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.
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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