Worldwide Hot Stove: Elite Closer Kazuto Taguchi Returning to Tokyo Yakult Swallows

Pitcher Kazuto Taguchi of Japan celebrates the team’s 4-0 victory in the Asia Professional Baseball Championship game between Chinese Taipei and Japan at Tokyo Dome on Nov. 16, 2023 in Tokyo, Japan. Taguchi will return to the Tokyo Yakult Swallows for 2024. (Photo by Gene Wang/Getty Images)

By Matthew Tallarini
World Baseball Network

The Korean Baseball Organization and Nippon Professional Baseball offseason has been very busy with several foreign players being acquired prior to the start of the 2024 regular season. World Baseball Network has built a list of players that have been acquired during the last few days to play in the 2024 seasons in the KBO and NPB. 

Right Handed Pitcher Kyle Keller Signed With the NPB’s Yomiuri Giants – Keller, 30, was born in Metairie, La., and has played the last two seasons in NPB with the Hanshin Tigers. Last season, Keller posted a 1-0 record with a 1.71 ERA, throwing 26.1 innings out of the bullpen in 27 games, recording one save and allowing 22 hits, five earned runs, one home run, 16 walks, 28 strikeouts, and a 1.443 WHIP.

Keller missed some time during the 2023 season for family reasons and returned to Japan in August. The Hanshin Tigers won the 2023 Japan Series in seven games against the Orix Buffaloes for their second championship. 

Keller has played three seasons in Major League Baseball, pitching for the Miami Marlins in 2019, the Los Angeles Angels in 2020, and the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2021. 

Tokyo Yakult Swallows Closer Kazuto Taguchi Re-Signed for $3.8M – Taguchi, 28, was born in Hiroshima, Japan, and has played in nine seasons in NPB. He previously pitched for the Yomiuri Giants from 2015-20 and the Yakult Swallows from 2021-23.

Last season, Taguchi recorded 33 saves, throwing 48.1 innings with a 3-5 record and a 1.86 ERA. He allowed 39 hits, 10 earned runs, two home runs, 13 walks, 55 strikeouts, and a 1.076 WHIP. 

Taguchi has stated on Yahoo Japan News that he plans to try for a move to MLB at some point in the near future, with him earning international free agency after the 2024 season. 

Taguchi has played 10 seasons in total between the minor leagues and at the upper level of NPB, and has posted a lifetime record of 55-58 with a 3.27 ERA, throwing 1,007.1 innings in 38 starts and 330 appearances, earning 37 saves, allowing 964 hits, 366 earned runs, 93 home runs, 298 walks, 822 strikeouts, and a 1.253 WHIP. 

Right-Handed Starting Pitcher Cody Ponce Re-Signs With Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters – Ponce, 29, was born in Pomana, Calif., and has played the last two seasons in NPB with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. Last season, Ponce went 4-5 in 10 starts and posted a 3.66 ERA, throwing 51.2 innings and allowing 59 hits, 21 earned runs, three home runs, 17 walks, 43 strikeouts, and a 1.471 WHIP.  In 2022, Ponce posted a 3-5 record with a 3.35 ERA, throwing 83.1 innings in 14 starts, allowing 69 hits, 31 earned runs, 10 home runs, 23 walks, 66 strikeouts, and a 1.104 WHIP. 

Ponce played with the Pirates in 2020 and 2021. The Nippon Ham-Fighters finished the 2023 regular season in last place in the Pacific League with a 60-82-1 record. 

Left-Handed Pitcher Ricardo Sanchez Re-Signed With KBO’s Hanwha Eagles – Sanchez, 26, was born in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, and will play in his second season with the Hanwha Eagles in 2024. Sanchez gets a $100,000 signing bonus and a $500,000 salary, and his contract contains another $150,000 in incentives. Last season, Sanchez went 7-8 with a 3.79 ERA in 24 starts, throwing 126 innings and allowing 136 hits, 53 earned runs, 13 home runs, 28 walks, 99 strikeouts, and a 1.302 WHIP. 

Sanchez was released by the Chicago White Sox from Triple-A Charlotte during 2023 before going to South Korea. Sanchez appeared in three games and started one game with Charlotte, throwing 6.2 innings and allowing eight hits, four earned runs, four walks, and struck out eight. 

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