After hearing of Junichi Tazawa, the 22-year-old flame thrower from Japan, who all but skipped the NPB draft to come to the United States, and also reading Brandon Heikoop’s article on the topic here, I was inspired to formulate a scouting report.
The best video I found was this one.
Junichi Tazawa, 5-11, 180 lbs, R/R, June 6, 1986
Tazawa’s deliver has been the subject of concern for many fans. His arm lags behind his shoulder through his deliver, and his follow through is fairly upright and ends abruptly. These things are not uncorrectable and shouldn’t be a major concern for fans.
Tazawa lands well, which I think is one of the most important things for pitchers, and unlike many Japanese pitchers, his slightly awkward delivery is not used to mask his pitches or deceive the hitter, so mechanical changes shouldn’t throw off any rhythm he has or subtract from his production.
Tazawa balances his weight well, which maximizes his velocity and movement, and also puts the least amount of stress on his arm, compared to production of velocity as is possible.
Tazawa features a low-mid-90s fastball, which tails in on right-handed hitters. His curve, which generally sits between 75-78 mph, is an effective offspeed pitch with sharp, late break. His slider, or possibly a shuuto, which he throws the least of all of the pitches breaks mostly down, and sits in the low-mid-80s.
Tazawa’s fastball has enough movement for backdoor strikes on the outside corner, and to cause lefties to chase it out of the zone. His fastball/curve speed ratio is ideal, and will cause hitters to swing on their front foot. His slider, perhaps the most impressive pitch in Tazawa’s repertoire has potential to be an out pitch in the bigs.
Tazawa’s style is not dissimilar to that of Clay Buchholz, though he has a lesser fastball. Tazawa relies heavily on his curveball and slider, though less heavily on his slider. To go the distance in the major leagues, one mustn’t rely too heavily on their breaking stuff.
Similar to fellow countryman Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tazawa is a nibbler. In the majors, this could will be a problem. Japanese baseball has notoriously large strike zones, and it has taken time for Matsuzaka to adjust; he’s arguably still in the infancy of his adjustment process.
Tazawa controls both sides of the plate and changes speeds well, which is impressive at his age. It is rare to see a pitcher of Tazawa’s age able to throw the high-inside strike and strike a man out looking.
What to take from the video
This is clearly a day when Tazawa was on his stuff. In the video, he strikes out five of six batters shown, but his realistic strikeout rate is far less than that. The video is against lesser competition, which further muddles the expected transition, as NPB players are often scrutinized for their competition, and that is the highest level of Japanese baseball.
Tazawa got a few strike calls in the video that would make even Greg Maddux blush, however, an important thing to do rather than judging a pitcher on strike/ball ratio, is to watch his catcher before the pitch, and where he sets up, and then view where the pitch ends up. A hard concept for novice baseball fans to understand is that often time’s pitchers throw balls on purpose.
Tazawa hits his spots about 75 percent of the time in the video, and most of his more blatant misses are either off the plate, or in the correct direction (further outside on an outside setup, more inside on an inside setup, lower on a low setup, higher on a high setup.)
Tazawa shows excellent control of his curveball and throws a slider near the end that conjures images of Rob Nen.
Near the beginning of the video, Tazawa throws a curveball which causes worry. It was either hung, or a “get-me-over” curve, but in the major leagues, several hitters would have parked that pitch a dozen rows deep in left field.
Tazawa’s height isn’t as big an issue in Japan, though most major-league pitchers are over six feet tall, Tazawa’s three-quarters delivery should effectively maintain inconsistency in eye level, especially with the vertical movement of his curveball.
To sign Tazawa to a contract in the range of even $5-6 million annually would be foolish. With no posting fee, it would seem to be a bargain, but Tazawa is fundamentally no different than a Latino amateur.
Though he’s seemingly more polished than an average 22-year-old pitcher, it may take a year or two for him to reach the majors, especially at an effective level.
His level of competition is in question, and while he’s played levels of professional baseball, he hasn’t even faced the best his country has to offer. He’s still young and will have time to earn his money.
A reasonable price for Tazawa is probably in the range of $3-6 million, perhaps incentive laden, and in the form of a signing bonus.
This is not to say that he won’t get more, but he’ll do so from a team which doesn’t spend wisely.