Haunted by the ghost of now NPB Hall of Famer Randy Bass, the Hanshin Tigers are still looking for their next foreign superstar, going into the 2023 season with an almost completely new foreign core.
It’s no secret that the Tigers lacked foreign production from their hitters in 2022, guys like Jefry Marte and Mel Rojas Jr. barely played the whole year, even though Marte was good in 2021 (3.8WAR) and Rojas was a big signing after winning MVP honors in the 2020 KBO season, as Rojas Jr., Marte and Aderlín Rodriguez put up just 0.6WAR on 383PA.
The pitching side got better results, with SP Joe Gunkel, SP Aaron Wilkerson and RP Kyle Keller accounting for 3.8WAR on 195IP.
Gunkel signed with the Hawks in the Pacific League while Wilkerson has been linked to the CPBL.
Kyle Keller was the only survivor among the foreign group, posting a 3.31ERA in relief and the advanced stats liked him, boasting a 54 FIP- (meaning he was expected to be 46% better than the average pitcher) and 1.2WAR in just 32IP.
He will be back in 2023.
This is Hanshin’s big chance to complement a solid roster and make a run at their 2nd Japan Series title, so what did they do? Not much in my opinion.
INF Sheldon Neuse, P Brian Keller, OF Johan Mieses, RP Jeremy Beasley.
P Raul Alcantara, SP Aaron Wilkerson, SP Joe Gunkel, 1B Jefry Marte, OF Mel Rojas Jr., IF Aderlin Rodriguez, SP Shintaro Fujinami.
INF Sheldon Neuse: F
Once a highly regarded prospect in the Oakland A’s system, Sheldon Neuse has not hit at all at the major league level, over 3 seasons with the A’s and the Dodgers, Neuse hit just .212/.262/.296 with 7HR over 420PA.
His AAA numbers are better but also underwhelming for a foreign bat, boasting an .824 OPS over four years, his best year was in 2019 with the Las Vegas Aviators where he hit 27HR with a .940 OPS and a 126WRC+.
Neuse’s appeal on paper is that he is a versatile infielder with some pop, but on the field he has been a non-factor at best, grading as a below average defender wherever you put him and the bat has just not played at the highest level.
He is also a strange fit with Hanshin’s roster.
The Tigers have a crowded infield, with Yusuke Ohyama manning 1B, Kento Itohara at 2B (can also play 3rd), Takumo Nakano at SS and Teruaki Sato should man the hot corner at 3B.
It is also important to note that new manager Akinobu Okada has hinted that he prefers to have the team’s core players stick at one position, so it’s really hard to see where Neuse has a role in the infield other than being a backup.
The only spot he could get serious playing time is in the outfield, except Neuse isn’t really an outfielder, he has played just 64 innings as a pro there.
The Tigers are counting on Neuse to be their main foreign hitter acquisition but i just don’t see Neuse being a positive contributor in NPB, i don’t believe in the hit tool and he is a clunky fit with this roster.
P Brian Keller: D+
Safe to say im not very excited about his move as well.
Brian Keller is a 28y old RHP who has split time between starting and the bullpen, he has never reached the majors since being drafted out of the University of Wisconsin in the 39th round of the 2016 draft.
Keller spent 2022 with the Red Sox AAA affiliate, posting a 3.27ERA over 113IP and holding a solid 10.1K/9, his three main pitches are a low 90’s fastball, a curveball and changeup.
He reminds me of former Tiger SP Joe Gunkel, who also never pitched in MLB and had pedestrian AAA numbers, but Gunkel has panned out in Japan and is heading into his 4th NPB season with the Hawks.
It is yet to be seen if Keller can follow Gunkel’s footsteps, but expect him to be used as a 6th starter or bullpen arm.
OF Johan Mieses: C-
It has been an interesting baseball journey for the 27y old dominican outfielder, having been the only player signed by the Tigers to have played competitive baseball in Japan.
Mieses was a part of the Dominican Republic national team at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, hitting two bombs in 4 games but also going 0-4 in the semifinal vs Japan, in which the D.R lost 4-3.
Despite having spent most of his minor career in AA, Mieses broke out in 2022 for the AAA Worchester Red Sox, slashing .271/.387/.536 with 12HR on 230PA.
Batting from the right side of the plate, Mieses has displayed solid power in the minors with a pull heavy approach, with a 60% pull rate in 2022 and a bizarre 28.9% IFFB (infield fly ball percentage) that would lead the majors by a landslide.
Mieses probably won’t have much time with the Tigers main squad, but he has intriguing power and fills a need in the outfield.
RP Jeremy Beasley: B-
At last a signing i like, Jeremy Beasley profiles as a solid add to a very good Tigers bullpen that already features Kyle Keller, Atsuki Yuasa and Suguru Iwazaki.
Beasley has spent 3 seasons in the majors with the Diamondbacks and Blue Jays, mostly in a mop up duty in the bullpen and the results have been poor at first glance, with a 5.84ERA over just 24.2IP.
But Beasley has actually been really good at getting K’s in the MLB, striking out 12 batters/9 innings and his stuff has been on the rise since his first call up in 2020.
The fastball is his main pitch, throwing it around 60% of the time and ranking in the 94th percentile in spin rate among all pitchers.
Beasley’s main struggle in the majors has been the long ball, but it should be less of an issue in Japan since NPB hitters are more contact oriented and they tend to struggle with higher velocity, Beasley sits 95mph with elite spin so that should play well out of the bullpen.
Offseason Grade: D
For there to be winners there has to be losers, and the Hanshin Tigers failed to bring in significant upgrades this offseason.
It’s not entirely right to blame the Tigers for this conservative approach to the offseason, as they have gone out and tried to sign impact foreigners in the past like Mel Rojas Jr, but either they failed to meet the expectations or the Tigers refused to give them time.
It’s hard to see the upside in an almost random assortment of AAA level ballplayers, as basically every foreigner that gets signed to play in Japan has succeded in AAA, but the NPB is a step above and it’s hard for foreigners to adapt let alone thrive.
The one positive thing about these four additions is that they are all in their prime, as every player mentioned was 28yo or younger.
Another factor that acts as an excuse for the Tigers is that they already had a solid roster in place for 2023, the Tigers have one of the best rotations in NPB with Koyo Aoyagi, Yuki Nishi and the returning Haruto Takahashi.
The offense has stars like Koji Chikamoto, Teruaki Sato and Yusuke Ohyama, it’s clear they aren’t keen relying on outsider production to compete in the Central League.
Did the Tigers get better after these moves? I don’t think so.
Does that mean they aren’t a contender in the Central League? I don’t think so as well.
Up Next: Swallows
Previous Breakdown: Dragons