Not all foreign players who sign contracts with Nippon Professional Baseball find success. The myth is that NPB is a place where foreigners go to dominate. Those who follow NPB closely, or even those like me who only follow as they can, are able to easily dispell of this myth. Yet, the myth exists and for one very good reason. The overwhelming majority of foreign players who sign with NPB ballclubs have proven track records before signing. They may not have been the best in every league they previously played in, but whether it’s Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball, the Chinese Professional Baseball League, or the Atlantic League; they were successful somewhere.
Xavier Batista is an exception to the above rule. He had spent his entire professional career being mediocre at every single stop. The former Chicago Cubs farmhand managed a career-high bWAR of 0.5 with the DSL Cubs 1 in 2011 in the Dominican Summer League, a Rookie-level MiLB league. Yet, despite all his struggles, the Hiroshima Toyo Carp signed Batista to a developmental deal in 2017, and well, he continued to struggle. In 2017 and 2018 he split time between the big league Central League Carp and the Western League Carp farm team. In 2017 and early into 2018 Batista remained the same player, then throughout last year, he started to hit for power. He remained a very flawed player, but hitting a combined 32 home runs came unexpectedly for a guy who had never hit more than 11 home runs in any previous season.
The Dominican Republic product’s turnaround has continued into 2019. This season Batista has already produced 1.7 dWAR, and let me tell you something, all of that is on offense. He remains a complete deficit on defense and on the basepaths, so that should tell you just how well Batista has been hitting the ball. He’s slashing .314/.375/.598 and has 16 home runs in only 216 plate appearances. For the first time in his career, Batista is tapping into the potential scouts saw so long ago.
The main area where the Carp right fielder has improved at the plate is in how hard he is hitting the ball. He leads all of NPB with a Hard Hit% of 49.3 and this has helped his HR/FB rate to a third best in NPB number of 26.7. In terms of plate discipline, he hasn’t really improved, and his approach at the plate remains a dude simply trying to mash the ball. Only now, he is actually mashing the ball, as evidenced by his .284 ISO. The whole package that is Xavier Batista the hitter has managed a wOBA of .430 and a WRC+ of 164 in 2019.
I’m not sure if Batista can keep up what he’s doing this season, but sometimes the path to figuring things out takes a little bit longer for some players. Batista’s path took him many years, a small break from baseball, and finally growing into his large frame, but he’s now the slugger his swing always suggested he could be. The 27-year-old has become a linchpin to the Carp’s continued run as one of the elite CL teams. The Carp took a gamble that there was more to Batista than what he had shown in his years struggling in MiLB. They are now the benefactors of their due diligence, and Batista is only showing signs of improving as he moves through his prime years.
Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – Kyodo News