By Conor Liguori
World Baseball Network
Right-handed starting pitcher Naoyuki Uwasawa of the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters is expected to be posted for Major League Baseball teams to try to sign during the coming offseason. The 29-year-old played his ninth season in Nippon Professional Baseball in 2023.
Uwasawa told reporters last winter that he became interested in signing with a Major League Baseball organization after competing in the 2018 MLB Japan All-Star Series. He requested to be posted last offseason.
“I’ve always wondered what it’s like to play in a league with players coming from around the globe, and it is the type of experience I can’t miss if I have the chance to,” Uwasawa told the media last December. “I only have a limited amount of time to take on the challenge, so if I have the opportunity, I would take it.”
Sports Hochi reported that scouts from the Los Angeles Angels, Kansas City Royals, Arizona Diamondbacks, Cincinnati Reds, and Chicago Cubs were in attendance for his start on September 1 against the Orix Buffaloes. Uwasawa threw a complete-game shutout, allowing three hits and striking out seven. He finished the 2023 season with a 2.96 ERA and 124 strikeouts in 24 starts. The Fighters did not qualify for the Pacific League playoffs.
In 173 career games, Uwasawa has a 3.19 ERA and 913 strikeouts. His career win-loss record is 70-62. Uwasawa was a two-time NPB All-Star in 2018 and 2021.
Uwasawa throws a four-seam fastball, cutter, slider, splitter, knuckle-curve, changeup, and a two-seam fastball. His average four-seam fastball velocity is slower than the modern-day starting pitcher, around 90.8 mph, according to Mlbtraderumors.com. Due to his low velocity, Uwasawa does not strike out nearly as many hitters as other Japanese pitchers, such as Orix Buffaloes’ Yoshinobu Yamamoto and current San Diego Padre Yu Darvish.
Instead, Uwasawa can be compared to former Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighter, Texas Ranger, and current Fukuoka Softbank Hawks pitcher Kohei Arihara for their similar pitching styles. Arihara signed a two-year contract worth $6.2 million with the Texas Rangers in 2020. Like Uwasawa, Arihara switched to Major League Baseball in his late 20s and has never been a strikeout pitcher. They both use a multitude of off-speed pitches to keep hitters off balance.
According to Daily.co.jp, Uwasawa began working on his pitching mechanics and slider with Driveline Baseball last offseason to prepare for his transition to Major League Baseball. Driveline Baseball is a player development program in the United States to improve hitting and pitching popular among high school, college, and professional baseball players.
“It’s important to have a body that keeps throwing firmly for a year so that you don’t get injured,” Uwasawa told Daily.co.jp. “In the movement part, I want to practice instilling movements that make my body less conscious. I haven’t completed it because I haven’t had time to work on it, but next season, I aim to be the best in Japan. I will continue to polish myself and be an absolute ace.”
Other Nippon Professional Baseball players rumored to be posted this winter include right-handed pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto of the Orix Buffaloes, left-handed pitcher Shota Imanga of the Yokohama DeNA Baystars, and left-handed pitcher Yuki Matsui of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.
Major League Baseball organizations will have 45 days to negotiate a contract with Uwasawa if and when he is posted. If a contract agreement is not signed within that time, Uwasawa will return to the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters for the 2024 season.
The Nippon Professional Baseball regular season concludes on Monday, October 9.