Meng Weiqiang may patrol left field at some point for China during the 2017 World Baseball Classic. He’s also going to pitch and might even strap on a catcher’s mask. There’s a chance he’ll do at least two of those things, maybe even all three, during the same game.
China manager John McLaren didn’t call him the “Chinese Otani” for nothing.
“I feel happy hearing that,” Meng told The Japan Times, through a translator, about the reference to Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters two-way star Shohei Otani. “But I don’t really put much thought into it (pitching and hitting). I’ll do my best no matter where the manager tells me to go.”
The 27-year old is listed as one of the three catchers on China’s official roster. He played left field during a warm-up game against the Orix Buffaloes on Saturday at Kyocera Dome. He was back in left field to start a game against the Seibu Lions two days later and made a relief appearance on the mound in the eighth inning of that contest. He was 2-for-8 at the plate in those two games and allowed a run in one inning as a pitcher.
McLaren, former manager of the Seattle Mariners and Washington Nationals in MLB, said Meng would probably appear both at the plate and on the mound during the Classic.
“He won’t start,” McLaren said. “We could use him out of the bullpen, or take him out of the field and put him on the mound like we did yesterday.”
Meng was a pitcher when he began playing baseball, and kept it up as he learned other parts of the game.
“First, I was a pitcher,” he said. “After that I practiced catching and playing in the outfield. When I became a pro, I just used everything I had learned.”
Meng is listed at 185 cm and 84 kg. He’s one of the better Chinese hitters, and can throw 144 kph from the mound.
“If you look at him from a scout’s standpoint, he’s got a strong athletic body, he’s got a well above-average arm, he’s got above-average power and he’s intriguing,” McLaren said.
Born in Guangzhou, China, Meng plays for the Guangdong Leopards, who have a business alliance with the Hiroshima Carp, in the China Baseball League. He was on the Chinese team for the 2013 WBC, going 2-for-8 with an RBI and two runs scored at the plate. He didn’t appear on the mound.
He lists former MLB slugger Barry Bonds as his favorite player, and knows of Otani, who he said was “very famous in the baseball world.”
“There is only limited coverage by the Chinese media, but I know he is a good pitcher, he’s a good batter and that is outstanding,” Meng said.
During a news conference on Tuesday morning, Meng was asked if he preferred pitching or hitting.
“I like both,” he responded. “There’s no way to choose. When you bat, it’s a challenge against the pitcher and when you pitch it’s a challenge against the batter. So I like both.”
Meng says he’s exited to get on the field for the WBC. He and the Chinese face a stiff test in their first game, when they face Cuba on Wednesday afternoon at Tokyo Dome.
“We’ll do our best no matter who the opponent is,” Meng said. “We believe we have a chance to beat Cuba. The most important thing is that you have confidence and keep believing that.”