Daily Archives: December 22, 2011

Yu Darvish to Texas: Samurai to Become a Ranger

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Sam Evans: On Monday, the Nippon Ham Fighters announced that the Texas Rangers had won the posting fee for 25 year-old pitcher Yu Darvish. The Rangers surrendered a record $51.7 million for the rights to negotiate a contract with Darvish. The Rangers are taking an expensive risk on Darvish, who should be penciled into the top of their rotation.

The Rangers now have thirty days from the signing to work out a contract with Darvish. My guess is the contract will be anywhere from four to six years at $35 to $60 million. That is a lot of money for any team to give to a prospect, but given the Rangers new TV deal, they can certainly afford it.

Over the last five years, Darvish posted a 1.72 ERA and struck out roughly one batter an inning in a league known for its pesky hitters. He quickly became a superstar in Japan, unlike any current American baseball player’s stature. He also led Japan to the 2009 WBC championship.

Yu Darvish is not only a Japanese baseball superstar, he is a pop culture icon as well.He is married to a Japanese actress (although reports indicate the couple is splitting), and he has his own blog called “Thoughts Of Yu”. Added pressure shouldn’t be a problem for Darvish because he has gotten used to it ever since cameras started following him around in high school. Realistically, Darvish shouldn’t have as much trouble with the language barrier as previous Japanese players.

Darvish is 6’5” and weighs only 185 pounds. If he were a traditional teenage prospect, then scouts would claim that he would need to “fill out his frame”. However, he is twenty-five and it’s probably too late for him to develop physically much more. Nonetheless, don’t rule it out. There are 255 Chick-Fil-A restaurants in the state of Texas, and hopefully Carlos Lee has left some wholesome American cuisine for Darvish to enjoy.

Darvish throws a four-seam fastball that sits around 94 MPH. He also throws two types of sliders, a cutter, a curve, and a shuuto. A shuuto is thrown around 90 MPH with movement that propels the ball inward on right-handed hitters. From what I have heard, Darvish is very projectable as a number two MLB starter. However, if he were to add a change-up to his repertoire, I think the Rangers could develop him into an ace. Not to mention, Yu Darvish will have the pitcher behind the greatest change-up of all-time, Greg Maddux and pitching coach, Mike Maddux, to work with throughout the season.  Also team President, Nolan Ryan, know a thing or two about pitching as well.

If Darvish struggles in 2012, it will be because of command, above other things. Japan has built a reputation for a strike zone much larger than the one in the US, and that might be hard for him to get used to. Additionally, going from playing games indoors to under the sweltering Texas sun, wouldn’t an easy transition for anyone.

The Rangers don’t have the strongest rotation compared to other teams, but they definitely have depth. Assuming that Darvish will seamlessly transition to North America, the Rangers rotation will probably include Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz, Colby Lewis, and Derek Holland. Still, this leaves out Alexi Ogando, who was one of the Rangers brightest hurlers from last year.

The Rangers could use Ogando out of the bullpen, like they did effectively in the playoffs. Nevertheless, it would be a smarter decision if they traded one or two of their starters. With top prospect arms Neil Ramirez and Martin Perez hanging around in Triple-A, the Rangers have the depth to trade some of their arms.

A reasonable expectation for Darvish’s 2012 would be 180 IP, 3.50 ERA, and 165 IP. That is pretty impressive for a first-year player in the majors. It is questionable as to whether that is worth the 100+ million that the Rangers will likely shell out, but I believe that the Rangers front office management know what they are doing.

Even if everything doesn’t work out as planned for the Rangers with Darvish, the team is so loaded at every position that they can overcome almost any obstacle. Rangers GM Jon Daniels has led the Rangers to two straight World Series, and the Rangers believe that a Darvish acquisition would help them finally get over the hump. With the best pitching prospect ever to come out of Japan leading the way, there is no reason not to believe that the Rangers won’t finally fulfill their destiny and win it all in 2012.

***Today’s feature was prepared by our Baseball Writer, Sam Evans.  We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers.  You can also follow Sam on Twitter***

Please e-mail us at: MLBreports@gmail.com with any questions and feedback.  You can follow us on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook .  To subscribe to our website and have the daily Reports sent directly to your inbox , click here and follow the link at the top of our homepage.

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Interview with Neiko Johnson: Houston Astros Prospect and Future Leadoff Man

Thursday December 22, 2011

 

Jonathan Hacohen:  Today on MLB reports we are proud to feature Houston Astros Prospect:  Neiko Johnson.  Joining the Astros organization as a free agent this past year, Neiko started his career in the New York-Penn League, playing for the Tri-City ValleyCats.  Neiko played all over the field in his first season, including outfield, shortstop, second base and third base.  A speedster, Neiko successfully stole 21 bases in 25 attempts, playing in 57 games.  Even more impressively, Neiko had a .397 OBP.  With the ability to get on base and swipe bags in bunches, Neiko has a bright future as a MLB leadoff man.  By taking 41 walks and striking out 37 times, Neiko showed a good eye at the plate.  At the age of 23, we see a bright future for Neiko Johnson as the Astros answer to Tim Raines, Vince Coleman or even Rickey Henderson.  The tools are clearly there for Neiko- now he just needs the time to sharpen his skills and work towards landing in Houston.  Plus having Brandon Phillips as a close friend never hurts.  Phillips plays the game “the right way” and clearly has had a positive influence on Neiko.  The stars are aligned for this young man and we see big things ahead in his future!

Featured on MLB reports, I proudly present my interview with Nieko Johnson, Houston Astros Prospect:

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

MLB reports:  You played five seasons for the University of Kentucky.  Tell us about that experience and why you chose Kentucky for your education?

Neiko Johnson:  College was a great experience and I recommend it to all athletes.  I believe college helps a young athlete grow into an adult, learn about themselves and many other parts of life.  I learned how to manage my time and be more efficient in life, as well as becoming mentally stronger.  I chose Kentucky because I wanted to play college for a big D-1 school and the SEC is the best conference in the nation.  So it was an easy choice.

 

MLB reports:  Did you have a favorite player growing up?

Neiko Johnson:  Derek Jeter.

 

MLB reports:  Which current MLB star do you most admire and why?

Neiko Johnson:  Brandon Phillips because I am real close friends with him and he has helped lead me down the right path in baseball.

 

MLB reports:  What are your goals going into the 2012 season?

Neiko Johnson:  To become a better player every day and give 110% percent.

 

MLB reports:  You were signed as a free agent by the Astros in June 2011.  Tell us about that process.

Neiko Johnson:  I worked out for the Houston Astros in my hometown Atlanta, GA.  That same day they called back wanting to sign me which was a blessing and I’m very thankful for.

 

MLB reports:  As soon as you signed you were off to Troy to play for the Tri-City ValleyCats.  What the heck is a ValleyCat?

Neiko Johnson:  HAHA honestly I have no idea what a ValleyCat is!  But the fans were awesome and I really enjoyed the environment we played in.

 

MLB reports:  How did you feel going from school to professional baseball?  What was the transition like?

Neiko Johnson:  I felt good going into pro ball.  I was ready because I was mature and knew how to handle myself.  The transition was a bit different because in college most things are taken care of for you such as food, housing, workouts, etc.  In pro ball, you are basically on your own and you have to become a man in the real world.  You have to figure things out as you go along because most things are not taken care of for you like they were in college.

 

MLB reports:  You played all over the field this past season:  including shortstop, third base, second base and outfield.  What position do you see yourself at long-term?

Neiko Johnson:  Whatever position the Astros want me to play is the position I can see myself playing long-term.  I am willing to play anywhere as long as I am in the lineup.

 

MLB reports:  What do you consider your greatest baseball skill(s)?

Neiko Johnson:  My speed and awareness of the game.

 

MLB reports:  What facets of your game do you most wish to improve upon?

Neiko Johnson:  I wish to improve every facet of my game because I can improve in all areas all the time.

 

MLB reports:  What do you need to do in order to be successful in this game?

Neiko Johnson:  You have to love this game and work hard at it because nothing is given you. You have to earn it!

 

MLB reports:  If you had to look into a crystal ball, when do you see your expected time of arrival in the big leagues and what do you think you need to do most to get there?

Neiko Johnson:  I just need to continue to work hard and stay dedicated to the process.  When the time is right I will eventually make it to the big leagues.

 

MLB reports:  Favorite baseball movie of all-time?

Neiko Johnson:  Major League.

 

MLB reports:  Have you been to Houston yet?  Do you own a cowboy hat and boots?

Neiko Johnson:  HAHA… nope, not a big cowboy guy. But yes, I have been to Houston.  Only once though.  In college we played at Minute Maid Park in a tournament during my senior season.

 

MLB reports:  Final Thoughts?

Neiko Johnson:  Thank you for the opportunity to answer some questions about my life and career.  I will continue to work hard and always keep a good image.

 

Thank you again to Neiko Johnson for taking the time to join us today on MLB reports.  We highly encourage our readers to post at the bottom of the article any questions and/or comments that you may have for Neiko.  You can also  find Neiko Johnson on Twitter (@ThisIsNJJ)

***The pictures used in today’s feature  were provided by Neiko Johnson from his personal collection***

 

Jonathan Hacohen is the Lead Baseball Columnist & Editor for MLB reports:  You can follow Jonathan on Twitter (@JHacohen)

 

Please e-mail us at: MLBreports@gmail.com with any questions and feedback.  You can follow us on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook .  To subscribe to our website and have the daily Reports sent directly to your inbox , click here and follow the link at the top of our homepage.

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