Yusei Kikuchi: Next Japanese Import?
We are now a few weeks removed from the historic event of Ichiro recording his ninth consecutive season with two hundred or more hits. Aside from the usual bumps leading up to the milestone, these events have become commonplace, and so itâ€™s strange to think now that a decade has passed since the second wave of Japanese imports started proving themselves in the states. While something of a curiosity then, met with some initial derision from the scouting world, theyâ€™re well on their way to becoming an institution.
Free agency and the posting system have not yet proven to be the death of the NPB or any of the surrounding leagues, a claim that was perhaps exaggerated at the time, but it has become increasingly common for teams to bypass the usual limitations by finding some way to grab prep players. This has been talked about in Korea and Taiwan for years as being a talent drain, but recently itâ€™s come up as an issue in Japan as well, where the Mariners signed Kenta Suda out of Hideo Nomoâ€™s baseball program a few years ago and the Red Sox made waves by signing Junichi Tazawa, who snuck through by joining up with a lesser unaffiliated league and then insisting that he not be drafted. The trend looks to continue this winter as left-hander Yusei Kikuchi is deciding between the MLB and the NPB, a move that is will have some repercussions as heâ€™s eighteen, whereas Tazawa was twenty-two at the time, and he would be going number one in their draft otherwise. The Mariners, as ever, are linked to Kikuchi.
Though baseball has again been nixed from the Olympic schedule, losing out to rugby and golf for the 2016 games, the international presence is ever on the rise, with the World Baseball Classic essentially filling that role on the stage. South Africa and China have both funded programs to popularize the game in their own countries, India recently produced its first two prospects, and the Caribbean Leagues continue to go strong all throughout the winter. The relationship with Japan, however, is still quite different, with its own established history going back more than half a century and a schedule that conflicts with the MLB season. You canâ€™t blame players like Tazawa and Kikuchi for wanting to come over, but their choices are putting a strain on the current arrangement. Along with the emergence of new markets in the coming decades, weâ€™re also likely to see a restructuring of the setup between the MLB and NPB, if the latter is going to remain competitive.