The Swallows are solidifying themselves as the Central League’s new powerhouse, winning back-to-back pennants and the Japan Series in 2021.
The roster is lead by the record breaking slugger 3B Munetaka Murakami, CF Yasutaka Shiomi and 2B Tetsuto Yamada.
It’s how the Swallows build around them that will dictate how successful they are in 2023.
RF Domingo Santana and 1B Jose Osuna have been valuable contributors to the lineup and will stay with the team for 2023, but the Swallows lost their star closer Scott McGough to the Diamondbacks this offseason, who signed him for two years and 6M dollars.
RP Keone Kela, P Raynel Espinal, SP Dillon Peters
OF Patrick Kivlehan, RP A.J. Cole, P Andrew Suarez, CP Scott McGough.
RP Keone Kela: A-
One of the most recognizable names that headed over to Japan this year, it’s been a while since Kela has been a mainstay on the back of an MLB bullpen.
Kela had Tommy John surgery in 2021 and pitched just 15.2 innings in 2022 in AAA for the Dodgers and Diamondbacks organizations.
Kela broke out as a 22yo rookie for the Rangers in 2015, throwing 60IP with a 2.39ERA, and he had his best years in Texas and Pittsburgh
Whenever Kela manages to stay healthy he produces, boasting a 3.23ERA on the four seasons he pitched 20+ innings. The problem? Kela hasn’t done so since 2019 with the Pirates.
This is an exciting but risky signing by the Swallows who just lost their closer Scott McGough.
Kela hasn’t shown to be a reliable arm in a while but he’s now 2 years removed form TJ and he is still under 30 years old.
If all goes to plan, Kela will form a dynamite late inning tandem with RP Noboru Shimizu.
P Raynel Espinal: D
The lowest profile signing the Swallows made this offseason, Raynel Espinal is a 31yo RHP from the D.R who has bounced around in the minors since being signed by the Yankees in 2013.
The 6’3ft tall dominican has been used as both a starter and reliever at various points of his career, starting 57 of 109 games played in AAA.
In his Triple-A career, Espinal has a mediocre 4.45ERA but he also has been able to strike out over one batter per inning (10.3K/9).
His pitch mix consists of a 91-93mph fastball, a slider and a changeup.
His changeup is quite fast compared to his fastball, as it averages around 88mph and it’s definitely his most interesting weapon.
Espinal actually managed to crack into the majors in 2021 with the Red Sox due to Covid-19.
He also got back in 2022 to pitch 4.2 innings in September for the lowly Reds, but it looked clear to me watching that he wasn’t quite up to par with MLB standards.
Espinal will bring depth to the Swallows foreign pitching core in 2023, he slots as the team’s 4th foreign pitcher, behind SP Cy Sneed and newly arrived RP Keone Kela and SP Dillon Peters.
SP Dillon Peters: C
As a 6-year MLB veteran, Dillon Peters has seemingly always been at the right (or wrong) time and place to pitch in the world’s biggest stage.
Peters has pitched sparingly for the Marlins, Angels and the Pirates since 2017, pitching around 60IP and starting a dozen games for each ballclub.
If you are an MLB team that has no pitching depth and just needs a guy to go out there and eat innings at a replacement level rate, Peters is your guy.
His career fWAR is literally 0.0.
It’s pretty crazy how Peters has been able to hang on to MLB rosters for so long, with a 5.30 career ERA and unimpressive peripherals at best.
His AAA numbers are even more jarring, as Peters has been as almost as bad at AAA, with a career 5.22 ERA and allowing 10.9 hits/9.
Peters profiles as a junkball lefty, he has a 5-pitch mix, all used at similar rates, a 92mph sinker/fastball, changeup, curveball and slider.
His curveball is my favorite pitch, it ranked in the 93th percentile in spin rate according to Baseball Savant with 2900rpm, it snaps coming out of his hand, especially as a lefty.
It’s an unkown how the Swallows plan to use Peters, but i expect him to get a shot in the rotation, the Swallows have been thin on starters since top prospect Yasunobu Okugawa went down with an injury in the beginning of the 2022 season.
It is yet to be seen if Peters and his impeccable hair flow have what it takes to succeed in Japan.
Offseason Grade: B-
I think the Swallows did a fine job this offseason.
The team’s core is already set and they will have three returning foreigners in 2023 but they still found guys with upside like Kela and even Peters.
Losing Scott McGough is definitely their biggest blow this offseason, but the american closer has struggled in the last two postseason runs and the Swallows have built a pretty deep bullpen to compensate, preferring to deploy them earlier in games akin to what you see in the MLB.
Adding a guy like RP Keone Kela to the mix should keep it as a top unit in the Central League.
The Swallows have set themselves up once again as the team to beat in the Central League for 2023.
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