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Pittsburgh Pirates meet with Yoshinobu Yamamoto

Perhaps the top pitching prospect internationally, Yoshinobu Yamamoto is the darling of several MLB teams after a killer performance on Saturday.

World Baseball Classic Semifinals: Mexico v Japan
Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s pitching during the World Baseball Classic helped lift Japan to winning the title.
Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

With the expectation that he is posted to MLB teams this offseason, Yoshinobu Yamamoto had a career defining performance. He would go onto pitch a no hitter, notching eight strikeouts, en-route to a 4-0 win for the Orix Buffaloes of the Nippon Professional Baseball League in Japan, with several MLB team representatives in the stands.

Yamamoto had not seen enough service time to be eligible for free agency in Japan, but his contract could be offered up to Major League teams this winter. Amongst the teams in attendance for this incredible performance were representatives from the Yankees, Angels, Phillies, Cubs, Diamondbacks, Blue Jays and the Pirates and possibly others.

The prospect of adding a player of this caliber to any team could be a move that changes a franchise. This season in Japan, Yamamoto is posting a stat line of 145 strikeouts, 24 walks, with an ERA of 1.26 and a record of 14-5 with a scoreless streak that spans 42 innings after his latest outing. He is far in a way one of the most dominant pitchers in all of Japanese baseball.

The 25-year old pitcher rose to prominence during the World Baseball Classic, in which he was fundamental to Japan taking home the title this year. In nearly eight innings of the WBC, Yamamoto struck out 12 with an ERA of 2.45 During the WBC, CBS Sports ranked Yamamoto as the number one overall pitching prospect outside of the MLB:

The success of Shohei Ohtani, Yu Darvish, Masahiro Tanaka, Hiroki Kuroda, and numerous others has proven that NPB pitchers can handle themselves in MLB. Yamamoto would fit right in from a pitch-quality perspective. He has great command of a mid-90s fastball with carry, as well as a swing-and-miss splitter and a high-spin curveball. He would have to prove that his stuff — especially his splitter — plays the same with the baseball stateside, but again, there’s enough precedent here to be optimistic about his chances. The other concern about him is his size, as he’s listed at 5-foot-10 with a slight frame. Teams appear to be more favorable to shorter pitchers these days, however, thanks to the increased popularity of the vertical approach angle concept and the decreased expectations in starter workload. Yamamoto will likely be viewed as a No. 2 starter if and when he comes over.

All that to say there’s still a big if and when factor attached to a signing of this nature from the NPB, and a sizable fee attached to Yamamoto signing with an MLB team. At this point in time, the Yankees seem to be frontrunners to make a move, which is expected to be more than the five year $75 million pact that the Mets gave to Kodai Senga the previous offseason.

When it comes to deep pockets, the Pirates are certainly lacking, however they are also lacking in quality pitching depth. They did make long term commitments to Ke’Bryan Hayes and Bryan Reynolds which surprised some as many thought they would fall to the wayside like previous stars for the team. That certainly took the Pirates’ payroll to new heights not previously seen, but will they be willing to make another blockbuster move so soon?

Yamamoto is clearly being treated with high regards like Shohei Ohtani or Ichiro Suzuki were in the past, as he is a very exciting prospect to add to any MLB team. The Mariners and the Angels were historically not frontrunners at the times of those signings, so I do believe there is some hope for a small market team like Pittsburgh to make a move, but I’m more inclined to believe it when I see it.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto is a two time Pacific League MVP, two time Eiji Sawamura Award winner, and a two time triple-crown champion.