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Four Asian league pitchers who could help replace Charlie Morton

Could any of them sign with the Rays?

World Baseball Classic - Championship Round - Game 2 - United States v Japan Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

I have introduced many Asian league players who want to play in MLB on this site, among them Merrill Kelly, Shogo Akiyama, Yoshi Tsutsugo, Josh Lindblom and Kwang-hyun Kim who are all currently playing in MLB.

This year even more Asian league players want to play in MLB this year than usual. I think that there could be a Rays target among them. The players will be introduced in two articles, pitcher and hitter.

First, let me introduce the pitchers.

1. Tomoyuki Sugano, RHP, 6-1/183, 10/11/1989 - Posting

Sugano (31) has been one of the best pitchers in the NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball). He won the Sawamura Award (NPB version Cy young Award) twice in 2017 and 2018; there was no award in 2019. Previous winners of the award have been Yu Darvish, Hisashi Iakuma, Kena Maeda, and Masahiro Tanaka.

MLB fans may have already watched him facing the U.S. national team at the 2017 WBC, where he proved that he was a MLB talent with a great performance (6IP, 3H, 1BB, 6K 1R)

His best years might be behind him (2015-2018 were his prime), but he can still offer a quality level of performance.

His repertoire and my grade are as follows.

  • 4-seam Fastball 50+ (91mph - 94mph)
  • 2-seam Fastball 50
  • Cutter 45
  • Slider 55
  • Splitter 50
  • Command 60

Comparison: Masahiro Tanaka in recent years
Overall FV: 55, 3~4th SP

Sugano has no plus pitch and won’t be as overwhelming as Darvish or Tanaka; however, he can induce both swing & misses and weak contact through plus command and a 5-pitch mix. I think he can get a stack of money from an MLB team who is looking for a middle of the rotation type arm. He would be too pricey for the Rays as the risk is decent because of his health and age.

2. Kohei Arihara, RHP, 6-2/211, 8/11/1992 – Posting

Arihara (28) has not been the ace type pitcher in Japan. However, he is relatively young and has been pitched effectively.

In above video, he is throwing a good splitter against a RHB. Adam Jones and the other hitters can’t recognize his splitter at all. I believe it will be effective in the MLB as well. Recently, he reduced his dependence on splitters by increasing the use of changeups which has enough depth but does not have a consistency.

  • 4-seam Fastball 52.5 (92mph - 94mph)
  • 2-seam Fastball 45
  • Slider 45
  • Changeup 50
  • Splitter 55
  • Command 50

Comparison: Young Matt Shoemaker
Overall FV : 50, not durable 4th SP

Although he has ups and downs and is not necessarily durable, I am sure that he has stuff to play in the big league as a SP like other Japanese pitchers with good splitter. I think he could be the Rays target in terms of price and reasonable return.

3. Matt Moore (31), LHP, 6-3/210, 6/18/1989 - Free Agent

Should I introduce Matt Moore’s background in detail? I don’t think so.

The most important thing is whether he was able to keep health and regained his old stuff this year. Well, he almost did. His stuff has looked the best in recent years, and there has been a development in his repertoire.

His new splitter-like changeup grip is the interesting development.

Keeping health is always a major problem of him and he was injured this year, too. However when he is healthy, he overwhelmed the league and has been very impressive.

  • 4-seam Fastball 55 (93mph - 95mph)
  • Curveball 50
  • Changeup (Splitter) 55
  • Command 45

Comparison: Matt Moore with a splitter
Overall FV: 50, 3~4th SP with limited innings

I don’t expect Moore to throw 162 innings in MLB. But I think it is worthy for the Rays FO to consider him a s a potential target. A risk is there, but the return would be big.

4. Hyeon-jong Yang (32), LHP, 6-0/190, 3/1/1988 – Free Agent

Yang is a LHP who dominated the KBO along with Hyun-jin Ryu (TOR) and Kwang-hyun Kim (STL) who are all currently playing in MLB. Yang says he is not as good as them, and I agree with him. But he has been a very steady pitcher in the KBO.

Here is Baseball America’s May 2020 report about him:

Yang is a command-oriented lefthander who effectively mixes four pitches. His fastball sits 89-90 mph and his curveball, slider and changeup all play up to average with his command. He rarely walks anyone and is a poised, mature presence on the mound. Yang lacks big stuff, but his command and pitch mix give him a chance to pitch at the back of a rotation a la Tommy Milone.

In my opinion, he “was” a MLB-level pitcher, but his most recent pitching was not impressive. Maybe that was just the pandemic’s influence. My optimistic grades for him would be as follows.

  • 4-seam Fastball 45 (89mph - 91mph)
  • Slider 45+
  • Curveball 45
  • Changeup 50
  • Command 50

Comparison: Robbie Erlin
Overall FV : 45+ (40 in 2020), 5th SP - Swingman

I think there’s a chance he would get a Major League contract from a team. But in his current state I do not think the Rays should be the team, mostly due to the crowded 40-man roster. Maybe a minor league deal fits.

Honorable Mention: Hirokazu Sawamura (32), RHP, 6-0/212, 4/3/1988 – Free Agent

Sawamura is one of the better RP in Japan. I believe that the NPB has betters arm that could be a decent RP in the big league like Pierce Johnson, Chris Martin, Jay Jackson, Rafael Dolis and Yoshihisa Hirano, but there is a real possibility Sawamura is heading stateside.

His fastball velocity is impressive when it isn’t too straight and his best secondary pitch, a splitter, has good deception. But his command is not consistent and he was essentially a two-pitch pitcher recently. I would not expect him to be an impactful bullpen arm at the MLB level.

  • 4-seam Fastball 55 (94mph - 96mph with less movement)
  • Splitter 55
  • Command 45

Comparison: Junior Guerra
Overall FV : 40, the 4~6th RP among average 8 bullpen staff

Adding a bullpen depth with moderate cost is always good. But it is likely better for him to find a job at a team with weaker bullpen depth than the Rays.