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CPBL Preview: Monkeys and Dragons and Brothers, Oh My!

 Conor Liguori  |    Mar 29th, 2024 12:58pm EDT

Kuo Hui Kao of the Fubon Guardians celebrates with teammates after hitting a RBI walk off single in the bottom of the 9th inning during the CPBL game between Wei Chuan Dragons and Fubon Guardians at Xinzhuang Baseball Stadium on April 03, 2023 in New Taipei City, Taiwan. (Photo by Gene Wang/Getty Images)

Opening Day of the Chinese Professional Baseball League in Taiwan is Saturday, March 30, with a matchup between the Rakuten Monkeys and 2023 champion Wei Chuan Dragons.

The remaining four teams in the CPBL are the CTBC Brothers, Fubon Guardians, Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions, and the TSG Hawks, the newest expansion franchise.

In 2023, the Wei Chuan Dragons won the organization’s fifth Taiwan Series championship, defeating the Rakuten Monkeys four games to three.

Can the TSG Hawks succeed in their inaugural season?

Which team is the biggest threat to the defending champion Dragons?

Will a starting pitcher win MVP for the third time in four years?

These questions and many more will be answered as the 2024 season progresses. Here are brief previews of what to expect from the six CPBL teams this season.

Rakuten Monkeys (2023 Record: 60-4-56, Lost to Wei Chuan Dragons in Taiwan Series)

Notable Additions: LHP Marcelo Martinez, LHP Manny Banuelos, RHP Shunsuke Suzuki

Notable Losses: RHP Bradin Hagens, LHP Brandon Waddell

The Monkeys’ apparent plan during the winter was to add pitching depth, and they did just that. The most exciting signing was relief pitcher Manny Banuelos, who was ranked the New York Yankees’ No. 6 overall prospect by Baseball America before the 2010 MLB season. Rakuten was just one win away from winning the Taiwan Series in 2023, and the central core of the starting lineup is still intact.

Wei Chuan Dragons (2023 Record: 62-5-53, Won Taiwan Series Over Rakuten Monkeys)

Notable Additions: LHP Rio Gomez, RHP Jasier Herrera

Notable Losses: RHP Jake Brigham

Like the Monkeys, the Dragons focused on acquiring pitching during the offseason, signing left-handed pitcher Rio Gomez and Colombian right-hander Jasier Herrera. The biggest threat in the lineup is catcher Kungkuan Giljegilijaw, who led the Dragons with 23 home runs and a .881 OPS in 2023. The franchise rejoined the CPBL in 2021 and won the organization’s fifth championship last season, 24 years after their previous title.

CTBC Brothers (2023 Record: 57-5-58, Missed Postseason)

Notable Additions: LHP Kirk McCarty, RHP Daniel Mengden, 1B Chen Chun-Hsiu

Notable Losses: C Francisco Pena

McCarty and Mengden have Major League Baseball experience, and first baseman Chen Chun-Hsiu is a six-time CPBL All-Star and 2018 MVP. All three acquisitions are considerable for an organization looking to return to the postseason after falling just 2.5 games back of third-place Rakuten in 2023. That could be tough if the Monkeys and Dragons remain healthy throughout the season.

Fubon Guardians (2023 Record: 48-5-67, Missed Postseason)

Notable Additions: LHP Jake Dahlberg, RHP Keyvius Sampson, RHP Brandon Brennan, RHP Nivaldo Rodriguez

Notable Losses: RHP Tanner Anderson, RHP Tyler Eppler

Judging by the Guardians’ notable free-agent signings this winter, the club was eager to add more pitching depth. Last year, the pitching staff allowed 79 more runs than the offense scored, so even if they can cut that number in half, it should be considered a

success. Shortstop Lee Tsung-Hsien was one of the better hitters in the Fubon lineup in 2023, hitting .318 with 17 stolen bases in 104 games.

Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions (2023 Record: 62-3-55, Lost to Rakuten Monkeys in Playoff Series)

Notable Additions: RHP Hector Perez, LHP Jake Kalish, RHP Kuo Chun-Lin

Notable Losses: LHP Chiang Chen-Yen, Keyvius Sampson

The Lions were close to returning to the Taiwan Series in 2023, but they lost three games to one in the first-round playoff series to the Monkeys. Arguably, their best-starting pitcher, Keyvius Sampson, signed with the Fubon Guardians for the 2024 season. Still, lefty Jake Kalish played the last two MiLB seasons with Triple-A Salt Lake, even posting a 2.87 ERA in 23 games in 2022. The Lions can win a championship in 2024, but the offense must improve upon a .706 OPS.

TSG Hawks (Expansion Team – 2023 Record: NA)

Notable Additions: RHP Bradin Hagens, LHP Reymin Guduan, OF Steven Moya, OF Wang Po-Jung, RHP Kenta Onodera

Notable Losses: NA

The 2024 CPBL season will be the inaugural season of the TSG Hawks, which the Taiwan Steel Group owns. Outfielder Steven Moya, who played 51 games with the Detroit Tigers from 2014-16, will be the Hawks primary slugger. He hit 35 home runs with Double-A Erie in 2014. The Hawks unveiled their home and road uniforms at a press conference in January, and the primary team colors will be dark green, gold, and white.

How to Watch: Chinese Professional Baseball League fans can watch games through CPBL TV with a paid subscription or through each organization’s respective Twitch accounts, also with a paid subscription.

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Conor Liguori