December 16, 2011
Resident Fantasy Genius
Second-Tier Japanese Imports
On Monday, I riffed about how the international player market has been much more active this winter than in years past. International players have a checkered history of jumping straight to the majors; for every Alexei Ramirez or Ichiro Suzuki there are 20 failures like Kei Igawa. If you manage to identify which player will succeed, though, you can have quite the bargain on your hands—both in terms of your favorite MLB club and your fantasy team. Last month, I wrote about Yu Darvish after speaking with some scouts, and on Monday, I scoped out Yoenis Cespedes. Today, I’m going to look at some of the lesser names that will likely be coming to America this season.
Hiroyuki Nakajima | SS | New York Yankees own negotiating rights
If Nakajima does ultimately land with the Yankees, his fantasy value would be restricted to AL-only leagues, but it doesn’t sound like he would have found much success as a starter anyway. Scouts say that Nakajima took a step backward this season both with the bat and the glove, which doesn’t seem too out of the ordinary at age 29. With no standout tool, it appears Nakajima holds much less promise than a guy like Tsuyoshi Nishioka—who was expected to be a quality starter—did coming into 2011. Nishioka had a poor 2011 season, but that could have been caused in part by his injuries, and some say he looked like a completely different player in the States.
Tsuyoshi Wada | SP | Signed by Baltimore Orioles
Norichika Aoki | OF | To Be Posted by His Japanese Club
His bat figures to be playable against major-league pitching given his good hand-eye coordination, but scouts aren’t impressed with his power. He posted home-run totals of 20, 14, 16, and 14 from 2007 to 2010, which might look promising enough given the Quadruple-A label some slap on Japanese ball, but we need to remember that in those years, Nippon Professional Baseball was using a different ball. When the league introduced new baseball for the 2011 season, Aoki's homer total dropped to a mere four—corroborating the scouting take that said his power won't translate well to America. Given that the new ball is much more similar to the ones used in Major League Baseball, it doesn’t seem reasonable to expect many round-trippers for Aoki. With declining speed and very little power, the three-time Japanese batting champion will need to rely on his playing time, lineup position, batting average to carry his fantasy value—two of which, at the least, are in question at the moment.