Board Update: International Professional Players

Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports

It’s time for another cycle of prospect lists, and as I’ve become accustomed to doing for the last few seasons, I’m starting with scouting reports on pro players in foreign leagues, with a focus on players available for MLB free agency this offseason. On The Board, you can see a fresh batch of scouting reports and evaluations of relevant players from Nippon Professional Baseball, the Korea Baseball Organization, and the Chinese Professional Baseball League in Taiwan, as well as reports on some young players I’ve identified as potentially impactful long-term prospects. I’ll update the amateur portion of this list prior to signing day in January, but any player from the upcoming 2024 class who I had already written up for this year’s Prospect Week remains on there. For those who need a crash course on the age- and pro experience-driven lines of demarcation that dictate how MLB teams sign international players, I’d point you to a number of MLB.com glossary entries, including those on international free agency for those in Asian pro leagues, international amateur free agency and bonus pool restrictions, the Japanese posting system, and the Korean posting system.

It can be overwhelming to sift through so many different types of players on that section of The Board — it’s a real apples and oranges situation when we’re talking about some guys who are 30 and others who are still teenagers — so I’m going to break most of them up into more digestible subgroups below. You’ll notice that some players appear across multiple categories. The Board has each player’s full scouting report and tool grades — think of this as more of a table of contents.

Current Superstars

Yoshinobu Yamamoto, SP, NPB
Roki Sasaki, SP, NPB
Munetaka Murakami, 3B/1B, NPB
Jung Hoo Lee 이정후, CF, KBO
Shunpeita Yamashita, SP, NPB

You’re probably aware of Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who received the highest command evaluation I’ve ever put on a player. I think either he or Roki Sasaki have an argument to be the planet’s best “prospect,” though either of them would just be in the big leagues tomorrow were they domestic players. Sasaki’s stuff is pretty clearly a cut above that of recent first overall draft pick Paul Skenes. Munetaka Murakami is coming off a season that pales in comparison to his unbelievable 2022, but he still has elite power for a hitter his age. The emerging name from this section is Shunpeita Yamashita, a 21-year-old righty who had a huge velocity uptick in 2023. He’d have been in the mix to be the second college pitcher off the board in last year’s draft.

Imminently Heading Our Way

Yoshinobu Yamamoto
Jung Hoo Lee
Shota Imanaga, SP, NPB
Yariel Rodriguez, RP, NPB
Erick Fedde 페디, SP, KBO
Yuki Matsui, RP, NPB
Jyun-Yue Tseng, RP, CPBL
Naoyuki Uwasawa, SP, NPB
Eric Stout, SP, CPBL
Woo-suk Go 고우석, RP, KBO
Adam Plutko 플럿코, SP, KBO
Jacob Waguespack, RP, NPB
Kyle Keller, RP, NPB

The players from this group have either been publicly reported as seeking a return or transition to MLB, or some of my sources have indicated to me that they may. The first half dozen or so names from this group could provide significant 2024 MLB impact, while the rest are mostly lower-leverage types, or guys who’d typically be on the bubble of a good MLB roster. These are the reports to engage with as the posting process plays out and these players sign throughout the next couple of months.

Took a Step Back, or Were Injured

Roki Sasaki
Munetaka Murakami
Jung Hoo Lee
Liván Moinelo, RP, NPB
Kaima Taira, SP, NPB
Baek-ho Kang 강백호, 1B, KBO

Sasaki had an oblique issue in the middle of the summer that he appeared totally over when he returned later in the year. Murakami has plateaued as a defender and is really struggling to make contact with elevated fastballs. Jung Hoo Lee suffered a fractured ankle that cost him a few months before he briefly came back at the end of the KBO season. Liván Moinelo had elbow surgery, and there is a rumor that he wants to transition from the bullpen into the rotation next year. Kaima Taira’s velo dipped when he made the move from reliever to starter in 2023, and his arm slot did, too. Baek-ho Kang has had injury and wellness issues that have derailed his last couple of seasons after he was hitting for a ton of power right out of the gate.

Deep Projection

Shunpeita Yamashita
Seiya Yokoyama, SS, NPB
Shugo Maki, 2B, NPB
Woo-jin An 안우진, SP, KBO
Hiroto Takahashi, SP, NPB
Min Suk Kim 김민석, CF, KBO
Ju Won Kim 김원 김주원, SS, KBO
Julian Tima, OF, NPB
Dong Ju Moon 문동주, SP, KBO
Eui Lee Lee 이의리, SP, KBO
Jo Hsi Hsu, SP, CPBL
Seo Hyeon Kim 김서현, RP, KBO

This whole group has an ETA of 2027 or later, projected in most cases due to the way players’ ages interact with their ability to get paid by MLB clubs. The lone player for whom this is not true is Woo-jin An, who has mandatory military service looming (more on that in his blurb). Seiya Yokoyama is my favorite prospect from the recent NPB draft. I used to write up every NPB first rounder to house a report in this space, but so many of the early picks from the last couple of their drafts have fallen off that, going forward, I feel it’s best to be a little more discerning initially.





Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.

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ajake57member
2 months ago

Truly the beginning of holiday season. Looking forward to all the fruits of your prodigious labor, Eric! And Tess! And Meg!