After putting up somewhat pedestrian numbers in his 2015 rookie campaign, (8-6, 4.79 ERA, 81 Ks in 103.1 IP), Arihara is beginning to show why he was the Fighter’s 2014 first round draft pick out of Waseda University. (Waseda is a member of the Tokyo Big6 Baseball League, which has produced countless NPB stars, including current Seattle Mariner Norichika Aoki)
With a fastball that tops out at 96 mph and a wide array of secondary pitches, Arihara is learning how to keep hitters off balance and pitch deep into games. He has gone at least 7.1 IP in all seven of his starts in 2016, and he recently had a complete game win against the SoftBank Hawks in which he struck out four and gave up two runs on five hits and two walks. Arihara has the make-up and ability to become a true ace, and the strikeout numbers should rise as he refines his secondary offerings. He has only 30 Ks in 56 IP so far in 2016, but his league-leading 1.61 ERA is supported by a 0.95 WHIP, and he had yet to give up a home run this season until his most recent start, when he gave up two.
The Fighters are the same team that posted Yu Darvish (RHP, Rangers) after seven seasons, but Darvish was drafted out of high school and threw his first pitch for the Fighters at the age of 18. Arihara will turn 24 in August, but he is still only in his second year of pro baseball, which makes it extremely unlikely that he will be posted anytime soon*. However, Nippon-Ham does not have the same allure – or resources – that teams like the Yomiuri Giants and Hanshin Tigers do, and there is already immense interest in Arihara’s teammate, Shohei Ohtani. Given the interest in Ohtani, Arihara is likely already on MLB teams’ radars even if his possible MLB career is still a few years away.