Number Three: Shota Imanaga
The only reason Shota Imanaga is third and not second is because the second free agent option is a proven MLB pitcher. Regardless, Imanaga will be one of the best international players who will likely head to America this off-season. Imanaga had a career-best season for the Yokohama Bay Stars.
In 159 innings, Imanaga worked to a 2.66 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and 7.83 K:BB ratio. The lefty had a 29.5% K-rate along with an outstanding 3.8% walk rate. His K:BB ratio was the single-best rate of his career, beating out his previous career high set in 2022 by 3.11 strikeouts. The only blemish was his below average 1.02 HR/9, which still isn’t horrible.
Imanaga has an impressive resume to his credit. Of the seven seasons where he pitched at least 100 innings, he posted a sub-3.00 ERA six times, including now four straight seasons with an ERA under 3.00 in at least 149 innings pitched. It is also the second straight season with a WHIP below 1.00.
Imanaga does not throw too hard, sitting in the low-90s. His primary breaking pitch is a cutter/slider hybrid. His secondary breaking ball is a curveball, and his off-speed pitch is a splitter. But he has decent command that should translate if he decides to come to the United States.
Imanaga will be the second best professional international pitcher available, assuming he and our number one player on today’s list both are posted and make their way over from Japan. Imanaga has pitched to an all-star caliber level in Japan for multiple years now. He’d certainly be worth going after, and given how the Pirates have hinted at their pursuits on the pro international market, I could see them heavily pursuing the lefty. After all, Ben Cherington loves lefty starting pitchers.