I’m big on international signings — because in some cases, you get to add a new prospect to the system for just money, while others provide an established player for the same cost alone. Guys like Jose Abreu become a bit more tantalizing when you realize that they don’t cost a draft pick or require a package of prospects to be traded away — but can potentially provide the production of an all-star. The Mets were scouting Abreu recently, perhaps half-heartedly, and another international prospect: Masahiro Tanaka.
Japanese imports have produced a mixed bag for MLB teams, where you have guys like Kei Igawa listed as complete busts but Yu Darvish standing as one of the top pitchers in the AL. More than likely, the players will produce mixed results on their own, such as Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideo Nomo, or Hiroki Kuroda — who have each experienced success in some way or form in the MLB. Takashi Saito and Koji Uehara are also two recent examples of starters converted into relievers who found success — another potential route to being a mainstay in the MLB.
Outside of Shohei Otani, I do not always pay much attention to Japanese pitchers — but Tanaka is a pretty talented young hurler. Coming off a 2013 season where he went 20-0 in 23 starts with a 1.24 ERA and just 26 walks in 188.0 innings pitched, it’s hard not to take notice of the guy. His best year was in 2011, where he went 19-5 in 27 starts with 226.1 innings pitched — to the tune of a 1.27 ERA and a 241:27 K:BB ratio. One of the biggest keys to Tanaka’s success is his walk rate — just a 1.9 BB/9 for his career and about a 1.1 over the last three years or so. He does a good job of keeping the ball in the ballpark and boasts a track record of being a work horse with 52 complete games in his career — 18 of them being shutout victories.
Tanaka possesses a respectable arsenal of four pitches: two fastballs (four-seam/two-seam), a slider, and a splitter. Ben Badler called Tanaka’s splitter, “…arguably the best splitter in the world.” His slider has serious bite to it and sits in the mid 80s. His fastball usually sits in the low 90s, but in the start that Badler scouted, he touched 97 MPH on his 108th pitch of the game — so he can reach back if needed. He turns 25 in November.
Now, signing a Japanese player is more complicated considering the posting system and all that stuff, but it’s fun to debate the thought. The Mets’ system is supposedly rich in young pitching — but as of right now, all of the young arms from Montero down are unproved commodities. As much as I hate to admit that there is a chance they can fail…it exists. For the record, I do love our prospects — I just want to be realistic.
It is my personal opinion that Tanaka has a solid chance to succeed in the MLB, but I doubt the Mets will target him (because they have no…marbles). If he was successful, it would allow the Mets the flexibility to trade some of the depth we have at pitcher to try and improve in other areas — namely shortstop.
Oh hey, somebody better warn Tanaka that wherever he ends up, he’s gonna be traded for Jack Parkman.