Who's the next Daisuke? Where will the next Fukudome come from? These are million dollar questions. General managers are hired and fired based on finding and investing in arms and bats from lands afar. I'd like to take a looks at three Asian pitchers who may land in the Major League's next season.
Koji Uehara: In 1998 Uehara was offered a $3 million deal from the Anaheim Angels (back then the Angels were still proud to be affiliated with Anaheim). He was just coming out of college and decided to enter the NPB Draft. He was taken by the Yomiuri Giants in the 1st round and won the Sawamura Award (the Japanese equivalent of the Cy Young) as a rookie. Over his nine seasons in NPB he's accumulated a 106-58 record with a 2.97 ERA.
On the field, Uehara's been the Greg Maddux of his peer set. He's got a 4-pitch repertoire. Along with a low-nineties fastball, he carries a splitter, a cutter, and a slider. Just like Maddux, pinpoint control has been his calling card. Last season, the Yomiuri Giants used him as their closer. Uehara only walked 4 all season, compiling 32 saves. It's unclear (to me, at least) why the Giants used him out of the pen last season. It's worth mentioning that Uehara and Yomiuri have a long history of contract squabbles.
In early April, Uehara announced that he plans to jump to the Major Leagues in 2009, and as a 10-year man, he will do so as a free agent, avoiding some of the crazy "posting" issues that Daisuke went through. Yomiuri and the New York Yankees have a long standing friendship, plus Hideki Matsui is a former teammate of Uehara's. I'd guess that he lands in the Bronx next year to the tune of $12 million a year.
In three NPB starts this season, Uehara is 0-2 with an ERA of 5.85. He's struggled despite being given leads by his offense.
Rhee Dae-eun: A nineteen year old who the Cubs signed out of Korea last season. He's in Peoria right now playing A-ball for Ryne Sandberg's team. Here's his numbers over his first 3 starts of the season: 16 ip, 8 hits, 1 er, 15 k's, 4 bb.
The right-hander’s listed at 6'2 and 195 lbs. He already throws three pitches well and is working on a fourth. His best pitch is a tailing four-seam fastball that usually comes in between 87-93 mph. He can locate it to both sides of the plate and has very good control overall. He throws a well-developed 11/5 curve that drops as low as 73 and a less-developed splitter in the 77-82 range. The fourth pitch is a power slider.
He's nineteen, so the Cubs have no reason to rush him. But if he keeps destroying hitters in A-ball the way he's been doing, don't be surprised if he moves through the organization quickly.
Yu Darvish: Before starting in, it's worth mentioning that Jeff Passan wrote an excellent article on Darvish. It's far more complete than anything I could write here.
Darvish, a member of the Nippon Ham Fighters, is easily the most compelling pitcher in Japanese Baseball today. And he's everything America loves, good looks, soap-opera-style off-the-field-drama, and the makeup of an ace. He throws in the mid-to-high 90s with ease and has a wicked slider, change, and sometimes works a cutter. He's a big kid and has room to fill out his upper body as he is still only 22-years old, but his lower body is relatively thick and generates power at a Major League level.
The only question is, can NPB keep him in their ranks. He would have to go through the posting process, just like Matsuzaka did. Chances are the Yankees would be interested, they've reportedly been scouting him since he was in high school. You can expect the posting fee to be more than Diasuke's, i.e. way more than $50 million. If I had to guess, he'll play for Japan in the 2009 World Baseball Classic and use that as a launching point for a 2010 MLB career.
In 4 games this season, Darvish is 3-0 with a 0.54 ERA.