There are several big name free agents that will make headlines in the coming off-season when they sign with a new team. But sometimes it is the smaller deals, or the lesser-known players that make a bigger impact on a team’s success. One of those players could be from Japan and his name is Kosuke Fukudome.
Fukudome made headlines in the Spring of 2006 when he helped lead Team Japan to the title of the Inaugural World Baseball Classic. Fukudome became a free agent after the 2007 season when his contract expired and is expected to make the move to the Major Leagues this winter. Because of his free agent status in Japan, MLB teams will not have to pay a posting fee for the rights to negotiate with Fukudome. While the Cubs have not been directly linked to Kosuke, a player with his resume could prove to be a valuable signing for the team that is able to land the very talented outfielder. Fukudome’s 2007 season was cut short when he had surgery to remove bone fragments from his right elbow in August. The surgery was done in Los Angeles and according to several reports he remained in the states to do his rehab and is not expected to miss any time.
Bats: Left – Throws: Right
Fukudome was born on April 26, 1977 and was drafted by the Chunichi Dragons in 1998. He played high school ball at the famed Osaka’s PL Gakuen High School, the same as Kaz Matsui as well as other big names of Japanese Baseball. Fukudome played shortstop in high school and continued playing short and 3rd base in semi-pro ball in Japan. He remained an infielder until 2002.
Fukudome played for the Japanese team in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta with Tadahito Iguchi. He hit .281/.324/.469 with 2 home runs in 9 games. Kosuke played for the Japanese Olympic team again in 2004. His teammates included Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kenji Johjima. Fukudome hit leadoff and in 9 games hit .316/.386/.605 with 3 home runs.
Fukudome played for Team Japan in the World Baseball Classic and he helped beat Korea in the semi-final game. Kosuke hit a 2-run, pinch hit home run off of Byung-Hyun Kim that broke a scoreless tie in the 7th inning.
Fukudome had a breakout season in 2002 when he moved to the outfield. He hit .343/.406/.537 with 42 doubles, 19 home runs and 65 RBI’s in 140 games with 14 outfield assists. Kosuke won the Central League MVP award in 2006 when he hit .351/.438/.653 with 47 doubles, 5 triples, 31 home runs and drove in 104 in 130 games. He has won the Central League batting crown twice.
Defense – Fukudome has a cannon of an arm according to several reports. He has played center and many think he could be marketed as a centerfielder to teams this winter but most think he is best suited for right field. Fukudome has excellent speed. He earned 4 Gold Gloves in Japan. He has a very accurate arm, rarely is he off line. He reads the ball off the bat very well and takes good routes to ball, fundamentally he is very sound defensively. Several reports indicated he consistently puts himself into position to make plays. Several scouts have said he could have a better arm than Ichiro.
Offense – Most think Fukudome was able to relax at the plate once he moved to the outfield and that explains his numbers from 2001(.251/.352/.440 with 15 home runs and 56 RBI’s in 120 games) to 2002 (.343/.406/.537 with 19 home runs and 65 RBI’s in 140 games). Fukudome is very patient at the plate and is described as a “walks machine“. In 130 games in 2006 he walked 76 times and in 81 games in 2007 he walked 69 times….in 1074 career games Fukudome has 571 walks.
His swing has been described as a good level left-handed swing. A line drive hitter with power and quick hands, can handle an inside pitch very well. Fukudome has been compared to both Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui. Here is a look at all three’s career numbers in Japan….
- Kosuke Fukudome – 9 years, 1074 games, 3852 at bats, .305/.397/.520 with a .938 OPS, 192 home runs, 647 RBI’s and a .990 fielding percentage
- Ichiro Suzuki – 9 years, 951 games, 3619 at bats, .353/.421/.522 with a .943 OPS, 118 home runs, 529 RBI’s and a .992 fielding percentage
- Hideki Matsui – 10 years, 1268 games, 4572 at bats, .304/.413/.582 with a .995 OPS, 332 home runs, 889 RBI’s and a .986 fielding percentage
The Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers, Giants, White Sox, Devil Rays, Mariners and Padres reportedly scouted Fukudome this past season.
From all indications the 30-year old outfielder (turns 31 in April) will be a good addition to any team that chooses to take the risk.
- Kosuke Fukudome’s Player Page from Japanese Baseball.com
- Article from Baseball Prospectus on Fukudome
- More Information on Fukudome from Japanese Ball Players.com
Photo from The Japan Times Online