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Update on North American Players in Japan, Part IX: “S”

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Update on North American Players in Japan, Part IX: “S”
(Photo by Stephen Dunn /Getty Images)

Mike Schultz, Toyo Hiroshima Carp

Mike Schultz is a tall, 29-year-old right-handed pitcher, who played in the Diamondbacks’ organization and appeared in one game for the parent team at the end of 2007.

The D'Backs once thought highly enough of Schultz to draft him in the second round of the 2000 Draft (solely on stuff: his college ERAs were over 5.00), but he generally underwhelmed in his minor league career. 

As a reliever at AAA Tucson in 2006 and 2007, he had ERAs of 3.59 and 3.92, and pretty much appeared to be a solid AAA pitcher, but not good enough to have a major league career, or even much likelihood of success in Japan, for that matter.

A scout or two for the Hiroshima Carp must have seen something they liked in Schultz, because they signed him to a contract for the 2008 season; and Schultz has had a very successful first season and a half in Japan.

In ‘08, Schultz pitched in 55 games, all in relief, and posted a 3.23 ERA.

This year, Schultz has improved dramatically.  He’s become the Carp’s principal set-up man to closer Katsuhiro Nagakawa.  Schultz is 2-1 with one save and 22 holds.  His ERA is only 1.23, and he’s allowed only 29 hits and ten walks in 44 IP.  He has 44 K’s.

He’s only making about $450,000 this year, so he’s likely to get a big raise in 2010.

 

Scott Seabol, Toyo Hiroshima Carp

He’s a 34-year-old 3B who played in the Yankees, Brewers, Cardinals, and Marlins organizations.  His only real shot in MLB came with the 2005 Cardinals, when he hit .219 with no power in 105 AB’s.

Seabol had monster years in AAA in 2004 and 2007 and in half a season in 2006, hitting 80 HRs in those roughly two-and-a-half seasons, exactly the type of 4-A player on which the Japanese teams like to take a chance.

He had a solid year for the Carp in 2008, hitting .273 with 15 HRs in 400 ABs.  However, he’s been having problems this year.

He got off to a slow start, hitting only .216 with four home runs in his first 125 AB’s and then he hurt his knee in late May.  As far as I can tell, he hasn’t played for the Carp since, although it appears he has played in a few games for their minor league team, perhaps as part of a rehab assignment.

Meanwhile, another American import, Scott McClain, has taken over at 3B for the Carp and is beginning to hit.  His average is up to .245, with nine home runs in 188 ABs.

In short, it looks like Scott Seabol’s Japanese career is in serious trouble.  McClain and Seabol offer the Carp roughly the same thing, and McClain is healthier and playing better this season.  I can’t imagine the Carp wanting to keep two of these guys around, especially when Seabol is making nearly twice as much as McClain for the same type of performance.

 

Fernando Seguignol, Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles

Montreal Expos fans (if there are any of them left; Montreal was once a great baseball town, now it doesn’t appear that there is even a minor league team playing there.  If not, it’s a shame and an opportunity for some intrepid minor league operator) will remember Seguignol, a big hard-hitting first baseman from Bocas del Toro, Panama.

Fernando nearly established himself as a major league regular, but like a lot of 4-A stars, he developed late and was considered too old once he was really ready for the Show.

Fernando had his first break-out minor league season at AA Hartford in 1998, which earned him a well-played cup of coffee with the Expos at the end of the season. 

In 1999 and 2000, he split time between AAA Ottawa and Montreal, putting up OPS numbers of .814 and .838 in 105 and 162 major league ABs, respectively.  Pretty good, but not so much for a major leaguer starting at 1B.

Fernando split 2001 between AAA Ottawa and Montreal yet again, but that year his major league performance was terrible.  He was used almost exclusively as a pinch hitter, and he didn’t get the job done, going 7 for 50 (.140 batting average) with no HRs.

Fernando signed with the Orix Blue Wave in 2002 and hit 23 HRs in only 280 ABs.  Unfortunately, he also hit only .204 and struck out 104 times.  He wasn’t resigned, and he played at AAA Columbus in the Yankees organization in 2003.

Seguignol had a fantastic season at Columbus in ‘03, hitting .341 with 28 HR’s and a 1.025 OPS. 

And the Japanese teams came calling again.

He signed with the Nippon-Ham Fighters for 2004 and had a monster season, hitting .305 with 44 HRs, 108 RBI’s and 1.070 OPS.

Fernando has been living off that 2004 season ever since.  He continues to be a solid player, but his numbers have declined a little almost every year since that golden season. 

He had 31 HRs in ‘05, 26 HRs in ‘06 and 21 HRs in ‘07.  That last year, his average dropped almost fifty points to .249. 

Interestingly, however, his big bump in salary (from about $750,000 to over $2M) came not after the 44 HR season, but the season after his follow-up 31 HR campaign.  $2M+ is too much to pay for his 2007 performance, and the Ham Fighters dumped him after the 2007 season.

Seguignol played 49 games for Tabasco in the Mexican League and 24 games for Toledo, the Detroit Tigers’ AAA team, in the International League in 2008, and played well in both places.  This got him signed by the Rakuten Golden Eagles (at a greatly reduced salary from what he made with the Ham Fighters) to finish out the 2008 season.

Fernando finished out the 2008 season with some heavy hitting for the Golden Eagles, batting .328 with 13 HRs in only 39 games. 

So far in 2009, however, Fernando is really showing his age (34 this year).  In more at-bats than last year, he has only seven HRs and is hitting a feeble .196.  Unless he gets red hot in the second half, it looks like this will be Fernando’s final season in Japan.

 

Rick Short, Tohoku Golden Eagles

Rick Short is a 36-year-old, jack-of-all-trades, who has played first, second, third and the corner outfield positions in both the U.S. and Japan.  He’s another classic 4-A player who has had success in the Far East.

Rick has always been a high average hitter who lacked the power to be a major league player.  He hit .331 in the AA Eastern League in 2000 and .356 in the AAA Pacific Coast League in 2002 without even receiving a major league cup of coffee for his efforts.

Rick signed with the Chiba Lotte Marines in 2003 and put up a fine season, hitting .303 with 12 HRs and a .362 OBP.  However, the Japanese teams want more power from their highly paid American players, and Rick did not return to Japan in 2004.

Instead, he went back to the States, and had a respectable season split between the Expos’ and Royals’ AAA teams. 

In 2005, however, Rick led the PCL in hitting with a lusty .383 batting average, 23 points better than another great 4-A player, Joe Dillon (Dillon had a brief trial in Japan in 2006, played poorly and was shipped back to America.  It’s worked out for Dillon, though, he’s played in 108 MLB games since 2007).

It was the second time Rick had led the PCL in batting average.  The Rakuten Golden Eagles were interested, and Rick went back to Japan to play in 2006.

After hitting .314 in 2006, Rick led Japan’s Pacific League in batting average two years in a row, hitting .330 in ‘07 and .332 on ‘08.  Rick is very popular in Japan, where he is known simply as “Rick” because the Japanese fans have trouble pronouncing his last name.

Rick has value because of his ability to play many positions, but he’s really not a particularly good hitter even with the batting championships. 

He walks infrequently (his season high since coming back to Japan in 2006 is 29 times in 458 plate appearances), he hits with little power (a total of 20 HRs for the 2006 through 2008 seasons combined) and he hits into a lot of double plays (67 times in his first four seasons).

Rick was a bit better last year, clubbing 12 HRs and hitting into only 11 double plays, and he set Japanese career highs with 62 runs scored and 71 runs batted in.  Despite leading the league in hitting in 2007, he scored only 31 runs in 458 plate appearances. 

Wow!

In 2006, despite hitting .314 in 401 ABs, he scored only 33 runs and drove in only 34.  The Golden Eagles’ offense was terrible those years, but other than hitting a lot of singles and a few doubles, Rick wasn’t contributing a whole lot either.

This will almost certainly be Rick’s last season in Japan.  He’s hitting only .230 in 126 ABs, he’s scored only eight runs, and he’s driven in only five runs.  He hurt his shoulder around June 10, and it appears he hasn’t played at the major league level since.  He is hitting .391 in 23 ABs for the Golden Eagles’ minor league team, however.

With the two batting titles, Rick’s salary has climbed up to about $1.25 million this year, which is really too much, even when he was hitting .330.  Without the league leading batting averages to cover up his offensive failings, his lack of production must be apparent even to the Golden Eagles.

 

Brian Sikorski, Chiba Lotte Marines

Sikorski is a hard-throwing right-hander who has had a long and successful career in Japan as a set-up man coming out of the bullpen.

Sikorski started his professional career as a starter with the Astros and Rangers.  In 2000, at age 26, he pitched in ten games for the Rangers, recording a 5.74 ERA in 37.1 IP.

Sikorski was pitching great after 14 starts at AAA Oklahoma City in 2001, posting a 3.61 ERA with great ratios, but even though he only turned 27 on July 27, the Rangers didn’t think enough of him to prevent them from selling his contract to the Chiba Lotte Marines.

Sikorski appeared in 12 games for the Marines in 2001 and pitched poorly, recording an ERA of 6.43, apparently mostly as a starter.  The Marines liked his stuff enough to keep him around, despite his poor showing and high salary.  They converted him into a relief pitcher in 2002, and his career exploded.

In 2002, Sikorski pitched 96.2 innings over 47 appearances.  Although his ERA was a not especially impressive 3.44, he allowed only 76 hits, 20 walks and recorded 102 Ks.  In 2003, he lowered his ERA to 3.16.

In 2004, Sikorski was apparently traded to the Yomuiri Giants, where, surprisingly, he took a substantial pay cut. 

Again, he was primarily used as a set-up man, but he did record five saves and lowered his ERA again to 2.67.  In 2005, Sikorski pitched in 70 games for the Giants, and although his ERA rose to 3.29, he recorded 100 Ks in 87.2 IP.

After establishing himself as top relief pitcher in Japan, Sikorski tried going back to the States in 2006.  He signed with the Padres’ organization and started the year at their AAA team in Portland.  He pitched well there, posting a 3.14 ERA with seven saves, and recording 44 Ks and only seven walks in 28.2 IP.

This earned him a call-up to the Padres, but he didn’t get the job done, posting a 5.65 ERA in thirteen relief appearances.  As has often been the case for Sikorski in both the U.S. and Japan, giving up the long ball was his one great weakness.

The Padres then traded Sikorski to the Indians where he actually pitched pretty well.  His ERA was only 4.58, again due to too many HRs allowed, but he racked up 24 Ks and only 4 walks in 19.2 IP for the Tribe.

Sikorski started 2007 back in AAA, pitching for the Indians’ farm team in Buffalo.  He had a 3.52 ERA with good ratios, when the Yakult Swallows purchased his contract.

Since returning to Japan, Sikorski has become one of the best relievers in Japan.  His ERA in half a season in 2007 was 2.29, his ERA in 2008 was 2.23, and his ERA in 32 appearances so far this year is down to 1.89.

Sikorski returned to the Marines in 2008, and they’ve used him mainly an inning at a time, initially as the set up man to the Marines’ young closer Tadahiro Ogino.  However, Ogino has pitched poorly this year, and in the last month Sikorski has been moved into the closer role.  He now has four saves.

 

Terrmel Sledge, Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters

North American fans will remember Terrmel.  In the Expos’ last year in Montreal (2004), Terrmel got into a 133 games mostly at the corner outfield positions and mainly out of desperation of the Expos’ part. 

However, Termel was 27, the age at which ballplayers tend to peak, and he had a good year.  He hit .269 with 15 HRs and a .798 OPS in 398 ABs.

The next year in Washington, Sledge began the season on the Nationals’ roster and hit the Nationals’ first HR ever on Opening Day, but he tore his hamstring on May 2nd and didn’t play again that year.

Terrmel was traded to the Padres during the offseason, and in 2006 and 2007, he got a combined 270 ABs at the major league level.  However, Petco Park is a tough place to hit, and Terrmel couldn’t hit there at all.  In 2007, for example, he hit .168 with a .531 OPS at home and .253 with an .804 OPS on the road in roughly equal numbers of ABs.

Due to his significant major league experience, Terrmel signed with the Nippon-Ham Fighters for a large first-year contract of approximately $1.5 million for the 2008 season. 

He had strong rookie campaign in Japan that year, hitting .289 with 16 HRs and an .834 OPS in 395 ABs.

Terrmel has had a harder time of it this year.  He’s hitting only .240, although he has a dozen home runs and 16 doubles in 217 AB’s.  Because he’ll take a walk and is hitting for more power than last year, his OPS is .820 so far in 2009, very close to what it was at the end of the season last year.

I think that Sledge will have a few more solid seasons in Japan.  The only knock on him really is that he’s already 32 years old.

 

Brian Sweeney, Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters

Brian Sweeney is a 35-year-old right-handed pitcher from Yonkers, New York.  He was not drafter as a senior playing at small-time Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, NY, and he got his start in 1996 pitching in a now-defunct Independent A league.  He went 6-0 with a 2.20 ERA, and the Mariners signed him.

Sweeney toiled for years in the Mariners’ system, finally getting a cup of coffee in 2003 at age 29.  He pitched well, recording a 1.93 ERA in 9.1 major league innings.

Sweeney was then traded to the Padres in 2004, and he got a cup of coffee with them that year in which he got hit hard.  He spent all of 2005 in the minors, and after an unimpressive start there in 2006, the Padres called him up and stuck him in their bullpen, presumably out of desperation.

Sweeney pitched surprisingly well for the Padres in ‘06.  He appeared in 37 games, posted a 3.20 ERA, and even picked up two saves.  His other numbers were mediocre, and he was already 32 that year, so the Padres didn’t object when he signed a roughly $675,000 contract with the Ham Fighters for 2007.

In ‘07, Sweeney was primarily used as a starter.  He went 6-8 with a 3.70 ERA in 21 games.

Sweeney had a far better year in 2008.  He went 12-5 with a 3.48 ERA, making him one of the top ten starters in Japan’s Pacific League.  However, he also led the league in walks with 72 and struck out only 90 in 163 IP.

Guys with ratios like Sweeney’s tend to be inconsistent, no matter what league they’re playing in, and Sweeney’s 2009 season is a good demonstration of this fact.  He’s 2-5 this year, and his ERA has jumped to 5.58. 

He’s 35, so some of his poor performance may also be age-related.

One thing is almost certain, however: 2009 will be his last season in Japan.  At least, he’ll be able to walk away with earnings of more than $2 million for his three years of work there.

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