Hisashi Iwakuma (RHP, Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, 29) – I consider Iwakuma, by some measures, to be the second best MLB pitching prospect currently active in NPB. Tall and stringy at 6’3, 170 lbs, Iwakuma is a fairly standard fastball/slider/forkball righty. He can reach 95-95 mph with his fastball, but mostly works around 90-91. None of his three main pitches strike me as outstanding, but he commands them all well and can be dominant when he’s keeping the ball down in the zone. The fun fact about Iwakuma is that early in his career, he used a “two stage” delivery, in which he brought his front leg up, then back down without touching the dirt, the up again before finishing his delivery. You can check it out in this 2002 clip of Iwakuma facing Ichiro in an MLB-NPB All-Star game. Two stage deliveries were banned in NPB a couple years ago, so he and others, notably Ken Takahashi and Daisuke Miura, had to rework their mechanics. This and other factors caused Iwakuma to spend a few years in the wilderness, which I chronicled at my main haunt after last year’s WBC. Iwakuma is signed through next season, and assuming his remains in good health, will be eligible to move cross-Pacific after next season.
Tsuyoshi Wada (LHP, SoftBank Hawks, 29) – Wada is another guy who could come over after the 2011 season. Wada reminds me of Dallas Braden (or rather, Braden reminds me of Wada), with his arsenal of a 86-87 mph fastball, a good circle change, and a solid slider. To use a cliche, Wada knows how to pitch. He’s had a strikeout rate in the 7-8 for most of his career despite a fastball that’s average even in NPB. I found game footage of Wada’s August 25th start against Orix. He didn’t have his best stuff, but it’s enough to give you an idea of what he throws.
Chihiro Kaneko (RHP, Orix Buffaloes, 27) – Wada’s opponent on the 25th was Chihiro Kaneko, who I think is the most underrated pitcher in Japan. Kaneko thoroughly outclassed Wada on the 25th, striking out 12 and walking none while allowing two earned runs over an 8-inning, 97 pitch performance. He did surrender a triple to Munenori Kawasaki, whom we discussed earlier. Kaneko has excellent command of a good fastball that sits around 91-93 mph. He augments the fastball with a battery of breaking pitches, most notably a slider and a changeup, witch both sit in the low 80’s, and a sub-70 mph curveball which I would like to see him throw more often. Kaneko is in his fourth full season so he’s a ways away from free agency, but he’s definitely one to watch.
That’s it for me on prospect mini-profiles for a little while. If you have any more guys you want to see, let me know and I’ll pick ’em up in the next round.