Picking up where I left off last time…
Norichika Aoki (OF, Yakult Swallows, 28) – In a post-Ichiro, post-Matsui NPB, Aoki reigns as the consensus top hitter. I’d actually go so far as to say that he”s the best pure hitter Japan has produced since Ichiro. Aoki is a line drive hitter with occasional power who uses the whole field. He’s also a disciplined batter, walking about as often as he strikes out, which is rare in Japan. Aoki is short and somewhat stocky at 5’7.5, 182 lbs, but is a good runner with tremendous range in the outfield. The only knock on his game is his rather weak throwing arm, which may limit him to left field at the MLB level. For video, I dug up some batting and fielding highlights and a breakdown of his swing on YouTube.
Hiroyuki Nakajima (SS, Seibu Lions, 28) – Nakajima gets my vote as Japan’s second best hitter, behind Aoki. Nakajima doesn’t quite match up with Aoki’s pure contact skill or plate discipline, but is still very good in both categories and adds a bit more gap power to the equation. Nakajima is a back-leg hitter, with a big stride that he will occasionally shorten up. On the turf, Nakajima plays a solid shortstop, among many good shortstops in his league. The best video I could find of Nakajima was this one, of him hitting an opposite field home run off Dicky Gonzales (I know, not the best competition). Also of note in the video, you can see that he’s made friends with teammate Dee Brown. The high-five routine they do after home runs shows up on Japanese highlight shows.
Wei-Yin Chen (LHP, Chunichi Dragons, 25) – Last offseason, Chen was probably the more outspoken about wanting to be posted than any other NPB player. Chen is Taiwanese, but signed with Chunichi as an amateur out of high school, apparently without any provisions to make him a free agent if he and the team can’t agree to a contract during the annual negotiations (as veteran foreign players who sign from 3A or Korea usually do). This is an unusual situation, but not unprecedented, as the first couple postings for Dominican players the Hiroshima Carp had signed as amateurs, including current Giant Ramon Ramirez. Chen does appear to be serious about MLB, as he hired agent Alan Nero last offseason, and I expect him to push to be posted again this year.
Chen features NPB’s top lefty power arsenal, primarily throwing fastballs and sliders, while mixing in occasional forkballs and the random big, loopy curve. His fastball reaches 95 mph or so, but usually sits around 90-92, while his slider breaks in on righthanded batters and sits in the 85-87 range. Chen has been letting his pitches get up in the zone much more this season, and is showing more of a flyball tendency than he did last year.
The Chen video I have is two hours of game footage from his August 17 start, against Seth Greisinger and the Giants. The video occasionally switches to a Yokohama game, but still gives you a better sense of what Chen throws than a 10-minute highlight reel will.