11 November 2008

Scouting Report: Koji Uehara, RHP, Japan

By Nick James

Before unveiling our Fall 2008 Top 40 pitchers in the 2009 Draft Class, we take a quick look at another Japanese right-hander: Koji Uehara. The 6-1 /187 lbs. 33-year old (34 this upcoming May) is looking to sign with a Major League organization this Winter, with the Orioles apparently the only team currently looking at him as a starter.

Grading Out
Motion – 50
Tempo – 60
Fastball – 55
Slider – 50
Changeup/Forkball – 55

Mechanics

Overall Motion – Uehara’s motion is clean with some deception and an interesting thrust upwards at the end of his high-effort delivery. As he enters his leg kick, he gets great bend in his back leg allowing him to get maximum thrust in his stride. His plant is clean and he does an excellent job of keeping his momentum directed towards home. As he releases, he drives upwards with his plant foot, giving him the appearance of rising upwards as the pitch comes. On occasion, he'll enter this thrust before the ball has completely left his hand, leaving the pitch up (though this is much more the exception than the rule). While his follow-through -- both leg and arm -- can be violent at times, it's generally under control and leaves him facing forward. Overall, there is a lot of effort, but the mechanics are clean enough to have helped him avoid serious injury over a good-sized career.

Arm Action – As Uehara splits his hands and enters his stride, he cocks his wrist pulling the ball in and towards his elbow. This action places additional stress on the elbow and is generally a red flag indicating a higher probability of elbow troubles down the line. Given that Uehara has not run into serious elbow injury in his career, it's quite possible this is a non-issue. Still, if Baltimore is looking to use him as a starter, it will be something to keep in mind with regards to pitch counts and inning counts on the season. Otherwise, Uehara's arm action is clean though he throws with some effort. There is a good amount of torque on the shoulder, but his upper-half generally works well with his lower-half, helping to ease some of that tension. His follow-through is generally smooth, though as mentioned above he can get a bit violent at times leading to recoil.

Pace – Uehara keeps a terrific pace, moving cleanly through his motion and keeping all of his parts working together. His upper-half and his lower-half are on the same page, reducing stress in his shoulder (which is key considering his generally high-effort delivery).

Mechanics Grade – B

Arsenal
Fastball – Uehara comes with a low-90s 4-seam fastball that is generally flat and a 2-seamer a couple of miles-per-hour slower with good arm-side run. He commands both pitches well to all four quadrants and mixes them well so as to give the batter a different look. His 4-seamer is a below-average pitch, though it plays-up a bit due to his command. His 2-seamer is an average pitch that plays-up due to the late action and has plus-potential when he is living on the black.

Slider – Uehara's slider is a tight little offering with late bite and not great depth. Like his fastballs, his slider plays-up due to his command, and he's able to keep the pitch inside against lefties and on the low corners against righties. It's an average pitch that should play well against ML hitters provided he keeps it out of the middle-of-the-plate.

Changeup/Forkball – Uehara's other secondary offering is a changeup/forkball with good depth and fade. It's most effective as a chase pitch with two strikes, though he's comfortable throwing it inside to lefties and breaking it over their knees to the low-inside corner. This fringe-plus-offering may be the key to his success or failure as a starter, as it will help keep his pitch count down and produce ground balls if he commands it well.

“Stuff” Grade – B- – Uehara is not likely to overpower anyone at the ML-level, but he has the potential to keep hitters off-balance with three solid to above-average offerings. If he can maintain his plus-command, his three pitch mix should play towards the back-end of a ML rotation. His slider and fastball are not good enough to miss with, so leaving either over the plate will get him into trouble in a hurry. He'll need to work ahead in the count and utilize his change/forkball to get some swings-and-misses or groundouts.

Nick’s Notes
Uehara could be groomed as a reliever or a starter, though it looks like he would prefer to start and Baltimore is currently the only team looking to use him in that role. Plus-command and an adequate if unspectacular arsenal could make him a solid option at the back of a rotation, though given his arm cock (pulling the ball to his elbow) it may make sense to use him in the #5 spot where he can have a couple of starts skipped as a precaution. Were Uehara to struggle as a starter, he could be used as a situational reliever, primarily as a groundball pitcher in the Bradford mold.

Prospect Grade – C+

30 October 2008

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.

Grading Out

Motion – 55
Tempo – 55
Fastball – 50
Curveball – 50
Slider – 55
Changeup – 50

Mechanics

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-

Arsenal

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.

Nick’s Notes

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-