By JORDAN IKEDA
Rafu Sports Editor
In this third and final installment of Rafu’s MLB Preview, we take a look at the Taiwanese and Korean players in the league. For those who missed the Japanese players or the Asian Americans, click on the links.
Shin Soo Choo/Outfield/Cleveland Indians
OPS is a baseball stat that measures on-base percentage plus slugging percentage and gives an overall value to a players abilities behind the plate. While there are certainly other factors that go into evaluating players, if one goes by just OPS, then Choo was the best Asian baseball player last year and that includes World Series MVP Hideki Matsui and perennial all-star and 200-hit machine Ichiro Suzuki. Choo’s .883 OPS was quite a bit better than Ichiro’s .851 and slightly better than Matsui’s .876. Surprised? Well, he does play for the Indians. Choo is a legit five-tool player. He became the first Asian player to ever have a 20/20 season (20 homers and 20 swipes). He’s also a great fielder. He hits for contact at or over .300 while maintaining a .395 OBP the past two seasons. What’s more, at 27, he’s in the prime of his career. Look for him to push for a 30/30 season while keeping that OBP near .400. He might even officially subplant Grady Sizemore as the Indians best offensive player.
Chin-lung Hu/Shortstop/Los Angeles Dodgers
Hu is the fifth Taiwanese national to make it to the Majors and will be joining teammates Hong Chih Kuo and Manny Ramirez as part of the Dodgers squad that will be playing three exhibitions games in Taiwan this month. As for this season, Hu will be fighting for playing time behind Rafael Furcal and Angel Berroa. He had 129 plate appearances in 2008 and managed to tally 21 hits and 11 walks and hit for zero power posting a .181 average and .485 OPS. Last year, he had two hits in five at-bats for a .400 average and a .933 OPS. My guess? If he sees time, he’ll bat somewhere in between.
Hong-Chih Kuo/Relief Pitcher/Los Angeles Dodgers
He’s battled back from countless elbow surgeries that nearly caused him to retire. He also overcame the “yips” last season and over the final 21 games posted a 1.93 ERA in 18 2/3 innings. If Kuo can steer clear of his mental issues as well as physical setbacks, he has the makings to once again be one of the best setup men in baseball like his 2008 season. The Dodgers could really use a stabilizing force in the back of the bullpen because despite his new contract, I’m still not entirely comfortable with Big Jon Broxton closing games.
Fu-Te Ni/Relief Pitcher/Detroit Tigers
The sixth Taiwanese player in MLB history and the first player to transition from the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL), Ni is a lefty relief pitcher who was called up last season. He pitched 31 innings and posted a great 2.61 ERA, though partnered it with ho-hum peripheral–6.1 K/9 and 1.91 K/BB ratios. Ni has a real chance to make the Detroit squad this year, though he’s battling it out with four other lefties and its unlikely the Tigers will use up more than half their bullpen on southpaws.
Chan Ho Park/Relief Pitcher/New York Yankees
The former Dodgers ace has reinvented himself as a bullpen stalwart who can come in and get big outs or work a few innings or even spot start. And he’ll be displaying that versatility next year in pinstripes–black ones. Yeah, just vomited a little bit in my mouth. Park was phenomenal for the Phillies last year and wanted very much to stay, but for whatever reason, the Phils let him walk. His heater still clocks in the mid-90s and he mixes that up with a breaking curve. Last year he posted a 2.52 ERA and had a 9.4 K/9 ratio in 50 innings of relief work.
Chien-Ming Wang/Pitcher/Washington Nationals
Still not completely recovered from July 2009 shoulder surgery and coming off an embarrassing season in which he went 1-6 with a 9.64 ERA, the former Yankees ace who posted back-to-back seasons of 19 wins in 06 and 07, is looking regain his “Michael Jordan of Taiwan” game and swagger back this season. He’s got a devastating sinker when he’s on, but with the last season’s worst defense (one that committed a league-high 143 errors), Wang might not be a good fit unless the youth matures quickly in Washington. The Dodgers showed some initial interest but then remembered the fun time they had paying Jason Schmidt and thought better of investing in another questionable shoulder.
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J-Slanted is a weekly column in the Rafu Shimpo. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the Rafu.