After Masahiro Tanaka left for the Yankees, Kenta Maeda might be the best pitcher remaining in Nippon Profession Baseball, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's certain to follow in Tanaka's footsteps next season.
Maeda, who turns 26 in April, is the ace right hander for the Hiroshima Carp. He's been one of the most productive players in Japan, and he could draw interest from several Major League teams if he ends up being posted after the season. However, as Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports, "the next Tanaka" isn't guaranteed to be available next year.
In six seasons with the Carp, Maeda has posted a 2.41 ERA in 1161⅓ innings with a 1.05 WHIP and less than two walks per nine innings.
Talent evaluators don't see him as being on the same level as Tanaka or Yu Davish, but like Tanaka, he has drawn comparisons to Red Sox' closer Koji Uehara. His fastball tops out at around 90 mph, but he uses a solid slider and a high-spin changeup to attack the strike zone, resulting in low walk totals and a decent strikeout rate of just over seven per nine innings. Experts are concerned with his heavy workload in Japan, though some still see him as a viable fourth starter in MLB.
" ... he has good stuff. It’s not overpowering stuff, but he’ll keep you in games."
Maeda has he'd like to pitch for an MLB team in the past, but if Hiroshima decides he's more valuable to them on the mound, he might have to wait until 2015 -- or longer -- to make his way to the majors. With the recent changes to the posting agreement between MLB and NPB, Hiroshima can only bring in a maximum of $20 million via the posting fee, but at this point, it's uncertain whether or not Maeda would command the full amount.