Masahiro Tanaka has what it takes
BY DARYL VAN SCHOUWEN Staff Reporter January 17, 2014 8:45PM
Ex-major-league pitcher Bryan Bullington spoke highly of Japanese pitching sensation Masahiro Tanaka. | Getty Images
Updated: February 19, 2014 6:11AM
Masahiro Tanaka will break the bank in the major leagues mostly because of his four-pitch assortment that helped him go 24-0 in Japan last season. The coveted 25-year-old free-agent right-hander, who is being pursued by the White Sox, Cubs, Yankees, Dodgers and others, also has the mental makeup to make the adjustment to a big city in the States.
Take it from a pitcher who has seen him up close the last three years.
“From a makeup standpoint, from a distance, he seems really focused,’’ said Bryan Bullington, a former No. 1 overall draft pick who pitches in Japan. “He’s not worried about the accolades and all the other stuff that goes on around him. When he’s on the mound, he’s locked in. He’s not putting on a show; he’s just focused on being competitive.’’
Bullington, 33, the first player taken in the 2002 draft by the Pirates who pitched in parts of five major-league seasons, is entering his fourth season with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. He agrees with scouts and executives who project Tanaka as a No. 1 or 2 starter in the majors, with only one concern — the adjustment to pitching every fifth day instead of only once a week.
Other Japanese pitchers, such as Rangers right-hander Yu Darvish, have adapted.
“Darvish has a few more weapons and is a little more creative with his offspeed stuff, but they both have great fastballs,’’ Bullington said. “Tanaka might have more downward angle with his fastball that a lot of teams look for [in the majors], being able to pound the bottom of the zone. He does a really good job with that, and he has the slider that’s a really good pitch for him, and the forkball. He has three really good weapons — he mixes the curveball, too — but those are his three main pitches.’’
Tanaka, who joined the Rakuten Golden Eagles’ rotation as an 18-year-old out of high school, already has logged a lot of innings and piled up high pitch counts.
Bullington, who makes his winter home in the southwest suburbs, was a client of Casey Close, who represents Tanaka. To Bullington, Seattle makes sense as a landing spot because of the Mariners’ history with Japanese players. The biggest spenders — the Yankees and Dodgers — appear to have the upper hand in negotiations that are expected to clear $100 million. By how much and where Tanaka is leaning — Close is a secretive negotiator, so speculation is high and facts are low — remain to be seen. Tanaka must sign by Friday.
NOTES: The White Sox avoided arbitration with Gordon Beckham and Alejandro De Aza, agreeing to terms on a $4.175 million base salary for Beckham and a $4.25 million deal for De Aza, both for one year. The Sox have no arbitration-eligible players left.
◆ First baseman Jose Abreu, the Cuban free agent who signed for $68 million, made a good first impression on first-year hitting coach Todd Steverson.
“It actually looked better than what I [expected],’’ Steverson said. “He has a plan of what he wants to do. He has some thunder in the bat head.’’