Bill Thompson, contributor
|Source: Zach Boyden-Holmes, The Register|
Though he never played a game in the Chinese Professional Baseball League, Jen-Ho Tseng is a player that CPBL fans care about. The reason for this vested interest is simple, the Taiwan native is a top prospect in the Chicago Cubs minor league system. He represents another chance for baseball fans across Taiwan, and CPBL fans the world over, to find success at the highest level the sport of baseball has to offer. Being a fan of baseball, the CPBL, the Cubs, and Tseng, I am one of the people interested in the trials and tribulations of the Cubs farmhand. To that end, here’s the first in a series of looks at the former Taiwan national team hurler.
Tseng took the mound as the Iowa Cubs ace for their opening day contest against the Oklahoma City Dodgers. The match up was very intriguing as Tseng was matched up against all world prospect Walker Buehler. Even more interesting were the differences between the two pitchers and how those differences played out over the course of the game. Buehler is a thrower at this point in his career. He has a dynamic arm and mostly relies on said arm. The Dodgers youngster knows he can throw the ball past most, or freeze them with his sharp curveball. Where Buehler is still lacking is in his sequencing and his tendency to just rear back and throw when he’s in trouble. In the Pacific Coast League such tendencies aren’t a big deal, but in Major League Baseball, those are traits that can be exploited.
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Tseng is the opposite, he is a pitcher already. He’s rough around the edges for sure, but with his fastball topping out at 92mph he’s not going to be able to go out and blow the ball past hitters. His breaking pitches are good, but not so sharp as to befuddle hitter after hitter. Tseng survives on throwing strikes and working the ball around the plate. When he is at his best he is painting corners and using sequencing to set batters up. When he’s at his worst he is missing his spots and getting hit hard.
|Source: Zach Boyden-Holmes, The Register|
This game was a little of both for the young right hander. Right out of the gate he was hit hard, only to get out of trouble in the first frame by using his curveball on the outside of the plate, a knee-buckling curve to end the frame that was as tasty to watch as a curve can be. The second inning was more of the same, with Tseng suffering due to the inconsistency of his curveball. When it was on he was freezing batters. When it was off he was missing by a wide margin. This in turn made his fastball easier to spot, and thus easier to hit hard.
The third inning was where Tseng showed his mettle, and why I think he has a solid future as a big league pitcher. He breezed through the first two batters, then lost his control, was hit hard, and seemed to lose his focus. However, what makes Tseng a good prospect is his ability to adapt to the situation and retain his composure. With the bases loaded Tseng stopped throwing as many strikes in the zone, and instead worked outside the zone. He was looking to miss bats, and he did just that, striking out the heart of the Dodgers lineup. He left the bases loaded and walked off the mound having overcome his first big test of the 2018 season.
The fourth was more of the same, with a few filthy sliders engineering strikeouts as Tseng looked to avoid the bats of a team that had hit his misses fairly easily. In the fifth, one of those mistakes, a hanging curveball, was cracked over the right field fence for a solo home run. It was the one glaring mistake of the game by the Iowa Cubs pitcher. He limited the damage to that one run and at the end of the fifth, he left trailing on the scoreboard but having gone toe-to-toe in the pitching duel against Buehler.
At the end of the day, Tseng took the loss in the doubleheader-shortened (in the PCL, and across MiLB as a whole, doubleheaders are only 7 innings each) season opener. Tseng looked like exactly what he has become though, a top prospect in baseball. A start to build off of, the edges will continue to be rounded, and the stuff sharpened. As usual, the Taiwan star didn’t blow the world away with his performance (5.0IP, 7H, 1BB, 7SO, 2ER), but he looked like a guy on the path to a permanent home in the big leagues. For fans of the CPBL, that is music to our ears.