Frederich Cepeda launched his first home run in Japan today, and it came off a pitcher major league scouts are watching closely.
Cepeda, a 34-year-old outfielder for the Yomiuri Giants and a veteran of the Cuban national team, worked a 3-0 count against Hiroshima righthander Kenta Maeda with a runner on base in the third inning. Then Maeda left a fastball up in the zone out over the plate, a pitch Cepeda crushed over the right-center field fence. The announcer and 46,761 fans in attendance at the Tokyo Dome erupted as Cepeda rounded the bases, high-fiving the third-base coach and the Giants’ mascot on his trot home.
Maeda walked Cepeda on four pitches in his next trip to the plate, and Cepeda finished his third game of the season 1-for-3 with a walk. Cepeda is currently in Japan on a one-year, $1.5 million contract brokered by the Cuban government that will allow him to play for the Giants during the Nippon Professional Baseball season, then return to Cuba when the season ends. Cepeda hit .292/.484/.536 in 378 plate appearances in Cuba’s Serie Nacional last season, leading in the league in OBP and walks (100) while ranking second to Alfredo Despaigne in OPS.
The matchup featured two of the best players on the planet not currently playing in the United States, though Maeda could make the leap to Major League Baseball after this season, as he stated publicly in December that he would like to play in MLB. Maeda, 26, is arguably the top pitcher in Japan and has impressed scouts with a solid arsenal of stuff that plays up due to his feel for pitching. Maeda ranked as the No. 7 prospect at the 2013 World Baseball Classic and has posted a 2.33 ERA in 54 innings with 39 strikeouts and 11 walks this season.