A potential free agent the Diamondbacks should monitor

The Arizona Diamondbacks should keep tabs on Naoyuki Uwasawa who could soon opt out of his current contract with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Mar 15, 2024; Port Charlotte, Florida, USA;  Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Naoyuki Uwasawa (36) throws a
Mar 15, 2024; Port Charlotte, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Naoyuki Uwasawa (36) throws a / Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Many free agents who signed minor league contracts are released or have opt-outs at the end of Spring Training if they do not make the team’s Major League roster. Some notable veterans are free agents once again, like Mike Moustakas, Kevin Kiermaier, Eduardo Escobar, Chase Anderson, C.J. Cron, and Dom Smith, to name a few. However, one player who could soon opt out of their current contract is Naoyuki Uwasawa. With the Arizona Diamondbacks needing some support in the rotation, as Eduardo Rodriguez is slated to open the year on the injured list, it would be worth the Diamondbacks’ time to monitor the situation and potentially pursue Uwasawa if he opts out.

The Tampa Bay Rays signed Uwasawa this past off-season. Although he was much less unheralded than some of the other international pitchers from the Asian market making their way to the United States, Uwasawa was coming off a solid year in Japan. Through 170 innings, the right-hander pitched to a 2.96 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 3.05 K:BB ratio for the Nippon Ham Fighters.

Uwasawa is not a strikeout pitcher. He had just a 17.8% strikeout rate, but he also had an outstanding 5.9% walk rate. His 0.74 HR/9 rate was also about the league average. Keep in mind that the Japan Pacific League was a very pitcher-friendly environment last year. Uwasawa was an above-average pitcher, but an ERA slightly below 3.00 was fairly common in Japan last season (the league average ERA was 3.15).

But Uwasawa struggled in Spring Training. He pitched 9.2 innings, allowing 14 earned runs, walked eight, and only struck out nine batters. He was also prone to the long ball with three dingers allowed. It wasn’t a good showing in Spring Training, but still only a Spring Training sample size. I’d still take it with a grain of salt.

Still, Uwasawa’s approach would probably work well with the Diamondbacks. He’s about command and inducing weak contact, and the Diamondbacks have the perfect defense for that kind of pitcher. Last season, they had the fourth-most defensive runs saved at +47 and the second-most outs above average at +30. They arguably upgraded their defense this past off-season, as they brought in Eugenio Suarez to cover third base.

Uwasawa is the definition of “throwing the kitchen sink.” According to FanGraphs, the right-hander has a six-pitch mix. That includes a fastball, slider, curveball, change-up, cutter, and splitter. He is not a flamethrower and sits low-90s. Only his cutter and splitter have shown above-average potential, but his stuff should still play because of his ability to locate and keep batters off balance with his wide array of offerings.

If the Diamondbacks need more depth on their Major League pitching staff, Uwasawa would be a decent player to go after. They could start him in the bullpen as a hybrid starter/long reliever, helping out the starting pitching depth with Rodriguez out for the time being. Uwasawa would also likely sign a lower-cost deal if he was guaranteed a Major League roster spot. Uwasawa might not be a free agent yet, but given the current circumstances, both for the D-Dacks, Rays, and Uwasawa himself, it would be a situation worth monitoring.