We all know about Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideki Okajima, and probably even Chien-Ming Wang... outstanding new comers to the MLB from Japan and Taiwan... but where are the infielders? It just seems every new highly touted "rookie" coming over from Japan are all pitchers...??
Not anymore, glad to report, there are more and more position players coming over albeit their emergence isn't as rapid-fire as prospects from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, even Cuba! But the main point here is, the far east is slowly becoming a serious contender for the MLB's pipeline of foreign prospects.
So here we go, ringing in at a respectable #50 on Keith Law of ESPN's top 100 upcoming prospects we have shortstop Chin-Lung Hu from Taiwan of the LA Dodgers. Made his major league debut, brought up from the minor leagues played 12 games with a .241 batting average.
Akinori Iwamura, slick fielding, contact hitting minded 2nd baseman, one year veteran of the Tampa Bay Rays (debut against the NYY, April 2nd 2007, didn't play a full season mind you... but has most definitely assured his spot in the 2008 Rays starting line-up).
Kosuke Fukudome, right fielder who played nine seasons with the Chunichi Dragons of the Japanese Central League with a .305 average who was just signed by the Chicago Cubs.
No, I haven't forgotten about Ichiro. Unbelievable outfielder, a senior ambassador to Japanese baseball in the MLB but while he's still not nearly past his prime, he is about to enter his veteran-ly 8th season with the Seattle Mariners. The three players that I've mentioned just above don't even have a full single season in their stat books just yet.
Ichiro will undoubtedly continue to shine and make the headlines but as the years progress, you're going to find yourself looking at the days recap of games and find more asian names that are making headlines for both their defensive and offensive plays. Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of Ichiro and would cry like a 4 year old girl the day he retired from MLB, but If I had the choice of seeing Ichiro being the only asian position player that makes the headlines or seeing a a new legion of other Iwamuras', Fukudome's and Hu's start to make a name for themselves... I think I'd want to see more and more asian players start to pervade the major leagues instead of just the "token Asian".
There was at a certain point in history when MLB was an ethnically homogeneous sport. In 1902, Luis Castro of the Philadelphia Athletics became the first Latino player to play in the MLB. To put it poorly, Castro was the token "Latino" in the majors.
In 1947, Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers (heard of him? ;) became the first African American player to play in the MLB... and like Castro, Robinson became the token "black guy" in the majors.
Since 1902, there have been over 700 Latino managers, players and coaches that have graced the MLB with their presence.
Since 1947, there have been over 200 African American managers, players and coaches that have gone through the major league ranks.
The first asian player to make their break was Masanori Murakami, a pitcher for the San Francisco Giants in 1964. Since then, it has only been in the past two decades that teams and scouts have realized the untapped potential of Asian countries.
These players are just a glimpse of the future of MLB, and with scouts turning their heads more and more toward Asian countries, it'd be hard to not see more and more position players making their debut in the states.