The Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball announced last week they’ve signed right-hander Jharel Cotton for the 2023 season. The team also announced the previously-reported acquisition of former Cubs first baseman Frank Schwindel. Reports out of Japan first emerged in December the Buffaloes were in discussions with Cotton.
It’ll be the first overseas stint for the 31-year-old hurler. The East Carolina product has spent a decade in the affiliated ranks, initially entering pro ball as a Dodger draftee in 2012. Cotton debuted with the A’s in 2016, shortly after being acquired as part of the Rich Hill deadline deal between L.A. and Oakland. He made 29 starts over the next two seasons in green and gold but didn’t reappear in the big leagues until 2021 as a member of the Rangers.
Cotton spent the bulk of last year with the Twins. Shuttled on and off the 40-man roster as a depth reliever, he made 25 MLB appearances with Minnesota. Cotton posted a strong 2.83 ERA that was built largely on the strength of an unsustainable .183 average on balls in play against him. He posted much better peripherals through 22 games with their Triple-A affiliate in St. Paul, striking out a massive 37.1% of opponents en route to a 2.88 ERA over 25 innings of relief for the Saints.
Towards the end of the year, the Giants snagged Cotton off waivers from Minnesota. He pitched five times for San Francisco, working eight innings of seven-run ball. At season’s end, the Giants ran him through outright waivers to take him off the 40-man roster. Cotton elected minor league free agency at that point.
He’ll now make the jump to Japan’s top level. Cotton has worked solely as a reliever the past two seasons but was a starting pitcher throughout his early minor league and MLB tenure. It’s possible the Buffaloes give him a shot to stretch back out into rotation work in NPB. Regardless of whether he works as a starter or out of the bullpen, Cotton has a chance to resurface on the MLB radar a year or two down the line if he performs well against NPB hitters. Veteran reliever Scott McGough, for instance, secured a two-year deal from the Diamondbacks this offseason after a four-year stint in Japan.