Maybe it's because no one can properly spell or pronounce his name, but Junichi Tazawa has flown under the radar all winter and continues to do so into the spring. Not much is known about Boston's 4th new Japanese pitcher in the last three years....but from what we've seen this spring, he could be a value-added contribution to an already stacked bullpen, as soon as this year.
Like Dice-K, Saito and Oki, Tazawa comes from Japan and requires a translator, but that's where the similarities end. His acquisition had 1/1000th of the fanfare Dice-k's did and he doesn't have a cool nickname like Oki, but Tazawa does have significant upside potential. He is the first pitcher to come to the US prior to playing any pro ball in the Japanese league. At just 22 years old, Tazawa played the past four years in the Japan Industrial League where he was 14-3 with 11 saves and a 1.99 ERA in 53 games....impressive numbers at any age.
So far this spring he's had two outings, both against collegiate kids (BC and Northeastern, neither of which are as good as BU), he dominated both appearances and has made a great first impression with his teammates...including Tito; “I guess I didn’t quite expect him to be this polished, at first blush there’s a lot to like.” The next step is to see how he fares against big league hitters this week, which could be an all-together different story.
At such a young age, in a new culture and environment, and without any pro baseball experience, look for Tazawa to start the season in Double-A Portland.....but remember his name because you might be looking up its spelling again sooner than later.