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THE HOT CORNER: New faces to watch in 2010

by Jim Allen (Feb 18, 2010)

Every winter teams roll the dice, hoping to get the foreign quality needed to push them over the top and into the pennant contention. With the preseason fast approaching, it is worth our while to have a look at a few of 2010's new faces.

As mentioned here last week, nobody has less success with new foreigners than the Hanshin Tigers.

This year, the Tigers have imported outfielder Matt Murton, who has a chance to be a solid player here for some time. A left fielder , Murton will have to play somewhere else as long as Tomoaki Kanemoto's consecutive innings streak (he's played every inning of the last 1,474 games) rumbles on.

Murton was solid for Triple-A Colorado Springs last year (.389 on-base percentage with 12 homers, 27 doubles and 12 steals) at the age of 27. While his record doesn't suggest an MVP-caliber future here, Murton could be as good as six-year veteran Greg LaRocca or Phil Clark, a first baseman who had 3-1/2 productive seasons for the Kintetsu Buffaloes from 1997-2000.

On the pitching side, the Tigers have brought in major league journeyman Casey Fossum. The 32-year-old lefty has spent nine seasons in the majors, his most productive being 2005, when he threw 162-2/3 innings with a 4.92 ERA for Tampa Bay. He'll be joined on the staff by 28-year-old right-hander Randy Messenger, who has been good at Triple-A Tacoma.

The new pitcher coming off the best season is 32-year-old Puerto Rican right-hander Giancarlo Alvarado, who joins the Hiroshima Carp after posting a 3.49 ERA for Triple-A Albuquerque last year.

The Carp, one of Japan's most successful importers under former manager Marty Brown, appear to have another good haul for 2010. The Carp have found outfielder Jeff Fiorentino, who comes with the best track record of any new position player from the Western Hemisphere.

Fiorentino's numbers last season were similar to Murten's, but they came at Triple-A Norfolk, where runs are scarcer, and the fresh Fish is a year younger. Among the successful recent foreign players, Fiorentino appears most comparable to Jim Pacioreck and Pedro Valdes. Pacioreck played six seasons for the Yokohama Taiyo Whales and Tigers. Valdes had four good years with the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks. Both had mid-range power and could hit for average, with Pacioreck having the better average and Valdes more power. If he does well, Fiorentino seems more likely to follow in Pacioreck's spike marks.

Joining Fiorentino in Hiroshima is Australian outfielder Justin Huber, who is just 27 but has had cups of coffee with three major league organizations. The right-handed hitter belted 22 homers in Triple-A last season and could be getting his strikeouts under control.

This year's biggest hitter is not new to Japan fans, who watched him lead South Korea to the final of the 2009 World Baseball Classic. The unanimous selection as the WBC's best first baseman, portly powerhouse Kim Tae Kyun has enlisted with the Chiba Lotte Marines.

Kim is 28 and coming off a poor season in which he still hit .330 with 45 walks and 19 homers in 95 games. Despite his build, he is light on his feet and has a good glove.

Kim's Hanwha Eagles and WBC teammate Lee Bum Ho, 29, joins the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks but is less likely to make an impact.

As they do every winter, the Chunichi Dragons went shopping in Latin America. This time, they brought back two unheralded Dominicans: 30-year-old right-hander Edward Valdez, who had limited minor league success from 2006 to 2008 and intriguing 33-year-old outfielder Dionys Cesar.

Cesar is a contact hitter who has been feasting on Mexican League pitching for the better part of the past five years and has probably seen every junk pitch known to man.

Normally, Cesar might also have a lock on the title of best name in the game, but this year's most mellifluous moniker belongs to new Tokyo Yakult Swallows right-hander Eulo de la Cruz.

Eulogio "Frankie" de la Cruz Martinez, 25, was a low-minors strikeout wizard as a teen. He's since pitched for three major league clubs. Although his K count has dwindled since rising to Double-A ball, he is coming off a pair of very good seasons in Triple-A.


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