What makes Japanese pitchers intriguing, from a fantasy standpoint, once they sign with a Major League Baseball team is the fact they are nearly a lock to break Spring Training with their MLB team. The process is different than international signings and drafted players in the sense that we don’t necessarily learn much about the player(s) until they are being made available to MLB teams. For instance, international players are signed in their teens and we have the outlets to follow a player’s development throughout their minor league careers. The same can be said for players drafted in the Major League Baseball draft. Think about Shohei Ohtani and Yusei Kikuchi. Other than the World Baseball Classic, most baseball, and fantasy, fans never heard of, or knew much about, either until it became clear they were going to play in Major League Baseball the following season. With that being said, this week I want to discuss two pitchers that are likely headed to Major League Baseball within the next few years in “That’s Amore!” Two NBP (Japan) Pitchers To Keep An Eye On.
Kodai Senga – RHP Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks
Widely regarded as one of the best pitchers in Nippon Professional Baseball, Senga should be the next Japanese pitcher made available to Major League Baseball teams. At 6’1″, 190 lbs, he has dominated NPB for eight seasons. He’s compiled a 47-22 record to go along with 733 strikeouts (10.4 K/9), 236 walks, 2.63 ERA, and 1.10 WHIP. In the 2017 WBC, he was named to the All-World Baseball Classic team.
His repertoire consists of a four-seam fastball that sits in the mid-to-high 90s and reaches 100 MPH. Accompanying his fastball are a cutter, slider, and a forkball which is frequently his strikeout pitch. Major League scouts grade him as a top-of-the-rotation starter, and one with stuff that could equal Cy Young contenders. Currently, Senga (26 years-old) has pitched 73 innings, compiling a 5-1 (10 GS) record with 97 strikeouts, 27 walks, 1.60 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and .192 BAA. Senga credits his early-season success to off-season training with Chicago Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish at Darvish’s home in Dallas, Texas.
As of January, Senga stated he’s asked NPB for permission to become available to MLB teams. The Hawks have been one of two teams suggesting they will not agree to the system to make Senga available to the Major Leagues. It remains to be seen if NPB and MLB can come to a posting agreement, but reports suggest he may not be available until after the 2022 season. Each NPB club has its own specific regulations in regards to making players available to foreign leagues.
Shota Imanaga – LHP Yokohama DeNA BayStars
Part of me wanted to put Tomoyuki Sugano on this list of NBP pitchers to start keeping tabs on. He’s had an impressive career compiling an 81-44 record with 2.27 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and 10[10:21]8 K:BB, but at 29 years-old, and not knowing if he will ever get a chance to see his posting listed, it’s hard to believe he will reach Major League Baseball during prime seasons left in his career. That turns my attention to BayStars left-handed pitcher Shota Imanaga. The 5’10”, 181 lb lefty has progressed each season since his first in 2016. Through parts of three NBP seasons (one spent in Austarlia), the 25 year-old has compiled a 29-29 record to go along with a 3.45 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and 429 strikeouts. 2019 sees Imanaga off to his best start currently owning a 6-2 (10 GS) record with a 1.47 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, and [73:24] K:BB.
Looking at his career statistics, they aren’t exactly what you’d expect from Major League prospect. However, as I mentioned earlier, he’s progressed each season, and seems to be more of a late-bloomer compared to his peers. His fastball reaches the mid-to-high 90s while sitting in the mid-90s consistently. Imanaga brings a dynamite curveball and splitter to accompany his fastball that he relies on heavily at times. As of this past February, Imanaga was selected to the Japan national team for an exhibition game against Mexico. Assuming he continues to progress, and isn’t made available before the next WBC (2021), we could see him starring for Japan in the 2021 World Baseball Classic assuming a date is set.
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join host Brian Roach, Jr, and Cole Freel live on Sunday June 2nd, 2019 from 8pm-9:30pm EST for episode #164 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. You can listen live on blogtalk, majorleaguefantasysports.com, or download the podcast on I-Tunes or any Android podcast app. We will discuss spot starters for the coming week, plus a weekend update, and look ahead to next week.