I'd like to start a thread on potential MLB imports, a place to discuss stats in foreign leagues and share info on scouting reports and potential time frames of coming over to play in North America. There are usually a few guys that come over every year!
I'll start by highlighting a few names out of Japan I'm following for my dynasty league
1. Shohei Otani: He is truly in a class all by himself right now. Otani is the best player in Japan and has the tools to be an ace-caliber pitcher in MLB, if not a reliable hitter as well. He has posted tremendous numbers the last two years, striking out 11 or more batters per nine innings in 2015 and 2016 while posting ERAs of 2.24 and 1.86. With 4 pitches projected to be at least above average (80-grade fastball, 60-grade Curve, 60-grade splitter, 55-grade slider) along with future plus command/control, he looks like a future ace at the MLB level. All this at just 22 years old. Although the new CBA likely impacts him, after 2017 is a possibility.
2. Shintaro Fujinami: Back in 2012, Otani and Fujinami were the top two prospects in the NPB draft, and plenty of folks at the time preferred Fujinami because his secondary pitchers were more advanced. Otani went 1st overall, but Fujinami has stayed close and is largely thought of as the second best MLB prospect in Japan. The 22-year-old Fujinami had a 3.25 ERA in 26 starts and 169 innings in 2016, striking out 176 (24.0 K%) and walking 70 (9.6 BB%). He misses plenty of bats with a 92-95 mph fastball, a mid-80s splitter, and a low-80s slider. The new CBA impacts Fujinami much like it does Otani. He’s only 22, which means he’ll be subject to the international hard cap for the next three years. Also, Fujinami is five years away from qualifying for international free agency, so he’ll have to go through the posting system to come over at any point before the 2021-22 offseason.
3. Kohei Arihara: Arihara, 24, just finished his second season with the Nippon Ham Fighters, during which he had a 2.94 ERA with 103 strikeouts (16.1 K%) and 38 walks (5.9 BB%) in 22 starts and 156 innings. He runs his fastball up to 96 mph and throws a number of offspeed pitches, and while nothing he throws is a truly dominant offering, Arihara has good command and his stuff plays up because of it. His upside is a mid-rotation starter at the MLB level, and he could come over to North America in 2018 or 2019.
4. Tetsuto Yamada: Yamada has established himself as one of the most dominant hitters in Japan. In 2015 he hit .329/.416/.610 with 38 home runs and 34 stolen bases and was promptly named Central League MVP. He followed that up with a 304/.425/.607 batting line with 38 homers and 30 stolen bases in 2016 for the Yakult Swallows. He’s a right-handed hitter with tremendous bat speed and quick twitch athleticism, plus he knows how to control the strike zone (17.2 K% and 14.4 BB% from 2015-16). He’s a middle infielder, profiles best at 2B at the MLB level, and his upside at that position would be huge! Yamada has supposedly expressed interest in coming over to MLB, and since he’ll turn 25 in July, he won’t be subject to the international hard cap next offseason. The Swallows can post him and Yamada can sign a contract of any size. Really unsure of his potential MLB ETA, but it could happen as soon as next offseason. He’s one to watch.
5. Yusei Kikuchi: A few years ago Kikuchi, now 25, was considering jumping to MLB straight out of high school, which would have been unprecedented. (Junichi Tazawa was undrafted out of high school, played one year in a Japanese independent league, then chose to forego NPB for MLB.) NPB doesn’t like the idea of the best young Japanese players not playing in Japan, so nowadays anyone who signs with an MLB team out of high school is banned from NPB for at least three years. Not surprisingly, no one has done it. A left-handed pitcher, he had a 2.58 ERA with 127 strikeouts (21.3 K%) and 67 walks (11.3 K%) in 22 starts and 143 innings in 2016. He has 4 offerings, highlighted by a fastball that sits in the mid-90’s and a good changeup. It’s no secret Kikuchi wants to come over to MLB at some point, and since he’s 25, the international hard cap won’t apply to him. It’s up to the Seibu Lions to post him because he’s still three years from international free agency. After 2018 seems likely for his posting.
6. Takahiro Norimoto : He took over for Masahiro Tanaka as staff ace of the Rakuten Golden Eagles and has done nothing but put up numbers despite his short stature (5 foot 10, 178 lbs). He posted a 2.91 ERA in 195 innings with 216 K’s and just 50 BB’s. Norimoto has a mid-90s fastball and can miss bats with both his splitter and slider. Norimoto signed a three-year extension worth $1.72M per season this year, but is thought to want a shot at the MLB after when he will be 29. 2019 MLB ETA seems likely.