Top 5 MLB Returnees

With Colby Lewis and Scott Atchison returning to the majors this season, I thought I’d take a look at the players who have had the most success after spending time in Japan.

Honorable Mention: Pedro Feliciano (2005, Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks)

5. Julio Franco (1995, 1998, Chiba Lotte Marines) Went to Japan along with guys like Darrin Jackson and Kevin Mitchell after the 1994 MLB strike; left after the Marines fired Bobby Valentine, but returned after a front office change. After time in Korea and Mexico, made a lengthy MLB return in the 00’s.

4. Lee Stevens (1994-95, Kintetsu Buffaloes) Put up better numbers in MLB return than he did in Japan; played in late-90’s Texas division winners.

3. Rafael Betancourt (2000, Seibu Lions) Pitched 28.2 middling innings in Japan in 2000, has been steadily worth 1+ WAR since sticking at the MLB level in 2003, including an excellent 2007 season.

2. Matt Stairs (1993, Chunichi Dragons) Didn’t make an impact in his one season in Nagoya; post-Japan career needs no introduction.

1. Cecil Fielder (1989, Hanshin Tigers) After hitting 38 jacks with Hanshin, changed his Tigers to Detroit and ushered in the 90’s power era, presumably without the aid of ped’s.

Note: this doesn’t include non-Japanese players who started their professional careers in Japan, so former Carp players Alfonso Soriano, Timo Perez, and Ramon Ramirez weren’t considered. I’ll also give Melvin Mora a nod for the time he spent in Taiwan prior to breaking out with the Mets.

The closest thing to a trend here is that Stevens, Betancourt, Stairs and Fielder were all on the right side of 30 when they played in Japan. Franco is an exception because he went over following the strike. Aside from that, this is a scattered group. Stairs and Betancourt didn’t play much in Japan, and needed several more years of minor league seasoning before breaking out at the MLB level. Stevens got his MLB shot after a great year in 3A in 1996, Franco was already an established MLB player, and Fielder had been blocked by Fred McGriff prior to playing in Japan.



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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.


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Adam
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Adam
6 years 3 months ago

Scott Atchison is with the Red Sox, not Rangers.

Chris
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Chris
6 years 3 months ago

I like your list, but I think you need to go back a little further for one of the top 5. There was another player for those Tigers team that had a successful career after playing in Japan: Bill Gullickson

Gullickson was the 2nd overall pick out of HS in the 1977 draft (just behind Harold Baines). He had a moderately successful career in the early 80s but became frustrated after getting Traded to the Yankees, so he pitched in Japan for two seasons in 1988 and 1989. After this the Astros signed him to a deal and then he put up 4 (actually 3 and a half….strike) solid seasons for the Tigers. He led the AL in wins in 1991 and won 20 games. (FIP: 3.95) (WHIP 1.3)

He absolutely ate innings up though. Workhorse

philly
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philly
6 years 3 months ago

Patrick

Perhaps I’ve missed it in another post, but what are you expectations for Lewis coming back?

Tripp
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Tripp
6 years 3 months ago

You forgot Alphonso Soriano!!

Derek
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Derek
6 years 3 months ago

Don’t forget Brad Thomas, he came back to the states this year and is on Detroit’s 40-Man. The odds of him making the team are slim, but you never know.

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