I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there’s been a bit of a stall in MLB’s usual spring start.
Yes, amid the ongoing lockout, one wonders how best to get their fix of baseball in the meantime. College ball is an option, and the minor leagues are largely unaffected, but what about a third option? What if we do what some former pro ball players do and look overseas?
Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball has a long history of play since its founding in the 1950’s, and has featured a laundry list of great talent (both from and foreign to Japan). That list includes multiple former Rockies, so let’s look back on some and see how they fared in their time in the Land of Cherry Blossoms.
The most recent import on our list, Chatwood spent six seasons at elevation, finding inconsistent results as one of the main anchors of the Rockies rotation. After spending some time with the Cubs, Blue Jays, and Giants, “Chatty” is set to join former MLB stars Freddy Galvis and Colin Rea as a member of the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, who have won the Japan Series (NPB’s championship series) six of the last eight seasons. His success is yet to be seen, and adjusting to the various differences between MLB and NPB (such as the size of the ball used) will determine how he fares in his new league.
Carasiti was drafted by the Rockies in 2012 and pitched out of the bullpen in 2016, posting a yucky 9.19 ERA in his 15 2⁄3. He pitched a career 25 1⁄3 innings in the big leagues and after spending some time in the Rockies and Cubs minor league systems (in which he fared far better than he did during his time at the major league level), the right-hander signed with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows at the end of 2017. Carasiti did a solid job in his lone season in Japan, appearing in 32 games and compiling a 7-3 record with three saves to go along with a 4.18 ERA and 73 Ks in his 94 2⁄3 innings of work.
Carasiti would end up returning to MLB, as he’s currently signed to the Giants on a minor league deal.
Who didn’t love the Baby Bull? Rosario was once the power-hitting catcher of the future and his 2012 rookie season still stands as one of the best in recent memory. Finishing fourth in Rookie of the Year voting, he led all catchers in MLB with 28 home runs and, despite playing lackluster defense, seemed poised to be a breakout star for Colorado.
Obviously things didn’t quite pan out that way, and Rosario was out of MLB by 2016. After a brief stint with the Hanwha Eagles of the Korean Baseball Organization, the Dominican-born catcher signed a one-year contract with the Hanshin Tigers in 2017. In his 75 games, Rosario hit to a .242 average with eight home runs. That one year would be it in Japan, as he’d travel back to the U.S. for a minor league contract with the Minnesota Twins, then to the Pericos de Puebla of the Mexican League, and is now set to join the Uni-President Lions of the Chinese Professional Baseball League. What a world-hopping adventure!
I’d wager there are few Rockies fans that don’t have a deep appreciation for Spilly. He too played in Japan once his time in MLB was over, as he signed with the Seibu Lions in 2012. He hit .284 that following season to go along with eight home runs and 38 RBI.
Spilborghs looks back fondly on his time overseas, and often cites stories from his time in Japan during his broadcasts. Though he wasn’t there terribly long, hearing Spilly speak on his time in Japan is always interesting.
Do you remember Matt Murton? It’s OK if you don’t — he played just one season with the Rockies in 2009 and had middling success as he hit .250/.304/.404 in his 29 games. After being released by Colorado (to make room for Ryan Spilborghs!), he was signed by NPB’s Hanshin Tigers. How did he fare with Hanshin? Well, all he did was go and break Ichiro Suzuki’s single-season hits record.
Now it is true that Murton had more opportunities to do so — Ichiro had set the record in 1994 when NPB seasons consisted of 130 games, while current schedules contain 146 — but the record stands just the same. And that was just his first season, as he ended his stint overseas with over 1000 hits and a .310 average. Here’s a cool clip of a walk-off home run he hit as part of the Tigers:
With such a rich history, it’s no wonder so many players go to Japan to improve and hone their skillset. As we wait for MLB to get its act together, don’t forget to consider NPB as an alternative when their season begins later this month. You may see some names you recognize!