This will be a big off-season for the Philadelphia Phillies as the club tries to take the next step forward in their return to contending status.
While controlling owner John Middleton and GM Matt Klentak will certainly be trying to woo familiar big names such as Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, they will also be exploring any other option possible to improve the roster.
One of the less conventional options will be the international market. There will be no Shohei Ohtani available this winter. However, there may be another Japanese player available who could help the Phillies step forward in the 2019 season.
Yusei Kikuchi is a 27-year-old left-hander who is an eight-year veteran of the Seibu Lions of the Japanese Pacific League. Kikuchi has a career 73-48 mark with a 2.82 ERA and 1.176 WHIP, allowing just 830 hits over 1,028.1 innings across 162 games, 157 of those as starts. The southpaw also carries a 919/379 K:BB ratio.
A report came out today from Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia that a source has told him that the Phillies “have seen Kikuchi and will pursue him once he becomes available.”
Salisbury caught up with Phillies GM Matt Klentak at the GM meetings and quoted him on the possibility:
“In a perfect world, we would like to have a more balanced rotation. We’re not going to swap out a good righty for a less-good lefty. We’re not going to do that to have a lefty. But if we can make the rotation better and also add balance to our pitching staff, I think that’s something worth exploring.”
Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports reported back in September that Kikuchi “is expected to make the leap to the majors next year, and he should draw extensive interest. Most teams have been to Japan to see him this year.” Heyman listed the Phillies among those MLB teams with interest.
Heyman quoted a scout on Kikuchi’s repertoire and his potential fit in a big-league rotation:
“…he’s a good lefty who throws at 92-93 mph with a cutter, a slider and good straight change. He’s a solid three (third starter), maybe better than that.”
In a piece on the Arizona Diamondbacks attempt to sign Japanese high school pitcher Shumpei Yoshikawa back in late August, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic for USA Today wrote that Kikuchi “was said to be close to signing with a major league club out of high school in 2009 but ultimately decided not to, in part because of advice from his high school coach.”
The Phillies could use at least one quality addition to their starting rotation next year to slot in between Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta. That would theoretically leave Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, and Zach Eflin to battle for the fourth-fifth starter roles.
Whether Kikuchi fits the profile of a #2 starter, which is what the Phillies could really use, is debatable. However, he could be expected to at least give them another #3 level arm, which would still be valuable.
Expect this to be a busy off-season for the Phillies management group. The team was in legitimate contention for most of the season before collapsing over the last seven weeks. That collapse should leave the club’s decision-makers eyes wide open to options such as Kikuchi, Harper, Machado, and a number of other new additions.
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