Above we see Kenta Maeda. The buzz out of Japan this winter– and all summer long, really– has focussed almost entirely on Masahiro Tanaka, but according to Ben Badler of Baseball America (it’s not paywall’d! read it!), Maeda is a very good pitcher in his own right, and apparently he wants to pitch in the big leagues.
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.
Maeda, who plays for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, led pitchers in NPB’s Central League in ERA this season, though his was nearly a full run higher than the Pacific League leader– who was, of course, Tanaka. He bested Tanaka in that department in 2012, and according to Badler’s report, “in 2010, Maeda won the Sawamura Award, Japan’s equivalent of the Cy Young.”
However, he has never struck out more than a hitter per inning– as you can see from his Baseball Reference page– and while his low walk rate is a plus, but we’re told that “compared to Tanaka, Maeda doesn’t throw as hard or have a devastating out.”
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.
He’d go straight to the Majors, apparently, but if the floor on Tanaka is supposedly a number three starter, you’d have to think that for Maeda it’s even lower. But there’s a pretty good track record of success there, too, and that has to make him at least a little bit intriguing.
And according to his Wikipedia page, maybe that’s underselling him a little bit, as during the 2013 WBC, “Maeda started 2 games in the pool rounds, against China and Netherlands, amassing a 2-0 record with 0.00 ERA, 0.30 WHIP, allowing just 2 hits, 1 walk, and striking out 15 in 10 innings. He was selected into the tournament’s Best-9 lineup.” (He actually made one more start in the tournament, losing to Puerto Rico despite pitching five innings, giving up four hits, five walks, and one run, striking out three.)
So… there’s that.