Now, About Yusei Kikuchi

Jay Yencich · October 19, 2009 at 7:30 am · Filed Under General baseball 

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.


13 Responses to “Now, About Yusei Kikuchi”

  1. marc w on October 19th, 2009 9:27 am

    Hey Jay,

    Any word on how he compares with Kenta Suda when Suda was 18? Velo seems comparable, but I don’t have a sense of Suda’s mechanics/offspeed stuff.
    From the sounds of things, Kikuchi is much more advanced. What’s the major point in Kikuchi’s favor: stuff or command?

  2. BillH on October 19th, 2009 9:35 am

    Thanks, I had never heard of the Inverted W before. Interesting.

  3. ThePopeofChilitown on October 19th, 2009 9:48 am

    Great write-up Jay. When Dave would cover the prospects after the draft, he would include a high and low equivalent in terms of stuff and projection. Can you project Kikuchi like that for us?

  4. Jay Yencich on October 19th, 2009 9:54 am

    I don’t remember going through videos on Suda in quite the same way as I did with Kikuchi, but their billings are entirely different. Suda dropped out of high school to hook up with Nomo’s program in order to give himself a better chance of being signed, which means that he wasn’t exactly developing a tremendous reputation for himself up to that point. Suda, at the time he was signed, was an inch shorter and topping out at 93 mph. His mechanics were even when I saw him, his motion a bit deliberate in terms of this weird leg kick thing he was doing, but no glaring issues, aside from him sucking that night because he had no command. I’d say Kikuchi is better in both categories.

  5. Jay Yencich on October 19th, 2009 10:09 am

    When Dave would cover the prospects after the draft, he would include a high and low equivalent in terms of stuff and projection. Can you project Kikuchi like that for us?

    Yeah, that’s not exactly my forte, since I spend so much time staring at prospects.

    A lot of people were making the claim that Kikuchi was Clayton Kershaw v2.0. I think that’s exaggerated, because he’s not as tall, or strong, and doesn’t light up the gun with the same consistency. Kasey Kiker might be closer, presumably with better health.

    I’ll see what I can do for a comp with a “real pitcher”.

  6. KaminaAyato on October 19th, 2009 10:41 am

    Thanks Jay for giving a bit of a more detailed analysis on Kikuchi. While I follow Japanese HS baseball quite a bit, I don’t have the ability to analyze players.

    That being said, while I favored Imamura Takeru out of Seihou HS, I could definitely see that Kikuchi was a very good pitcher who had the makeup of someone who could succeed in the states both in talent and mindset.

    BTW, as for the eephus, he doesn’t throw that at all. I think it was a gimmicky thing. I first saw that on a clip in YouTube and probably had the same reaction as the batter.

    As a note, after the first day of meetings, it appeared that Kikuchi’s manager Sasaki had some reservations about Kikuchi’s development outside of baseball should he go to the states. Don’t blame him about that. It’ll certainly be a tough road coming through the minors.

  7. Jay Yencich on October 19th, 2009 11:26 am

    Yeah, I didn’t think the eephus was legit, but the broadcasters were talking about his curveball just before that and seemed to be surprised by it, so I thought that might have been it.

    It’s clear that some players handle the transition more easily than others when it comes to making the jump across. We’ve seen our share of that. Chao Wang, who is now an outfielder on the Chinese National Team, started out as a pitcher with us, but couldn’t handle the cultural transition. Chia-an Huang also had some trouble, but there was a lot of off-field stuff that was working against him from the get-go. It seems though that teams are putting in a great deal of effort these days to making sure such prospects have a support network as they’re moving up, so that when things fall short for them its usually baseball-related.

  8. KaminaAyato on October 19th, 2009 4:18 pm

    That’s true. So that being said, Kikuchi would probably have a better shot given that Chinese/Taiwanese baseball is still considered inferior to Japanese/Korean baseball.

    While I’d love to see Kikuchi here in the states, it’s a touchy subject taking HS players and bringing them to the states. It’s one thing taking an established player like a Kuroda or a Matsuzaka, it’s another to take an up-and-comer such as Kikuchi or Tazawa.

    Of course that being said, there was a super-rookie (1st year) in the summer tournament that got people excited, Itou Takuro, that’ll be interesting to watch the next 2 years.

  9. Typical Idiot Fan on October 19th, 2009 4:45 pm

    the inverted W

    Is a M! Invert the W, flip it upside down, or whatever, and it’s darned M!

  10. John W. on October 22nd, 2009 11:59 am


    How much would we be paying this kid to develop in our farm system for three to four years? Wouldn’t the fact that a lot of teams are interested in him allow Kikuchi to drive up his own price?

  11. Jay Yencich on October 23rd, 2009 10:02 am

    I’d imagine that he could get a contract close to what Ynoa got from the Athletics ($4.25m). He will try to drive up his price as much as he can, which is about par for the course, though a lot of teams seem to be making overtures to him in the form of chatting with major leaguers or big time prospects or making additional offers to help his adjustment. I don’t know what his demands are exactly. Some outlets have suggested that he wants a major league contract, which is absurd, but someone might offer him one anyway.

    I don’t know what the Mariners are doing for their part. I don’t think they’d have an issue with providing him with his own translator though, seeing as how they gave Suda one when he signed.

    The Rangers may be emerging as the front runners. They sent Derek Holland to talk to him about the minor league system and what it’s like to come through it. Who knows if they have the money to spend, what with all their issues.

    Kikuchi is supposed to make an announcement as to whether he’ll opt for the NPB or the MLB on Sunday

  12. KaminaAyato on October 24th, 2009 9:52 pm

    It’s been announced. No one stateside will be able to get him as he has announced his intention to stay in Japan.

  13. Jay Yencich on October 24th, 2009 10:51 pm

    Not until he’s done his time in the NPB at least. Good for him, probably, good for the NPB, definitely, less good for us, though we weren’t exactly the front-runners.

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