Top Asian Prospects in the Minor Leagues

Myworld will only show those Asian players who did not play in a professional league, so that leaves out most of the Japanese players.  But we will list those players after the top ten in the order of their impact in the major leagues.

1. Hak-Ju Lee (SS) Rays (Korea) - Lee runs like a gazelle and has the tools to play a gold glove caliber shortstop.  The Rays currently do not have anyone blocking his path at this position, unless Tim Beckham can resurrect his prospect status.  Expect an arrival time of 2013 for Lee.  He has averaged 30 stolen bases a year in his three minor league seasons.  He missed his first season after having Tommy John surgery, otherwise he may have arrived sooner.  Early in his career there was a thought that he would eventually hit for power.  That hope has almost been erased.  Now the hope is that he will hit over .300 and become a 30-40 stolen base threat.  He does have a .296 career minor league average, but in a 100 at bat performance at AA he hit only .190.  Without those 100 at bats his career average would be .305.

2. Chen Lee (RHP) Indians (Taiwan) - He is a righthander that stands only 5′11″, so he doesn’t provide a downward plane that many scouts are looking for in their righthanded pitchers.  The Indians have used him in relief where his low 90s fastball is still able to get strikeouts to the tune of 11 per nine innings pitched.  His biggest advantage is the deception he creates with his drop down delivery that throws the ball almost sidearm.  Righthanders hit less than .200 against him while he split time between AAA and AA.  While the fastball is a nice pitch and he will be working out of the bullpen, he still needs to work on a secondary pitch to keep hitters honest.  Once he develops more consistency with the slider he could work himself into the Indian’s bullpen in 2011.

3. Dae-Eun Rhee (RHP) Cubs (Korea) - Rhee is another Korean who missed a year because of Tommy John surgery.  He bounced back after the 2009 non-season to pitch again in 2010, but had an off year (5-13, 5.27).  Since many attributed 2010 to a rehab year his 2011 season became critical.  The numbers improved (8-7, 4.02) and he went from 5.5 whiffs per nine innings to 8.2 whiffs per nine innings.  Since he is not overpowering, leaving his fastball over the plate in the high 80s or low 90s, he will always be susceptible to giving up a base hit.  Opponents have hit a career .264 off him.  Where he can improve is to gain a better command of his pitches (over three walks per nine innings) while improving the consistency of his breaking pitches.  His best pitch is a change, but if he wants to remain in the starting rotation he needs to improve on a breaking pitch, whether that be a curve or a slider.

4. Jae-Hoon Ha (OF) Cubs (Korea) - Not to be confused with Kyung-Min Na, who was the minor player in the Anthony Rizzo trade, where the principal Cub component was Andrew Cashner.  Ha needs to be able to play centerfield, otherwise he will be labeled as a fourth outfielder.  He has good speed, despite being caught stealing (17) more times than he had success (13).  He did hit a career high 11 homeruns last year, but his overall slugging percentage dropped from the previous year (.468).  He does have a strong arm that is capable of playing right field, but his bat falls a bit short in the power department.  He started out his career as a catcher but a reluctance to throw to second base ended that experiment.  That might be his best path to the majors if he should ever overcome his issues throwing the ball to second.

5. Chun Chen C (Indians) Taiwan - Chun still needs a lot of work behind the plate.  He had 18 passed balls last year, two behind the league leader, but he also played 11 games less than the league leader.  He did throw out 35 percent of the baserunners who attempted to steal against him.  He hits for power, with a career high 16 homeruns in 2011.  He had a major drop off in doubles (38 to 24) which resulted in his slugging percentage dropping from over .500 to just over .400.  His walk to whiff ratio also took a nose dive, resulting in a 50 point drop in average.  In 110 games in 2010 he struck out only 74 times.  In 113 games last year Chen struck out 122 times.  This has raised questions on his ability to hit as he rises up the minor league ladder and good pitchers take advantage of a bat that is slow in crossing the plate when he swings.  Myworld did see Chun Chen launch one into left field in the Baseball World Cup against a Japan team that eventually beat them 3-1.

6. Chi-Hsiang Chiang (OF) Mariners (Taiwan) - Chaing was one of the players the Mariners recieved for trading Eric Bedard to the Red Sox.  He had a break out year with AA Portland last year, hitting .340 with 18 homeruns, putting him on the post season Eastern League all star team.  He stunk after he was traded to the Mariners, afflicted by that diasese that always hits Mariners hitters, the ability to forget how to hit.  He only hit .208 with just a .262 slugging average in the Southern League, compared to his .648 slugging average in the Eastern League.  He doesn’t have the speed that one expects from a centerfielder, so he may eventually have to move to a corner outfield.  He doesn’t quite hit for the power needed from a corner, unless he can replicate his AA 2011 Eastern Season.  Expect an eventual fourthoutfielder role.

7. Chih-Fang Pan (2B) Athletics (Taiwan) - He is going to have difficulty moving Jemile Weeks from second base.  In two years of rookie ball he has not hit less than .331.  He still has a long ways to go, but his big test could be in 2012, when he gets his first taste of a full season league.  He was originally signed as a shortstop, but his arm is felt to be too weak to play that position on a consistent basis.  He did play three games at that position last year, committing two errors.  If he can’t wrest Jemile from his second base position Pan could work his way towards a utility role.

8. Junichi Tazawa (RHP) Red Sox (Japan) - Junichi created quite a stir when he told the NPB that he did not want to participate in the NBP draft and he wished to pursue a career in the major leagues.  The NPB had passed him over when he was first eligible for the draft after high school.  He then made a name for himself pitching in the Industrial Leagues of Japan.  In December 2008 the Red Sox signed him for $3.3 million.  At 22 years of age he was considered the equivalent of a college level pitcher so the Red Sox expected a quick rise.  He reached the majors his first year, then had Tommy John surgery during the off season and missed the entire 2010 season.  He was able to make three bullpen appearances with the Red Sox last year.  The 2012 season will be his last year under the $3.3 million contract he signed and so far he has given the Red Sox only 28 major league innings.  Tazawa is not overpowering and at 5′11″ he does not have a large frame.  He relies more on deception and command to get hitters out and if that is not working he is very hittable.

9. Pin-Chieh Chen (OF) Cubs (Taiwan) - Chen will rely more on speed and an ability to get on base to bat leadoff if he wants to make an impact in the major leagues. To do that, he must also show that he can play centerfield. He lacks the real power to play a corner outfield. He does have 30 stolen bases in his 44 attempts in two seasons of rookie ball with a career .298 average. He has a career OBA of .368, which is good enough to fill a lead off role. Next year should be his first season in full season ball and it will be interesting to see how his 6′1″ 170 pound frame handles the grind.

10. Yao-Lin Wang (RHP) Cubs (Taiwan) - He signed for $260,000 in 2009, becoming the first Taiwanese amateur to sign with a major league team, bringing his 94 mile per hour fastball to the United States.  Last year, in his 14 starts, he led the Northwest League in strikeouts per nine innings (10.34) but falling short to Jose Campos for the total strikeout crown.  Wang pitched an impressive three innings against Japan in the Baseball World Cup, giving up only one hit.  He gave up one run when the second baseman threw a bunted ball past the firstbaseman and into right field, allowing the runner to advance to third.  He scored on a squeeze bunt.

Honorable Mention Rinku Singh (RHP) Pirates (India) - Most have heard the story of Rinku Singh, who won a million dollar arm contest and then signed with the Pirates with Dinesh Patel.  Patel was released last year by the Pirates, but Singh is going strong, pitching his second year in the ABL.  After not giving up a run in his first two appearances, his team, the Adelaide Bite started using him more.  As he became more exposed he gave up at least one run in each of his last six appearances to finish with a 6.23 ERA, much worse than his 3.94 ERA in his 12 appearances the previous year.  In 2011 in the minor leagues Singh pitched at four levels and finished with a 2.45 ERA.  The thing he has going for him is a lefthanded arm, a fastball that is clocked in the low 90s and a fresh arm.  He should start his first season in full season ball next year.

Other Debuts by Asian Pitchers

Yu Darvish RHP (Rangers) Japan - Not much needs to be said about Yu.  His fastball travels in the mid-90s and he struck out 270 hitters in the NBP.  He probably won’t be able to replicate that strikeout total in the major leagues, but he will be the favorite to win the rookie of the year award.  Texas can be a tough park to pitch in.  The Rangers paid over $100 million to acquire him.  He has a large assortment of pitches to throw at hitters, making his fastball that much harder to hit.

Wei-Yen Chen LHP (Orioles) Taiwan - Chen was allowed to bolt the NPB early because his Taiwan nationality as a foreign player did not tie him to the standard free agent rules as the Japanese players.  So at 27 next year he still has some upside.  His left arm can sling the ball in the low 90s.  He got a slow start last year because of a leg injury but still was instrumental in pitching the Dragons to the Japan series.  He throws a fastball and slider but may need to find another pitch to have consistent success in the major leagues.

Hisashi Iwakuma RHP (Mariners) Japan - He doesn’t throw as hard as Darvish but he pitches just as effectively, relying more on command and having the hitters beat the ball on the ground to get them out instead of the swing and miss.  The Athletics posted him last year, but he didn’t sign.  His 2011 season in Japan was plagued by shoulder soreness, which forced him to sign a much lower contract than if he would have had his typical year.  He did win the Sawamura award (equivalent to the Cy Yong) and the MVP in 2008 for his 21-4 season when he only gave up three homeruns in over 200 innings.  He also has a large assortment of pitches, including the splitter to get hitters out.

Tsuyoshi Wada LHP (Orioles) Japan - Wada relies on guile and command to get hitters out.  He definitely is not going to overpower hitters, with a fastball that rarely sees 90.  The slider is his best pitch, but he also has a splitter.  He had a career year last year, going 16-5 with a 1.51 ERA, almost half his career number for ERA (3.13) in a year that saw a number of dominant performances by pitchers in the NBP.

Norichika Aoki OF (Brewers) Japan - He had a real down year last year when pitchers dominated the NPB.  Early in his career he was touted as the next Ichiro to make an offensive impact in the major leagues, but the Swallows refused to post him until last year.  He is a plus defensive outfielder, but may not hit enough to be better than a fourth outfielder, or another version of Kosuke Fukudome.

Munenori Kawasaki SS (Mariners) Japan - Myworld was impressed with what we saw of Kawasaki in the Asian Series and believe he will be good enough to make the Mariners in a utility role.  His arm is not strong enough to play short on a consistent basis in the major leagues, but he can play both second and short.  He also plays the small ball well, stealing close to 30 bases a year in his last nine years in the NPB.  He had 43 successful sacrifce bunts in 2009, then moved to the leadoff position where he didn’t have to bunt nearly as much.

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