Brazilians in Japanese Baseball
Last week, a tweet asking about Brazilian ballplayers in Japan came my way (and Ken’s). I’ve maintained an interest in Brazil since David Byrne started marketing 1960′s psychodelic innovators Os Mutantes around the turn of the century, so I decided to write a little more about the subject. If nothing else, it gave me a chance to write that last sentence.
I don’t know much about baseball in Brazil, but I know that there are significant reciprocal expatriate communities in Brazil and Japan, and it’s generally known that baseball was brought to Brazil by Japanese immigrants. Although it’s not terribly common, it’s not that unusual to see players with Brazilian heritage active in the amateur ranks in Japan, particularly in high school and college ball. And Yakult has some kind of academy in Brazil, but I have no idea how active it is. That’s about the extent of my knowledge of baseball in Brazil. If anyone can enlighten me further, I’m all ears.
There are currently three Brazilian players active at the pro in Japan, all with Yakult: OF/1B/PH Yuichi Matsumoto, P Rafael Fernandes, and OF Maike Magario. Each took a different path to pro ball. Matsumoto is the elder statesman of the group, with 13 years in the Yakult organization. He’s mostly served as a pinch hitter over the last few years, but is probably the most successful Brazilian professional baseball player to date. Fernandes played college ball at Hakuoh University, where he apparently showed great velocity but little polish. Yakult drafted him as an ikusei player in 2008, and he earned a promotion to the regular roster this season. Through 38 innings at ni-gun, he has a 1.89 ERA, but command is still a problem, as he has allowed 22 walks. Magario was born in Sao Paulo but moved to Japan at age five and came up through the high school ranks, playing at Koshien and eventually getting drafted as an ikusei player. So far at ni-gun this year, Magario has a defensive replacement’s line: 25 games played, seven plate appearances.
Looking to the future, a couple of Brazilian Industrial Leaguers I’m keeping half an eye on as potential NPB draft prospects. The first is pitcher Felipe Natel of Yamaha, who has commented that he would like to go pro after meeting the residence requirements to qualify as a Japanese player, thus avoiding the foreign player limit. My Natel experience is limited to video clips that I’ve sought out, but I’d like to see a little more velocity from him. The other is outfielder Allen Fanhoni of NTT East. Fanhoni first caught my eye a few years ago when I saw him in a prefectural high school game. I probably wouldn’t have remembered him if not for his name. He doesn’t look like much of a prospect at this point, but he’s probably the biggest guy in the Industrial Leagues at 196 cm / 100 kg, only 19 years old, and relatively in experienced at higher levels of competition. If he can refine his approach and turn himself into a real power prospect, he’ll be valuable NPB commodity.