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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Making the big time?

Amber shows off her Christmas drawing. As I write this, she has gone to bed, waiting for Santa to bring her some gifts. Momo, one of our two cats, shows typical feline indifference. 

There is one Taiwanese baseball player currently plying his trade in Japan who knows what he would like to get from Father Christmas this year - a nice, fat Major League Baseball contract. Jason Coskrey, a staff writer for the Japan Times ジャパンタイムズ, makes the call:

"With the majority of the baseball world caught up in the hoopla surrounding (Yū) Darvish's ダルビッシュ有 posting, and the record $51.7 million (¥4.04 billion/NT1.6 billion) fee the Texas Rangers doled out for his rights, there hasn't been too much attention paid to Hisashi Iwakuma 岩隈久志 and Chen Wei-yin 陳偉殷 this winter.

Both probably expected to be in MLB last season, but had to stay in Japan a little longer. Now the duo, who also both dealt with injuries in 2011, are ready to make the jump for real this time...
  
Chen is a bit of a mystery.

The Taiwanese lefty has been among the best pitchers in the Central League セントラル・リーグ since 2009, when he posted the lowest ERA (1.54) in the CL since 1968.

At 26 years old, he's still slightly unpolished, with his future potential a major selling point for some MLB observers.

'His ceiling looks lower than most thought just a few seasons ago, yet I'm hearing that 12 teams are interested,' said the MLB scout. 'His control is excellent, but his command is not. Strikes at the letters over the fat part of the plate are going to travel much farther in the big leagues.'

Chen is 36-30, with one save, a 2.59 ERA and 1.09 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) in five seasons with the Chūnichi Dragons 中日ドラゴンズ.

He's been helped to an extent by playing home games at pitcher-friendly Nagoya Dome ナゴヤドーム where, since 2008, he's 18-7 with a 1.97 ERA in 51 games versus 18-23, 2.84 in 64 outings everywhere else.

Chen made his first start of 2011 on May 6, after struggling with a left adductor injury in the spring. His performance suffered early in the season, but he regained most of his velocity and some command of his slider as the year progressed.

'Usually a team doesn't have to pay what Chen and his agent may be asking for to find out if a 26-year-old can improve his command and stay healthy,' the scout said.

'The fact that he already bridged the gap between Taiwan and Japan very well works in his favor; he is diligent and driven. He could be a great guy to have in the pen.'"

Only six players from Taiwan have ever appeared in a game at the Major League level, and the results have been mixed. Chen Chin-feng  陳金鋒 was the first, making his debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2002. A once-highly regarded prospect, he never realized his full potential and returned to Taiwan for the 2006 season, where he's now currently an outfielder for the Lamigo Monkeys (Lamigo桃猿).

Tsao Chin-hui 曹錦輝 had some success pitching for the Colorado Rockies, but a series of arm injuries limited his playing time. He eventually came back to Taiwan, only to get involved in one of Taiwanese baseball's never-ending string of gambling scandals, and was booted from the game as a result.

As a Los Angeles Dodger, Kuo Hong-chih 郭泓志 became the first Taiwanese to appear in an All-Star Game, pitching in the 2010 contest. However, he suffered from an anxiety disorder during the 2011 season which saw him spending time on the disabled list, and he's currently a free agent.


Infielder Hu Chin-lung 胡金龍 showed some promise when he was named the MVP of the 2007 All-Star Futures Game while a member of the Dodgers organization. However, his career has sinced stalled, having appeared in only 118 big league games over five seasons, including 22 in 2011 with the New York Mets, his current organization.


Reliever Ni Fu-te was the first player to make the move from Taiwan's Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL 中華職業棒球大聯盟) to the majors, making his debut with the Detroit Tigers in 2009. He spent the most recent season on the Tigers' AAA-affiliate Toledo Mud Hens.

Then there's Wang Chien-ming 王建民, the most successful by far of all the Taiwanese who have played in MLB. Wang, of course, was a 19-game winner with the hated New York Yankees in both 2006 and 2007, and became the pride of Taiwan in the process. After being sidelined by injuries for a couple of years, Wang pitched himself back into the picture in 2011 with the Washington Nationals, finishing with a 4-3 record and 4.04 ERA. He should be part of the Nats' starting rotation in 2012.

MLB career stats for all the above Taiwanese players can be checked out at baseball-reference.com.

Here's hoping that Chen Wei-yin will be able to make the jump from Japan to North America...as long as it isn't with the Yankees.

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