Thursday, January 25, 2018
NPB Posting system: With Ohtani gone, who's next?
Shohei Ohtani had arguably the most hype of any player from NPB to come across the Pacific Ocean to MLB. The question remains on who else is good enough to go?
We'll help answer this question and place different categories on each player. The answers remain more complex given the situation, contract and team.
Some play for a team that doesn't post its players and they must reach nine years of service time to be an international free agent. Others are still very young and it would be foolish for the NPB to post him when there are several years of control left.
Here is how we see it:
Wait and see:
This group has potential, but not everyone has blossomed to be MLB ready yet.
IF Tetsuto Yamada (Yakult Swallows): Yamada is an athlete who's been in the 30-30 club while also hitting .300 in back-to-back seasons, but had an awful 2017 year despite being healthy. Some say he was hit by a pitch at the end of 2016 and hasn't recovered, but 2018 could decide if he's good enough. Yamada will be 26 in 2018.
P Shintaro Fujinami (Hanshin Tigers): Fujinami had a lot of hype out of high school and was often a "rival" of Ohtani because of them facing each other in a Spring Koshien tournament game. However, they played in opposite leagues and it was just something for the media to write about. After showing good promise through 2015, Fujinami has hit a brick wall in 2016 and spent most of 2017 at the farm level due to his lack of control. He turns 24 in April, right now, Tigers fans would be happy if he's a mid-rotation starter. MLB scouts cannot like his control issues if they remain.
P Tomohiro Anraku (Rakuten Eagles): Anraku is remembered for being featured on ESPN through his Spring Koshien performance as a HS junior. However, the hype died down due to injury in the 2014 NPB Draft as only two teams attempted to take him. The Eagles are figuring out what to do with him, but he's still 21 and has plenty of time on his side compared to Fujinami.
P Yuki Nishi (Orix Buffaloes): Nishi has been the workhorse for the Buffaloes behind Chihiro Kaneko and is the heir ace. At 27, he doesn't have the same upside, but could be a rotation starter for an MLB team if he wanted to go. He has also thrown a no-hitter in the past. When 2018 concludes, he will reach domestic free agency and would be an international free agent after 2020.
P Shota Imanaga (Yokohama DeNA Baystars): Imanaga was a first round pick and has already made an instant impact for his team. At 24, he's only two years into the league and if he continues his form, he could be a rotation starter in MLB. Scouts got to see him in action at the Asia Professional Baseball Championship last November. The Baystars would have no reason to post him now, nor in the next three years as he has plenty of control remaining. He's still an intriguing option in the long run.
C Kensuke Kondo (Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters): Kondo is a good hit for average player, but cannot find a position in the field, where the Fighters have used him in the OF. Last year, he was on a roll, but an injury sidelined him for most of the season. He's only 24 and can still tear it up. Personally, I like his upside as a hitter better than his teammate Haruki Nishikawa, who's more of an athlete.
P Kazuki Yabuta (Hiroshima Carp): Yabuta has the looks of a one year wonder right now, but he has come off a strong 2017 season where he worked out of the bullpen and later the rotation. It was a pleasant surprise for Carp fans last season when he carried a good load. He will turn 26 in 2018 and probably not have the same upside if he were to leave as the Carp have plenty of years of control left.
P Takahiro Norimoto (Rakuten Eagles): Norimoto is talented enough to go with his strikeout abilities. The problem is, does he want to go? We haven't heard any statements from him one way or another to say it's guaranteed. He currently has four years of control remaining until he reaches international free agency. Age would also be against him when posting compared to others as he's currently 27.
Talented, but won't be posted:
These players play for a team that has no track record of posting players. They must reach international free agency (nine years of service time) in order to leave like Tadahito Iguchi, Tsuyoshi Wada, Munenori Kawasaki or Hideki Matsui once did.
P Kodai Senga (Softbank Hawks): You might remember this name from the 2017 World Baseball Classic as he came out of the bullpen in relief. For the Hawks, he's an ace and has been one of the best underdog stories in NPB. For a player who was once an ikusei (similar to NFL practice squad), he worked his way up the ladder to the top of the Hawks rotation. Senga has said he wants to play in MLB someday, but the Hawks gave him the silent treatment on posting. He turns 25 later this month and is eligible for international free agency in about 5-6 years. By age 30, he can still contribute, but not in his peak seasons with the upside that he has now.
OF Yuki Yanagita (Softbank Hawks): Yanagita would be good enough to make an impact if he were to leave now. Like Yamada, he has been in the 30-30 club and has hit .300 in the same season. However, he's not eligible for international free agency until after 2020 and he'll be 32 by then. The interest won't be the same as he'd likely be past his prime three seasons from now.
P Tomoyuki Sugano (Yomiuri Giants): Sugano started the 2017 WBC Semi-final against team USA and showed he can hang with major leaguers. He could make an impact if he left now, but he's not eligible for international free agency until after 2021 at the earliest. Sugano would be 32 by the time he plays his first MLB game potentially in 2022. There's a good chance he would take the opportunity to come stateside by then, but can't leave via the posting system.
P Kazuto Taguchi (Yomiuri Giants): Taguchi has already been a quality starter for the Giants at an early age at 22, which is helping his chances down the road. He won't be eligible for international free agency until 6-7 years from now, but at least he'd be in his late 20s as opposed to early 30s. The larger problem? He might prefer being the rockstar on the Giants as he is not thinking about it. His teammate Hayato Sakamoto did not have interest once he reached international free agency, but it doesn't prevent scouts from liking him.
All but guaranteed:
P Yusei Kikuchi (Saitama Seibu Lions): The Lions openly said if Kikuchi gets 10 wins in 2017 and 2018, they would post him. He reached not only 10 wins in 2017, but had a breakout season as the team's ace when the team lost it's previous ace. Coming out of high school, he was hyped up as a rare lefty prior to Shohei Ohtani, but things didn't look the same once he got to the pros and the injury bug hit.
MLB fans should be rooting for Kikuchi if they want to see another prospect come over. He'll be 27 this year and could be a solid No. 3 in the rotation with some upside of being a No. 2 at best. He won't have the hype he had in high school, but Kikuchi should be on pace to be posted as long as he has a similar season from 2017. We here at Graveyard Baseball can track all his movements and quirks for 2018 and we'd love for you to join us in this journey ahead.
I considered all players and came up with this list in the end. Is there anyone we missed? Feel free to disagree and leave a comment.
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Posted by Christian Gin at 2:11 PM