With a run down on all the top pitching talent moving to the MLB from Japan, welcome back Joey Mellows…
Miles Mikolas, Chris Martin and Kazuhisa Makita are three talented pitchers who have all recently plied their trade in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league. The fact that none of them are called Ohtani means you may not have heard too much about their courtship with the MLB this offseason. This article hopes to fill in the blanks now that the ‘Japanese Babe Ruth’, Shohei Ohtani, has settled in the City of Angels (…of Anaheim). We’ll start with the pitcher dubbed ‘The Lizard King’.
(Yomiuri Giants to St. Louis Cardinals – 2 year contract; $15.5 million guaranteed)
Mikolas became a viral sensation for eating a live lizard as part of a bullpen dare during his time in the Padres’ minor league system
At 6’5 and 220lbs Mikolas is the very definition of a ‘big righty’. Having underwhelmed in his earlier three-season career with the Padres and Rangers (see MLB stats below) he has dominated in Japan and is returning to the US with a 3-year ERA of 2.18 and an impressive 0.994 WHIP.
Played mostly as a reliever during his minor league career Mikolas never quite cut the mustard when the Rangers gave him the opportunity to start and he was released after the 2014 season. Regular starts built confidence whilst at the Yomiuri Giants and it was in Tokyo that Mikolas learnt how to expand the zone in a league where pitchers are more focused on not striking out. He returns to the MLB, aged 29, with a truly filthy slider, a fastball around 90-92mph and a mid-70s curveball. His wife, Lauren, is a published author, UFC ring-girl and former teacher. Oh – and Mikolas can hit the odd homerun too…
(Nippon-Ham Fighters to Texas Rangers – 2 year contract; $4 million including incentives)
Lovers in Japan: One is a 95 mph flame-thrower, the other has won 7 Grammy Awards (seems a little high)..
At a towering 6’7, Chris Martin has found his way back to the MLB via the Texas Rangers after two seasons as a relief pitcher for Ohtani’s former team, the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters.
Martin has a fascinating origin story that involves stints working as a hardware store employee and a UPS driver after believing his once promising baseball career was over due to shoulder surgery in 2007. It was whilst stocking dishwashers and picking up appliances from manufacturers, that Martin started to play catch with his bored warehouse boss and realised that his arm no longer hurt.
Martin then began to play independent ball for the Grand Prairie AirHogs before having to pay for his own flights to try out at Spring Training for the Boston Red Sox, eventually advancing through their minor league system and getting traded to the Colorado Rockies, then to the New York Yankees where he made their 2015 opening day roster. Never quite able to make the grade at the MLB level Martin’s contractual rights were sold for $750,000 to the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters in late 2015. His development during the past two seasons in Japan can be observed below:
An Arlington native, Martin, at 31, returns to his home-town with a strike-happy 95mph fastball along with a cutter and slider. He is expected to pitch out of the bullpen along with Tony Barnette who had a six year stint with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows and arrived in Texas with a similarly low ERA of 1.29 during his final season in the NPB. Amazingly Martin has only walked 13 hitters over the past two seasons and is worth keeping an eye on as the Rangers aim to improve on a disappointing 2017 season in the AL West.
(Seibu Lions to… Yet To Be Decided)
Spot the difference?
Kazuhisa Makita is the opposite of a prospect. Already 33, his fastball peaks at 85 mph and he does not rack up many strikeouts. Incredibly though, he has allowed just seven home runs in the past two seasons and has achieved this feat by relying upon a devilish selection of sinkers, sliders and curveballs due his unusual arm angle when pitching. His ‘submarine’ delivery is well worth searching for on Youtube, as this video of him striking out Lucas Duda shows.
NPB data from www.npb.jp/eng/
The statistics above may not jump off the page but it should be noted that Makita has notched up 53 holds over the last two seasons and allowed just 5 walks in his 62.2 innings throughout the 2017 season.
Makita would best suit a team looking for a set-up reliever who would guarantee a boost in ticket sales due to his unusual delivery. Indeed, a cult-following could follow if ‘The Submariner’ does arrive in the USA with the Seibu Lions, the team he has spent all seven NPB seasons pitching for, due to post him on or before December 31st. Watch this space…