Padres Continue Evaluation of Japanese LHP Yusei Kikuchi

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Credit: Hamish Blair/Getty Images

There are rumors that the San Diego Padres have serious interest in left-handed pitcher Yusei Kikuchi from Japan. The two sides have been linked since early last year, so it is no surprise that things have escalated a bit. Here is a look at the southpaw: 

Japanese left-handed pitcher Yusei Kikuchi is about to become a very wealthy man. He is the latest of the imports from the NPB to cash in with a potential major league deal.

MLB Trade Rumors has Yusei Kikuchi signing a contract in the neighborhood of $40-50 million for five years or so. At that price, he is an intriguing player to evaluate and potentially sign to a long-term deal.

The Padres are fresh off being burned by Japanese pitcher Kazuhisa Makita (who incidentally just passed waivers and was sent to El Paso) and his guaranteed two-year deal that was issued last winter. Makita was given two years and $3.8 million by the Padres and failed to make a favorable impression on Andy Green and management.

Kikuchi is still 27 and has a plus arm. He is no soft-tossing Makita. The left-handed Kikuchi has been clocked as high as 98 mph with the radar gun and has a plus assortment of breaking pitches as well.

His statistics are decent, but do not stand out as overpowering by any means. His hits per nine innings are very encouraging though, as he really rarely gives up hits. In 1,035 innings in Japan, Kikuchi has only given up 838 total hits. He also has only given up 75 home runs in that time, which is quite impressive. Basically, he is difficult to square up. However, you need to factor that he has not faced major league-caliber hitters.

Take a look at his lifetime stats in Japan. He had one huge year (2017) where he went 16-6 with a 1.97 ERA, 0.911 WHIP and struck out 217 batters in 26 starts and 187.2 innings pitched for the Saitama Seibu Lions. Kikuchi only gave up 122 hits that year and looked on the verge of being a dominant front-line starter. He regressed a bit this past season, where he reportedly lost 4-7 mph off his fastball and only managed 163 innings pitched.

The San Diego Padres are surely in need of pitching, but is Kikuchi exactly what they need right now? With Joey Lucchesi, Eric Lauer, Matt Strahm, and possibly Clayton Richard in the rotation, is there really a need for another middle-of-the-rotation-type, left-handed pitcher? He could be a bargain for the team, so the Padres will surely do their homework.

In watching Kikuchi pitch, you notice he has a deceptive motion and distinct finish to his follow through. He features a slow curve, which is held similar to Joey Lucchesi‘s churve pitch. You will see that in the first pitch of the video. The grip on his pitch is close to Lucchesi’s. After showing a pretty decent fastball, Kikuchi comes with a cutter/slider that is very nasty. He is not a one trick pony by any means. At the end of the video below, you see a great assortment of pitches from him at varying velocities and degrees.

The Padres have every reason to be excited for the potential of a player like this. He has upside. Any time a left-hander can throw in the upper 90’s, you have to take notice of them. He can also spin the ball well and has a funkiness to his delivery. He could be a viable major league pitcher in time.

Don’t get too excited though. There are also red flags. These issues may, in the end, be the deciding factor in signing this prized pitcher. The dip in velocity this past season is a real concern, as are the constant nagging shoulder issues that have plagued Kikuchi in his career. He has missed several games with shoulder issues over his entire career. Investing long-term into a player like this can be very risky.

Having only had one season of dominance in the NPB is a bit of a concern too. But Kikuchi is not Yu Darvish or Masahiro Tanaka. He is not regarded as an ace. If the Padres can bring him aboard at a reasonable price, then it may be worth a shot. The team doctors must do their homework on this young man and the team must be realistic with who he is. Kikuchi will not be a 32-start, 200-inning guy. At least not right away. He would be a work in progress, but an interesting option for a Padres team that is hopefully about to compete. We will just have to wait and see what A.J. Preller and the Padres do.

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