By Jordan Ikeda
Part two of this three part series previewing Major League Baseball’s upcoming season focuses on the Asian American players. If you missed part one, check it out here.
Jason Bartlett is the starting shortstop for the Tampa Bay Rays. After an all-star caliber 2009 that saw him blow away all of his other seasons in every statistical category, the half-Filipino American is looking to continue his stellar play into 2010 and help the Rays re-find the magic that carried them to the Series in 08. Unlike that World Series run, however, his old double-play partner, Akinori Iwamura, is off in Pittsburgh now, meaning the 29-year-old shortstop will be matched up with a trio of second base options—not an ideal situation, but one JB is confident he can handle.
Travis Ishikawa platoons at first base for the San Francisco Giants. It’s looking like a make-or-break season for the third year pro. Ishikawa won the first base job last spring, then lost it when he could not hit on the road posting a beyond miserable .162 average and .471 OPS in 154 at-bats. Despite the Giants signing Aubrey Huff this past offseason to start at first, what has kept Ishikawa in San Francisco’s plans is last year’s home split—a blistering .349 average with a .935 OPS in 172 at-bats. Of course, at 26, Ishikawa needs to hit for more power and consistency both home and away and he’s only got maybe half a season to prove he belongs before someone else gets an opportunity.
Tim Lincecum is the ace pitcher for the San Francisco Giants. I didn’t know this, no doubt because I’ve hated the Giants for so long and neglected to have anything to do with them (like any self-respecting Dodgers fan), but Lincecum, Mr. National League back-to-back Cy Young Award winner, is half Filipino. Last year, despite winning fewer games and posting two more losses, the 25-year-old lowered his ERA by .14 and his WHIP by .125, pitched four complete games including two shutouts, gave up 14 less hits, and issued 16 less walks, all while leading the league in strikeouts. While he maintains the need to improve his breaking ball, what he really should be working on is his hitting—you know, to help score some runs so he can win the 20-plus games his numbers suggest he should be winning.
Kurt Suzuki is the catcher for the Oakland Athletics. Every year Captain Clutch has gotten better. Last season, he hit .274 with 37 doubles and fifteen big flies and led the As with 88 RBI. He also helped manage one of the youngest pitching staffs in the Majors. After the As dropped a slumping Jason Giambiand traded away Matt Holliday and Orlando Cabrera, I think Suzuki pressed a little bit to try and make up for the lost offense. That’s why his OBP dropped from .346 in 2008 to .313 last year. With the return of Eric Chavez (we’ll see how effective he is) and the addition of Kevin Kouzmanoff, look for Suzuki to improve his plate discipline, thus improving his all around numbers for the third straight year.
Shane Victorino is an outfieldier for the Philadelphia Phillies. The Flyin’ Hawaiian is one of those guys who’s just irrepressible. You love him on your team, and hate him when he burns you over and over again as the opposition. Last year, Victorino, a fifth-generation Maui native who is part Hawaiian, Japanese, Portuguese and Chinese, led the NL with 13 triples last season, hit 10 jacks, 39 doubles and stole 25 bases. While fans of the Boys in Blue recall him murdering the Dodgers in the NLCS posting a 1.320 OPS, Victorino completely vanished in the World Series, batting .182 with a .524 OPS.
Don Wakamatsu is the manager of the Seattle Mariners. Everything is set up for the Mariners to have a deep run in the postseason. They have arguably the best one-two pitching duo in the Majors. They have a collection of Gold Glove-caliber talent at nearly every position. They also have a lineup built on speed, contact and patience. But perhaps the Ms most important piece of the puzzle is their manager. Wakamatsu, aided a great deal by the legend and light-hearted nature of Ken Griffey Jr. (who is returning this season), has created a clubhouse that ably walks the thin line between loose and serious—exemplifed in the team’s embrace of the oft-considered aloof and at times overly business-like Ichiro Suzuki.
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Jordan Ikeda is the sports editor of the Rafu Shimpo. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the Rafu Shimpo.