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Former MLB Players You Didn’t Know Played in Japan

 Conor Liguori  |    Apr 26th, 2024 8:00pm EDT

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

A handful of Nippon Professional Baseball players made the switch to Major League Baseball this winter, including starting pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto of the Los Angeles Dodgers, starting pitcher Shota Imanaga of the Chicago Cubs, and relief pitcher Yuki Matsui of the San Diego Padres.  

NPB players coming to the United States receive plenty of attention, but what about MLB players who spent time playing professionally in Japan?  

Here are 10 former MLB players that you may not have known played in Nippon Professional Baseball.  

 

  1. Kevin Youkilis, 3B, Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles

 

After playing the final 28 games of his MLB career with the New York Yankees in 2013, Youkilis signed a one-year $4 million contract with Rakuten for the 2014 NPB season.  

 The three-time MLB All-Star was limited to 21 games due to plantar fasciitis and hit .215 with one home run and 11 RBI for the Golden Eagles.  

 

  1. Cecil Fielder, 1B, DH, Hanshin Tigers 

 

Before Fielder smashed home runs for the Tigers of Detroit, the power threat hit long balls for the Tigers of Hanshin. After three inconsistent years with the Toronto Blue Jays, Prince Fielder’s father signed with Hanshin in 1989.  

 He batted .302 with 38 home runs and 81 RBI for Hanshin in 1989 and returned to MLB in 1990, playing nine more seasons with Tigers, New York Yankees, Anaheim Angels, and Cleveland Guardians.  

 

  1. Alfonso Soriano, OF, Hiroshima Toyo Carp

 

Before his spectacular MLB career, Soriano played nine games with the Carp in 1997, hitting .118 with four strikeouts in 19 plate appearances.  

 The outfielder reportedly disliked intense NPB practice schedules and became an MLB free agent in July 1998. That same year, Soriano signed with the New York Yankees and made his MLB debut in 1999.  

 

  1. Goose Gossage, RHP, Fukuoka Daiei Hawks 

 

The nine-time All-Star and 2008 MLB Hall of Fame inductee appeared in 28 games for Fukuoka in 1990.  

He posted a 4.40 ERA and struck out 40 in 47 innings before playing the final four years of his career with the Texas Rangers, Oakland Athletics, and Seattle Mariners.  

 

  1. Adam Jones, OF, Orix Buffaloes

 

Jones was a fan-favorite with the Baltimore Orioles for 11 seasons from 2008-18, played one season with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2019, and finished his career with the Buffaloes from 2020-21.  

Jones hit .250 with 16 home runs and 66 RBI in his two seasons in NPB and called it quits after signing a one-day contract with Baltimore in September 2023.  

 

  1. Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes, OF, Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes, Yomiuri Giants, Orix Buffaloes 

 

Rhodes is the only player on this list who has played more seasons in NPB (13) than in MLB (6).   

He is the all-time NPB home run leader amongst foreign-born players with 464. Before playing in NPB, Rhodes played center field for the Houston Astros (1990-93), Chicago Cubs (1993-95) and Boston Red Sox (1995).  

 

  1. Charlie Manuel, OF, Yakult Swallows, Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes

 

Manuel was the Buffaloes’ 1979 Pacific League Most Valuable Player, hitting .324 with 37 home runs and 94 RBI. He hit 189 home runs in his six seasons in NPB from 1976-  81 after appearing in just 242 MLB games from 1969-75.  

He led the Philadelphia Phillies to back-to-back World Series appearances as a manager in 2008 and 2009, and the Phillies defeated the Tampa Bay Rays in five games for his first championship in 2008.  

 

  1. Alonzo Powell, OF, Chunichi Dragons, Hanshin Tigers

 

Powell may be the most unknown name of the group, as he played just 71 games in MLB with the Montreal Expos (1987) and Seattle Mariners (1991).  

He was the first foreign-born NPB player to win three consecutive batting titles, hitting .324, .355, and .340 from 1994-1996 with the Chunichi Dragons. Powell hit just three home runs in MLB but smashed 116 in NPB from 1992-98.  

 

  1. Julio Franco, INF, Chiba Lotte Marines

 

Franco, who played 32 seasons of professional baseball starting in 1978, played two seasons in NPB with the Chiba Lotte Marines in 1995 and 1998.  

When he signed his first contract with the Marines in 1995, the three-time MLB All-Star was 36 years old and managed to play professional baseball until 2008 with the Tigres de Quintana Roo of Liga Mexicana de Beisbol when he was 49. Franco hit .298 with 28 home runs and 135 RBI in two seasons in NPB.  

 

  1. Randy Bass, 1B, Hanshin Tigers

 

Bass did not have a successful six-year stint in MLB, appearing in 130 games from 1977-1982 and hitting a dreadful .212 with just nine home runs.  

However, the left-handed first baseman made a name for himself in NPB, smashing 54 home runs with 134 RBI in 1985 for the Tigers and winning Central League MVP honors. In six seasons in NPB, Bass hit 202 home runs and was inducted into the Yakyu Taiiku Hakubutsukan (Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame) in 2023.  

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Conor Liguori