I know, I know, not another Cubs thread!


Scouting Report on Kosuke Fukudome

December 18th, 2007

Kosuke Fukudome (KOH-skay foo-koo-DOUGH-may)
April 26th, 1977
Captain Ahab finally landed his White Whale as Jim Hendry pulled down his biggest free agent this offseason. The Cubs and Hendry finally landed a Japanese player after flirting with the notion for nearly ten years. It just turns out we needed a lefty bat that can play rightfield, and Fukudome is everything we could hope for out of a free agency. For a Scouting Report read on…

Kosuke has been the one of the largest stars in Japan the past few years with the departures of Ichiro, Godzilla Matsui, and “Dice-K”. Not only has he become a fan favorite, he’s become one of the Japan Leagues’ best and well-rounded athletes. He missed nearly half the 2007 season due to elbow injury that ended up requiring surgery to remove bone fragments, yet still posted huge numbers in his limited action. Fukudome was hit by a pitch on his leading elbow (right) that fractured his olecronon process of his ulna. The pitch hit with enough velocity and angulation that it created fragmentations which hindered Kosuke’s elbow extension and thus his stroke. Still without Fukudome’s presence the rest of the 2007 season, the Chunichi Dragons, the Japanese League’s rendition of the Cubs, went on to win the Japan Series.
With the lack of quality outfielders available in the 2007 offseason, Fukudome’s injury was brushed aside and teams went hogwild over his plate discipline and hitting abilities. The Cubs were outbid for Kosuke’s services yet as a free agent, unlike most Japanese players who are posted, Fukudome took less money to become a Cub. Reportedly his decision came down to many factors, it was not only money plus years as he wanted to play for a contender, he wanted to play for a city with a strong Japanese fan base, and he wanted to become the first Japanese player for a ballclub. Without question Kosuke will sell seats in Wrigley himself bringing fans to the Confines that elsewise wouldn’t come. Personally, I know of a handful of quasibaseball fans who are making trips to not only Chicago but to visiting cities (San Diego, LA, San Fran) just to see Fukudome play. With the way he plays, it’s money well spent on tickets.

Hitting: Fukudome has a beautiful stroke with quick wrists that allow him to turn quickly on pitches inside. Kosuke also has the knack for working deep into counts and making the pitcher really work. Those results are seen in his high number of walks, strikeouts, and pitches seen per at bat. Fukudome has a natural loft to his swing and the uncanny ability to sit back on pitches. He’s batting style is very balanced, as he doesn’t put extra weight on either foot. When including that with his stroke, Kosuke is a double’s machine that doesn’t hit towering flyouts. The man is a bizzaro American player, as he’d rather make the pitcher work and hit a single or gap double than flyout deep or swing for a homerun.

Power: Kosuke’s stroke has a natural loft but he isn’t exactly built for homeruns. The stroke, eye, and plate discipline are made exclusively for contact and doubles. Despite playing in the hitter friendly parks of the NL Central, don’t expect more than 20 homeruns. Instead look for a ton of walks (65-85) and a double expectation of anywhere from 30-50. With that in mind, a slugging percentage of over .500 is very unlikely for the Japanese import.

Speed: In the past Kosuke has stolen a few bases here and there but it’s not due to blazing speed. He’s a smart baserunner and gets good jumps when he reads the pitcher. Still don’t expect more than 5-10 stolen bases in the MLB. In the Japan League, stolen bases are often the result of botched hit and runs, and Fukudome is a prime example of that. In the MLB, those risks will be substancially lessened but if the right occasion occurs Lou will give him the green light.

Defense: Kosuke might not display blistering speed on the basepaths but he gets excellent reads on flyballs while running precision routes. Ideally, Fukudome is a rightfielder, which is what the organization plans on using him as. But if the chips are pressed Kosuke could pass as an average centerfielder especially playing the majority of his games at Wrigley. Besides running excellent routes, Fukudome possesses a very strong and accurate arm. When he knows he doesn’t have a chance at nailing the lead runner, he hits the cutoff man to prevent extrabases. Fukudome is expected to be an above average rightfielder in the National League, covering the Sheffield corner well. There have been a few scouts expressing concern over the brick wall, as Fukudome goes all out on flyballs. Sometimes overextending his coverage thus allowing extrabases or putting himself in harms way.

MLB Comparsion: Paul O’neill
The two compare quite favorably as O’neill was known for his ability to make pitchers work, getting on base, and hitting gapping doubles. Paul was a very well rounded rightfielder, he played his position well, made great contact, and displayed power when need be. Fukudome probably doesn’t have O’neill’s power potential yet looks to take a similar approach at the plate. Always going with the what the pitcher gives’m and never tries to do too much. Look for Fukudome to post a decent average supported by a strong OBP-AVG differiental, something at least .065 if not as high as .100. O’neill was a very solid middle of the order bat, an aspect Fukudome can only hope to provide for the Cubs. Paul was known for his unselfish ways and doing whatever was best for the ballclub to win. When a clutch situation came up, the balanced O’neill was one that you wanted at the plate. For fans not too acquainted with former Red and Yankee O’neill, then Cub favorite Mark Grace is a decent judge of what to expect of Fukudome.

Bob’s Take: Usually, I’m never a fan of giving a player who has never played against high level competition multiple millions of dollars, let alone committing to them for four years while on their physical decline. Yet our scouting department headed up by Tim Wilken gave Hendry two thumbs up on acquiring one of the great Japanese players in the league. Jim has put alot of faith into his scouting crew and special assistants, hopefully the belief is well founded and the Wrigley faithful give the OBP guru a break. Fukudome will likely go through a few prolonged slumps this season and how he responds to them will be key. Will he bounce back quickly? Will he cave to the Wrigley pressure? Will he keep trotting away and adjusting? Or will he start playing out of his element?

At times, Kosuke will be overmatched on high velocity fastballs and heavy breaking balls. In the past he’s shown to quickly fix his flaws, yet still look for the Japanese import to strikeout well over a 100 times during his freshman season, if not a 120ish. What I think almost all analysts agree on is that Kosuke’s slugging will drop substancially. His homerun total will not likely break 20 yet he will be aided by the hitter friendly conditions of most NL Central ballparks where he’ll hopefully take advantage of the wide gaps. Ideally Uncle Lou will bat Fukudome behind Ramirez to give him some protection. But don’t be surprised if teams start putting ARam on just to get to Kosuke. Personally, I won’t be shocked to see Fukudome sandwiched at times between Soriano and Lee stacking the top portion of our lineup. Kosuke’s unselfish ways, double tendencies, and excellent eye make him a great fit as a table setter for Lee and Ramirez. All in all, Hendry made the best possible move he could but is placing the 2008 season in the hands of very inexperienced players in Kosuke Fukudome, Felix Pie, Geovany Soto and Ryan Theriot.