Avoid - Naoyuki Uwasawa, Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters
Sure Japan just won the World Baseball Classic, and many players have had notable success in America, but not every Japanese player making the jump to MLB will thrive. Plenty of them have failed to adjust to a higher level of play, and the 29-year-old Naoyuki Uwasawa is likely to be one of them.
John Mozeliak’s “dumpster diving” has been long noted by Cardinal fans over the years. Jon Lester, Wade LeBlanc, Casey Lawrence, and J.A. Happ come to mind, and Uwasawa would fit seamlessly into that group. He has been just fine in his NPB career, but he’s not anything particularly special. The Fighters' starter pitched to a 2.96 ERA and a 1.135 WHIP in 2023, and while those numbers would be fantastic in MLB, they’re just under league average in the dead-ball run environment in Japan. His 6.6 K/9 also won’t help the Cardinals’ need for increased strikeouts. With numbers below his career averages in 2023, it's possible Uwasawa is exiting his prime. Count on MLB hitters to feast on his lackluster fastball velocity.
Unlike the flamethrower Shintaro Fujinami, none of Uwasawa’s tools stick out as particularly exciting, so his ceiling isn’t very high either. Think of him as you would James Paxton, Kyle Gibson, or Matthew Boyd. He’s projected to command a similar deal to Kohei Arihara, who was absolutely dreadful in 2 seasons with the Rangers. The Cardinals will surely have better internal options (Matthew Liberatore, Zack Thompson, Michael McGreevey, and even Dakota Hudson come to mind), so signing Uwasawa would be a waste of money.