Where EAST meets the Northwest
Kolten Wong. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Kenta Maeda. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
PRODUCTIVE PLAYERS. Asian baseball players are making a difference across
Major League Baseball (MLB). Hawai‘i-born Kolten Wong has played intermittently
for the St. Louis Cardinals over the past five seasons, but he’s now their
starting second baseman. Wong strikes out rarely, draws walks well, and picks up
a homer now and again. Prized Nippon Professional Baseball import Kenta Maeda
arrived to MLB with high expectations last season, and he did not disappoint.
Maeda started hot before cooling off, but he still finished with a 16-11 record,
striking out more than a batter per inning.
Shin-Soo Choo. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Koji Uehara. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
MAJOR-LEAGUE TALENT. Outfielder Shin-Soo Choo of the Texas Rangers safely
reaches second base in a Major League Baseball (MLB) game against the
Philadelphia Phillies in Arlington, Texas. Unlike most Asian players, Korea-born
Choo has spent his entire pro career in America. Chicago Cubs relief pitcher
Koji Uehara pitches during the seventh inning of a MLB game against the
Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh. The Cubs bolstered its bullpen this year with
Uehara, who has pitched for four different MLB clubs since coming from Nippon
Professional Baseball in 2009.
From The Asian Reporter, V27, #11 (June 5, 2017), pages 7 & 11.
Asian players now in nearly every division in the majors
By Mike Street
Special to The Asian Reporter
After more than 20 years of imports from Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB)
and the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) to Major League Baseball (MLB), the
2017 season features Asia-born players in nearly every division.
We start in the National League East, where the Miami Marlins have three
Asian players. At 43 years old, outfielder Ichiro Suzuki hopes to play in MLB
until he’s 50, adding to his more than 3,000 career hits. With his renowned
workout regimen, he just might.
On the mound for Miami, Taiwan’s Wei-Yin Chen began his MLB career in 2012.
After pitching respectably with the Baltimore Orioles for four years, Chen
signed with Miami in 2016. Though he won’t ever be a top-flight pitcher, Chen
should pave the way for future Taiwanese MLB talent.
Lately, Marlins bullpen addition Junichi Tazawa hasn’t looked like the
pitcher who made waves by skipping the 2008 NPB draft. From 2012 to 2014, Tazawa
was Boston’s supremely successful setup man until he started walking batters and
giving up homers. If he regains his control and keeps the ball down, Tazawa
could become a high-leverage Miami reliever.
In the National League Central, Chinese American Kolten Wong is the only
player featured in this MLB roundup who was born in the United States. Wong has
played intermittently for the St. Louis Cardinals over the past five seasons,
but he’s now their starting second baseman. He strikes out rarely, draws walks
well, and picks up a homer now and again. That won’t make Wong, who was born in
Hawai‘i, a star, but it will bolster the St. Louis offense for a playoff push.
Of more importance to the Cardinals will be closer Seung-hwan Oh, who came to
St. Louis last season. In the KBO and NPB, Oh was called "Stone Buddha" and
"Final Boss" for his unshakeable demeanor and amazing ability to close games.
Oh lived up to both nicknames last season, stepping into the closer’s role
and reeling off 19 saves with a 1.92 Earned Run Average (ERA). Despite his
heroics, the Cardinals missed the playoffs for the first time in six seasons. If
St. Louis returns to the postseason, they’ll need Oh to repeat his dominant 2016
The Cardinals finished last season behind the Chicago Cubs, who went on to
win their first World Series since 1908. This year, Chicago bolstered its
bullpen with Koji Uehara, who has pitched for four different MLB clubs since
coming from NPB in 2009.
Uehara enjoyed his greatest success with Boston, amassing 79 saves in four
seasons, including 2013, one of the best seasons ever by a reliever. That year,
Uehara finished with a 1.09 ERA and a nearly untouchable 0.565 Walks & Hits per
Innings Pitched (WHIP), retiring 37 straight batters at one point. Uehara helped
Boston win its eighth World Series championship, and Chicago hopes he will help
them win their second straight.
In the National League West, the Los Angeles Dodgers boast two great Asian
talents in Hyun-jin Ryu and Kenta Maeda. The first KBO starting pitcher to come
to MLB, Ryu won 28 games in his first two seasons with a combined 3.19 ERA and
293 strikeouts. Elbow and shoulder surgeries shelved Ryu for parts of 2015 and
2016. Hopefully 2017 will be his first full season in three years; the Dodgers
need him to resume his winning ways.
Prized NPB import Maeda arrived with high expectations last season, and he
did not disappoint. Maeda started hot before cooling off, but he still finished
with a 16-11 record, striking out more than a batter per inning. These two Asian
arms are part of a deep Dodgers rotation that’s among the best in baseball.
Over in the American League West, outfielder Shin-Soo Choo and pitcher Yu
Darvish return to the Texas Rangers.
Unlike most Asian players, the Korea-born Choo has spent his entire pro
career in America. He played his peak years with Cleveland, and his performance
has declined since he came to Texas in 2014. Injuries sidelined him, and his
power has largely vanished, but his batting eye remains sharp, so he can still
be a force for Texas — if he can stay healthy.
Yu Darvish has had similar injury woes, though he’s been far more productive
when healthy. One of the most widely anticipated NPB arrivals ever, Darvish
joined the Rangers in 2012, continuing his stellar career with three straight
all-star seasons, including 2013, when he led the majors with 277 strikeouts.
Tommy John surgery knocked Darvish out for part of 2014 and all of 2015, and
neck and back problems dogged him when he returned in 2016. If he’s healthy,
Darvish and his unhittable pitching repertoire can lead Texas back to the
Also in the American League West, the Houston Astros have a rarity in
Norichika Aoki, an Asian position player who has endured in MLB. Aoki has played
for five teams in five seasons, bringing his speed, ability to get on base, and
good outfield defense. He made it to the World Series with the Royals in 2014;
Houston hopes he can help them get there, too.
The Seattle Mariners, in the same division, have imported plenty of Japanese
talent, including Hisashi Iwakuma. His solid but unspectacular numbers during 10
NPB seasons meant his 2012 signing was overshadowed by the Darvish acquisition.
Yet Iwakuma has won 17 more games than Darvish through 2016, thanks to good
health and exceptional control. These important traits should ensure the
36-year-old remains a valuable player for several more seasons.
The New York Yankees in the American League East have had some high-profile
eastern busts, but the 2014 acquisition of Masahiro Tanaka has been successful
through 2016. A top-notch NPB starting pitcher, Tanaka amassed a 39-16 record
over three seasons in Yankee pinstripes, with an excellent 3.12 ERA and
outstanding control. Tanaka has been the Yankees’ most dependable starting
pitcher; they hope he’ll lead them back to their championship ways.
Last season’s resilience award goes to KBO veteran Hyun-soo Kim of the
Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. After a poor spring training in
his first Orioles season, Kim refused a minor-league assignment, preferring
instead to work out his problems on the major-league bench. His decision paid
off, as he worked his way into the starting lineup with a patient, high-contact
approach. His skill and determination have ensured him a spot in the 2017
Whether they’re playing for contenders or also-rans, Asian MLB players are
making a difference across the league, lifting the hopes of Asian-American
sports fans nationwide.
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