This offseason, we've seen a large number of released NPB players announce an intent to pursue contracts with MLB organizations. I'm not sure if this is a record, but it's the most I can recall. I'm not including Junichi Tazawa and Ken Takahashi in this list, because Takahashi turned down NPB offers, and Tazawa would have been drafted. All of these guys were either released by their NPB teams, or in the case of Yamarin, not drafted.
- Shigeki Noguchi -> agreed with Blue Jays, failed physical
- Ken Kadokura -> Cubs
- Kazuhiro Takeoka -> Unsigned (Braves?)
- Katsuhiko Maekawa -> Cardinals
- Takateru Iyono -> Unsigned
- Tatsuya Ozeki -> trying out with the Rockies in March
- Ryohei Tanaka -> Orioles
- Michinao Yamamura -> Unsigned (Golden League?)
- Koichi Misawa -> Unsigned (played in the Northern League in '08)
- Yoshinori Yamarin -> Braves
- Itsuki Shoda -> Sinon Bulls (Taiwan)
Five Players are still unsigned, which doesn't surprise me, but I can see Yamamura and Iyono getting a shot as they're still in their 20's. Takeoka has worked out twice for the Braves and played AAA ball, so he might a chance too.
Notable MLB returnees:
- Jeremy Powell -> Pirates
- Jason Standridge -> Marlins
- Craig Brazell -> Orioles
- Winston Abreu -> Rays
Without a doubt, all of the players listed above obvious face big uphill battles to making it to the majors. But the fact that they are getting a chance indicates either a heightened respect for the level of talent in Japan, or a greater need to find low-cost, low-risk players through non-traditional channels. There will be 22 Japanese players in 14 big league camps this spring.
Reasons not to write these guys off just yet: Tomo Ohka, Takashi Saito, Hector Carrasco, Buddy Carlyle, Brian Shouse and Pedro Feliciano. Saito looked like he was on the downside of his career when he came over, and none of the other guys had lasting success at the top level in Japan. All have been at least useful MLB players.