Even if he’s not the best-known Japanese pitcher on the free-agent market this winter, MLB fans will want to check out a Shota Imanaga scouting report. The diminutive lefty doesn’t yet have a ton of name recognition. But he has a chance to be something special in the big leagues.

Shota Imanaga Scouting Report

With Shohei Ohtani to the Dodgers official, more attention can be paid to Yoshi Yamamoto, Imanaga, and the other Japanese pitchers making the jump to the big leagues. Since most fans don’t know much about him, we put together a Shota Imanaga scouting report so fans can get to know him a little better.

Track Record

Imanaga has pitched in Japan since 2016, spending his entire career with the Yokohama DeNA BayStars. At age 30, he’s older than Yamamoto and doesn’t have the same types of accolades. However, he’s been an NPB all-star twice, including this past season. Imanaga also owns a career 3.18 ERA while averaging a little more than a strikeout per inning. In fact, he was the Central League strikeout champ in 2023.

Fans of the World Baseball Classic may remember him from Japan’s championship team in 2023. He started the championship game against the U.S., allowing one run on four hits over two innings. Imanaga struck out two in those two innings but did allow a home run against Trea Turner. 

Repertoire

At just 5’10’’, Imanaga doesn’t fit the profile of a traditional starter in the majors. Of course, Yamamoto isn’t a tall, imposing pitcher either. Despite not fitting the mold, Imanaga has typically been able to throw at least 140 to 150 innings annually throughout his career. His durability shouldn’t be any more of a question than it is for any other pitcher his age. 

 
 
 
 

Naturally, Imanaga isn’t an overpowering pitcher with his fastball topping out around 94 mph. However, the pitch shows late movement, allowing it to fool hitters, even when it’s in the middle of the strike zone. Imanaga also shows good control over his cutter, which he typically uses to keep right-handed batters off balance.

Against both righties and lefties, Imanaga will unleash his slider, which he likes to use as a put-away pitch when he’s ahead in the count. The southpaw will rarely throw his slider for a strike, although he gets a lot of swings and misses with it. On the contrary, Imanaga’s curveball is usually used to get ahead early in counts. His curve isn’t an elite pitch, but he has enough break to keep hitters off-balance unless they’re sitting on it.

Imanaga also has a sinker and a splitter in his back pocket. Both are rarely used, especially against left-handed hitters. However, they give Imanaga extra weapons against right-handed hitters. But since he rarely throws them, they can be effective out-pitches for Imanaga when he wants to stay away from his slider.

MLB Projection

While he doesn’t have elite stuff compared to Yamamoto and other frontline starters, Imanaga projects as a quality mid-rotation starter in the big leagues. He throws hard enough and mixes up his pitches well enough to keep hitters off balance. It also helps that he can throw up to six pitches, which means big leaguers could be slow to adjust to him.

It’s also worth noting that his nickname in Japan is “The Throwing Philosopher.” Imanaga pitches with great intelligence and knows how to sequence his pitches better than most. Given the aggressive nature of MLB hitters and their desire to hit for power, Imanaga should match up favorably compared to the more contact-oriented approach in Japan. 

Even with a bigger emphasis on contact in Japan, Imanaga was able to miss a lot of bats. In the big leagues, he will be able to keep hitters guessing by mixing his pitches, all of which he’s able to control. The stuff to be an ace probably isn’t there, nor is Imanaga still developing at age 30. However, he should have a relatively smooth transition to the big leagues and should become a reliable mid-rotation starter for the next few years.

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