Scouts gather for precious look at global talent at WBC

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

With the World Baseball Classic acting as a showcase in front of major league scouts, Team Japan has obviously been one of the countries attracting attention from the men with stop watches and speed guns in the stands.

In the first two rounds held in Fukuoka and Tokyo, there were quite a few scouts occupying the seats behind the plate, perhaps more than in the previous two tournaments.

Among the notable Japanese players, it appears that Masahiro Tanaka and Kenta Maeda are the two names that those scouts have penciled in their notepads with thicker letters.

“They are the top two pitchers in Japan this year, I would think,” said a major league scout, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Both have the stuff to compete in the big leagues and if they went, they’d be successful.

“These guys are top pitchers just like (Daisuke) Matsuzaka and (Yu) Darvish.”

But Maeda and Tanaka’s performances have been at almost completely opposite ends of the spectrum so far.

While Maeda has been masterful in going 2-0, giving up just two hits and no runs in a pair of outings, Tanaka has not necessarily lived up to high expectations, apparently struggling to adjust to the slippery WBC ball.

But the aforementioned scout said that it’s too early to assess players solely on the basis of how they perform in this WBC.

“It’s March, (usually) spring training,” he said. “Most of these guys aren’t ready. Sure, it’s a big tournament. But at this time of the year, it’s tough for these guys.”

The scout added that both Tanaka and Maeda would definitely be on starting rotations of major league teams.

Another big league scout, who also talked anonymously, said that players, including Japan’s, should be given credit for having gotten themselves into decent physical condition in time for the tourney at this time of year.

“Given that we are still in pre-season mode, you must give these players credit for getting in shape quickly and demonstrating a competitive caliber of baseball,” he said, referring to Nobuhiro Matsuda, Sho Nakata, Hayato Sakamoto and Yoshio Itoi as other Japanese players that the scouts would be keeping their eyes on.

“It’s been very interesting to see Team Japan improve and get good results as they played each game.”

But, naturally, the scouts have also been observing other nations’ players.

Ben Badler, who covers prospects, scouting and player development for Baseball America magazine, said that the WBC gives a great opportunity for the scouts to be able to witness Cuban players, who they don’t normally get to see.

“It’s extremely hard for American scouts to get regular looks at Cuban players,” wrote Badler, who flew over to Fukuoka to cover the Pool A games, in an email. “So any time the Cuban national team travels to an international tournament, scouts will follow them anywhere in the world to get a look in case any of them ever leave Cuba and try to sign with a major league team.

“It’s crucial to get as many looks and build as much history on these players as possible, and the WBC is a great opportunity to get several looks at the top Cuban players, especially when they face top pitchers from Japan like Kenta Maeda or Masahiro Tanaka. Even though Japan and the players in MLB are just getting ready for the season, the Cuban season is already under way, so those guys should all be in peak condition.”

The first of the two scouts said that he simply watches all the players in the WBC, even if they are already signed with major league clubs.

“A lot of the Netherlands players are signed already. But we still have to evaluate these players,” he said. “These are some of the top teams in the world. So, of course, (we’re) watching everybody and reporting everybody.”