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Building an all-Asian baseball team for 2010

Our picks for an all-Asian Major League Baseball team roster

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With the Colorado Rockies' home opener just around the corner and baseball kicking off its openers last night, we figure we'd try to piece together our own 25-man roster made up of players of Asian descent.

 

The rules for the team are simple. Players must be of at least half Asian descent. Players must be on a Major League team's roster or in its minor league system. And there is no designated hitter because we're in a town that has a National League team. Also, players who are currently on the disabled list are not on the team.

 

The most difficult problem with creating the 2010 roster is the the number of starting pitchers who are beginning the season on the DL. With Baltimore's Koji Uehara, Washington's Chien-Ming Wang, and Boston's Daisuke Matsuzaka and Junichi Tazawa all injured, it was difficult filling in the No. 4 and 5 starting spots. Seattle catcher Kenji Johjima's return to Japan left slim pickings for the backup spot, as the only players we could find are all in the A-level in the minors.

 

Here are our picks:

 

Starting pitching

• Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants – 5'11, 170, 25 years old

15-7, 2.48 ERA, 68 BB, 261 K, 225.1 IP

• Hiroki Kuroda, Los Angeles Dodgers – 6'1, 210, 35 years old

8-7, 3.76 ERA, 24 BB, 87 K, 117.1 IP

• Kenshin Kawakami, Atlanta Braves – 5'11, 200, 33 years old

7-12, 3.86 ERA, 57 BB, 105 K, 156.1 IP

• Chan Ho Park, New York Yankees – 6'2, 212, 36 years old

3-3, 4.43 ERA, 33 BB, 73 K, 83.1 IP
• Bruce Chen, Kansas City Royals – 6'2, 215, 32 years old

1-6, 5.78 ERA, 25 BB, 45 K, 62.1 IP

 

The ace of the starting rotation is once again San Francisco's Tim Lincecum. The 25-year-old won his second Cy Young award last year after leading the National League with 261 strikeouts and finishing with a 15-7 record and a 2.48 ERA. The Dodgers' Hiroki Kuroda sits in the No. 2 slot after finishing with an 8-7 record and a 3.76 ERA. Kenshin Kawakami of Atlanta had a solid year, finishing 7-12 with a 3.86 ERA. With injuries to Boston's Daisuke Matsuzaka and Junichi Tazawa, Chan Ho Park and Bruce Chen step into the No. 4 and 5 slots. It's been a few years since Park has been a consistant starter, but we're hoping he is able to somewhat return to his Dodgers form, when he compiled a record of 75-49 with a 3.78 ERA from 1997-2001. Chen had a solid year as a starter with Baltimore in 2005 (13-10, 3.83 ERA) and has been a capable platoon. Hopefully, he'll hold up until Matsuzaka's return in May.

 

Relief pitching

• Hideki Okajima, Boston Red Sox – 6'1, 195, 34 years old

6-0, 0 SV, 2 BS, 3.39 ERA, 21 BB, 53 K, 61 IP

• Fu-Te Ni, Detroit Tigers – 6'0, 170, 27 years old

0-0, 0 SV, 2 BS, 2.61 ERA, 11 BB, 21 K, 31 IP

• Ryota Igarashi, New York Mets – 5'11, 198, 30 years old

3-2, 3 SV, 3.19 ERA, 20 BB, 44 K, 53.2 IP (stats in Japan in 2009)

• Hong-Chih Kuo, Los Angeles Dodgers – 6'1, 240, 28 years old

0-2, 0 SV, 1 BS, 3.00 ERA, 13 BB, 32 K, 30 IP

• Hisanori Takahashi, New York Mets – 5'10, 170, 35 years old

10-6, 0 SV, 2.94 ERA, 126 K, 144 IP (stats in Japan in 2009)

• Geno Espineli, San Francisco Giants – 6'4, 195, 27 years old

3-4, 19 SV, 3.64 ERA, 13 BB, 31 K, 59.1 IP (stats in AAA)

 

Hideki Okajima's ERA rose from 2008, but he's still one of the more solid set-up men in the majors. Both Hong-Chih Kuo and Fu-Te Ni had solid years with Detroit and Los Angeles, respectively, and should prove to be capable middle relievers. Ryota Igarashi had been one of Tokyo Yakult Swallows' more consistant relievers this past decade, and hopefully his arm will translate to the Major Leagues. Hisanori Takahashi had a breakout year with the Yomiuri Giants in the Nippon League and should be a capable long reliever on this team. Filipino-American Geno Espineli will step into a reliever position this year after spending last season as a closer in AAA.

 

Batting order

1 – RF Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners

2 – SS Jason Bartlett, Tampa Bay Rays

3 – CF Shin-Soo Choo, Cleveland Indians

4 – LF Hideki Matsui, Los Angeles Angels

5 – C Kurt Suzuki, Oakland Athletics

6 – 1B Travis Ishikawa, San Francisco Giants

7 – 3B Akinori Iwamura, Pittsburgh Pirates

8 – 2B Kaz Matsui, Houston Astros

9 – Pitcher's spot

 

Ichiro has been the best lead-off batter of the past decade and there's nothing to say he's not as good today. Bartlett brings a solid bat and good speed to complement the top of the order. Choo and Hideki Matsui provide the power at the No. 3 and 4 spots, while Suzuki's emerging power should do well at No. 5. Despite his low numbers last year, Ishikawa still has potential for a big bat. Iwamura sits at No. 7, while KazMat rounds out at No. 8.

Team Analysis

Pitchers

What was the strength last year has become a concern with the pitchers on the disabled list. Lincecum is a top-notch No. 1 starter, and Kuroda and Kawakami are solid middle-of-the-rotation arms. Park and Chen are platoon starters, at best, at this point of their careers. Kuo, Okajima, Ni and Saito have been proven relievers. Igarashi, Takahashi and Espineli still need to prove themselves.

Catchers

Kurt Suzuki has been a workhorse for Oakland the last two years and he had career numbers in 2009. Higashioka is a very young catcher who has the potential to be a starter in a few years, but is way too young to be in the majors right now.

Infield

With the exception of Bartlett, who was third in the AL in errors (20), this is one of the top fielding collection in the majors. All four starters can have solid bats, though it was inconsistant last season.

Outfield

This is the strongest part of the team. Solid bats and fielders across the board, including the bench. Ichiro is an all-time great, while Choo and Matsui are potential 30-homer, 100-RBI hitters.

Strengths

One word: speed. No team in the majors has the depth in speed as this team does. Power is an improvement from the '08 team, but this group relies more on extra-base hits than home runs to score. The top of the rotation and the relievers are solid.

Weaknesses

The bottom of the rotation is suspect. Park and Chen have proven themselves as starters in the past, but haven't been able to do much lately. The infield bench is weak. Not enough experience among the bench players. The team lacks power. There are only two players (Choo and Hideki Matsui) who are projected to get 30 home runs.

Disabled List

Players who would be on this team if they weren't hurt

• P Daisuke Matsuzaka, Boston Red Sox

• P Junichi Tazawa, Boston Red Sox

• P Chien-Ming Wang, Washington Nationals

• P Koji Uehara, Baltimore Orioles

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Closer

• Takashi Saito, Atlanta Braves – 6'2, 214, 40 years old

0-3, 2 SV, 2 BS, 2.43 ERA, 25 BB, 52 K, 55.2 IP

 

Takashi Saito was a solid closer for the Los Angeles Dodgers (81 saves from 2006-08) before being moved to a middle reliever position with Boston last year. He will be used primarily as a set-up man for Billy Wagner in Atlanta, but we'll take him as our closer.

 

Catcher

• Kurt Suzuki, Oakland Athletics – 6'0, 197, 26 years old

.274, 570 AB, 156 H, 37 2B, 1 3B, 15 HR, 88 RBI, 8 SB, 2 CS

• Kyle Higashioka, New York Yankees – 6'1, 200, 19 years old

.253, 247 AB, 55 H, 11 2B, 0 3B, 2 HR, 32 RBI, 0 SB, 1 CS (stats in A)

 

Oakland's Kurt Suzuki had a breakout year in 2009, more than doubling his home runs (15 from 7 in 2008) and runs batted in (88 from 42). He led the A's in hits (156), RBIs and doubles (37) last year. With ex-Seattle Mariner Kenji Johjima returning to Japan, Asian catchers became scarce in the system. We went with Kyle Higashioka to backup Suzuki. While his offensive stats are less than impressive, scouts rave about his defensive prowess. With Suzuki expected to play approximately 150 games this year, there's not too much concern about occasionally putting in an inexperienced catcher.

 

First Base

• Travis Ishikawa, San Francisco Giants – 6'3, 225, 26 years old

.261, 326 AB, 85 H, 10 2B, 2 3B, 9 HR, 39 RBI, 2 SB, 2 CS

 

Travis Ishikawa may have lost his starting job to Aubrey Huff in San Francisco, but he certainly has the tools to regain it. The big 26-year-old first baseman has shown glimpses of power in the minors, but that hasn't translated to the big leagues yet.

 

Second Base

• Kaz Matsui, Houston Astros – 5'10, 185, 34 years old

.250, 476 AB, 119 H, 20 2B, 2 3B, 9 HR, 46 RBI, 19 SB, 3 CS

Ray Chang, Boston Red Sox – 6'1, 195, 26 years old

.297, 249 AB, 74 H, 23 2B, 0 3B, 2 HR, 47 RBI, 2 SB, 3 CS (2009 minor league stats)

 

Injuries hindered former Colorado Rockies second baseman KazMat at the plate in 2008, but he was still one of the best in the league with his glove. He only had six errors in 130 games for the Astros. Utility infielder Ray Chang had a solid year in Pittsburgh's minor league system, batting .297 with 23 doubles.

 

Shortstop

• Jason Bartlett, Tampa Bay Rays – 6'0, 190, 30 years old

.320, 500 AB, 160 H, 29 2B, 7 3B, 14 HR, 66 RBI, 30 SB, 7 CS

• Chin-lung Hu, Los Angeles Dodgers – 5'11, 190, 26 years old

.400, 5 AB, 2 H, 1 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 0 SB, 0 CS

 

Jason Bartlett made his first all-star game last year and with good reason. He posted career bests in batting average (.320), doubles (29), home runs (14), RBIs (66), stolen bases (30) and walks (54). Chin-lung Hu should be a capable backup at both shortstop and second base. While he's only had limited experience in the majors, his performance in AAA has earned him a spot on the roster, hitting .300 over the past three seasons.

 

Third Base

• Akinori Iwamura, Pittsburgh Pirates – 5'9", 176, 31 years old

.290, 231 AB, 67 H, 16 2B, 2 3B, 1 HR, 22 RBI, 9 SB, 1 CS

 

Akinori Iwamura had been a slick-fielding third baseman until Tampa Bay moved him to second in 2008. That said, on this team, he's more valuable back in his original position. While he is a bit prone to striking out at the plate (more than 100 strikeouts in each of his first two seasons), his field work and above-average speed outweigh his deficiencies.

 

Outfield

• Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners – 5'11, 170, 36 years old

.352, 639 AB, 225 H, 31 2B, 4 3B, 11 HR, 46 RBI, 26 SB, 9 CS

• Shin-Soo Choo, Cleveland Indians – 5'11, 200, 27 years old

.300, 583 AB, 175 H, 38 2B, 6 3B, 20 HR, 86 RBI, 21 SB, 2 CS

• Hideki Matsui, Los Angeles Angels – 6'2, 210, 35 years old

.274, 456 AB, 126 H, 21 2B, 1 3B, 28 HR, 90 RBI, 0 SB, 1 CS

• Johnny Damon, Detroit Tigers – 6'2, 205, 36 years old

.282, 550 AB, 155 H, 36 2B, 3 3B, 24 HR, 82 RBI, 12 SB, 0 CS

• Kosuke Fukudome, Chicago Cubs – 6'0, 200, 32 years old

.259, 499 AB, 129 H, 38 2B, 5 3B, 11 HR, 54 RBI, 6 SB, 10 CS

 

There is no better lead-off man in baseball than Ichiro Suzuki. He has been remarkably consistant for Seattle, hitting .333 over the past nine years. He also has one of the most sure gloves in baseball, winning a gold glove at right field in every year he's been in the majors. Playing his first full season as a starter last year, Shin-Soo Choo has emerged as a solid run producer. He hit 38 doubles and 20 home runs with the Indians in 2009 and has deceptive speed, stealing 21 bases. Hideki Matsui is the clean-up hitter on this team. He had 28 home runs in the regular season last year, but his most valuable contribution were the three dingers he hit against Philadelphia in the World Series. Playing a full year, he should be a solid 30-homer, 100-RBI guy. Johnny Damon moves to the bench after starting on our team last year. While he still has some pop (tying his single-season high with 24 homers in 2009), his ability to be that left-handed bat off the bench is more valuable. Kosuke Fukudome has been a bit of a disappointment for the Chicago Cubs. Coming from Japan with tons of hype, his numbers in the states have been nothing more than mediocre.

 

Manager

Don Wakamatsu, Seattle Mariners

Record: 85-77

 

Second-year manager Don Wakamatsu looks to improve Seattle after leading the team to an 85-77 record. And since he's the only Asian-American manager in the league, it's fitting he should be on this team.

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