Hirata is a little-known player in U.S. baseball circles, but the 2005 first-round pick for Chunichi has been a fixture in the Dragons’ lineup since 2011. Hirata has some pop in his squat, thick build, but has it play more as doubles-type power rather than being a real over-the-fence threat. He has some length to the swing and really tries to buggy whip the barrel through the zone, but tends to open his front side early and has to cheat a bit to get to the ball inside. He does a good job keeping his hands back, and he shows some carry to the right-center field gap, but he doesn’t have great bat speed and is geared more for the breaking ball. Ryosuke’s averaged about 20 doubles and 12 home runs a year since he became a regular in 2013, and he’s hit .353 with runners in scoring position in 2016. His slugging percentage and and strikeout rate are both going in the wrong direction— with SLG % going from .430 in 2015 to .411 this season, and the K-rate going from 15% in 2015 to 18% this year, so even in the smaller Japanese ballparks he has not shown a propensity for doing excessive damage. Ryosuke has been a consistent on-base guy as a pro with a .347 career mark, and while not a base stealing threat, runs pretty well (4.19, 4.22, 4.29 HP-to-1B). Defensively, though, he is limited to a corner-outfield spot with fringe-average range and 45-grade arm strength.
Hirata is set to be an international free agent this offseason, and he’s rumored to want to test the MLB waters. He profiles as an extra outfielder right now, and his below-average power and lack of premium-position capability will limit his value to a big league club. At this point I don’t see an MLB club giving him a big league deal with guaranteed money equal to the $700K he is making this year in Japan. He is a good candidate for a split contract with an invite to spring training. If he is willing to do that, then I could see him having value as a right-handed hitting fourth outfielder for a big league club. Think Cole Gillespie (OF, Marlins) for a big league comparable. Don’t be surprised to see his name bantered about this winter as I expect his agents to play up his desire to head to the U.S. in efforts to raise his value in Japan. But realistically, I don’t see him leaving the NPB, as he stands to earn far more money as an everyday player should he re-sign with an NPB team.