Nippon-Ham Fighters pitcher Shohei Otani became the first Fighters pitcher to win 10 games in his second season since Yu Darvish. Otani is now 10-3 with a 2.45 ERA. According to the Japanese media, foreign scouts have not only been impressed with his fastball but note the quality of his breaking ball and control. Washington Nationals Director of Scouting Bill Singer commented that watching Otani grow as a pitcher was like watching a movie.
Along with Otani, major league scouts have kept a close eye on Orix Buffaloes pitcher Chihiro Kaneko, Orix outfielder Yoshio Itoi, Seibu Lions pitcher Yusei Kikuchi, and DeNA Baystars pitcher Shun Yamaguchi. However, the only pitcher with a legitimate opportunity to play in the major leagues next season is Hiroshima ace Kenta Maeda. The other players are a little on the old side (Itoi (33) and Kaneda (31)) or lack the experience and stats to draw significant interest (Kikuchi).
Although I said Itoi and Kaneko are a little on the “old side,” they are major-league calibre players. In fact, Itoi would rank among the top outfielders in the world. The only knock on Itoi, besides his age, is his power. Itoi does hit home runs but he’s more of line-drive hitter. Kaneko is no where near the talent level of say a Darvish or a Masahiro Tanaka, but I would take him over most major league starting pitchers. I doubt major-league clubs would be willing to pay millions in guaranteed money for “rookies” in their thirties.
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Tagged Bill Singer, Chihiro Kaneko, DeNA Baystars, Hiroshima Carp, Kenta Maeda, Masahiro Tanaka, Nippon Ham Fighters, Orix Buffaloes, Shohei Otani, Shun Yamaguchi, Washington Nationals, Yoshio Itoi, Yu Darvish, Yusei Kikuchi
After finding little opportunity with the Texas Rangers, former Nippon-Ham All-Star second baseman Kensuke Tanaka asked for and received his release. Being unreliable at second base in his first season with the Fresno Grizzlies, Tanaka struggled at Triple-A Round Rock, hitting .258 in 245 plate appearances this season.
Tanaka hopes to sign with a major league club, and he should have no trouble finding a team willing to sign him to a minor-league deal. The problem facing Tanaka is his reputation as a poor defender. In Japan he won numerous Gold Glove titles at second base but in the minor leagues with Triple-A Fresno, he committed 15 errors with a .937 fielding percentage. Granted that Tanaka improved his fielding with Round Rock his reputation, many fans in the US believe Japanese middle infielders are not able to play in the major leagues.
The legend of Shohei Otani grows with each at-bat with each pitch. From a fan’s perspective, watching Otani is a treat, making Nippon-Ham Fighters games must-see TV. In the second game of the 2014 Nippon Professional Baseball All-Star Series, Otani was the starting pitcher for the Pacific League opposite his high school rival Hanshin TIgers pitcher Shintaro Fujinami. It was not Otani’s overall performance that made headlines but it was his 162-km/h fastball, equaling the mark set by former Yokohama Baystars and Yomiuri Giants closer Marc Kroon. To start the game, Otani threw 15 straight fastballs, and it was his second pitch against leadoff hitter Takashi Toritani that was clocked at 162 km/h. Both Fujinami and Otani were throwing some heat to the pleasure of fans–myself included.
Otani is awesome but I’m not sure he’ll play with a major league club. It has nothing to do with his talent–if I had a choice between Otani and Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper, I’d choose Otani. He is one of the brightest stars in Japanese professional baseball, and it’s difficult to find a comparable major-league comparison, though Anderlton Simmons of the Atlanta Braves comes to mind (the Braves wanted Simmons to pitch but Simmons was adamant at playing shortstop). He shines bright because he is a candle burning at both ends. I worry that the fans want Otani to do more than what a human body can do over a long period of time. Throwing fastball after fastball is not the best way preserve a Hall of Fame potential player like Otani, not to mention starting in the outfield and batting third between starts.I would like the Fighters to tell Otani that he doesn’t need to pitch 160 km/h each game. I’d also like to see the Fighters have Otani decide which path he wants to take: to play as a hitter or as a pitcher. Either would be fine because he pitches and hits at a high level. At the moment he’s more pitcher than hitter. He pitches when it’s his turn in the rotation and starts one or two games in the outfield or hits as a designated hitter with a few pinch-hitter cameos in-between. If he gets hurt pitching or hitting then the Fighters lose a position player and a pitcher. If he only pitches then the Fighters could give one of their younger players a chance to shine. If he chooses hitter then Otani could focus on hitting, and maybe develop as a player power.
If Otani is throwing 160 km/h fastballs for the sake of the fans, I’m certain Otani will lose velocity to a point where he’s have trouble reaching 150 km/h with the next three years.
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Tagged Anderlton Simmons, Atlanta Braves, Bryce Harper, Hanshin Tigers, Marc Kroon, Nippon Ham Fighters, Shintaro Fujinami, Shohei Otani, Takashi Toritani, Washington Nationals, Yomiuri Giants
Orix Buffaloes infielder Yuniesky Betancourt is returning to the United States to have his right big toe examined. The Buffaloes will most likely release him. The 32-year-old Betancourt, who played most recently for the Kansas City Royals, hit .141 with a .294 OBS. During his last five years in the Major Leagues, many considered Betancourt to be among the worst players. As a fan of Japanese baseball I had some serious doubts that Betancourt would find success in Japan.
Players like former Cubs All-Star outfielder Kosuke Fukudome and Tampa Bay Rays infielder Akinori Iwamura have had little success in their returns to Japan, despite their past successes both in the Major Leagues and Japan. Although Fukudome and Iwamura could turn their careers around, Betancourt has no chance of finding himself back on a big league roster (By the way, congratulations to Brooks Conrad on his return to the Major Leagues after a terrible year with the Hanshin Tigers) let alone the Orix Buffaloes starting lineup.
But who knows!