Thursday, March 6, 2014

Tanaka The Real Deal? Maybe

I sat in the upper deck at Yankee Stadium on July 10, 1997, as George Steinbrenner unveiled his newest, shiniest imported phenom.

Hideki Irabu was set to make his Major League debut in front of an electrified crowd exceeding 50,000. The Japanese Nolan Ryan proceeded to to induce a grounder before striking out the next two in the first inning. He struck out two more in the second and with each succeeding K, the crowd grew louder and more intense.

The Yankees would go on to be the Detroit Tigers that night 10-3 as Irabu allowed two runs on five hits and four walks over 6-2/3 innings.

He also struck out nine and anyone who was there that night would have sworn that the Yankees had landed the real deal, a bonafide superstar ready to take the Major Leagues by storm and lead the Bombers to another World Series title.

The only thing is that's not quite how the story played out.

Irabu turned out to be nothing more than a mediocre pitcher, going 34-35 over six seasons.

And the lesson learned from that experience was to never judge a player based on a small sample size. Any player can have a great game. Heck, even Kei Igawa won a couple of games.

Yet here we are, 17 years later over-analyzing everything Masahiro Tanaka does, drooling over every strike thrown.

Masahiro Tanaka is looking good, but it's only spring training.

Of course, when a team spends $175 million on a player who has never pitched in the Majors and whose every moved will be watched by a nation on the other side of the planet, expectations just might be a tad high.

Through the first few weeks of spring training, Tanaka has drawn raves during his workouts, while delivering two solid outings, including allowing a run on two hits in three innings against the Phillies on Thursday.

Still, it's spring training, and as Dave correctly pointed out, this is time for getting ready for the season, evaluating rookies and figuring out who will win the last few spots on the roster.

Tanaka can be brilliant through the remainder of March and it would mean absolutely nothing. Careers aren't made in spring training.

They're also not made on the basis of a single start or even a strong year or two (see Dontrelle Willis and Daisuke Matsuzaka).

Look, I'm not saying Tanaka can't or won't become an All-Star caliber player. So far we've seen a live fastball with terrific command, an outstanding splitter and a strong slider, so he certainly has some tools and a lot of potential, and I will be rooting for him to fulfill every ounce of that potential.

It's just way, way, way to early to be making any proclamations about the guy.

Will Tanaka be the real deal? Let's just say maybe ... for now.

No comments: