Will Casey McGehee Be a Hit Coming From Japan?

What can you expect of a player who was exiled to Japan only to find his way back a year later?

The Marlins are about to find out – but it isn’t the first time they have gone to Japan to find a big league bat. In the early years, they turned to Orestes Destrada to not only get some PR for the new franchise, but also to give them some much needed power. The expansion Marlins brought in Destrada, a Cuban immigrant, and he played for the Fish from ’93 to ’94, hitting 20 home runs in his Marlin debut. In his early 30’s, Destrada was never able to fully catch on in the bigs after his mildly successful season with the expansion Marlins in 1993.

The Marlins may have hoped that Destrada would be another Cecil Fielder, a guy who was overlooked an unable to get a crack at a full time spot on a roster, but went to Japan, had some success, and would return to America a better hitter. Fielder went on to hit 51 home runs in 1990 and would be among the best power hitters in his generation in those early 90’s summers.

Now the Marlins are going back to Japan to find a stop-gap measure for their 3B option. They landed Casey McGehee who had a good run with the Brewers in 2010-2011, but bounced around to the Pirates and Yankees before vaulting for Japan all of last season.

Most of the time, players head over to Japan because they are just marginal players – 4A players, to be honest. They are too good for AAA but not quite good enough to hack it in the bigs. McGehee has had some success at the MLB level if you look at his numbers from 2009-2011. 2010 was his best year, racking up 174 hits and 23 home runs but he took a nose dive in 2011 to a .223 AVG.

Last year in Japan, he hit 28 home runs with a .292 AVG. He helped push the Golden Eagles to a title, along with former big leaguer Andruw Jones and the much-balyhooed Masahiro Tanaka, which teams willing to put in $20M per are looking to sign. But can McGehee realistically approach those numbers with the Marlins next season?

No. Think of Japan as a 4A league as well.

That said, his projections are not bad, they just are not anywhere near what his levels were in Japan. Fangraphs is projecting McGehee to hit 12 home runs with 112 hits in 498 PAs. Considering the Marlins got all of 3 home runs last season from their 3B rotation, that is a pretty solid improvement. Consider that the Fish only paid $1.1M in a one-year deal, and this is another low-risk, high-reward situation. McGehee wants to prove he belongs and will come to camp focused and ready.

Also, consider who he was hitting with back in 2009-2010 – Prince Fielder and a pretty solid offensive Brewers lineup. Hitting around a guy like Stanton could help protect him and give him fatter pitches to hit.

The pitchers in Japan do have a tendency to pitch to contact and that does typically give hitters with long swings more chances to do something with pitches. That said, McGehee’s K rates are not too horrible.

FanGraphs sums it up as follows:

Over 2000 Major League plate appearances, McGehee has demonstrated what he is capable of doing to Major League pitching, and his .317 wOBA testifies to that fact. He’s very likely one of the best 750 baseball players in the world, and deserves his spot on a major league roster. But don’t expect him to hit in America like he hit in Japan. Almost no one does.

If McGehee hits .270 with 15 home runs, for the money, he will be a success. Already that means more power in the lineup for the Marlins who, let’s be realistic, were only a handful of runs away from making runs and getting together longer win streaks. That may be enough to make a difference – but don’t expect similar numbers to what he had in Japan.