The Red Sox can only hope the expected signing of 22-year-old Junichi Tazawa from Japan will be as good as the one that brought them Daisuke Matsuzaka.
The Daily Yomiuri Online reported Sunday that Tazawa will sign with the Sox and the Boston newspapers are reporting that he has agreed to a deal. He probably will have to complete a physical before the deal can be officially announced, but he is on his way.
Tazawa pitched for the Japan Industrial League, an independent league comparable to the independent leagues in the U.S. The league is listed in Japan with the university league, one step above high school ball.
The league uses metal bats and plays both regional and national tournaments. Tazawa’s Eneos team lost in the national semifinal.
This past season, as a starter, he went 6-1 in 11 games, pitching 54 innings, giving up six earned runs on 46 hits with 56 strikeouts and four walks.
He finished his amateur career this past week in the national industrial league tournament and drew even more interest from major league scouts by pitching back-to-back shutouts. Craig Shipley of the Red Sox was reported to be one of the scouts.
In the tournament he pitched 20 2/3 innings, surrendering no earned runs. His last outing on Saturday came in relief in a losing cause when he went 2 2/3 innings, allowing no earned runs on three hits with a strikeout and no walks.
Tazawa is listed at 5-foot-11, 180 pounds and turned 22 in June. He is righthanded and reportedly throws his fastball consistently around 93 mph to go with a 12-to-6 curve and a forkball.
Watching video of him in a game, he works from the short windup from the belt, has a long stride (that may create the inconsistent power), constantly eyes the target and finishes in good fielding position.
He slightly hooks the ball as he brings it from behind his back, somewhat like former Cubs starter Rick Sutcliffe.
Tazawa will be the first amateur of note to move directly from the Japanese amateur leagues to the major leagues. That created a stir and a new rule in Japan.
By avoiding the Japanese professional league draft, he upset league officials to the point of them implementing a new rule that if an amateur signs with a foreign team he cannot be signed by a Japanese pro team for at least two years after he leaves the foreign team.
Tazawa’s Eneos manager, Hideaki Okubo, is quoted in the Daily Yomiuri Online as saying the Red Sox offer was not as good as a Texas offer “in terms of length or financial terms. The pitcher felt the Sox’s superior development program and working conditions made their offer No. 1.”
The manager continued, “He is not like the player we usually think of as going over, someone ready to contribute [at the major league level]. You can’t look at him in the same way one sees other free agents who have already played [pro ball in Japan].”
For that reason, while Tazawa will probably sign a deal that will put him on the 40-man roster of the Sox, he will begin his U.S. career in the minors.