Benny Agbayani, Chibe Lotte Marines.
You may remember Benny (that’s pretty much what they call him in Japan; “Agbayani” give them problems) from his glory days with the NY Mets. He had a more successful major league career than most of the North Americans who have had careers as long as his in Japan. His best year in the States was 200o, when he hit .289 in 350 AB’s with 20 doubles and 15 HRs.
Benny’s first year in Japan was 2004 at age 32. It was by far his best year. He hit .315 with 35 HRs and 100 RBI’s in 457 AB’s. He’s kind of lived off that season and his popularity (Benny’s always been a likeable guy) ever since. Subsequent to ‘04, his hasn’t hit higher than .283, hasn’t hit more than 17 HR’s or driven in more than 71. It’s been a tale of age and injuries, which are usually intertwining.
This year Benny is hitting a robust .285, but has only 3 HRs in 130 AB’s.
Edgardo Alfonzo, Yomiuri Giants.
I’m sure you remember him as a Mets’ star and a SF Giants’ free agent bust. He had a long major league career, but he got old in a hurry in 2005. He was listed as 31 years old that year, but sure played that year and all the years immediately preceding it like a guy a couple of years older.
Alfonzo played poorly for both Angels and Blue Jays in 2006 and then played so poorly in AAA that he was banished for the next two seasons to the Indendent A Atlantic League. He had a solid season for the Long Island Ducks in ‘08 and, as I recall, played well in Winter Ball this past off-season.
However, it was a dumb move by the Yomiuri Giants to sign him. At this point, the Japanese Leagues are simply too good to waste time with players who are no longer at least great AAA players.
As I expected, Alfonzo went 4 for 34 with a lone HR and was sent packing after playing in 15 games.
Craig Brazell, Hanshin Tigers.
I’ve written about Brazell before. After a solid year with the Seibu Lions in which he hit only .234 but slugged 27 HRs, he either wasn’t offered a contract in Japan or wanted to return to the U.S., because the Baltimore Orioles gave him a Spring Training invite which he accepted. Once Spring Training was over, the Orioles hadn’t offered him a job, so he ended up playing for the St. Paul Saints in the Independent A American Association. He was hitting a ridiculous .581 there, when the Tigers finally gave up on Kevin Mench and went looking another American power hitter.
Brazell is off to a great start with Hanshin. In ten games, he’s hitting .306 with 5 HRs. I hope he’s learned his lesson and decides to make a career of it in Japan. He’s 29 this year, and his Japanese League numbers in 2008 simply weren’t good enough for any major league team to take seriously. If he has truly mastered the Japanese game, he can make a lot of money and be a big star there.
Aarom Baldiris, Hanshin Tigers.
Baldaris is a 26 year old infielder from Venezuala, who got his start in the Mets and Rangers’ organizations. He had a fine year at AA Binghamton in 2005 at age 22, but never proved he could hit AAA pitching.
Baldiris played largely as a back-up infielder for the Hanshin Tigers last year, playing in 77 games but getting only 132 AB’s and hitting an unimpressive .227. This year, he is 0 for 15 in 11 games for the Tigers, but he is currently leading the Western League (there are two Japanese minor leagues: the Eastern and Western League; each Japanese major league team has only one farm team) with a .336 batting average.