Phils feeling confident with boost in Japanese scouting

December 13th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Todd Zolecki’s Phillies Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Before Shohei Ohtani signed with the Angels in December 2017, the Phillies shot their shot.

They spent hours putting together a presentation that touted the organization and the city. They felt pretty good about it, too.

But the Phils heard nothing back from Ohtani’s camp, until several weeks later when his agent, Nez Balelo, told them they did not make the second round of teams competing for Ohtani’s services. The lack of engagement had been frustrating, but Balelo’s update did not blindside the Phillies, either. Months earlier, Ohtani expressed his indifference toward Philly in an interview with Ohtani said he wanted to get a photo in front of the Rocky Balboa statue once he got to the United States. The reporter reminded Ohtani that Philadelphia had a baseball team.

“No, I just want to visit there,” he said.

The Phillies’ efforts to woo Ohtani weren’t a complete waste of time. They later used parts of his presentation in other recruiting efforts, including the one for Bryce Harper.

Ohtani on Monday signed a 10-year, $700 million contract with the Dodgers. Once again, the Phillies had no chance to sign him.

The Phils have had only two Japanese players in their history: Tadahito Iguchi (2007-08) and So Taguchi (2008). They would love to find a third, fourth, fifth, etc., but it hasn’t happened. Those opportunities are expected to increase in the coming years, however. Earlier this offseason, Harper narrated a sales pitch for free-agent right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto, although the Phillies do not expect to sign him.

So Taguchi is one of two Japanese players in Phillies franchise history. (Photo via Getty)

“As the rest of the industry has identified, there’s a ton of talent that’s ready to make an impact at the big league level right away,” Phillies general manager Sam Fuld said last week at the Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn. “That’s not going to change. It’s only going to continue to grow. Credit to KBO [Korea Baseball Organization] and NPB [Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan] and just the development those two leagues, those two countries have undergone in the last decade-plus. They’re just becoming better and better players. You’re just wise to devote a lot of resources in those areas and make sure you’re covering as many players as you can.”

Asked if it is important to sign a Japanese player to establish themselves in the market, Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said, “I don't think it's important to just do it to do it. If we have a player that can help us, sure.”

But Dombrowski said the Phillies are at least better positioned to sign that player when the opportunity presents itself.

Tadahito Iguchi joined the Phillies in 2007 through a midseason trade with the White Sox. (Photo via Getty)

“When I first came in and we had our first meeting, year-end meeting in '21, we sat and talked about players from the Far East,” he said. “We just didn't have good information on those players. It was like, we're sitting in there and I'm thinking, 'You can't make those moves based upon the type of information that we have from a comparison perspective.' There were a couple of reasons behind that. Some people had left the organization.”

Dombrowski said the Phillies have beefed up their Asian operations, with assistant general manager Jorge Velandia leading the way. The Phils last month promoted Derrick Chung to international scouting director. He had been scouting with them since 2017. Dombrowski praised the efforts of international scout Tora Otsuka, who is based in Japan.

“We have now established more of a base to deal with clubs,” Dombrowski said. “But I don't think we necessarily have to sign somebody to establish that more. Having the base, having the interaction to get the player at the right time will be important.”

Asked how comfortable he is today with the club’s reports on Asian players compared to reports two years ago, Dombrowski said, “I feel totally comfortable.”