchi higher than the next pitcher on this list, because Kikuchi was used so sparingly before the age of 26 and also because at a listed 6’0″ and 220 lbs, he’s got an MLB-sized body.  Kikuchi is also a left-hander, which only adds to his potential appeal.

Takahiro Norimoto (27; 2020-2021).  Norimoto has been every bit as good an NPB pitcher as Kikuchi, but he’s a small right-hander who has been worked hard in his five NPB seasons.  He led NPB with 222 Ks (in a second-best-in-league 185.2 IP).  Norimoto has now struck out 200+ batters four years in a row.

His 2.57 ERA was second best in the Pacific League, and his ERA has improved every year he’s been in his league.  The knock on Norimoto is his size (5’11”, 180 lbs), and the fact that he’s almost certainly thrown more pitches than anyone else in his league over the last five seasons.  If he stays healthy, he should be the next Kenta Maeda when his MLB turn comes.

Tomoyuki Sugano (28; 2022).  Sugano convinced me a year ago that he’s the real deal, and this year he was even better.  He led all of NPB with a 1.59 ERA and struck out a second best in the Central League 171 batters in 187.1 innings pitched.  He’s been too good for too long not to give him his props and rate him as an elite MLB-level talent.

That said, the Yomiuri Giants will not post him before he becomes a unrestricted free agent, he started his NPB career at a relatively old 23, and, if he’s still healthy after the 2021 season, the Yomiuri Giants will likely give him a record setting four year deal of at least $25 million and probably more.  In short, Sugano will only come to MLB if he decides he wants to test himself against the best.

Shintaro Fujinami (24; 2021-2023).  In last year’s post on this subject, I wrote, “The Hanshin Tigers seem determined to burn out their young ace before he ever reaches MLB.”  The Tigers may have done so.

Fujinami had an absolutely brutal 2017 season, making only 11 major league starts and allowing 53 walks and HBPs against only 41Ks in 59 innings pitched.  It’s little short of amazing that he managed a run average below five per nine innings pitched, given the number of base runners he allowed, and probably attests to Fujinami’s abilities as a pitcher.

Has Fujinami’s arm been ruined, or is it a mechanical problem with his motion? It’s hard to say.  On July 29, 2017, he reportedly hit 98 mph on the radar gun in an NPB minor league start, matching a major league pitch Yusei Kikuchi reportedly threw around the same date.  In 61 innings for Hanshin’s minor league club, Fujinami struck out 77 but also walked 31 and posted an ERA of 2.66, but a run average of 3.39.

I would guess that overwork has something to do with it, as his 2016 performance was down from his breakthrough 2015 campaign.  We’ll have a better idea a year from now.

Yuki Matsui (22; 2022).  A small (5’8.5″, 163 lbs) left-handed closer for the Rakuten Golden Eagles, Matsui has electric stuff (366 Ks in 303.1 career NPB innings pitched) and what appears to be close to four full seasons of NPB experience through his age 21 season.

As I wrote a year ago, it’s anybody’s guess whether a pitcher this small and this young can hold up to the often high-stress workload of a closer long-term.  He had a 1.20 ERA this season and was almost unhittable, but his strikeout rate was down from 2016.

Takeru Imamura (27; 2020). A reliever who moved into the closer role in 2017, he’s got an MLB-sized body (6’0″, 216 lbs) and has impressed the last two seasons with sub-2.50 ERAs and high strikeout rates.

Kodei Senga (25; 2023-2024).  A very talented young starter who now has a career NPB ERA of 2.52 and 467 Ks in 418 innings pitched.  He’s not real big (6’1″, 189 lbs) and has many more years to put in in Japan before he’ll have an opportunity to pitch in MLB.

Yasuaki Yamasaki (25; 2023).  A small right-hander (5’11”, 187 lbs) who has saved 96 games in his three NPB seasons, has a career 2.35 ERA and 211 Ks in 179.2 IP.

Shota Imanaga (24; 2024).  A small lefty starter who has been good enough his first two NPB seasons to put a bookmark in.

NPB pitchers available this off-season include:  Yoshihisa Hirano (34), Hideaki Wakui , Kazuhisa Makita , Hirotoshi Masui (34), Scott Mathieson (34) and Josh Lueke (33).

The St. Louis Cardinals reportedly have interest in Hirano. Wakui has expressed interest in pitching in the U.S., although I suspect he’ll get better offers from NPB teams.

Makita and Masui are both NPB “domestic” free agents, meaning their teams would have to post them.  Masui has good stuff, but is awfully small (he’s listed as weighing 154 lbs.)  Makita is a ground ball pitcher (46 HRs allowed in 921.1 IP) who might draw MLB interest, if MLB teams think he can prevent MLB hitters from hitting home runs.

Scott Mathieson has had a great NPB career and could potentially return to MLB.  However, I suspect he’s probably just making noises to get a better offer from the Yomiuri Giants.  It looks like Josh Lueke has burned his bridges with the Yakult Swallows, and I don’t know how interested MLB teams would be given his history.

Advertisements

What Do Players in the Mexican League Make?

July 30, 2017

I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what the respective salary scales are throughout the world’s professional baseball leagues.  The Mexican (summer) League numbers were hard to find on line in English.  Thanks to Google Translate, I think I’ve been able to figure out what the current salary caps in this league now are.

The best information I’ve been able to find is that domestic veteran players (Mexican Nationals) max out at 150,000 pesos per month, or $8,450 per month at current exchange rates.  Foreign players cannot be paid more than either $6,000 or $6,500 per month for their first season of Mexican League baseball, but can eventually earn as much as $8,000 per month.  However, some of the Spanish language posts I read in translation asserted a belief that the best foreign players on the wealthiest Mexican League teams may be making more through rule-breaking, performance bonuses, free housing and other stipends.  Also, there are reportedly no state or federal taxes on salaries in Mexico.

The fact that Mexican League salaries are approximately 50% higher than I had previously thought they were explains a few things I had been wondering about.  Many foreign players, particularly Latin American players, play in the Mexican League for years after their careers in the MLB system end, something you don’t typically see in the Independent-A Atlantic League where salaries cap at $3,000 per month.  The talent flow is almost exclusively from the Atlantic League to the Mexican League, which makes sense if the salaries are significantly higher.

It also explains something that I had noticed this year.  Taiwanese CPBL teams seem to have a strong preference for signing Atlantic League players over Mexican League players, even though the best foreign pitchers in the latter league are succeeding against a higher level of competition.  This is particularly the case once the CPBL season has started.

Atlantic League players can presumably be signed for much lower initial contracts than better paid Mexican League foreign stars, particularly in light of the fact that success in the CPBL would eventually lead to annual or monthly contracts considerably larger than either the Atlantic League or the Mexican League, plus a chance to move up to even bigger salaries in South Korea’s KBO or Japan’s NPB.

Also, Mexican League teams typically charge much larger transfer fees for their players’ rights than do Atlantic League teams.  Part of the reason Atlantic League and other Independent-A teams are able to pay such modest salaries is that they allow their successful players to move up to better baseball pay-days for only nominal transfer fees the moment a better opportunity comes along.

I would guestimate that the current transfer fee for an Atlantic League player is around $5,000, and a small percentage of that (20-25%) may go the player.  Mexican League teams are far more reluctant to sell their players in season if they believe those players will help them make the post-season.

San Francisco Giants Bringing Back Pablo Sandoval

July 20, 2017

The Giants are bringing Pablo back!  It’s a move born of desperation on both sides, but as a Giants’ fan, of course I love it.

I’m doubtful Pablo has a lot left.  His inability to push himself away from the dinner table has taken its tole on his body.  But, on a minor league deal it’s a no-lose proposition.

Still, the Giants know Pablo, and Pablo knows the Giants.  Maybe the Giants will expend $75,000 for a year on a full-time personal trainer who can whip Pablo back into shape.  From what I’ve read, Pablo will work hard in the gym and eat healthy so long as he has someone working with him consistently (constantly).

Then, who knows?  The raw baseball skills have always been there.

I like this move for reasons beyond the obvious.  The Giants in the Sabean ERA have consistently rewarded the players who they developed and played well for them.  I strongly believe this faithfulness has more often than not brought out the best in their players and helped them break the San Francisco curse, not once but three times in five seasons.  Obviously, scouting and trading for the right players has helped too.

Fans in Sacramento will enjoy seeing Pablo suit up for the River Cats.  I also believe that having your minor league clubs within reasonable driving distance for fans to be able to at least see the major league squad a few times a season is good for the organization and the box office at all levels.

It doesn’t hurt to have the minor league squads pay for themselves.  The River Cats have the third best per game attendance despite having the 14th best record (out of 16) in this year’s Pacific Coast League.

As a final note, teams should be more willing either to pay for personal trainers or require the player as part of his contract to hire a personal trainer, at least in situations like Pablo’s.  Traditionally, teams have left it up to the players to get themselves in elite condition, since the player ultimately has more to gain or lose by the seriousness with which he takes his own conditioning.

Sometimes, though, you have a player like Pablo, with exceptional talent, but less than exceptional maturity and discipline, who needs a helping hand.  Personal trainers cost pennies to the dollars invested in elite players, so why not find a way to get them involved, at least so long as the player will work hard if he someone pushing him during his professional down time.

In Pablo’s case, it might have made, and might yet make, a real difference.

San Francisco Giants’ Prospect Joan Gregorio Suspended for Steroid Use

July 1, 2017

MLB has suspended Giants’ prospect Joan Gregorio for the rest of the 2017 season, after Gregorio tested positive for steroids.  It’s shame, because he was the best starter this year at AAA Sacramento.

Gregorio’s 3.04 ERA made him the River Cats’ only starter with an ERA below 4.50.  The next best starter has probably been former 1st round pick Tyler Beede, who has pitched O.K. but has an ugly 5.11 ERA, thanks mainly to serving up 14 long balls.  Beede is 24 this year, a year younger than Gregorio.

Former 1st round pick Chris Stratton has continued not to impress.  He turns 27 in August and currently has a 5.71 ERA after 12 starts.  It seems clear to me at least that Stratton will not have a major league career unless he’s moved to the bullpen permanently.

The only starting pitching help that’s going to come from Sacramento in the near future is Madison Bumgarner, who made his first rehab start yesterday.  It wasn’t pretty, as he allowed seven hits and four runs, all earned, in 3.2 innings pitched while striking out only one.  At least he’s pitching again and able to hit 92 mph on the radar gun.

This is going to be a long, painful season for Giants’ fans.  At least the memory of true greatness is still relatively fresh in mind.

San Francisco Giants’ 2017 Draft Picks Rounds 2-10

June 13, 2017

Here’s a quick rundown of the Giants’ Day 2 draft selections:

2nd Round (58th Overall)Jacob Gonzalez, 3B, age 19.  Gonzalez is a high school 3Bman, who is the son of former MLB star Luis Gonzalez.  He has power potential and has committed to Texas Christian Univ.

3rd Round (96) Seth Corry, LHP, 18.  A high school lefty from Utah, he had a 1.90 ERA and 97 Ks in 52 innings pitched as a senior.  He’s committed to BYU.

4th Round (126)Garrett Cave, RHP, 20.  A junior out of the University of Tampa, Cave has a live arm but command issues.

5th Round (156)Jason Bahr, RHP, 22.  Another college pitcher from Florida, Bahr appears to have missed 2016 with some kind of injury, but he was very good in 2017, posting a pitching line of 60.2 IP, 42 hits, seven HRs and 15 BBs and 98 Ks.  I assume he wasn’t drafted higher because of his age and possible past injury.

6th Round (186)Bryce Johnson, CF, 21.  Johnson slashed .350/.453/.433 and stole 33 bases in 40 attempts as a college junior.  He’s shown steady improvement in the three years of his college career.  He hit only three home runs in his college career, so his feet and glove are probably the keys to any professional success.

7th Round (216)Logan Haresta, RHP, 20.  As the University of Buffalo’s closer this year, Haresta had a 3.63 ERA and struck out 50 batters, but walked 26, in 34.2 IP.  He looks like a project.

8th Round (246). John Gavin LHP, 21.  A pitcher originally from the South Bay, Gavin had a very successful career at Cal State Fullerton, but probably doesn’t have major league stuff (216 Ks in 273 college innings pitched), unless he can match his low college home run rates in his professional career.

9th Round (276)Aaron Phillips, RHP, 20.  Phillips was a two-way player in college, but didn’t hit enough to be drafted.  He had a 3.04 ERA as a junior with 90 Ks in 100.2 IP.

10th Round (306)Rob Calabrese, C, 21.  As a junior for the University of Illinois at Chicago, Calabrese slashed .353/.425/.583 in 56 games, after not playing much his freshman or sophomore seasons.  Seems like a reasonable pick for this late in the Draft.

 

San Francisco Giants Select High School OF Heliot Ramos in 1st Round

June 13, 2017

With the 19th pick of the 2016 MLB Draft, the Giants selected high school outfielder Heliot Ramos.  Once again, the Giants drafted a player higher than others had him rated, but perhaps not as dramatically so as Joe Panik and Christian Arroyo in years past.

MLB.com had Ramos rated 40th overall and Baseball America had him at 30 in their list of the top 500 (but had the Orioles selecting him with the 21st pick this morning).

Ramos is widely regarded as the best player out of Puerto Rico this draft season.  He’s about 6’1″ and 190″, which is big for 17 years old, and mlb.com at least regards him as “toolsy,” in his case, meaning he’s fast and has power potential.

Not surprisingly, he plays center field now, but is projected to end up in left field (not quite center fielder’s range, not quite right fielder’s arm).  He’ll have to hit to make the majors as a left fielder.

Clearly, the Giants’ scouts like him more than other teams did, and their recent track record can’t be discounted.  mlb.com’s report describes him as a “project” with “high upside.”  We will find out in five to seven years.

Another Day, Another Drubbing

May 10, 2017

I’m starting to strongly suspect that I will be adding Buster Posey‘s 2017 to my list of great seasons for terrible teams.  Buster’s home run today was the only thing that saved the San Francisco Giants from consecutive shutouts.

The 2017 Giants are dreadful, and I don’t think it’s too early to write off this season and say wait ’til next year.  It’s hard to believe a team could play this badly through 34 games and not really be  a bad team.  In my mind the only question is how many losses between 85 and 105 they’ll record this season.

Changes are in order, and I don’t see any benefit at this point of waiting to see if the veterans can somehow right the ship.  It’s time to bring up Joan Gregorio and Tyler Beede and plug them into the starting rotation.  Even if they get bombed, they’ll get some valuable major league experience, and it’s doubtful they’ll do any worse than whomever they replace (take your pick).

Dump has-been Justin Ruggiano and demote Gorkys Hernandez, who has proved he hasn’t got it, and bring up two of Carlos Moncrief, Orlando Calixte and Austin Slater.  They may not be any better, but at least they’re younger and might possibly have better seasons in the future.  Use the AAA roster spaces created to promote Chris Shaw and Miguel Gomez from AA Richmond.

It’s definitely time for some heads to roll.