Over the offseason, I spent a good deal of time writing about what to expect from the various international players Major League Baseball would be importing. It’s been a while since we’ve seen so many imports with the potential to have fantasy value come over in one offseason, so there was a lot to be excited about. Let’s check in on how these players are doing in the early goings, compared to our winter expectations for them.
Yu Darvish | Texas Rangers | SP
The discussion of newly-Americanized prospects can’t begin anywhere but with Darvish. The prize of the offseason (aside from Albert Pujols), Darvish came with quite a bit of hype, but there was also some skepticism given the high failure rate of Japanese starting pitchers (case in point: Daisuke Matsuzaka). I spoke with several scouts who’d seen Darvish pitch and watched some video myself over the offseason, and the final conclusion boiled down to three points: 1) He has ridiculous stuff and upside, 2) He has just average command, and 3) He has terrific makeup, which should help with the multi-faceted, often-difficult transition to MLB.
To date, Darvish has fit this description to a tee. Through eight starts, Darvish has posted a 26 percent strikeout rate (19 percent league average) and a 12 percent walk rate (8 percent league average). His stuff is as filthy as advertised, and his arsenal is as diverse; Brooks Baseball’s PITCHf/x classifications show Darvish with seven different pitches, and he appears to be throwing two different curveballs that are lumped into the same classification, bringing the total to eight. He throws hard, keeps hitters off balance, and accrues plenty of whiffs. Of course, he misses his spots from time to time (as expected), but the transition has been very smooth overall. And when you’re striking out so many batters and getting groundballs at an above-average clip, below-average control is more than tolerable.
Conclusion: Darvish is exactly the pitcher we expected him to be. He should continue being near-excellent for the rest of 2012, pitching to 3.50 ERA or better.
Yoenis Cespedes | Oakland A’s | OF
Aside from Darvish, nobody got more press than Cespedes, and in any other offseason (read: non-Darvish offseason) he might have been even more heralded (especially with that amazing video we’ve all come to love). Despite this hype, however, I noted many reasons to be concerned with Cespedes. His tools were a given, and while they’ve been on display thus far (his power is breathtaking, and he’s been quite active on the basepaths), many of the concerns have proven warranted. The biggest question marks were with Cespedes’ hit tool and plate approach, and both have been questionable at best this year. After a strong start to the season, Cespedes’ production has begun to fizzle out (.227/.261/.273 in May with zero dingers) as pitchers have adjusted. He’s striking out a lot (24 percent), and as pitchers have adapted and are exploiting his weaknesses, his power has waned.
Conclusion: The tools are there, but he’s having trouble adjusting, as expected, and is being exposed by major league pitchers. Expect some more power and speed, but O.co Coliseum will suppress the former a bit, and there will be plenty of strikeouts to accompany whatever homers and steals he musters. He’ll be solid, particularly in AL-only, but if you happened to draft him, you'll hope you sold in mid-April as I suggested.
Wie-Yin Chen | Baltimore Orioles | SP
Chen has been a pleasant surprise for an Orioles team that is no stranger to early-2012 surprises. Scouts liked Chen’s pre-2011 stuff, noting that it had diminished in 2012 as he dealt with injuries. Despite his MLB success thus far, however, Chen’s stuff doesn’t appear to be all the way back to where it was prior to his injury. I previously relayed that “one scout I spoke with said that Chen would consistently sit in the 91-95 mph range prior to 2011,” but Chen is slightly below that now. He’s sitting more in the 88-93 mph area, occasionally touching 94-95. He was around 89-90 in 2011, though, and he’s averaging 91 mph now, which is about what his average was in 2009 according to NPB Tracker.
His 82-mph slider is still noticeably softer than it was previously (84-85), however, which was one of the scouts’ concerns this offseason. While none of his secondary offerings is a true knockout pitch, he does have three of them (slider, curve, change) that rate as average, and his fastball looks like a plus pitch. With a fastball that gets tons of rise and has velocity slightly above average, Chen appears to have enough stuff to get by. Combine this with his as-advertised plus-control, and Chen should continue to be a solid play.
Conclusion: Chen isn’t a 2.66 ERA pitcher, but a 4.25 ERA will be plenty useful for AL-only owners. That might sound a little high given his quality 2.3 K/BB that shouldn’t worsen much, but he’s been an extreme fly-ball pitcher this year, and his repertoire suggests this will continue.
Norichika Aoki | Milwaukee Brewers | OF
To this point, Aoki has served a fourth-outfielder role for the Brewers, as expected. He was in line for more time with Ryan Braun’s suspension pending, but it seemed unlikely he’d have been a quality regular should the suspension been upheld. Despite being a three-time Japanese batting champion, I expected Aoki to post a solid batting average with little speed and even littler power. Despite solid power numbers in Japan, scouts didn’t think it would translate to America, and they’ve been right thus far.
Conclusion: Aoki was expected to be and has been NL-only roster filler, at best. Aside from perhaps a slightly higher batting average and a small handful of steals, don’t expect anything more from Aoki this season.
Tsuyoshi Wada | Baltimore Orioles | SP
Wada has thrown just 2 2/3 innings in America and currently sits on the DL.
Conclusion: The jury is still out on him.