With the influx of international players joining the majors, it is important to stay ahead of the curve and know who these players are before they arrive. One player who was rumored to be on his way to the states is Japanese pitcher Kenta Maeda. Unfortunately for me I wrote this in advance and Maeda gave me a middle finger for Christmas by resigning with his original team.
While Maeda will not be joining the majors in 2015, there is still a good chance we will see him in 2016 since his deal was for only one year. Players in dynasty leagues wait longer than that for prospects that may never amount to anything so Maeda is still someone to keep on your radar and know about. For those of you who are wondering exactly who Maeda is:
Maeda is a 26-year-old (27 April 11th) right-handed pitcher who has played the last seven seasons in Japan for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. In 2010 Maeda won the Swamura Award (which is basically the Japanese version of the Cy Young) and just missed out on winning another one in 2014. Here is a look at what Maeda has done to date.
The past 5 years have been rather impressive. In seven seasons Maeda has given up more than 2 walk per 9 innings just twice; one of those is only 2.05 so since his rookie season, he’s been a control artist. The hit total is also impressive, and combined with the walks Maeda has had a WHIP below 1.10 for six seasons. His ERA has been just as good finishing at 2.60 or lower for six straight seasons. The strikeouts are good — not Yu Darvish good; better than what Hisashi Iwakuma put up before coming to the states, but lower than Masahiro Tanaka.
Maeda was also a workhorse in Japan and led the league in innings pitched in 2010, 2011 and 2012. He also has 23 complete games (10 shutouts) and has posted 187+ innings in each of the past 6 seasons with the exception of 2013 (175.1). Maeda is a young, durable control artist who would make a great addition to the majors. While the numbers paint a pretty picture, the scouts have some concerns.
The number one issue regardless of where I looked was Maeda’s size. He’s only 6 feet tall; the weight varies depending on where you look but is somewhere between 160 and 170. It’s this small and lanky frame that has scouts believing he may have trouble adjusting to the majors.
Then there is a matter of his stuff. Maeda throws both a two and four seam fastball that sit in the low 90’s that he can pinpoint with great control. There are concerns that he doesn’t get a great angle on the ball due to his size, but other than that scouts like his fastball. It’s his secondary pitches that have issues. His slider can be good at times, but he leaves too many hanging up in the zone. He has a nice break on his curveball, but overall the pitch is nothing special. Maeda also throws a cutter and changeup up, but both pitches are average. Overall, Maeda lacks an out pitch or solid secondary “go to” pitch to fall back on so he will have to rely on pinpoint accuracy with his off-speed pitches.
So what should we expect when Maeda finally arrives? Scouts see him as being a number four pitcher, but I think that is a conservative estimate considering his numbers. I know, numbers don’t always translate, but we have all given higher projections to pitchers in the minors for major league clubs. I know Maeda isn’t going to be an ace like Darvish, but he could be every bit as good (or better) than Hisashi Iwakuma or Korean import Hyun-Jin Ryu. That bumps him up to a number 3 pitcher in the majors, or for fantasy purposes a rank somewhere in the high 20’s to low 30’s.
The concerns about his size and angle of his fastball are legitimate, but I would dismiss any concerns about his secondary offerings. Maeda is only 26 years old so he is still young enough that he can improve upon any one of those pitches since none of them are bad – they just don’t stand out. And with another year to work on them, we might have a slightly better picture in 2016.
Overall I think Maeda could make a great target on draft day should the Hiroshima Carp make him available in 2016. Maeda has expressed interest in joining the Major League and the fact he only signed a one year deal is a sign he doesn’t want to make a long-term commitment to his current team. Stash the name and remember it come this time next year.
The other half of this feature was on another Japanese pitcher, Chihiro Kaneko, but he also resigned with his former team. Kaneko’s deal was for 4 years so telling you about him would be a moot point. Oh well, close to 900 words down the drain.
So the Japanese teams got great presents for Christmas and left me with a bag of Coal. Bah Humbug!