Joining Yoshinobu Yamamoto (Orix Buffaloes), Shota Imanaga (Yokohama DeNA Basestars), and Yuki Matsui (Rakuten Golden Eagles) as the “Aces” of Nippon Professional Baseball, Naoyuki Uwasawa (Nippon Ham Fighters) is taking on the Major Leagues.
According to Japan’s Nikkan Sports and other local media outlets, Uwasawa officially announced his move to the major leagues at a press conference on March 28.
After being selected by Nippon Ham in the sixth round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, Uwasawa has appeared in 173 career games (14 complete games), compiling a record of 70-62 with a 3.19 ERA through this season. While he hasn’t been named to the Japanese national team (other than the 2018 U.S.-Japan All-Star team) or won an individual title in his professional career, he’s had a steady career.
Although he was drafted by the professional organization in 2011, Uwasawa first broke into the first team in 2014 and enjoyed a successful rookie campaign, going 8-8 with a 3.19 ERA in 23 appearances. Injuries limited him to five and four wins in his next two seasons, respectively, but he emerged as an “ace” in 2018 with an 11-6 record and a 3.16 ERA, including four complete games in 25 appearances.
Injuries and bad luck followed. After his best season, Uwasawa was hit in the left knee by a pitch in June 2019 and suffered a fractured left patella, limiting him to just five wins and eight wins in 15 games the following year. However, he bounced back in 2021 with a career-high 12-6 record and 2.81 ERA, winning eight games last year and going 9-9 with a 2.96 ERA in 24 games this year, earning a promotion to the major leagues via the posting system.
Uwasawa’s biggest strength is his ability to go the distance. In his nine seasons with Nihon Ham, he surpassed 150 innings five times, mixing a fastball that tops out at 152 mph with a slider, cutter, knuckleball, fork, changeup, and two-seam, and this year he logged 170 innings, the most of any pitcher in the Pacific League.
“I told the club two years ago that I had dreams of playing in the major leagues,” Uwasawa told Nikkan Sports, “I told them when I signed last year, and they wanted me to achieve certain goals,” he said.
“When I got to play in the 2018 U.S.-Japan All-Star Game, it changed the way I thought about baseball. I still think, ‘This is what baseball is like. My dad is a big fan of baseball, so I’ve had a lot of exposure to the major leagues on TV since I was a kid, and it just builds on itself.”
With dreams of playing in the major leagues, he sought advice. While Darvish Yu (San Diego Padres) and Shohei Ohtani (Los Angeles Angels) weren’t among them, they did eat at the same table at Nippon Ham, and Kohei Aihara (formerly of the Texas Rangers, now with the SoftBank Hawks) returned to Japan after a brief stint in the major leagues.
“I didn’t talk to Darvish or Otani,” says Uwasawa, “but Aihara-senpai has experienced posting and is a senior who I became close with at Nihon Ham. I had a chance to talk to him, and we talked about various things.”
In fact, because he hasn’t reached the top of the Nippon Professional Baseball scene, some people have expressed negative opinions about Uwasawa’s move to the major leagues. “No matter what you do, those opinions are going to come up. I need to change myself so that there are fewer concerns. I think I can change enough with my grades and play. It depends on what I do. I just have to believe in myself.”
If he makes it to the major leagues, Uwasawa’s dream is to face off against Ohtani. “I don’t know what it will be like if I don’t actually play him, but I’m not without confidence. If I do, I’ll be excited,” he said, adding, “If there’s a team that needs me, I’d like to contribute, and I’ll use my strengths of being able to pitch long innings without getting injured.”짱구카지노
According to Major League Baseball Trade Rumors (MLBTR), “Uwasawa has developed into a reliable starter in terms of both performance and durability. After throwing 102 innings in 2020 during the COVID-19 shortened season, he has returned to form, throwing at least 152 innings in each of the last three seasons.” “He’s not overpowering on the mound and doesn’t have a great strikeout rate, but major league teams are taking a look at him nonetheless.”
With the regular season now complete, the Texas Rangers, Arizona Diamondbacks, Cincinnati Reds, Kansas City Royals, Chicago Cubs, and Los Angeles Angels are among the teams watching Uwasawa. “He’s an intriguing mid-level pitcher who won’t require a big contract,” MLBTR added.