Scouting Report: Junichi Tazawa, RHP, Japan
We take a quick break from the US Amateurs to provide a scouting report on Junichi Tazawa. Japanese teams in the Central League and the Pacific League adhered to the amateur’s requests not to draft him in the amateur draft. Instead, Tazawa hopes to sign with one of the thirty Major League Baseball organizations. Peter Abraham’s September 14, 2008 article is an informative look at the situation.
So, what’s the deal with Tazawa? The 22-year old righty is a bit undersized at 5’11” / 180 lbs, potentially making him a better fit for a Major League bullpen than as a rotation. He has the makings of a starter’s arsenal, however, so we could see him go either way.
Motion – 55
Tempo – 55
Fastball – 50
Curveball – 50
Slider – 55
Changeup – 50
Overall Motion – Tazawa’s motion is a bit herky-jerky at its apex, but none of his mechanical ticks seem to interfere with his ability to command his pitches. He loses some energy as he exits his leg kick and enters his stride. Rather than extending into his stride, he kicks his stride foot out towards third base. The resulting recoil returns a bend to his leg as he strides forward and shortens his step. The result is a slight loss in momentum towards home, in addition to a limiting of the drive he’s getting out of his back leg. Smoothing this out could add some velocity.
Arm Action – Tazawa generates his velocity, as well as his spin on his breaking balls, through a quick and short arm that gives the ball the appearance of flying out of his right shoulder. Though he breaks his hands a little early, he does a good job of keeping the ball hidden from the hitter. The result is a playing-up of his fastball velocity and a breakingball/changeup that are difficult for the batter to ID. He’s able to throw his curveball, changeup and fastball out of the same slot, though he drops down ever-so-slightly on his slider.
Pace – Tazawa keeps a solid pace, with a delay at the apex of his leg kick that varies slightly in duration. This does not seem to throw-off his command, and can serve as a disruption to the batters’ timing mechanism. His arm plays catch-up with his lower-half, as his legs and hips rotate through before his shoulder. As discussed above, his quick arm is where he generates his velocity, so it works. The downside is added stress to the shoulder and arm, though his ability to throw with easy effort may assuage some fears.
Mechanics Grade – B-
Fastball – Tazawa comes with a low-90s fastball that has occasional arm-side run. He commands it well to both sides of the plate. His quick arm action allows the average velocity to play up and the ball really sneaks-up on the hitter. Though not overpowering, his fastball is above-average due to his arm action, command and velocity differential from his secondary stuff.
Curveball – The first of his breakingballs is a big, loopy curveball he throws off of his right shoulder (like his fastball). His curve sits in the mid- to upper-70s and serves as an offspeed pitch, as well. While he gets a nice bend and solid downward action, it’s still a bit too loopy and there isn’t enough late bite to make it a true above-average pitch. It remains effective as an offspeed offering and as a get-me-over pitch for hitter’s counts (to avoid having to throw his fastball).
Slider – He mixes in a slider with good bite and upper-70s to low-80s velocity. He doesn’t command the slider quite as well, but it is a much better swing-and-miss pitch at this point. While his curveball is a bit more refined, his slider has much more potential. If MiL coaching can’t get some of the loop out of his curve, it would make sense to focus on developing the slider as his primary secondary offering.
Changeup – Since his curve has a better velocity differential than his change, Tazawa doesn’t rely on his changeup as much as he should. It already has solid depth and can be a second true swing-and-miss pitch if he learns to command it. Generally a low-80s offering, the change is effective when down in the zone, but he can get in trouble when he leaves it up (where it also tends to flatten-out).
“Stuff” Grade – B – Tazawa is an interesting case. He gets the most out of an average fastball and a loopy curveball, despite his best potential offerings being his slider/changeup. Some mechanical tweaks may add velocity to his fastball, though it’d be nice to see more consistent run on the pitch. If he stays with a loopy curveball, he’ll need to do a better job of keeping it down, as professional hitters won’t be as thrown by the velocity dip. His slider and changeup are his best bets for plus-pitches, though both need improvement in consistency and command.
Tazawa could be groomed as a reliever or a starter. Any team hoping for him to become a successful starter would be well advised to try and correct his kick-and-recoil coming out of his leg kick, and lengthening his stride. This may be too much, though, in which case his stuff could certainly play in short stints out of the pen (which is my projection). If he’s able to add some velocity to his fastball and/or develop his slider/change into plus-pitches, he could eventually turn into a mid-rotation guy. However, his size and the stress he places on his shoulder with his quick arm action raise durability questions. The best bet would be to switch him to the pen and focus on the fastball/slider combo. He has enough feel for the curve to use it as a “show me” pitch, and the change is serviceable as is. Depending on how the pitches develop, he could be anything from a seventh inning guy to a potential closer.
Prospect Grade – B-