NPB Prospects You Should Know

You’ve heard plenty about Yu Darvish and Matt Murton. Over my next couple posts, I’ll be introducing some MLB prospects currently active in Japan that you might not be aware of, but should be. These are guys that mostly likely won’t be coming over this offseason, but have sufficient upside to make them interesting prospects if/when they do.

My criteria for selecting players to include in this series:

* must be good
* must be on pace to become eligible to move to MLB by age 30 or so
* must be playing at the NPB level already

Kyuji Fujikawa (RHP, Hanshin Tigers, 30) – We’ll start with Japan’s top relief pitcher. Fujikawa has been a strikeout machine since getting healthy in 2005, hovering around 13 K/9 each year. This year he’s racked up 63 Ks in 45.1 innings of work, for a 12.51 mark. Fujikawa gets it done with a rising four-seam fastball that sits in the 93-96 mph range, and a hard forkball that frequently finds it’s way into the dirt. On the downside, Fujikawa has tweaked his delivery a bit over the years, and isn’t always consistent with his mechanics. Fujikawa has been known to be interested in moving to MLB for quite some time, but Hanshin has made it clear that they intend to hang on to him, so we’ll have to wait another two years or so before he’s eligible to make the jump via free agency. Here’s a video clip of him entering a recent Tigers game.

Takeya Nakamura (3B, Seibu Lions, 27) – Like Ryoji Nakata, Nakamura is, um, large. His nickname is “Okawari-kun,” “okawari” meaning “another serving” and “kun” being an informal version of “san.” Unlike Nakata, Okawari-kun is good. He’s struggled this season with injuries, but led Japan in home runs in 2008 and 2009, with 46 and 48, respectively. He also led Japan in strikeouts, with 162 and 154, again respectively. Despite his girth, Nakamura plays a respectable third base, with a good first step and a quick release on his throws. At the plate he’s a pull hitter, as you can see in this clip of all his 2008 home runs (including on at 1:29 off Darvish). I don’t really see Nakamura as an MLB prospect, but he’s a fun player nonetheless.

Munenori Kawasaki (SS, SofBank Hawks, 29) – Kawasaki is the consummate small-ball player: he makes contact, steals bases, puts bunts down, and plays good infield defense. Kawasaki typically hits for average, as well; he’s currently fourth in the Pacific League with a .327 mark. Unsurprisingly, the one thing Kawasaki has never done much of is hit for power. His next home run will be his fifth of the year, and a new personal best. Kawasaki has qualified for NPB domestic free agency, meaning that he can file for free agency and move to another NPB team this offseason. No one expects him to do that, though, and with another year of service time he’ll be eligible to move overseas. He’ll be an interesting prospect if he chooses to, I kind of see him as an infielder version of Scott Podsednik. YouTube didn’t turn up a lot of great results for Kawasaki, but there is this one.

I’ll be back shortly with another round of prospects to look it. Got questions? You have the floor.




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Patrick Newman is a veteran enthusiast of Japanese baseball who happens to write about it at npbtracker.com, and on Twitter @npbtracker.


16 Responses to “NPB Prospects You Should Know”

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  1. Adam M says:

    What makes Nakamura a non-prospect? Body type? High K rates? Defense? A combination?

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    • For me it’s a combination of the things you mentioned, plus the observation that power hasn’t predictably translated from NPB to MLB.

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      • mbrady16 says:

        Patrick, it actually looked like Nakamura had decent power to all fields. He hit quite a few to center and also right. He also looks like he has a good approach to breaking balls, as he hit quite a few of them out. Maybe its just me, but I’d love to see more Japanese hitters translate to the big leagues.

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      • Chair says:

        It’s true, with only a few exceptions (Just Matsui really) NPB power has all but dissipated. Do you have any theory as to why certain skills (contact) translate to MLB more easily? Is it just differences in the parks?

        The Dodgers have huge problems at third base in their future. They would have Norihiro Nakamura’s 2005 failure in the back of their memory but this Nakamura intrigues me. How does he compare to Norihiro and what is his transfer/free agency status?

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      • mbrady16 — I should have said his power is to center and left field. I did count 5-6 opposite field home runs, including a couple off Chihiro Kaneko and one at the 6:00 mark off Darvish. So he took some of Japan’s best pitchers the other way.

        Chair — Even Matsui’s power production took a dip in MLB (he went from 50 to 16 hr). It’s not just a difference in parks. The ball is different, there are more pitchers and more variety, more fastballs… there’s a number of reasons.

        I like Okawari a little better than Nori. He’s got a cleaner, more compact swing, and I believe he is facing better competition than Nori did. At his peak though, Nori hit for better average, and I think he was a little better in the field (just gut intuition on that). By the time Nori got to the Dodgers, he was coming off a couple of very bad seasons, and he was bad again after going back before finally finding himself with Chunichi.

        Okawari has about five years of service time, so he’s four years away from FA status. I don’t see him being posted.

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      • joser says:

        And American players generally seem to hit for more power when they go to Japan. Whatever the factors (and the smaller, different ball would seem to be a big one), they work in both directions.

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  2. SoxScout says:

    Are Tsuyoshi Wada and Wei-Ying Chen in the discussion? A friend in Japan keeps saying they are locks to be coming to America next season.

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    • Yep, I’ll cover them in upcoming installments of this series. Neither is a lock to move to MLB next season though. Wada has one year left before free agency, and I don’t think he’ll be posted; Chen is outspoken about wanting to be posted, but his team, Chunichi, is understandably reluctant to do so, as he is very good.

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  3. James says:

    Anyone remember Akira Kawasaki from MVP Baseball 05? That’s who I thought of with the last player.

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  4. Mike Green says:

    Kawasaki reminded me in the youtube video of a Matty Alou type. It figures that he would share his name with a motorcycle. I am still waiting for Bobby Harley-Davidson to come up in 2023.

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  5. Max says:

    Baseball Child!

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  6. joser says:

    Takeya Nakamura sounds like someone already in MLB. Hmmm, large, plays a respectable third base despite his girth… if he comes across the pond shall we call him Karate Panda? Kendo Panda? Sumo Panda? Fat Ichiro?

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  7. hopi says:

    any news on Hiroyuki Kobayashi from Chiba Lotte? i hear he wants to move overseas since hes up for IFA, but i haven’t found that much news on it

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  8. gradygradychase says:

    According to SANKEI news in Japan, it is quite likely that Yu Darvish will come to the Majors through posting this winter.

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