SoftBank Hawks ace Kodai Senga is uniquely suited to make the jump from Japanese pro baseball to MLB because of the quality of his pitches and character, his agent Joel Wolfe said.
Speaking at MLB's annual general managers' meetings, Wolfe said the right-hander is well suited to make the move to America, not only because of his pitching ability but because of his background, his ambition to be better and his personality.
Senga, who will turn 30 in January, is 87-44 in his career with a 2.59 ERA. Wolfe is attempting to sell him as a top starter who can succeed right out of the gate in MLB.
"He would be the ace on some teams, or the No. 2 or the No. 3. With the stuff he has as a power pitcher, we view him as a top-three starter," Wolfe said Tuesday.
"Senga is a power pitcher that can throw upward of 95 to 100 miles per hour, and he has one of the best split-fingered fastballs, the 'ghost fork.' Nobody throws that pitch over here other than Ohtani, and it's a pitch batters here don't recognize."
In addition to his stuff, which MLB teams are familiar with from years of scouting him, Wolfe is selling Senga as a winner, and as an individual, and compared him to former New York Yankees slugger Hideki Matsui.
"A lot of the Japanese players are concerned about comfortability. Senga is a little different," Wolfe said.
"He wants to be in a big market. He wants to be on a great team. He's one of the more open-minded Japanese players I've ever worked with as far as where he wants to go. He reminds me of Hideki Matsui when he came over."
But unlike Matsui, a household name in Japan as a high schooler, Senga worked his way up to pro stardom from the bottom. He was selected by SoftBank well after the first 68 players were taken in the 2010 draft and signed to a non-roster developmental contract.
Wolfe said that "rags-to-riches" aspect of Senga's story is attractive to MLB teams.
"Senga was not a prince-of-Koshien first-round pick like some of the others," Wolfe said. "He's what we call a grinder. He came out of nowhere...and turned himself into a star, and we have an immense amount of respect for him because of that."
"He has embraced all the things about the craft of pitching, learning about analytics and pitch design: all the things to turn himself into a high-end pitcher."
Senga's priorities, the agent said, are winning and getting better, so the first choice would be a quality outfit with advanced pitching support.
The transition from Japan's elite leagues to America's is never easy, but Wolfe argues Senga's personable nature will make that process as smooth as can be.
"He's very outgoing and gregarious. He's fun, and he has a great sense of humor. He's not shy," Wolfe said. "I think he would fit into an American clubhouse very quickly even though he doesn't speak English. I've never seen Senga uncomfortable in any situation."
"He would be at ease right away. And I don't think the coaches will be uncomfortable around him and that will work to his advantage."
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