Overseas Attractions Coming Stateside in 2014
This year portly Korean import Hyun-jin Ryu and the gif-tastic Cuban sparkplug Yasel Puig, made immediate impacts in the majors after coming from overseas to help the Dodgers. But this isn’t a one year trend. Every year impact fantasy stars like Yoenis Cespedes, Yu Darvish, Aroldis Chapman and that guy you only know by one name come from overseas to ply their trade in the major leagues.
This year looks to be no different as a healthy crop of overseas players are clamoring to test their skills against the best baseball has to offer. These players can be extra valuable because, unlike prospects, they can make an immediate impact and before the hype train starts and can be had for pennies on the dollar.
The Cuban crop this year looks very talented, assuredly spurred by the recent contracts of Cespedes, Puig and Chapman, among others.
Let’s start with the main attraction:
Jose Dariel Abreu, 1B, (Age 26) has been long regarded as one of, if not, the best hitter in Cuba. It’s been suggested that he is possibly the best hitter on the planet. If he’s still available in your league, stop reading right now and go pick him up. Abreu is a masher in every sense of the word, his career slash in Cuba is .392/.539/.790 while topping 30 HRs in three straight years without ever getting more than 300 ABs in any of those seasons. He is most likely the best hitter to ever come out of Cuba, period. Take a look at him doing his best Giancarlo Stanton impression with a grand slam in the WBC here.
Alexander Guerrero, MI, (Age 26) plays a much more interesting position than Abreu but obviously doesn’t have the same offensive profile. Nonetheless Guerrero could be extremely valuable in his own right as his career Cuban numbers rival those of Cespedes, albeit with a bit less power. Given the positional difference there’s a chance that Guerrero could end up being more valuable than Cespedes over the long run. However, it’s not all wine and roses for the young cuban slugger, because of defecting and nationality issues Guerrero missed all of 2013 in a state of nationality limbo and some MLB teams have expressed concern that he isn’t capable of playing SS/2B at the highest level. At the end of the day Guerrero is still an extremely interesting candidate who could come in and make an impact at a big league level almost immediately.
Masahiro Tanaka, SP, (Age 24) is one of the best pitchers to ever come out of Japan. While he can’t quite match Yu Darvish’s strikeout totals, he’s currently 19-0 with a 1.20 ERA over 172 IPs this year. Over the last three years Tanaka’s K/BB rate has been an outstanding 7.86, making him basically the Japanese league’s Cliff Lee. At 24 Tanaka has some room to grow and I expect nothing but amazing things from him when he gets stateside. There are some concerns about durability, but Tanaka has thrown more than 155 IP over the last seven years so he may have what it takes to stay healthy. If he’s available in your league, I’d grab him right now as he could be much better than Ryu with less Ks then Darvish.
Yoshio Itoi, OF, (Age 31) is a bit old for dynasty leagues, but don’t let that fool you. With skills reportedly better than those of Norichika Aoki and a career slash of .303/.390/.459, Itoi could be an amazing contributor next season. In OBP leagues Itoi could be extremely valuable, but in any league he could easily come in at a 3rd OF slot posting decent totals in RBIs, HRs and excellent totals in Runs, Avg and SBs. Don’t sleep on him as a late round keeper or draft pick.
Shohei Otani, SP (Age 18) isn’t coming over the US this year but I wanted to discuss him anyway because at some point he will matter in your league. The 18 year old phenom is already hitting triple digits and has drawn comparisons to Yu Darvish. Before he was selected and signed by the Nippon Ham Fighters, he had publicly stated that he would buck the Japanese system and go straight to the United States. This, however, did not happen and all sorts of theories have been tossed out as to why Otani stayed in Japan. But no matter where he starts his career, you can almost be sure it will end as a Major Leaguer.
All in all, the overseas crop is thick this year but don’t let that fool you, these guys will be on everyone’s radars sooner rather than later.
I tweet about Baseball/Digital/Funny things @lukechatelain, feel free to hit me up with comments, questions or jabs about my lesser intellect.