November 2010

Prospecting in Japan

I haven’t done much in the past regarding international signings. Not that I haven’t wanted to, it’s just that it seems other things get in the way. Every year I promise myself to do more, particularly with the young amateurs signed from Latin America. We’ll see if I can do better in 2011.

For now, though, I’m venturing east. Far East, that is. Players coming from Japan aren’t really prospects, at least as how I see it. But they are eligible for Rookie of the Year consideration, so I should take a look at them when given the opportunity. So I reached out to some Pacific Rim scouts I know to get some info. on the two Japanese players getting most of the attention these days.

The first is RHP Hisashi Iwakuma. The A’s bid $19.1 million for the rights to negotiate with the right-hand and have until Dec. 7 to try and get something done. There’s been a lot of buzz about the talks, or the lack thereof. Whether or not they have stopped talking, or whether the amounts agent Don Nomura has floated out there are accurate, here’s a breakdown of what Iwakuma might bring to the table should he come to the U.S. in 2011:

Most scouts see Iwakuma as a No. 3 starter in Major League Baseball. He has several pitches in his arsenal and knows how to pitch. One scout reported he throws a fastball, slider, curve and splitter. All are heavy with downward action, making him an extreme ground-ball pitcher when he’s on. The fastball sits in the upper 80s, but touches low 90s. The slider is an average pitch, while one scout said the curve is more of a show-me pitch only. He’s got great command, but nibbles too much. More than one scout made comments about him holding back at times in Japan, while one said that has led some to question his intestinal fortitude on the mound. He does tend to avoid the spotlight, but did pitch very effectively in the World Baseball Classic.

The other player is infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka, whom the Twins just bid $5 million for the rights to negotiate with. They have until Dec. 26 to get a deal done. He picked up his third Gold Glove in Japan this year and has said he’d be fine playing shortstop or second if/when he comes over. The 26-year-old just won a batting title by hitting .346 this past season. There have been some obvious parallels made to Ichiro (speedy leadoff type, slap hitter), though Nishioka has had injury issues Ichiro never has. Scouts have mixed feelings about Nishioka:

One scout felt he’d be more like a Kaz Matsui or Kosuke Fukudome type, with not nearly an Ichiro-type impact. He is a plus runner — one scout gave him an 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale for his speed. That hasn’t always translated to good base-running skills as his base-stealing percentages haven’t been great. He can hit a little from both sides of the plate. He’s more of a slap hitter from the right side, showing some gap power from the left. He’s got a bit of a bail in his swing, one that’s been seen in other Japanese hitters. It causes him to open up his front side too early, so what power he has shown might not translate once he comes here. He hasn’t always shown great focus and attitude, but winning a title this past year might have helped. So might coming here, as it’s long been a goal of his to play in the Majors here. Most feel he’s much better suited to second base than shortstop on an every-day basis. He’s drawn a comparison to a player like Erick Aybar

AFL: Live and in person

I’m here in the greater Phoenix area for the final week of the Arizona Fall League season and to say I’m excited to be here wold be a vast understatement. Any time I get to head to the AFL, I’m like a kid in a candy store.

Gearing toward the championship game, which is looking more and more like a Scottsdale Scorpions-Peoria Javelinas matchup, I’ll be writing about players on those rosters to get everyone ready for the championship game on Saturday, which will be broadcast live on MLB.com and MLB Network.

If you’re in the area, come on by and say hello, why dontcha? If you’re not in the area, let me know if you have a specific player you’d like to hear about. If you have any specific questions for any players, you can post them here as well and I’ll do my best to get them answered and post the players’ replies right here on B3.

Today, I’m headed to Peoria to watch the Scorpions play the other Peoria team, the Saguaros. Feature target No. 1: The Giants’ Brandon Belt. So stay tuned for a story on that, and much, much more.

Jesse Flores Memorial All-Star Game

For the fourth year in a row, scouts in Southern California ran an outstanding event, the Jesse Flores Memorial All-Star Game. MLB.com reporter Rhett Bollinger did an outstanding job covering the Draft showcase for us (read the story here).

This year’s edition was held at Mt. San Antonio College, a JUCO in Walnut, Calif. The initial rosters were jam-packed with the top talent in the state of California, but some cancellations did water it down a little bit. Here’s a list of some of the bigger names who ended up not playing on Sunday:

  • Henry Owens — Got shut down this fall, just for rest, as a precaution.
  • Austin Hedges — Has been out the past two weeks with a minor ankle injury
  • Travis Harrison — Has been dealing with a few different minor injuries
  • Daniel Camerana — Had the flue

That doesn’t mean there weren’t some very good players in attendance. And sometimes when some “names” don’t show, it allows others to step up into the spotlight.

Without Owens there, the consensus was that LHP Daniel McCreery stole the show on the mound. The big (6-8) lefty breezed through his inning of work, throwing 89-92 mph fastballs with plenty of movement (one scout described it as a cut fastball). He also threw a very good breaking ball which some think is better than Owens’.

RHP Danny Keller also impressed some. The 6-4 right-hander was throwing 90-94 mph and sat comfortably in the 92-93 mph range. He also showed a pretty good slider.

Catcher  Bryce Mosier was the MVP with two hits — both hard-hit opposite field line drives — a pair of RBI and some strong defense behind the plate. He was strong in BP as well and threw out a runner during the game.

Taylor Sparks was a guy who wasn’t initially selected for the game, but took advantage of the opportunity when others sat out. The 3B is a specimen at 6-3, 195-pounds, runs a pretty good 60 (6.8) and shows average power. He’s average defensively with an OK arm at third. But he was very impressive during BP, showing plus bat speed and hitting line drives consistently.

Other players who stood out to scouts:

Jacob Anderson, OF
Brandon Berry, 1B
Aaron Brown, OF
Dante Flores, SS
Ryan Garvey, OF
Trent Gilbert, 2B
Ryan Keller, RHP
Christian Lopes, SS
Brandon Martin, SS
Riley Moore, C

Final tally for AFL Aneurysm Awareness Week

Saturday was the final day of Brain Aneurysm Awareness Week, the effort held in the Arizona Fall League in conjunction with the Joe Niekro Foundation.

They worked together this year to
raise awareness and funds for research on brain aneurysms. As part of
that, we counted strikeouts from the pitchers in each of the seven
organizations Joe Niekro pitched for over the course of his Major League
career. Natalie Niekro, Joe’s daughter and founder of the foundation is
donating $36 per strikeout for all K’s from those organizations this
week. In addition, the Cubs, Tigers, Twins and Yankees have agreed to
make a similar donation for their pitchers’ strikeouts as well. And Linda Inglett (find out about her at BAHELP.com) is chipping in with $10 per K as well.

(Other ways to get involved: You can always text STRIKEOUT to 20222 to donate $10 to the Joe Niekro Foundation  any time you want. The Joe Niekro Foundation is having their annual big shindig in Houston on Saturday, Nov. 13 at Minute Maid Park. It’s called the Knuckle Ball
(get it?). It’s a fantastic, fancy-shmancy dinner/fund-raiser that
brings in a lot of money to help the Foundation do its very important
work. I’ll be there (hope the ol’ tux still fits). You can be to,
hobnobbing with some of the greats of baseball, bidding on fantastic
auction items, seeing outstanding live entertainment, all while helping a
fantastic charity.)

Lets take a look to see how many K’s were record on Friday and Saturday for this cause:

Friday saw just four strikeouts, courtesy of the Padres’ Alexis Lara and the Braves’ Benino Pruneda. That brought in $112 total, to bring the grand total to $2320.

As for Saturday…it was a much more productive day:

Cubs — 5
Padres — 5
Tigers — 3
Yankees –1
Braves — 1

That’s 15 strikeouts in total. Nice way to finish up. The donation for Saturday is:

$540 (Natalie Niekro’s donation)+$150 (Linda’s donation)+$324 (team donation) = $1014

That’s the highest one-day total for the week! And it brings the overall total of money raised for the Joe Niekro Foundation to: $3334.

The final team standings:

Twins — 9
Cubs — 8
Padres — 8
Tigers — 7
Yankees — 7
Astros — 6
Braves — 3

Thanks to the four teams who agreed to participate, an additional $1116 was added. So next time you run into someone from the Twins Cubs, Tigers or Yankees, thank them for the help. And if you ever meet Linda Inglett, thank her for all that she’s doing for this issue, including the $480 she’s contributing to the Joe Niekro Foundation as a result of this effort.

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