Tag Archive > Stephen Strasburg

A Tale of Two Players

» 15 August 2009 » In mlb prospects, nichibei » 7 Comments

Two Players

One way or another, Stephen Strasburg is going to make history. He’ll either sign with the Nationals for a record-setting bonus, or he won’t and something unprecedented would happen. The idea of Strasburg going to Japan in an attempt to attain free agency was floated and quickly discredited, and rightfully so. The details of why it wouldn’t work have been thoroughly documented so there’s no point in rehashing them here, so it’ll suffice to say that Strasburg is unlikely to get the contract that Scott Boras is seeking from a more restrictive NPB system.

Last week we got the news that Texas Rangers draftee Tanner Scheppers is also considering Japan. Unlike Strasburg, we have some evidence that Scheppers is actually taking action to pursue Japan — he apparently has a work out scheduled for “at least half a dozen NPB teams” (hat tip to John Brooks). Scheppers is a little different from Strasburg — he isn’t nearly as highly touted, he was drafted and unsigned last year by Pittsburgh, and he’s spent the last season playing for the St. Paul Saints, with guys like current Hanshin Tiger Craig Brazell. Scheppers was also drafted from a professional league, so the Rangers get until next year to sign him. Still, if Scheppers’ goal is simply to get a bigger bonus out of the Rangers, a move to Japan is unlikely to achieve his desired result.

Two Other Players

It’s worth pointing out that Strasburg and Scheppers aren’t really in uncharted territory here. In 2002, Cincinnati Reds draftee Mark Schramek tried out with the old Orix Blue Wave after failing to draw an offer he was happy with. Gary Garland recalled the Schramek story in an editorial when the idea of Strasburg to Japan idea was first floated:

I got on the imaginary phone in my head and dialed up Mr. Peabody to ask him to lend me his wayback machine. I set the controls for the heart of the 2002 season, where I came upon one Mark Schramek, who had just been drafted in the first round out of the University of Texas at San Antonio as an infielder by Cincinnati. The Reds, not being entirely forthcoming with the readies that Master Schramek had his heart set on, decided to journey to Japan and contemplate a season with the Orix Blue Wave as leverage to squeeze more money out of the historic Ohio nine. Orix later responded to Schramek’s overtures by demanding that he sign a nine year contract with them. This was pro forma, as Orix was not happy being used as an “ateuma (that is, a horse that is used to get a stud horse all hot and bothered in preparation to be bred with another mare in hopes of producing successful horse racing offspring)” and basically offered Schramek a deal they knew he would refuse.

Schramek went on to have a forgettable four-year run in the minors, never advancing beyond 2A.

A guy that actually kind of made it work was Matt Randel. Randel was not a prospect of even Schramek’s caliber, but  managed to get an NPB contract, and made a few appearances in Japan before having a couple of respectable seasons in Korea. The following summary is taken from the BR Bullpen:

Matt Randel is a highly unusual American pitcher in that over 80% of his baseball career has been in Asia.

Randel was an 84th-round pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1995 amateur draft. He went on to college instead of signing, but dropped out. He got his big break in 1999 when he tried out for the Daiei Hawks and was signed. He allowed hits to 2 of the 3 batters he faced for Daiei in 2000.

Randel next was picked up by the Fort Worth Cats, going 4-5 with a 3.05 ERA in 2002. Had he qualified, he would have been among the Central Baseball League leaders in ERA.

The Yomiuri Giants signed Randel after his stint in Texas and he was 1-1 with a 7.71 ERA in 3 games for them in 2003. The next year, the 27-year-old was 3-2 with a save and a 5.45 ERA in 24 games, his busiest season in Japan. He did strike out 42 batters in 39 2/3 innings.

After leaving Japan, Randel caught on with the Doosan Bears of South Korea. He debuted in the Korea Baseball Organization in 2005 with a 12-7, 3.25 record despite allowing 163 hits in 149 2/3 IP. In 2006, the Doosan hurler posted a 16-8, 2.95 record.

Randel’s salary was unlikely to be much higher than the league minimum for any of the time he spent in Japan. The Hawks made a few other international signings around the time they had Randel, notably Anderson Gomes.

So we have some anecdotal evidence showing that NPB teams are unlikely to partake in money games with blue-chip prospects, but will perhaps take on lower-risk, lower-reward guys. It would be great to see more international prospects developed in Japan, and there are some likely some prospects who profile well to the opportunites Japanese and Asian baseball can offer, but that won’t be the blue chip guys.

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Time to End the Draft System?

» 19 July 2009 » In international baseball » 18 Comments

This is mostly about the MLB draft,  but applies to the NPB draft to some extent as well.

Consider the following events:

  • In 2001, the Minnesota Twins draft the relatively unknown Joe Mauer over Mark Prior, 2001’s Stephen Strasburg, for a combination of baseball and signability reasons. This turned out to the be right choice.
  • 2005, Luke Hochevar refuses to sign with the LA Dodgers after a series of blunders. The following year, Hochevar is drafted first overall by the Royals. This too is seen as a signability move.
  • In 2006, the Chicago Cubs sign Jeff Samardzjia for first-round money despite having drafted him in the fifth round.
  • In July 2008, the Oakland A’s signed Michel Ynoa to a $4m+ deal, which would have put him in the top ten largest bonuses had he been drafted. The A’s gave their first round draft pick, Jemile Weeks, a $1.9m bonus.
  • In November 2008, Junichi Tazawa avoids his country’s draft and signs with the Boston Red Sox for $3m. The most he could have gotten from the NPB draft would have been a $1m bonus and $150k salary. In retaliation,  NPB brass installs an exile rule. In theory American-born players could take the opposite route.
  • in July 2009, the Twins shell out $800k to sign 16 year-old German prospect Max Kepler.
  • Aside from those specific examples, there are obviously hundreds of international prospects who have signed with the MLB team of their choice, and a rather smaller number of international free agents who have signed with teams in Japan. Meanwhile, amateur players who are educated in the US or Japan are bound to the draft entry rules of their respective domestic leagues.

The MLB draft was established in the sixties with the intent of more evenly distributing the available amateur talent among the MLB teams. I think it basically works, though it’s been proven that teams, players, and agents can game it a bit when they want to. It’s also important to remember that the draft was established in a time when there was far less international talent in major league baseball than there is today. Nearly 30% of the players at the MLB level were born outside the US, and nearly half of minor leaguers were as well. This year we’ve seen a lot more hype around the international signing period as well. It doesn’t quite match the draft but it’s gaining ground, and the signings of Tazawa and Kepler indicate a diversification of the talent pool.

So we have a system that’s moderately regulated for domestic players, and completely unregulated for international players. Should national players not have the same rights to choose their employers as international players?

What I’d propose is a regulated amateur free agent system, in which the draft is discarded entirely. Every amateur player who meets the entry criteria (age, education, whatever) would be allowed to negotiate and sign with any team, regardless of national origin. The single regulation I’d put in place would be a spending cap and a spending floor, based on league revenues. This would be to keep the Yankees from outspending everyone, and the Marlins from going cheap. There could also be a maximum and minimum number of players signed, to keep teams from giving their entire budget to one player. Beyond that, teams would be free to compete with each other on the basis being well-run operations. Essentially, the system would give the players the freedom to choose where they work and the teams the freedom to allocate their budgets as they see fit, while taking money out of the equation to a certain extent.


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Keith Law on Darvish vs Strasburg

» 07 July 2009 » In mlb prospects » 16 Comments

If you’re reading this blog, there’s a high probability that you’ve heard of Keith Law. Keith is a veteran of Baseball Prospectus and the Toronto Blue Jays’ front office, and currently the lead baseball analyst for ESPN’s Scouts Inc. Keith took the time to answer a few questions on how Yu Darvish compares to Washington Nationals draftee, Stephen Strasburg.

NPB Tracker: How does Strasburg’s repertoire compare to Darvish’s?

Keith Law: Darvish shows far more pitches than Strasburg, who has four but spent most of the spring using just two.

NT: Who do you like better mechanically?

KL: I would say Strasburg – he’s easier and cleaner – although the sheer arm speed puts us into uncertain territory with Strasburg. We have little experience with starters who throw that hard and get their arms going that fast.

NT: If you had to choose one of the two pitchers for an MLB rotation this year, who would it be?

KL: I don’t think there’s a wrong answer here, but I’d take Darvish, given his experience facing a higher level of competition.

NT: Which of the two has the higher upside, and why?

KL: That’s a good question and I have gone back and forth on this. I think Strasburg’s fastball and hard curve rate well ahead of Darvish’s top two pitches, so I’d take Strasburg.

NT: Thank you Keith.


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Nationals Draft Japanese National

» 12 June 2009 » In mlb prospects » 6 Comments

In addition to quietly selecting some guy named Strasburg in this week’s MLB draft, the Nationals took Japan native Naoya Washiya in the 14th round, out of a junior college in the Palm Springs, California area.

Probably the most interesting thing in the Nikkan Sports story on him is that he was a high school teammate of current Rakuten ace Masahiro Tanaka. Washington selected Washiya in the 42nd round of last year’s draft as well, but he elected to stay in school. This time around he’s decided to sign, rather than continuing on to a four-year school as he had originally planned.

Washiya is a speedy outfielder and will start his pro career in either short-season or single-A ball.

PS. Please excuse the title of this post.
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