ORLANDO—While Masahiro Tanaka is undoubtedly the premier pitcher in Japan, teams have been keeping a close eye on whether Hiroshima Carp righthander Kenta Maeda will become available through the posting system this year.
Now Maeda has further fueled speculation that he could be posted, as Maeda
told Japanese media this week that he wants to play in Major League Baseball. Maeda said he has felt that way for some time, but his sentiment grew stronger after his performance in the World Baseball Classic. Maeda didn't specify whether he hoped Hiroshima would post him this offseason.
Maeda, 25, ranked as Baseball America's No. 7 prospect at the WBC among players not affiliated with a major league team. Cuban shortstop Erisbel Arruebarruena, who recently left Cuba to pursue a major league contract, was the No. 10 prospect on the list, while Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu, who signed a six-year, $68 million contract with the White Sox, was No. 3.
Now there's sentiment that Maeda could be available this offseason once the posting system is finalized.
"If it’s 100 percent from him, I think Hiroshima is definitely on board," said one international director. "They can see the finances behind it. Maeda is not the superstar that Tanaka is for Rakuten or (Yu) Darvish was for Nippon Ham and (Daisuke) Mastuazka was for Seibu."
Compared to Tanaka, Maeda doesn't throw as hard or have a devastating out pitch like Tanaka’s splitter, but he is the No. 2 pitcher in Japan and would go immediately to the majors if posted. This past season, Maeda led Japan's Central League in ERA and ranked second in strikeouts, posting a 2.10 ERA in 175 2/3 innings with 158 strikeouts (8.1 K/9) and 40 walks (2.0 BB/9). In 2010, Maeda won the Sawamura Award, Japan's equivalent of the Cy Young.
Maeda is a slightly-built 6 feet, 160 pounds and throws around 87-93 mph with good sink and run, though he doesn't get great angle on his fastball. He's a good athlete, which helps him repeat his delivery and thrive when his command, which can be plus at times, is on point. Maeda doesn't have one knockout secondary pitch, but he has a solid-average slider and mixes in a curveball and a changeup as well.
"I liked Maeda" said a second international director. "He could be a fourth starter at the big league level. I really like his command and he has a good slider. He doesn't have much plane, he really has to hit his spots, but he has good stuff. It's not overpowering stuff, but he'll keep you in games."
Since the new posting system hasn't been finalized yet, Tanaka and Maeda are still in limbo at this point. But it's possible another pitcher could soon be throw into the market.