This is a guest post from friend of the website and Japanese Baseball expert, Kazuto Yamazaki. He was nice enough to share his insights or Nakaushiro from his college and NPB (professional) career. You’ll find more information about the author at the bottom of the post. For now, enjoy the insights!
The Diamondbacks have made the rounds in the Japanese market of late. Last summer, the club sent former team icons and current front office personnel Randy Johnson and Luis Gonzalez, along with president Derrick Hall, to the Far East in order to grow their brand in the country. Gonzalez and Hall also spent time in Japan in the summer of 2012, with then-general manager Kevin Towers this time (I met and had some good chats with all 3 of them).
They bid on Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka when the hurlers were posted, but fell short. They showed interest in Kenta Maeda before shocking the baseball world by signing an alternative named Zack Greinke.
Despite their continuous effort, Takashi Saito, he of the 12 innings with the club, is the only Japanese player ever to appear in a big league game as a Diamondback to date.
There’s a chance that the previous sentence won’t stay true for long, although the odds are not tremendous.
It was reported last week that Arizona had signed left-hander Yuhei Nakaushiro to a minor league contract. He is set to be in Scottsdale to train with baby Snakes for the next few months.
A star pitcher at Kinki University, he made the collegiate national team as a sophomore in 2009 and again as a junior in 2010. Many people, including major-league clubs, saw a bright future in Nakaushiro, who posted a 1.48 ERA, struck out 260, walked 113 in 291.1 innings during his college career.
Now, let’s take a look at his mechanics and stuff. The first thing you’ll notice in the video above is his unusual delivery that gave him nickname “Japanese Big Unit”. Akin to his comparison, Nakaushiro throws a fastball and a wipeout slider, though the velocity is not quite there as he sits around 90 miles-per-hour with the fastball. Worse yet, he has no idea of the strike zone. And the command issue is what has stood on his way.
Since being selected by the Chiba Lotte Marines in the second round of the 2011 NPB Draft, his career has gone downhill. He tossed only 25.1 career innings at ichi-gun (big league equivalent of NPB), with most of those frames (20.1) coming in 2012, his rookie season. In those limited appearances, he punched out 16 and walked 23 of the 124 batters he faced, to the tune of a 5.68 ERA. These are a far cry from what you call “good numbers” no matter what country you’re playing in.
His stats are better in ni-gun (minor league equivalent of NPB, most teams have only one farm squad) with a 3.48 ERA and 138 strikeouts in 121.2 career innings down on the farm. But the free passes remain his problem, walking nearly six per nine. The Marines gave up on him after the 2015 season, not offering a renewal of his contract, thus releasing him.
After his departure from Lotte, scouts from a few major-league teams, reportedly the Rangers, Phillies, and DBacks, saw something in the lefty.
The way the major-league clubs discovered Nakaushiro was as unusual as his delivery. In Japan, there’s an annual documentary TV show aired in late December featuring professional baseball players who had just cut from their teams in the off-season. When Nakaushiro appeared in the show last December, major-league scouts living in Japan watched it and were intrigued, setting up a bullpen session to see him pitch in person. The DBacks apparently got it the worst and offered the 26-year old a minor-league deal.
The odds for Nakaushiro to make any impact for the D-backs are slimmer than an upcoming Apple product. He’s on the tail end of the Snakes’ minor-league left-handed pitching depth. The most foreseeable scenario for him is being assigned to extended spring training, then hanging around in places like Hillsboro or Missoula with 2016 draft picks fresh out of college come June.
Still, his ability to bother left-handed batters may work well enough to make him an effective LOOGY. In 2012, his best season in Japan, he held them to a .233 average, as opposed to that of .304 against their right-handed counterparts, albeit in a small sample size.
And as for a southpaw with a peculiar delivery battling a control problem, we’ve seen the Big Unit turning into the best pitcher on the planet past his age-30 season. In fact, his first full-season with a BB/9 below four came at the age of 29. Of course, I’m not saying Nakaushiro is the second coming of Randy Johnson, but sometimes a pitcher learns to throw strikes at a relatively old age.
Whatever the future holds for Nakaushiro, please mind remembering your new Japanese import.
Kazuto Yamazaki is a native Tokyoian who has obsessive love for baseball. He writes about game in both Japan and the States for websites such as The Dynasty Guru, BP Wrigleyville, Shutdown Inning, along with few others. You can find him on Twitter @Kazuto_Yamazaki.
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