Potential NPB Catching Imports
Finding solid-hitting catchers, especially in deep leagues, is a tough task for dynasty owners. In fact, of 28 catchers who have logged more than 300 plate appearances in 2015, only 9 have posted above league-average offensive production.
Here I introduce potential solutions who are currently in early stages in their NPB careers. These guys sure have the skill to whack MLB pitching should they head to the major leagues in the future. The problem is, well, neither has spent much, if not at all, time behind the plate lately. Anyways, let’s take a closer look.
Tomoya Mori, Seibu Lions
In his first full season with the Lions’ ichi-gun (top squad), Mori has shown his stratospheric potential. Entering Wednesday’s contest, he is slashing .289/.359/.471 with 33 doubles, 17 round trippers and 68 RBI in 528 plate appearances. All of his slash line stats are within or near top third among 29 qualified hitters in the Pacific League.
An alumnus of Osaka Toin High School, one of the best powerhouse schools in Japanese HS ball, Mori is known for his plus bat and power, especially given his listed 5’6″, 176 lbs frame. You can see his staggering power in the video above, in which he launched a pop-up straight up in the air and hit the ceiling of Tokyo Dome in this year’s All-Star Game (fast forward to 0:55 mark if you want save a minute of your life). It was one of the most surreal events I’ve witnessed on the baseball field. In addition to the power, the shows a feel for barrel. He’s a bit too aggressive at the plate, as his 44/138 BB/K rate suggests. But I think his plate discipline will improve as he ages. I also note that he moves well, often runs a 4.15 home-first from the left side.
There’s a little to no question about his future as a hitter. However, even though listed as a catcher, Mori has not caught an inning in 2015, mostly served as DH while spending some time in right field, as he is blocked by Ginjiro Sumitani, the Lions’ weak-hitting catcher. It’s understandable that they want to have Mori’s bat in the lineup while keeping a solid defense behind the plate. And I agree that Sumitani is a far better catcher than Mori at this point. Mori does have a plus arm suited for backstop, though some question his receiving skill. But at the age of 20, no one knows how to catch, and one can learn catching by only actually catching. All we can hope is the Lions increase his time behind the plate down the road.
Even if they decide to completely move him away from catcher, his bat plays anywhere. If his future is a full-time right fielder, he could still be a top five position players in the NPB.
With just over a year of service time logged, Mori is 8 years from obtaining international free agency. However, considering the fact that the Lions are the most pro-posting team in the league, there are decent chances that we see him in the bigs earlier, if he opts that way.
Kensuke Kondo, Nippon Ham Fighters
Like Mori, the 22-year old Kondo has enjoyed a stellar first full-season with ichi-gun, posting a .331/.409/.472 slash line, 32 two-baggers and eight long balls while drawing nearly as many walks (58) as strikeouts (59) in 494 trips to the plate. His AVG and OBP rank third-best in the league behind only juggernauts Yuki Yanagita and Shogo Akiyama. Kondo has a built that is very similar to Mori’s, only an inch taller with the same listed weight.
He shows gap-to-gap power to go with the ability to spray the ball to the whole field. Possessing above-average athleticism and speed, he has played some hot corner, outfield and even shortstop in addition to his natural backstop. Although he has appeared as a catcher in less than half of the 126 games he’s played, none since late May until catching an inning on Wednesday. He struggled with the yips a couple of years ago, but those days are in the rear view mirror. I expect the Fighters will start giving him more time behind the plate from 2016 on.
I see 45/50 bat with some pop if Kondo comes over to the states in the future. With three years of service time under his belt, he needs 6 more years to test the international market. He’s a less exciting talent than Mori, but an intriguing name to keep track on regardless.