Avoid - Shota Imanaga, Yokohama DeNA BayStars
Of all these pitchers, the Cardinals have scouted Imanaga the most. His strikeout ability is intriguing, but his 10.6 K/9 in 2023 is considerably higher than his career rate of 9.4, so it may be a case of overperformance. However, the real concern with Imanaga is run prevention. He was great in 2022, with a 2.26 ERA, but aside from that, he’s sat between 2.80 and 3.00 in recent seasons, resembling Uwasawa much more than Yamamoto. His plus-fastball is very intriguing, and if he can put the pieces together at the Major League level, he will become a premier starting pitcher. However, the Cardinals are in need of proven talent, and Imanaga might not fit the bill.
Imanaga’s 2023 Climax Series in the NPB Postseason was also not great. As the BayStars’ starting pitcher in game 2, he only threw 5 innings allowing 2 runs on 4 hits and one walk. With a meager 3 strikeouts, Imanaga’s final outing with the BayStars also resulted in their elimination. It is a small sample size, but the lack of length and swing and miss are both concerns for an already weak Cardinals rotation.
If the Cardinals are seeking two arms more effective than Miles Mikolas and Steven Matz, Imanaga does not fit that standard. Considering the run environment in Japan, there may be better places to look for Imanaga’s production. Mikolas, who pitched in a less pitcher-friendly NPB, posted numbers significantly better than Imanaga. While Mikolas has regressed quite a bit lately, it will still be difficult for Imanaga to surpass him.