For the first week of the Pacific Coast League season, Chicago Cubs pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada was the bee’s knees. He went 13.1 innings over two starts, allowing just one run on seven hits and one walk, and he struck out 18(!). Unsurprisingly, then, the lefty was named the PCL Pitcher of the Week. On Friday, he followed up the hot start with another eight innings, allowing one earned run on three hits and one walk. He struck out five.
The dude is absolutely dominating at AAA, to put it mildly.
Under normal circumstances, the hype meter would have turned up on a “prospect” like Wada, with folks wondering, “Hey, when are we going to see that guy get a crack in the bigs?”
But you know that Wada’s aren’t quite normal circumstances. For one thing – the biggest thing – he’s already 33. That’s not prospect age by any stretch, and the fact that he hasn’t yet pitched in the big leagues would normally count as a strike against a guy that age. But there’s a however to the however: Wada pitched for a decade professionally in Japan before coming over the States (quite well). He would have made his Stateside debut around age 31, which is relatively normal for a Japanese pitcher coming over to MLB (dominant Mariners starter Hisashi Iwakuma, for example, made his debut at 31, and Kyuji Fujikawa came to the Cubs at 32).
He’s not so old, then, in that regard. But why hasn’t he pitched in the bigs? Well, he came over on a two-year deal with the Orioles, and almost immediately needed Tommy John surgery. It took him the normal recovery time, and, when he was ready to pitch again, the Orioles opted to hold him down at AAA (where, by late 2013, reports had him pitching very well). The Cubs got him on a minor league deal after the season.
As we saw in Spring Training, when Wada was one of the final competitors for the fill-in rotation spot, he really does have a fantastic changeup when he commands it, and this FanGraphs piece (calling Wada one of the “fringe” prospects of the week) has some GIFs where you can see his deception in action. You can tell only so much from a few AAA starts, but, clearly Wada has what it takes to get out AAA hitters. In Spring Training, I wasn’t terribly impressed, but that, too, was a very limited sample.
It’s going to be interesting to see what happens with Wada if he keeps tearing up AAA (it’s so early, so let’s not assume anything). The Cubs have Jake Arrieta returning soon, and James McDonald on the 60-day DL. They’ve got Chris Rusin hoping to get a starting chance at some point this year, and Kyle Hendricks, Eric Jokisch, and Carlos Pimentel all waiting in the wings at AAA, too. Even if there are a couple trades or injuries, it’s unclear whether Wada is going to get the first crack at a rotation opening.
That said, I kind of hope he does. Yes, he’s 33, and no, he doesn’t have huge, long-term upside. But he does have big league upside, and, if the Cubs found him a keeper this year, they’d have control over him for several inexpensive years if they add him to the 40-man roster.