Baseball America

Ask BA: How High Will Masahiro Tanaka Rank?

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As we await the news of which team Masahiro Tanaka eventually will sign with, I’m curious as to your opinion on which teams you believe he would automatically be considered their No. 1 overall prospect once he does?

Thanks,
J.P. Schwartz
Springfield, Ill.

It’s easier to list the teams where Tanaka wouldn’t jump to the top of the list. Tanaka would rank behind Byron Buxton on the Twins’ list. He’d rank behind Xander Bogaerts on the Red Sox’ list and you could go either way with him or Oscar Taveras on the Cardinals’ list. But besides that, he’d rank No. 1 on 27 of the 30 teams Top 10 lists.

We included a scouting report on Tanaka in the appendix of this year’s Baseball America Prospect Handbook and we gave him a BA Grade of 70 Low, one of the highest grades in the book.

Tanaka may not match Yu Darvish as a prospect, largely because he lacks Darvish’s physicality, but he combines much of the same stuff, command and track record that Darvish had when he came to the States. And like Darvish, he’ll be coming to America in the prime of his career—he’ll pitch next year as a 25-year-old.

Tanaka has won the Sawamura Award (the Japanese Cy Young) twice in the past three seasons. His 24-0, 1.27 record last year is even more impressive when you consider that the new baseball led to a jump from 3.3 to 4.0 runs per game around Nippon Professional Baseball. That’s the same runs per game average as the U.S. big leagues in 2013.

As you would expect from someone who will get paid as an ace, Tanaka would step into the front end of the rotation for most major league teams.

Like any Japanese pitcher, Tanaka will have to make adjustments to the different major league workloads. Tanaka generally has worked deeper in the games than any U.S. starter, but he’s done so while starting less often.

Over the past four seasons, Tanaka has averaged eight innings per start and he’s pitched a complete game in nearly 40 percent of his starts. Over that same time frame Justin Verlander, considered the iron man of current U.S. starting pitchers, has averaged just under seven innings an outing and has pitched a complete game in 10 percent of his starts.

But Tanaka has been starting only once a week, not once every five days. And he’s been doing it against lineups where he can quite clearly gear up for the middle of the lineup while cruising through the bottom third with lesser stuff, something BA’s Ben Badler noted frequently during the 2013 season.

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