Asahi.com’s Rob Smaal lists some of the players who may make the jump to the MLB in 2012 season in his article “Get ready for an MLB arms race“.
What a list. Pitchers Yu Darvish (Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters), Tsuyoshi Wada (Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks), Chen Wei-yin (Chunichi Dragons), Hisashi Iwakuma (Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles), Kyuji Fujikawa (Hanshin Tigers). Shortstops Hiroyuki Nakajima (Saitama Seibu Lions) and Munenori Kawasaki (Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks) and outfielder Norichika Aoki (Yakult Swallows).
An all-star cast indeed. and that is 8 players. Even not counting Chen Wei-yin (who is Taiwanese) this off-season could easily top the past record of 5 Japanese debutes.
MLB Debuts in 2007 (5)
Akinori Iwamura, April 2nd; Hideki Okajima, April 2nd; Daisuke Matsuzaka, April 5th; Kei Igawa, April 7th; Masumi Kuwata, June 10th
MLB Debuts in 2008 (5)
Kazuo Fukumori, March 31; Kosuke Fukudome, March 31; Masahide Kobayashi, April 2; Hiroki Kuroda, April 4; Yasuhiko Yabuta, April 5;
Here are the snips from Asahi article for each players. All stats quoted are through Aug. 25, 2011:
Yu Darvish, 25 (Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters)
… Darvish is still just 25 years old and is in the prime of his career. Arguably the best pitcher in Japanese baseball, Darvish has been mowing down hapless NPB hitters since being drafted in the first round out of high school by the Pacific League’s Fighters in 2004. … “He’s got a fastball, cutter, changeup and curve, and they’re all good,” says one former MLB hitter who has faced Darvish in interleague play here. “He throws hard, 95 (mph, 153 kph). He’s a legitimate MLB pitcher and he’d be the No. 1 starter on a lot of teams.” … Now in his seventh year as a professional, Darvish has a career ERA of 2.02 and he has already posted 90 wins. He has struck out 1,171 hitters, and has 54 complete games and 17 shutouts under his belt.
Darvish is not free agent (he won’t be till some time in the middle of 2013 season), but possible to be posted. NPB Tracker’s Patrick Newman has a thoughtful blog post about this topic and he lists reasons for and against him being posted this off-season. Much through thinking than many posts around the web that just 100% assumes that he will be posted. Count me in the group that would love to see what he can do in the MLB.
Tsuyoshi Wada, 30 (Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks)
A wafer-thin 30-year-old listed at 77 kilograms, Wada may not have the blazing fastball of a Darvish, but he is crafty and he is left-handed. And, perhaps most importantly, he will reach full international free agency status in a few short weeks … Wada, who won 17 games last season, is having another fine year on the bump. So far in 2011, he is 11-4 with 129 strikeouts and a 1.75 ERA. Now in his ninth season, Wada has 102 wins to his credit, all with the Hawks, and he has amassed nearly 1,300 strikeouts in that time.
Chen Wei-yin, 26 (Chunichi Dragons)
Chen has put up some good numbers in his four-plus seasons in Japanese baseball, including his previous start on Aug. 17, when he shut down the Yomiuri Giants in a complete-game gem. That day, Chen faced 28 batters, just one over the minimum, in a two-hit 1-0 shutout, carrying a perfect game into the eighth inning. … Chen, 26 year old lefty, is 5-7 this season with a 2.71 ERA, a year after posting 13 wins for Hiromitsu Ochiai’s club. Chen whiffed 153 batters in 2010, and he has 494 Ks over his NPB career to go along with a 2.58 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP since he’s been in Japan. … He has been prone to niggling injuries over his career.
Hisashi Iwakuma, 30 (Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles)
His right shoulder has been bothering him for much of this season and his velocity is down, not a good sign for a 30-year-old who was Japan’s best pitcher in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, outpitching both Darvish and Matsuzaka. … A former 21-game winner, he is 5-3 in 11 starts in 2011 with a 1.96 ERA. His career stats include a 106-65 record, an ERA of 3.25, and 1,147 strikeouts.
Kyuji Fujikawa, 31 (Hanshin Tigers)
Fujikawa’s mid-150s rising four-seam fastball has been attracting a lot of attention and a lot of radar guns this year. Since 2007, Fujikawa has saved 46 games, 38, 25, 28, and he has 29 saves already this season. … His career ERA is 1.81 with a 0.97 WHIP. This season, his ERA is 1.23 and his WHIP stands at 0.79.
[UPDATE: Sept 9] Yankees sent scouts to watch Yu Darvish, according to NYPost
The Yankees sent scout Rick Williams to Japan to watch pitching sensation Yu Darvish recently after Billy Eppler, the team’s head of pro scouting, saw the 25-year-old right-hander hurl for the Nippon Ham Fighters.
He is 16-4 with a 1.54 ERA this year and has a career record of 74-26.
The Yankees are like a lot of other clubs who believe the 6-foot-5, 185-pound right-hander is young enough to have room for improvement.
How much they are willing to invest is the question, even in a free agent pitching market that will be very thin.