Ranking Iwase, Kawakami & Uehara
If you’ve been reading this blog, you probably know that the top three Japanese free agents this year are pitchers Hitoki Iwase, Kenshin Kawakami, and Koji Uehara. I’ve profiled all three, now it’s time to rank ‘em as MLB prospects.
- Iwase: Standout NPB relievers have generally made successful transitions to MLB, and few have been as good in NPB as Iwase. I don’t think the struggles of Kazuo Fukumori and Yasuhiko Yabuta will scare teams away as Iwase has put up significantly better numbers than those guys in NPB.
- Kawakami: Has been consistently good over the last 5-6 seasons, and having another good year. I think he will be slightly better than Hiroki Kuroda. Look out for a post comparing Kawakami and Kuroda head-to-head some time in the near future.
- Uehara: Pitched in relief last year; struggled in return to rotation this year, got injured, then came back to the bullpen. He’ll probably only sign with a team that will give him a chance to start.
- Uehara: I can see him having a great year as a starter if he stays healthy and winds up on the right team (big park, good outfield defense, preferably National League). His control sets him apart here.
- Kawakami: I put him a shade behind Uehara because I think Uehara’s superior control could play better in MLB. I still expect him to be a solid MLB pitcher.
- Iwase: Best case: Iwase is a solid late-inning reliever. I think he’s the most likely of the three to realize his MLB potential, but as a reliever his value isn’t as high as a starter.
Why do this now, in the middle of the season? Mostly because people outside Japan will get to see all three of these guys pitch in the Olympics this month. It also gives us a chance to watch them over the last two months of the season and see if things change.
Note that it’s not a given that all three of these guys will opt to move over to MLB.