BOSTON -- The Texas Rangers make their first trip to Fenway Park for a quick, two-game stop, April 17 and 18, in the middle of the Red Sox first homestand of the season. Whether right-hander Yu Darvish is with them remains to be seen. The Rangers, who won the rights on Dec. 19 to negotiate with the 25-year-old Japanese sensation with a 51.7 million posting bid, have 30 days to work out a contract.
All those factors Japanese, right-handed, phenoms, close in age, posting fees in excess of 50 million, negotiation windows will draw inevitable comparisons to Daisuke Matsuzaka, whom the Sox signed in December 2006 after winning the posting with a 51.1 million bid. But that may be where the comparisons end.
I think overall Darvishs stuff might be a bit better now, said Mike Brown, a scout with the Diamondbacks who was Darvishs pitching coach for two seasons in Japan. You look at his size, hes 6-5, bigger body, maybe a different angle, really good repertoire. Everythings above average, the way his body and arm work, the way he uses his stuff.
Brown, the Sox second-round pick in 1980 out of Clemson, pitched parts of five seasons with the Sox before being sent to Seattle in 1986 as part of the trade that brought Dave Henderson and Spike Owen to Boston. Brown was Darvishs pitching coach for the right-handers first two professional seasons with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, serving under manager Trey Hillman, now the Dodgers bench coach. All of which should help Darvishs transition to American baseball if and when he makes it.
Darvish is sort of the epitome of what we try to accomplish, the balance between the Japanese and the American way. And thats what he is, Brown said. Obviously, he is Japanese, but hes developed in a system thats presented him both the American and the Japanese way and hes been able to take the best of both worlds and to put it together.
Hes a special talent. Hes 25 years old and hes been on the big stage over there. The media in Japan is second to none. Hes been in the spotlight so theres nothing hes not going to be able to handle from that sense or that hes been through. And talent-wise, hes going to come in and be an immediate top-of-the-rotation starter.
The transition to pitching in the United States should be somewhat easier for Darvish, Brown believes, than for most Japanese players who have made the move before him. Darvish has been relatively Americanized already. His parents, an Iranian-born father and Japanese mother, met while studying in the U.S. before moving back to Japan. An American manager and pitching coach early in his career introduced him to the style of pitching and preparation in the U.S. Pitching in international tournaments, including the World Baseball Classic in 2009 when he pitched in Dodger Stadium and Petco Park, have given him a taste of pitching in the States.
I think hes going to do well, Brown said. I think he had the luxury of when he was young, his first few years he had an American staff. So I think from that sense, he was probably protected a little bit more than the traditional Japanese pitcher would have been as far as pitch counts and how much we let him go. So he was developed in that sense. I think we got a balance. We didnt allow him to do more than an American player would do. Their workload is more and they handle a little bit more, theyre used to it more coming out of high school. But it wasnt the crazy, out-of-control workload. So I think from that sense he understands that.
He grew up in the WBC and international competition and an American staff was there at one point. So he has an understanding of how things work a little bit from that standpoint. Hell have some expectations of whats going on over here. Right-hander Yoshinori Tateyama is a pitcher that we had in Nippon-Ham that was with Texas last year. So, theyll probably communicate and talk about the transition, what to expect. So I think for him its going to be a little easier adjustment than it is for a lot, just because he was developed that way at a younger age in his professional career, and he had the opportunity in the WBC, and can handle those type of things.
But I think from a personality standpoint hes a good kid, hes a really hard worker, hes very respectful but he does have some personality and energy and emotion that you dont see a lot of times from the traditional Japanese player or pitcher. So I dont think hell have any trouble fitting in. I think his teammates will like him. Hell enjoy being around his teammates and want to be part of that. I dont think hell be standoffish and have his own entourage and be single from the team.
As familiar as he is with Darvish, Brown, who is looking forward to seeing his former protg pitching in the U.S., was stumped when asked for a pitching comparison.
Oh, wow, geez, I dont know, he said. I havent really been around anyone thats been able to do what he can do with a baseball. Its really unique, just the way he can manipulate the ball. A lot of times guys can only pitch on one side of the plate or have a pitch to go to. This kid can really control his fastball, he can control a hitter with it. The one thing I can say about him, a lot of guys can throw strikes but this kid has the ability to control the hitter. He can really go to a hitters weaknesses. He has the repertoire to do that and there are just not a lot of guys who can do it. Hes a pitcher. Hes definitely a pitcher, hes not a thrower. Even when he was 19 years old he was advanced in the way that he can pitch. You just dont see it.
If the Rangers do reach an agreement with Darvish, Mike Maddux will be his pitching coach. Brown had few recommendations for Maddux.
Hes unique. Let him be himself, Brown said. The only advice with Yu is that, with a guy like Mariners righty Felix Hernandez, probably in that age group when they were about 18 or 19 and they were the two most talented guys in the world, and Felix has pitched against major league hitters, and Yu hasnt pitched at that level of competition game to game. My only advice would be to make sure you keep him emotionally and that he maintains a high level pitch to pitch against the best players in the world. He has the ability to do that. He has different gears he can go to. He can pitch at different levels than most guys.
Hes a pretty cool kid to be around, pretty unique.