Guerrero Jr. joins list of super-hyped international prospects
Ichiro, Ohtani, Puig among players who were brought into the Majors under a microscope
Top Blue Jays prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is expected make his long awaited Major League Baseball debut when Toronto plays the Oakland Athletics on Friday at the Rogers Centre.
As one of the most hyped up-and-comers in the game, the 20-year-old third baseman joins a long list of international prospects who made their debuts under a microscope. Here is a list of some who came before, including some studs and some duds.
Ichiro was already a superstar in his native Japan when he joined the Seattle Mariners in 2001. All eyes were on him in both North America and Japan, as at the time it was rare for an Asian position player to transition to the major-league game.
That proved to be no problem for Ichiro, who went on to become the most accomplished hitter in professional baseball. The 10-time MLB all-star and 2001 American League MVP retired earlier this season as baseball's all-time leader with 4,367 career hits, 3,089 of those coming in MLB.
Ohtani was a tantalizing prospect out of Japan with the rare ability to be an impact player both on the mound and at the plate. And while he has lived up to the promise when healthy, his early career has been beset by injury.
Signed by the Los Angeles Angels, Ohtani went on to win American League rookie of the year honours last season. He batted .285 with 22 home runs and 61 runs batted in while posting a 4-2 record with a 3.31 earned-run average and 62 strikeouts over 10 starts.
But he had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and isn't expected to return to the Angels' lineup until next month. He will be solely a designated hitter until potentially returning to the mound in 2020.
The hard-throwing Chapman turned heads while helping Cuba win gold at the 2007 Pan American Games and silver at the Baseball World Cup the same year. After defecting in 2009 when the Cuban team was at a tournament in the Netherlands, Chapman signed a six-year contract with Cincinnati with a base salary of $30.25 million US.
Chapman, who frequently breaks 100 miles per hour with his fastball, has had a successful major-league career as a closer, with a career ERA of 2.24 with 239 saves and 807 strikeouts in nine-plus seasons with Cincinnati, the New York Yankees and the Chicago Cubs. He picked up the win in the last two games of Chicago's 2016 World Series win over Cleveland.
Another product of the Cuban system, Puig helped his home country win bronze at the 2008 world junior baseball championship in Edmonton. After a series of failed attempts, Puig defected to Mexico before signing a seven-year, $42-million deal with the Dodgers.
On June 3, 2013, Puig hit two home runs in just his second major-league game, becoming the first Dodger to have a multi-homer game in one of his first two appearances. He hit a grand slam in his fourth game and became a Dodgers fan favourite in his rookie season, finishing with a .319 batting average with 19 homers and 42 runs batted in.
Puig played six seasons with the Dodgers before being traded to Cincinnati in December. He has a career batting average of .277 with 110 homers and 339 RBIs, though his numbers have slipped since his standout first two seasons in the majors.
The buzz around Darvish resulted in a bidding war for the pitcher's services, which was won by Texas. The Rangers signed Darvish to a six-year, $60 million contract after the team won his posting with a record bid of $51.7 million to his Japanese team, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.
His major-league career started off great in 2012. He was 39-25 over his first three seasons and was the American League strikeout leader in 2013 with 277. However, his 2018 season was limited to just eight appearances and 40 innings due to injury, and he has struggled to return to form this season.
The Boston Red Sox posted a then-record bid of $51.1 million in 2006 to earn the exclusive right to negotiate a contract with Matsuzaka, a star pitcher with the Seibu Lions known for his "gyroball," a pitch used primarily in Japan.
While he didn't set the majors on fire, he did help the Red Sox win the World Series in 2007 and ended up with a respectable career record of 56-43 with a 4.45 ERA over eight seasons.
He continues to pitch in his native country.
One of the true busts to come out of Japan, Igawa signed a $20 million contract with the Yankees before the 2007 season after the team posted a bid just over $26 million to win the rights to negotiate with his Japanese club.
Igawa appeared in only 16 games over the 2007 and 2008 seasons, posting a mediocre 2-4 record with a 6.66 ERA.
The San Diego Padres purchased the contract of Irabu, a hard-throwing Japanese star, from the Chiba Lotte Marines in 1997. The criticism of the sale by other MLB teams that wished to bid on Irabu led to the creation of the posting system now used.
Irabu refused to play for the Padres, who eventually traded him to the Yankees. He generated a lot of buzz prior to his July 10, 1997 debut but ended up having a mediocre North American career, posting a 34-35 career record with a 5.15 ERA with New York, Montreal and Texas.