Japanese righty Kohei Arihara has shown up to Texas Rangers’ camp and has impressed in his first bullpen sessions. What can the Rangers expect from the 28-year old?
However, as Rangers fans and some coaches know, we haven’t seen a whole lot of Kohei before his signing and now into spring training.
So, what are the expectations for Arihara in the Texas Rangers’ rotation and how will those expectations affect the rest of the pitching staff?
The Texas Rangers signed Arihara to a two-year, $6 million deal with the expectation that he will anchor the rotation and help provide veteran leadership and innings.
Kohei Arihara is the type of pitcher the Texas Rangers can build around.
One expectation around camp is that he and Hyeon-Jong Yang will be able to eat innings for a young Texas Rangers’ rotation.
For Kyle Cody and Dane Dunning, both coming off recent Tommy John surgeries, they will have innings limits and be monitored carefully as the year goes on.
Joe Palumbo and Brock Burke are another pair of lefties coming off injuries who will need to be monitored when they return.
All four of those guys have big league potential, but if they are to be a part of future Texas Ranger teams, they must be watched carefully now.
That’s where Kohei Arihara comes in.
In 2020, Arhiara threw 132.2 innings for the Nippon Ham Fighters.
That number is far and away greater than any innings number for a Rangers’ pitcher in 2020.
Although it was a pandemic-shortened season, Lance Lynn was the only one close to that number with 84 innings pitched.
Arihara’s first job will be to come in, earn a rotation spot and eat innings for the sake of the younger Texas pitchers who will need more time to recover from injuries.
Secondly, I believe that Arihara is looking to one day become a big league ace.
For now, though, he slots in nicely in the Rangers rotation behind Kyle Gibson and Mike Foltynewicz.
He’s got good command of seven pitches, but is adjusting to the different shape and tackiness of a major league baseball, compared to the baseballs in Japan.
If he can figure out how to spin a major league baseball as well as he did in Japan, there’s a good chance he can find success stateside.
For his career in Japan, Arihara pitched to a 3.65 ERA with 666 strikeouts over 882 innings pitched.
His best season was in 2019, when he pitched to a 2.46 ERA, going 15-8 and striking out 161 over 164.1 innings.
He is only two years removed from being one of the most dominant pitchers in Japan, and I believe the Texas Rangers can harness that potential.
Lastly, he will be expected to make the adjustment pitching to the best hitters in the world.
If Kohei Arihara wants to find success, he’ll need to be unlike any foreign pitcher.
His pitch mix, pitch sequencing and knowledge of the game will have to separate him from any other foreign pitcher in the league.
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So, why am I setting such a lofty goal?
Yu Darvish was a strikeout king for the Texas Rangers, but they never saw the Yu Darvish of 2020.
The former Ranger took the next step in his development and separated himself from the rest of the league.
For Arihara, he has aspirations of one day being a major league ace.
In order to do this, he will have to separate himself and find a way to make adjustments quicker than some of the other pitchers coming over.
We’ve seen plenty of foreign pitchers come to the states and fizzle out rather quickly, so Kohei will need to prove he is meant to be here.
His pitch mix is unlike any other, so that gives him a leg up on the competition.
But he’ll also need to find the right pitch sequences in order to have elongated big league success.
Is it in him to do it? Absolutely. It’s all about execution.
With Arihara in Rangers’ camp and the belief that the Rangers may have found a diamond in the rough, both parties are on track for a happy marriage.
For Kohei Arihara, his expectations, the expectations of the Rangers and of the fans may seem overwhelming, but that’s when his maturity and baseball IQ kicks in.
If he can find himself in the MLB, the Texas Rangers and Arihara will be looking at a great starting pitcher for a long time.