Top 5 MLB Players From Japan Right Now
Will Masahiro Tanaka Be The Next MLB Star From Japan?
At 25 years of age and standing 6-foot-2 and weighing in around 205-pounds, Masahiro Tanaka is all the buzz on the free-agent market at the moment. Projected by virtually every organization as a potential front line starter, the Japanese-born right-hander has been one of his homeland’s absolute best over the past seven seasons. Whether or not it will translate to success in the States is yet to be seen, but one franchise -- the favorites at the moment appear to be the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers -- will soon pay a hefty price to find out.
During his years with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, a team that competes in the Japan Pacific League, Tanaka posted a stellar 99-35 record with a 2.30 ERA in 175 total games. Granted, those career numbers are very impressive, but it is the ridiculous effort he put forth in 2013 that has his MLB suitors licking their chops to acquire the Asian ace.
Last season, Tanaka started 27 games in which he amassed 212 incredible innings. Over those outings, he put up a 24-0 record, 1.27 ERA and 0.94 WHIP. Effectively utilizing the combination of a mid-90s heater and outstanding splitter, he was also able to post a strong 183-32 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
It is easy to see why several clubs are in hot pursuit of Tanaka. His track record in Japan speaks for itself. However, some highly touted natives of Japan have come to the Majors with great fanfare only to turn out to be massive flops. The misfortunes of Hideki Irabu and Kosuke Fukudome come to mind. Although, in many cases, Japanese stars just proceed to continue their already bright baseball careers after they land in the U.S.
With that in mind, let's take some time to check out the current top five MLB players that started their careers in the Land of the Rising Sun. With all due respect, future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki barely misses the cut as he is just simply no longer at his previous level.
5. Hiroki Kuroda - SP - New York Yankees
After winning 103 games in his native Japan, Kuroda did not come to the States until the age of 33. Over the past four seasons, following two decent summers in 2008 and 2009 with the Dodgers, the right-handed sinkerballer has been one of the most consistent hurlers in all of baseball. Since 2010, splitting time between Los Angeles and the Bronx, Kuroda has won 51 games while posting a very solid 3.27 ERA and 1.17 WHIP.
4. Norichika Aoki - OF - Kansas City Royals
Recently dealt to the Kansas City Royals, Aoki spent the first two years of his MLB career with the Milwaukee Brewers after putting up a .329/.402/.454 slash line and stealing 164 bases through eight seasons in Japan. Over the past two summers in the U.S., the speedy outfielder has recorded a .355 OBP while averaging 25 stolen bases and 80 runs. Most impressively, Aoki has only struck out 95 times in 1262 big league plate appearances.
3. Koji Uehara - RP - Boston Red Sox
Uehara made his MLB debut in 2009 with the Baltimore Orioles. That season, the right-hander went 2-4 with a 4.05 ERA and 6.5 K/9 in a dozen starts. However, during the four years since that fairly pedestrian rookie campaign, he has been one of the best bullpen arms in the game. Since 2010, in stints with Baltimore, Texas and Boston, the now 38-year-old reliever has recorded 35 saves while posting a 1.93 ERA and 0.70 WHIP in 218 appearances. In addition, Uehara has 284 strikeouts to just 26 walks over that same stretch.
2. Hisashi Iwakuma - SP - Seattle Mariners
Coming onto the scene in 2012, Iwakuma had a very solid rookie season for the Seattle Mariners. Last summer, however, the 32-year-old righty really broke out. An All-Star selection and top-three finisher in AL Cy Young Award voting, he posted a 14-6 record with a 2.66 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 185 strikeouts over 33 starts. Iwakuma, along with Felix Hernandez, is part of possibly the best one-two punch in any current big league rotation.
1. Yu Darvish - SP - Texas Rangers
Outside of Ichiro, Darvish was perhaps the most highly sought after Japanese player in history. Armed with an absolute arsenal, the right-hander signed a six-year deal worth nearly $60 million with the Texas Rangers in January of 2012. To say he has lived up to the money so far would be an understatement. Already a two-time All-Star, Darvish has 29 wins, a 3.34 ERA and 498 strikeouts in 401 innings during his first couple of seasons in the U.S.