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