It appears that former MLB pitcher Zach Neal is drawing interest from stateside clubs after logging a successful season in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball ranks. According to a tweet from MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, Neal, who has previously pitched for the Athletics and Dodgers, is drawing interest from “a lot” of MLB orgs after going 10-1 with a 2.96 ERA for the Seibu Lions in 2019 (link).
While Heyman may be generous in comparing Neal to Miles Mikolas, a pitcher who flummoxed big league hitters in 2018 after spending several years abroad, it isn’t inconceivable to think that the onetime Marlins draftee may have found a new key to success while pitching in NPB. After all, a 2.96 ERA in Japan is impressive when considering that country’s offensively friendly brand of baseball; although he has only thrown 94.1 innings with the Lions this year, that ERA marker would rank fourth in the Pacific League if he had enough innings to qualify.
It may be fair to note that Neal, 30, has continued to post underwhelming strikeout numbers while in Asia. After posting a puny 3.89 K/9 rate in 85.2 big league innings between 2016 and 2018, the righty has struck out just 47 hitters across his 90-plus NPB innings — good for a K/9 rate of just 4.49. T0 his credit, he’s also limited walks (1.43 BB/9) and homers (0.76 HR/9).
If Neal does end up drawing an offseason contract offer from an MLB club, he may prioritize offers that allow him the opportunity to start. The South Carolina native made six spot starts for the A’s back in ’16, and his move to Japan was apparently made with the intent of proving himself in a rotational role. “I wanted the chance to start,” Neal told Jason Coskrey of The Japan Times about his move back in April. “I wanted the chance to be able to start 28 to 30 games with a team that wants me to do that.” Neal signed a one-year deal with the Lions back in November of last year and has replaced much of the production the club lost when former ace Yusei Kikuchi departed for the Mariners organization.