After many years of rumors, former Fukuoka Softbank Hawks pitcher Kodai Senga is finally coming to MLB after signing a five year contract with the New York Mets last weekend. I believe that Senga will be the first former ikusei player to play in the majors.
Senga was the fourth round pick of the Hawks in the development (ikusei) portion of the 2010 draft out of Gamagori High School. If you're unfamiliar with the team, development players are players signed by teams that are not on the 70 man roster. They don't get paid much and can only play in farm team games. The Hawks have done a great job signing talent as ikusei players and bringing them along - besides Senga, Takuya Kai, Taisei Makihara and Ukyo Shuto have all become either All Stars or league leaders.*
*Makihara and Kai were the fifth and sixth picks by the Hawks in the 2010 development draft making it undoubtedly the best ikusei draft ever.
The Hawks registered Senga to the 70 man roster in April of 2012 although he spent most of the season with the farm team. He worked mostly out of the bullpen his first couple seasons and he missed parts of the 2013, 2014 and 2015 seasons due to injuries. He became a starter late in the 2015 season and came into his own in 2016, going 12-3 in 25 starts. His seasons since then have been similar, with double digit win totals and single digit losses - even the 2021 season in which he missed part of the season due to injury he still finished 10-3.
He's been selected to the All Star team three times (2013, 2017 and 2019) and has won a Best 9 award twice (2019, 2020). He won the Pitcher's Triple Crown in 2020 when he led the Pacific League in wins, ERA and strikeouts and he also led the league in strikeouts in 2019. He's been on five Nippon Series winning teams (2015, 2017-20) and threw a no-hitter against the Marines on September 6th, 2019, only the second no-hitter in team history. He played for Samurai Japan in both the 2017 World Baseball Classic and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and made the All Tournament team for the WBC.
Senga's first baseball card is from the 2011 BBM Rookie Edition set (#009). Because he was still an ikusei player, he did not appear in any flagship sets that year, although he did have a card in BBM's Hawks team set (#H73). His first appearance in a BBM flagship set was the "1st Version Update" subset in the 2012 2nd Version set (#407) and he also had his first Bandai and Konami cards that year. His first Calbee card was #208 from the 2013 Series Three set. He's been in either BBM's 1st or 2nd Version set (or both) and Calbee's set every year since 2013 except 2015. Here's some of his cards:
|2011 BBM Rookie Edition #009|
|2012 BBM Hawks #H68|
|2012 BBM 2nd Version #407|
|2013 Calbee #208|
|2014 Hawks Player Card|
|2015 BBM Hawks #H20|
|2016 BBM 2nd Version #337|
|2017 Topps Now WBC #W-62|
|2018 BBM Hawks 80th Anniversary #64|
|2019 Epoch One #596|
|2020 BBM 1st Version #035|
|2021 Topps NPB #67|
|2020 Epoch NPB #336|
As a Mets fan I'm kind of excited to see what Senga brings. And I hope I'll grab my first card of him before too long!
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