Now, About Yusei Kikuchi
Friday, I proposed Yusei Kikuchi as a player to look at should the Chapman bidding war get out of hand as expected. I’ve talked about him a little in the past, discussing the implications of his possible jump to the U.S., but I hadn’t profiled him to any length with regard to his abilities. Fortunately, not only do I do requests, I also get to ride in on the coattails of Larry Stone for the second week in a row, as he got a Sunday write-up giving the general overview. So, it falls to me to flesh out the scouting end of things.
Thus, Sunday afternoon, I watched a complete game of him pitching, no cuts or anything, just seven innings of the pure goodness that is Japanese prep baseball, with the cries of “taimuri hitto”, “shotto hoppu”, and of course, “san shin!” There were certainly a lot of those in this game, let me tell you.
Watching Kikuchi and Chapman in close succession is an interesting exercise. While Chapman has been drifting slightly into a more over the top motion, Kikuchi pretty much stays to his three-quarters and doesn’t seem to deviate from it all that much. Chapman also looks like he’s slinging the ball at times, whereas Kikuchi’s arm motion is more whippy. The majority of the stress seems to be in his arm, which alarmed me a little at first. I also noticed that, among other quirks, his arm can finish low and across his body and sometimes his trailing foot will drag forward as he decelerates. Aside from that, there aren’t any major mechanical concerns; the inverted W, which is in vogue now as the source of all pitching ills, was not present, nor did it look like he was otherwise putting a lot of strain on the other sensitive areas. His finishes weren’t always smooth, but his flaws were few for a pitcher of his age and generally correctable.
Getting into his arsenal, as was the case with Chapman, the 96 mph reading is about as much of an exaggeration as the 102 mph one. It is more Kikuchi’s style to stay in the high-80s range, but he is capable of reaching back for 92, 93 or 94, with about a 60% success rate, and will do so about fifteen times a game. His ability to hit his spots is otherwise solid. He doesn’t miss often, and when he does it tends to be down. Like Chapman, his pitches naturally trail from left-handed batters, so you don’t see him come in on them like he does versus right-handers, but that’s not so much of an issue at this point.
For secondary pitches, the next one up would clearly be the slider that clocks in the mid-70s. It has a great deal of lateral movement, but there were a few of them that had a sharp downward break to them and it’s clearly a pitch with a lot of potential and he recorded Ks on it at a rate roughly equivalent to his fastball. He also threw a slurve, not quite as often. His other offerings came and went as needed. For example, when a hitter led off the second with a double and the next batter came up intending to bunt him over, Kikuchi gave him a steady diet of two-seams, and while the run did come around (seeing eye single), the bunt was quickly fielded and the batter erased. He would continue to rely on it for the rest of the game. Also, I don’t know if it’s a common thing for him, but I did see him start out a batter in the first with a hilarious eephus pitch. It was taken for a ball and I didn’t see it again, but the batter had an expression on his face that suggested that he was going to go forward pretending that didn’t just happen.
His poise on the mound is another plus in his column. There were a couple of pitches that were tagged for hits when better defenders would have made the play. In one of the later innings, there was an infield hit to the first baseman, with the runner barely beating it out. No big deal. He struck out the next batter on five pitches and retired the one after him in similar fashion. While he is attentive to runners on the field, he doesn’t lose focus and his tempo is pretty much the same throughout, which ensures that he’s rarely on the defensive.
If we were looking at the same pitcher in a high school in the U.S., he’d be talked up at a potential first-round pick too. He looks like a kid who could add velocity in the future and everything else that you could ask for is present already. I would still put him as being three to four years out, easily, but if you’re in the camp that doesn’t believe Chapman is going to be ready out of the gate, that’s a tradeoff that you could probably tolerate. I’m not one to talk about the Mariners specific chance of getting him signed, or how much it would take, as this is a bit of a rare case (probably closer to standard NDFAs than Tazawa was), but I can say that he would be a top ten, or even top five prospect in most systems.