The Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes have officially taken over baseball headlines. But the question remains: Is he worth all the hype?
Before being able to answer that question, let's examine the reports that have come out recently. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports is reporting that the Japanese prospect has started meeting with teams.
As of now, the teams most interested in the 25-year-old include the Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, Chicago Cubs, Arizona Diamondbacks and New York Yankees. Other teams like the Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners are also interested but don't appear to be serious contenders.
Of those teams, the Dodgers appear to be the team willing to put in the highest bid, according to NBC Sports:
In the past, Japanese pitchers have been hit or miss. The most recent examples are Yu Darvish becoming an ace for the Texas Rangers and Daisuke Matsuzaka falling out of favor with the Boston Red Sox after just two great seasons with the team.
But for Tanaka, his numbers are extremely similar and in some ways better than Darvish's over his last five seasons in the Japanese leagues. Here is a look at some of the stats that the two players accumulated during that stretch:
|Darvish vs. Tanaka|
One thing that Japanese pitchers have become famous for is their nasty splitters. With some of the most movement in his split fastball, Tanaka's out pitch is one that has devastated foreign players for several years and would do the same to MLB hitters.
Ben Badler of Baseball America gave a scouting report on the prospect back in August:
At 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, Tanaka throws a low-90s fastball that can touch 96 mph. Even though Tanaka can reach the mid-90s, his fastball is the pitch that gives some scouts pause because it comes in on a flat plane, making it more hittable than the velocity might suggest. Tanaka has two secondary pitches that have earned grades of 60 or better on the 20-80 scouting scale, including a 70 splitter with late downward action to keep hitters off his fastball. His low- to mid-80s slider is another plus weapon, while he'll mix in a curveball as well.
While Tanaka is three inches shorter than Darvish, he is already being projected as a No. 2 starter that can join a rotation right now. His fastball may not be the best pitch in his repertoire, but the splitter and slider are pitches that make him deadly against any batter, right-handed or left-handed.
The history of Japanese-born pitchers in MLB is typically unpredictable. Kei Igawa and Hideki Irabu never lived up to the hype. Matsuzaka started strong, but his fall was much steeper than his rise. While Darvish is experiencing success now, he's heading into just his third season.
Hiroki Kuroda is probably the most consistent Japanese pitcher but has rarely been seen as one of the best pitchers in the major leagues.
While Tanaka is typically seen as a notch below Darvish, his control of four different pitches shows that he is already MLB-ready coming into the league. While a huge contract of over $100 million might seem like a blind investment, Tanaka is a young prospect who will be worth the investment for whichever MLB team lands him.