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Four international free agent hitters for the Rays to consider

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Some could be solid additions, but one is an intriguing two-way sensation on his way to the US.

KIA Tigers v Kiwoom Heroes Photo by Han Myung-Gu/Getty Images

After previously highlighting the pitching coming to the US this season, it’s time to look at the hitters, and we’ll start with the top talent:

Ha-seong Kim, R/R, SS, 5-10/182, 10/17/1995 - Posting

Kim has been a very popular name for international scouts for years. And this table shows he has been legit.

The Korean baseball league is between AA and AAA in terms of talent and competition level. He recorded wRC+ 123 at that level at the age of 21 in 2017, and he’s been improving ever since. Many regard him as a MLB-ready, top 100 prospect, including Baseball America.

Another quality video can be found here.

From Baseball America (May 2020)

He’s a good athlete with good instincts at the position and has the average arm strength to stay on the left side of the infield. [...] Kim is likely to face an adjustment period [...] projects as an everyday major league shortstop who makes an impact on both sides of the ball and on the basepaths. He would be a Top 100 Prospect if he signed today.

From Fangraphs.com (Dec 2020)

Kim is an explosive, compact-bodied athlete with natural doubles power who frequently turns on pitches on the inner half and absolutely obliterates balls to his pull side. He took bigger hacks during the 2020 KBO season and hit more homers without impacting his contact rates, as he also had more walks than Ks. An everyday talent who’ll be on the overall top 100 prospects list this offseason, it’s impossible to say whether Kim will be able to make the leap from Korean to MLB pitching seamlessly, but his KBO numbers are more favorable than other recent successful players, he’s younger, and his defensive ability gives him more margin for error in this regard.

There should be a consensus that he could be an everyday SS. Moreover, He is so young that teams don’t have to worry about aging. There are a few questions about shortstop defense and transition, but given his athletic ability, he can play anywhere. He will be a safe investment with both upside and floor.

My grade are as follows.

Hit 50 / Power 45 / Fielding 55 / Arm 55 / Speed 60 / Overall 50
Comparison: Jorge Polanco

He has everything what the Rays want: versatility, youth, athleticism, adequate production for a premium defensive position. From teams looking for long-term shortstop to teams with overall infield uncertainty, there will be a lot of demand for him.

I believe there will be an offer for 4+ years/30+ million $ for him. It is not big money for a MLB-ready top 100 prospect. But given the infield situation and limited payroll of the Rays, it’s hard for me to imagine that he would wear a Rays uniform.

Haruki Nishikawa, L/R, CF, 5-10/160, 4/16/1992 - Posting

Whenever a Japanese OF comes to MLB, they are often compared to Ichiro or Aoki. This is because most of them have short swings, good contact and speed. Nishikawa may also be subject to such comparisons.

From BA (Dec 2020)

Nishikawa’s speed and his defensive ability could make him an asset, and he’s not a bad hitter, but it’s important he lands in the right situation.

He can find his way on base and can cause trouble when he gets there. He stole 42 bases this season, which would’ve been enough for the stolen base crown [...] He finished with at least 30 each year from 2014-2018. Nishikawa is also a three-time Golden Glove outfielder

From SIS (Nov 2020)

Haruki Nishikawa has the prototypical leadoff hitter skill set, as a center fielder with patience and speed. He lacks any power at the plate with his ISO below .100 in each of the last two seasons. On the bases, the speedy Nishikawa is a legitimate threat to steal bases or take extra bases on balls in play. Defensively, Nishikawa does not get great jumps on fly balls, but he has the speed to make up for bad jumps if the ball hangs in the air. His arm strength is slightly below average, playable in center and left but likely not in right field

The NPB’s GG is not an award for defense but for overall performance. Many evaluators say he would be a LF at the US, not CF, and he won’t show enough productivity to fit a LF.

My grade are as follows.

Hit 50 / Power 30 / Fielding 55 / Arm 45 / Speed 65 / Overall 40
Comparison: Shogo Akiyama (wRC+ 85) in 2020 (better speed and less power)

His annual salary was about $1.9 million last year, and he said he wanted to go to the U.S. even if he earned a third of his salary. He’s a player the Rays can consider from a financial standpoint.

If you were tired of Renfroe’s strikeout and wanted to see a more dynamic player, this signing works. But I don’t see the Rays giving him a Major League contract because of weak defense and production, it would take some trades of current pieces off the roster for him to make sense.

Sung-bum Na, L/L, RF, 6-0/220, 10/17/1995 - Posting

Na has been famous as a two-way (P/OF) player since his college time. Although he played RF as a pro, He has consistently performed well and showed good power numbers in the KBO.

He also made a surprise debut as a pitcher in the playoffs in 2015.

From BA (May 2020)

Na is a thick, physical 30-year old who has above-average pull power and uses his hands well to stay inside the ball. He hits fastballs but struggles with offspeed pitches and changing speeds in general, resulting in too many swings and misses and limiting him to a projected below-average hitter.

From Fangraphs.com (Dec 2020)

Na has been a dominant offensive force since his second pro season in Korea, averaging about 70 extra-base hits annually during his full seasons there. A catastrophic knee injury during an awkward slide cut short his 2019 season, which at the time was rumored to be his final year in the KBO. Instead, Na returned for 2020 and set a career high in homers (34) while mostly DHing. His breaking ball recognition isn’t great and he’s somewhat whiff-prone, but he is bringing impact power from the left side of the plate to MLB. He profiles as a valuable DH/OF platoon piece, though there’s some bust potential here because of the contact-related yellow flags.

The BA report was written before the 2020 season, and the FG report was written after the 2020 season. In the meantime, his expected position has downgraded from RF to RF/DH. Na lost much of his athleticism due to a knee injury and I heard that evaluators worried about that.

If you want to see a deep analysis of him. Please check it out.

My grade are as follows.

Hit 40 / Power 55 / Fielding 40 / Arm 60 / Speed 40 / Overall 40
Comparison: Yoshi Tsutsugo (wRC+ 98) in 2020 (with more strikeouts)

He can hit balls very hard. But there will be limited demand for him because of athleticism and strikeout problem. I don’t think he is a good fit for the Rays because of the presence of Yoshi but if they find a taker for him on the trade market, Na is a suitable replacement.

Oscar Colas, L/L, OF/LHP, 6-1/209, 9/17/1998 - FA

Here is an interesting and young name for you.

If you’re old enough, you’ll remember that Alfonso Soriano spent his youth in Japan before coming to MLB. Japanese teams have young Latin American players in their farms. Colas was one of them and became eligible for a FA after this season.

From BA (Dec 2020)

A Cuban outfielder who signed with SoftBank through the Cuban federation in 2017, Colas has garnered attention in both Japan and from MLB teams as a hitter and pitcher. [...] Colas hit more than he pitched in Japan and spent the majority of his time on the farm. He appeared in seven games on the NPB level in 2019.

Colas, who has a fastball in the 90s, never pitched for the Hawks in either NPB or the Western League. He did, however, toe the rubber for the Hawks’ third team (most NPB clubs only have a top team and one farm club) and pitched against independent and industrial league clubs.

From Fangraphs (Dec 2020)

A curvaceous Cuban two-way player, Colas was released from his NPB contract in early-December after he and the SoftBank Hawks fought about the deal’s validity for most of 2020. He’s up to 95 on the mound but hasn’t pitched very much and is probably a more stable prospect as a lefty 1B/DH/RF type. Tipping the scales at over 250 pounds during his time in Japan, he’s purported to have slimmed down and looks more svelte during recent workouts.

He ranked No.2 prospect on the pipeline’s Top 30 international prospect list (ahead of Carlos Colmenarez who is linked to the Rays).

From Pipeline.com (Dec 2020)

He has been called “the Cuban Ohtani” because he plays all three outfield positions and is a left-handed pitcher with a fastball in the mid-90s. He also has experience playing third base. On the mound, Colás also throws a breaking ball and shows potential for growth

I did not have enough of a chance to watch him and gather enough information to give him a grade. But, he is an interesting prospect to consider, thanks to his good power and strong arm. I don’t know if there is enough bonus pool for the Rays because they are supposed to give a big money to another talented SS, Colmenarez, but if they can land him he may be an impact player that can immediately contribute for the Rays.