Lastings Milledge Pirates

Lastings Milledge, Wily Mo Pena among league leaders in Japan

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Here’s a quick look at how some major leaguers are faring in Japan. Remember, the Japanese leagues started strongly favoring pitchers with the switch to a new baseball last year. In the six-team Pacific League, 13 pitchers currently qualify for the ERA title and the worst of the bunch has a 2.91 ERA. Three of the 13 have ERAs under 2.00. The Central League has 21 ERA qualifiers. Included there are eight guys over 3.00, but also five guys under 2.00.

I’ll be listing all of the ex-major leaguers currently qualifying for batting and ERA titles, as well as a few other notable names.

Central League hitters
Lastings Milledge: .307/.376/.491, 19 HR, 55 RBI in 430 AB
Alex Ramirez: .300/.325/.479, 16 HR, 63 RBI in 380 AB
Matt Murton: .248/.279/.333, 4 HR, 27 RBI in 375 AB
Wladimir Balentien: .264/.397/.622, 26 HR, 63 RBI in 246 AB
John Bowker: .182/.258/.284, 3 HR, 9 RBI in 176 AB

Milledge is second in the CL in average and third in homers, ranking behind Shinnosuke Abe in both categories. Balentien is the leader in homers despite being 120-200 at-bats behind most of the regulars.

Murton, on the other hand, is having a second straight difficult year after setting the Central League record for hits with 211 as a “rookie” in 2009.

Pacific League hitters
Aarom Baldiris: .271/.358/.414, 9 HR, 47 RBI in 401 AB
Tadahito Iguchi: .265/.347/.398, 9 HR, 52 RBI in 407 AB
Wily Mo Pena: .263/.321/.486, 18 HR, 61 RBI in 358 AB
Esteban German: .258/.335/.330, 3 HR, 52 RBI in 400 AB
Jose Fernandez: .241/.309/.305, 2 HR, 30 RBI in 344 AB
Josh Whitesell: .331/.418/.494, 5 HR, 30 RBI in 154 AB
Chris Carter: .297/.354/.465, 3 HR, 19 RBI in 91 AB

Pena has quieted down a bit since I previously checked in on him, but he’s third in the Pacific League in both homers and slugging. And, frankly. a .321 OBP is pretty good in which the average game result seems to be 3-2.

German is second in the league in steals with 33.

The Pacific League’s best hitter this year has been Korean import Dae-Ho Lee. He’s batting .294/.382/.502 with 21 homers.

Leading the league in average is shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima at .324. He also has 12 homers and 61 RBI in 411 at-bats. He’ll probably make his way to MLB next year as a free agent. The Yankees gained his rights through the posting system last winter, but he opted to return to Japan rather than sign as a utilityman in New York.

Central League pitchers
D.J. Houlton: 9-6, 2.75 ERA, 103/34 K/BB in 118 IP
Jason Standridge: 6-9, 2.86 ERA, 81/34 K/BB in 116 1/3 IP
Randy Messenger: 6-10, 3.05 ERA, 125/54 K/BB in 150 2/3 IP
Bryan Bullington: 6-10, 3.47 ERA, 112/37 K/BB in 137 1/3 IP
Kam Mickolio: 2-4, 18 Sv, 2.52 ERA, 50/12 K/BB in 50 IP
Scott Mathieson: 2-0, 10 Sv, 1.80 ERA, 46/11 K/BB in 40 IP
Dennis Sarfate: 2-4, 9 Sv, 2.51 ERA, 40/20 K/BB in 43 IP

I still believe both Mickolio and Mathieson would have turned into quality MLB relievers. Of course, they’re young enough that they still could someday.

Houlton’s 2.75 ERA puts him 11th of the 21 qualifiers. Kenta Maeda leads the Central League with a 1.56 ERA in 162 innings.

Pacific League pitchers
Brian Wolfe: 8-9, 2.55 ERA, 67/.34 K/BB in 123 1/3 IP
Seth Greisinger: 9-6, 2.67 ERA, 88/19 K/BB in 124 2/3 IP
Hideki Okajima: 0-1, 2 Sv, 0.69 ERA, 32/5 K/BB in 39 1/3 IP
Brian Falkenborg: 0-1, 13 Sv, 1.89 ERA, 24/8 K/BB in 19 IP
Darrell Rasner: 1-2, 6 Sv, 4.13 ERA, 21/8 K/BB in 28 1/3 IP
Randy Williams: 1-2, 4 Sv, 1.53 ERA, 32/16 K/BB in 29 1/3 IP

Greisinger got off to a great start, but he’s now just 11th of the 13 ERA qualifiers. Okajima leads the way in relief ERA. You may remember that he signed with the Yankees last winter, only to have his contract voided after he failed his physical.

Report: Cardinals are scouting Cuban outfielder Luis Robert

ST. LOUIS, MO - APRIL 25: Baseballs sit in the St. Louis Cardinals dugout prior to a game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on April 25, 2014 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by David Welker/Getty Images)
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According to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Cardinals are keeping an eye on outfield prospect Luis Robert. The 19-year-old left his native Cuba last November and is expected to command interest from multiple MLB teams as he approaches free agency. Goold adds that the Cardinals sent scouts to evaluate Robert’s workouts in the Dominican Republic as recently as last week.

There’s still a good chance that the club won’t get a shot at signing him; as Craig mentioned last month, it seems likely that Major League Baseball won’t declare Robert a free agent until after June 15. By July 2, the new Collective Bargaining Agreement’s policies on international bonuses will go into effect, handcuffing teams with the maximum penalty for bonuses to a $300,000 signing figure for any available international prospect. It’s designed to effectively take away those teams’ abilities to sign additional international talent, and the Cardinals have already spent a reported $9.35 million in bonuses on Venezuelan outfielder Victor Garcia, Cuban outfielders Jonatan Machado and Randy Arozarena and Cuban right-hander Johan Oviedo.

Until the cutoff in mid-June, the Cardinals are likely to continue actively scouting other international talent, including Robert. MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez quotes an anonymous National League scouting director who describes Robert as the No. 2 talent behind Japanese wunderkind Shohei Otani. The 19-year-old hit .286/.319/.397 with a .716 OPS during a 16-game run in the Canadian-American League in 2016, following up an impressive three-year tenure with the Ciego de Avila in the Cuban National Series from 2013-2015.

Cubs extend Pedro Strop through 2018

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 25:  Pedro Strop #46 of the Chicago Cubs reacts during the sixth inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game One of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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ESPN’s Jesse Rogers reported over the weekend that the Cubs and reliever Pedro Strop agreed to a contract extension. He’ll remain with the Cubs through 2018 and the new deal includes a club option for the 2019 season as well. Per Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune, Strop will earn $5.85 million in 2018 and the club option is worth $6.25 million with a $500,000 buyout. The two sides already avoided arbitration earlier this month, agreeing on a $5.5 million salary for the 2017 season.

Strop, 31, has been a very reliable reliever for the Cubs over the last three years. He has a combined 2.65 ERA with 212 strikeouts and 69 walks over 176 1/3 innings in that span of time.

The Cubs replaced Aroldis Chapman with Wade Davis, so Strop and Hector Rondon will be bridging the gap to Davis this coming season.

Strop joined the Cubs along with Jake Arrieta in the July 2013 trade that sent Steve Clevenger and Scott Feldman to the Orioles. That trade panned out well for the Cubs.