Hard-throwing Japanese lefty has been posted

All you need to know about Yusei Kikuchi

December 1st, 2018
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 17: Yusei Kikuchi pitcher for the Aces in action during the Australian Baseball League match between the Melbourne Aces and the Brisbane Bandits at Melbourne Showgrounds on November 17, 2011 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Hamish Blair/Getty Images)Hamish Blair/Getty Images

Yusei Kikuchi is one step closer to playing in the Major Leagues next season, and now, MLB teams can bid on the services of the Japanese left-hander.

Kikuchi's Nippon Professional Baseball club, the Saitama Seibu Lions, began the posting process for Kikuchi on Monday, allowing all 30 big league teams to negotiate with him.

Because he's not eligible for international free agency until 2020, Kikuchi needed the Lions' approval to be eligible to negotiate a move to the Major Leagues.

"I have only gratitude to Seibu for approving the posting," said Kikuchi, according to the Japan Times. "I want to focus on what I can do in order to get a solid outcome."

Here's what you need to know about Kikuchi as the posting process begins.

Who is he?

The 27-year-old southpaw has pitched for the Lions since 2011, when he was 20. This season, Kikuchi went 14-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 23 starts, with 153 strikeouts in 163 2/3 innings. He spent time on the disabled list with left shoulder stiffness, and has dealt with shoulder issues over his career.

In eight years pitching in NPB, Kikuchi has gone 73-46 with a 2.77 ERA in 158 games (153 starts), totaling 903 strikeouts in 1,010 2/3 innings. He's been especially impressive over the last three seasons. From 2016-18, Kikuchi went 42-17 with a 2.51 ERA in 71 starts, with 497 strikeouts in 494 1/3 innings.

Before beginning his professional career, Kikuchi pitched for the same high school as two-way Angels star -- Hanamaki Higashi High School. He considered joining MLB immediately out of high school in 2009, but he decided to stay in Japan.

What's his scouting report?

Kikuchi's fastball averages around 92-94 mph, and he can reach 96-98 mph at times. That's not only unusual velocity among NPB left-handers, it's also above-average for the Major Leagues. In 2018, the average fastball velocity among left-handed MLB starters was 91.4 mph.

Kikuchi's main secondary pitch is a slider. Along with his fastball-slider combination, he also mixes in a curveball and changeup.

As MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi reported this past summer, multiple MLB scouts believe that Kikuchi has the ceiling of a No. 2 starter in the Major Leagues. He doesn't have the superstar expectations that countrymen like Ohtani, and carried, but he could slot into the middle of an MLB rotation.

How will the posting process work?

Teams have 30 days to negotiate a deal with Kikuchi and his agent, Scott Boras, whose previous international clients notably included star Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Because Kikuchi is at least 25 years old and has played in NPB for at least six seasons, he won't be subject to the same international bonus-pool restrictions that Ohtani was last year -- Ohtani was considered an international amateur free agent.

If Kikuchi signs with a Major League team, the Lions will be paid a release fee based on the guaranteed value of the MLB contract that Kikuchi signs, beginning with 20 percent of the first $25 million and continuing with 17.5 percent of the next $25 million and 15 percent of any amount beyond $50 million.

In addition to the release fee, the Lions could also receive a supplemental fee if Kikuchi signs a contract that includes bonuses, salary escalators or options. Seibu would receive 15 percent of any bonus or salary escalator that Kikuchi earns, as well as of any option exercised.

MLB and NPB agreed to a new posting system starting this offseason, and that brings some changes to how the process will work with Kikuchi. Under the old posting system, the posting fee was capped at $20 million, and in a previous iteration, teams went through a blind bidding process as opposed to the current open negotiations.

Which MLB teams are interested in Kikuchi?

The market is expected to be strong for Kikuchi. Here are some teams that could be involved in the competition for his services.

On Friday, MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reported that the Dodgers, Padres, Giants and Mariners are among the clubs expected to pursue Kikuchi.

Scouts from multiple MLB teams watched Kikuchi pitch in Japan this season. At the end of September, the Kyodo News' Jim Allen reported that scouts from the Yankees, Giants, Red Sox, Dodgers, Phillies, Brewers and Rangers were in attendance for a Kikuchi start.

Earlier in the season, scouts from the D-backs, Indians, Giants, Mariners, Phillies, Pirates, Red Sox, Tigers and others were in attendance for a marquee pitching matchup between Kikuchi and Yomiuri Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano, as reported by The Japan Times' Jason Coskrey.