Changing of the Guard

» 22 December 2011 » In npb »

This is a big year for NPB imports into MLB, with as many as seven front-line players poised to be wearing MLB uniforms in 2012. While all of the these players will be missed, their departures do collectively open spots for younger talent to fill. Here’s a look at who we might see stepping up in the next year and beyond.

  • Hisashi Iwakuma (Rakuten) – Masahiro Tanaka took over as Rakuten’s ace in 2011, and the presence of Satoshi Nagai and Takahiro Shiomi softens the blow of losing Iwakuma. For me, the question of who inherits the title of Japan’s best groundball pitcher remains open.
  • Wei-Yin Chen (Chunichi) – I’m not sure I see an immediate successor on Chunichi’s roster, though they do have young lefties Toshiya Okada and Yudai Ohno. And although he might be a year or two away, I’m looking to Yusei Kikuchi to emerge as Japan’s next top hard-throwing lefty starter.
  • Hiroyuki Nakajima (Seibu) – Hideto Asamura played his way on to the Lions’ opening day roster in 2011, and was a tough out all season. He should move to shortstop in 2012, though he’ll have to fend off competition from Esteban German.
  • Munenori Kawasaki (Softbank) – Softbank has young infielders Kenta Imamiya and Tu-Hsuan Lee waiting in the wings. It’s probably unrealistic to expect either to have the same kind of impact that Kawasaki did though. And it seems like the Kawasaki will be back at some point.
  • Tsuyoshi Wada (Softbank) – Tadashi Settsu established himself as Softbank’s ace in waiting with a strong 2011. The losses of Wada and Toshiya Sugiuchi mean that there will be more pressure on guys like Kenji Ohtonari, Sho Iwasaki, Shota Ohba and Shingo Tatsumi to pitch quality innings at the ichi-gun level. We’ll see who steps up in 2012.
  • Norichika Aoki (Yakult) – So far, Lastings Milledge is set to replace Aoki on Yakult’s roster. Softbank’s Seiichi Uchikawa would currently get my vote as Japan’s top contact hitter, though he lacks Aoki’s plate discipline. I’m not sure I see any Aoki-type prospects on the horizon… I’ve read some good things about Orix’s Shunta, but he needs some time to put it together.
  • Yu Darvish (Nippon Ham) – In terms of public stature and marketability, Yuki Saito is certainly Darvish’s heir as the face of the Fighters. Saito is no replacement for Darvish on the mound, and I don’t think Nippon Ham will really have a true successor for him for a long time. Rakuten’s Tanaka seems poised to begin his tenure as Japan’s ace.

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  1. Patrick
    23/12/2011 at 12:52 am Permalink

    Do you have a source for the Lastings Milledge signing?

    Couldn’t find anything.


  2. Patrick
    23/12/2011 at 1:34 am Permalink

    Don’t forget the loss of DJ Houlton for SoftBank. Speculation on a replacement foreign starter?

  3. Patrick
    23/12/2011 at 4:46 am Permalink

    I vote Lenny Dinardo. 😉

  4. Patrick
    23/12/2011 at 9:29 am Permalink

    Alas, not after the 2011 Lenny had.

  5. Patrick
    Christopher Pellegrini
    23/12/2011 at 10:05 am Permalink

    I’m still curious about the Lastings Milledge signing. It says that he’s already signed with the Swallows on Wikipedia, and I hope that that’s true, but we still haven’t heard about it on our end.

    Please let me know if you have a reliable source for that information. Fingers crossed that it’s actually the case!

  6. Patrick
    23/12/2011 at 10:20 am Permalink

    I’ll go with Greg Smith as my former Oakland A who should go to Japan this year.

  7. Patrick
    23/12/2011 at 12:59 pm Permalink

    Hey Christopher, your comments got caught in my spam filter for some reason. I don’t think Yakult has announced the Milledge signing yet but Scot Drucker said on Twitter than he saw him sign the contract.

  8. Patrick
    Christopher Pellegrini
    23/12/2011 at 6:11 pm Permalink

    If that’s the case, then it’s good news. Drucker was the best source I was able to dig up yesterday.

    It says that he signed back on the 7th, but it hasn’t been picked up by anyone in the Japanese press yet…strange. Wonder why they’re holding off on the announcement.

  9. Patrick
    Seth Cervantes
    23/12/2011 at 7:01 pm Permalink

    Masahiro Tanaka may be Japan’s new ace, but he’s no where near the talent of Yu Darvish. Tanaka is amazing but he reminds me too much of Daisuke Matsuzaka. My predictions for Darvish if he does sign with the Rangers:

    Wins: 17
    Losses: 10
    Ks: 270
    ERA: 2.80
    WHIP: 1

  10. Patrick
    23/12/2011 at 8:26 pm Permalink

    Is Tanaka considered better then Daisuke was? Do you have a scouting report on him? Will he want to be posted anytime soon?

  11. Patrick
    23/12/2011 at 10:49 pm Permalink

    Chris — the Milledge signing might be totally official, it might be a term sheet or one of those “agree to sign” things. He’s still playing winter ball in VZ and might need to take a physical or something.

    Seth — Darvish is certainly a generational talent, if he strikes out 270 in MLB in 2012, I will be greatly impressed.

    Joe — I think Daisuke would currently have have the edge over Tanaka in terms of NPB career, but Tanaka’s very good. I haven’t written a scouting report, but there’s this: Let’s let Rakuten’s fans enjoy him for now and not worry about posting.

  12. Patrick
    24/12/2011 at 2:54 am Permalink

    what wrong with lenny???

  13. Patrick
    26/12/2011 at 12:19 pm Permalink

    I hope Darvish signs!! Anaheim is just a short train ride away. A CJ Wilson/ Yu Darvish matchup would be amazing to watch! However, I see this report as a little bittersweet. I’m not a fan of the idea of NPB being a AAAA league for MLB. But I do want to see these players succeed on the world’s largest stage. That does benefit NPB in the long run.

  14. Patrick
    Christopher Pellegrini
    29/12/2011 at 12:51 am Permalink

    Very grateful for your tipping me off on this. Felt good writing about it before it went public over here.

    Seems that Milledge left Venezuela and returned to the US shortly after signing. I’m pretty sure that after signing the contract he had to stop playing for the Aragua Tigres. He didn’t sound particularly happy about having to leave the team as a part of the new agreement.

    I’m thinking that passing a physical was the clincher, but Milledge said something about having a physical a couple of weeks ago, so maybe there’s another factor in play.


  15. Patrick
    30/12/2011 at 3:10 am Permalink

    Kinda surprised that Sugiuchi decided to join Yomiuri (even though they’re a team to watch out for) especially after Kudo was named BayStars GM and Toshiya has worshiped Kudo since he was young you’d think he’d want the chance to play for his idol, but perhaps that info wasn’t released until it was too late? I hope he gets to play for him before his career is over.

  16. Patrick
    30/12/2011 at 10:11 am Permalink

    Yokohama hired Shigeru Takada to be their GM, not Kudoh. Kudoh was offered Yokohama’s field manager job but he turned it down.

  17. Patrick
    30/12/2011 at 7:32 pm Permalink

    Ah, okay that makes more sense as to why he didn’t. Thanks for clearing that up I saw the new thing about him becoming Manager and I was confused wondering if Kudoh had quit after 1 year or if he actually never took it or what lol. I’m really curious about Hisashi and where he’ll end up, he’s been my favorite pitcher in NPB, but since he’ll hopefully come to the states my favorite who remains in Japan for now would have to be Kyuji Fujikawa.

  18. Patrick
    31/12/2011 at 5:48 am Permalink

    This was definitely Tanaka’s breakout year, but I’m doubtful that he’s even reached his peak yet since he’s just 23. A few more years he might be very close to Yu, any idea how many stolen bases Yu gave up? Tanaka gives up a lot with that stretch of his.