Today’s featured player, Hiroki Kuroda, has the clearest path of anyone in this series to the majors. Long the ace of the Hiroshima Carp, Kuroda became a free agent at the recent conclusion of the NPB season and is free to sign with any team (MLB or NPB) he likes – no posting fee required. Although he doesn’t have the upside of Igawa, Kuroda will likely be the cheapest NPB player on the market this offseason, which earns him a higher place on this list.
Unlike Igawa, Kuroda was drafted not out of high school but rather after playing college ball in Senshu University. The Carp took him in the second round of the 1996 draft; he earned a rotation spot in 1997 and has remained there ever since. He stands slightly shorter than Igawa at 6 feet even, weighing about 190 pounds, and is right-handed.
2006 was perhaps Kuroda’s finest year. He finished the season with a career-low 1.85 ERA in 189.3 innings (25 starts) despite playing his home games in a hitter’s park. Kuroda features outstanding control: in his 190 innings, he only walked 21 hitters, almost exactly one walk per nine innings. He also struck out 144 hitters and only allowed 12 home runs. Over the past two seasons (402 IP), Kuroda’s rate stats include 6.9 K/9, 1.4 BB/9, .65 HR/9, 4.9 K/BB, and a 2.55 ERA.
YouTube doesn’t seem to feature any video of Kuroda pitching, so known scouting data is by word-of-mouth only. He is said to feature a mid-90s fastball, slider, forkball, and shuuto (also called a “reverse slider”, it’s a pitch similar to a screwball, but with less break). Without seeing his arsenal, it’s tough to tell for sure, but his mediocre strikeout rates in Japan will probably not translate well to America (there are exceptions – Takashi Saito’s strikeout rate was much higher with the Dodgers than in his last several seasons on the BayStars, for instance).
Based on his stuff, statistics, and age, Hiroki Kuroda profiles as a #3-#4 starter in MLB. With a little luck, he could turn out seasons like Paul Byrd‘s 2002 or Brad Radke‘s 2004. If he struggles, he could become Carlos Silva (2006 edition). He still could decide to stay in NPB; however, the financial lure of MLB as well as the chance to prove himself against better competition will likely result in him signing with a major league team. Expect a 2-3 year contract at $5-$7 million per season.
Hiroki Kuroda 2006 Statistics:
W L ERA GP GS CG ShO Hld GF Sv IP H R ER HR BB SO OBA 13 6 1.86 25 25 7 2 0 0 0 189.0 169 49 39 12 21 143 .243