The Nippon Baseball League, Japan’s premier league of professional baseball, has produced countless talented players who have found success in Japan and also found success abroad in Major League Baseball. While the Blue Jays haven’t delved too far into the international pool in terms of baseball players from Japan, their most recent experience was with Shun Yamaguchi, a right-hander who was signed by the club back in the 2019-2020 off-season.
The NPB has also been a testing ground for former MLB players and minor league players, with some athletes choosing to play overseas rather than sit in the minor leagues or sit on the bench of a big league stint. Some players cross over and struggle to adjust, while others find their old forms and usually return to North America to attempt a second round in the MLB stage.
With that in mind, the Blue Jays are well represented in terms of former players in the NPB, some with the team as recently as the last year. Let’s take a look at how they’re doing so far in 2022.
Note that the following teams have no former Blue Jays players in the NPB: Hanshin Tigers, Chiba Lotte Marines, Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, Chunichi Dragons, Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, Yokohama DeNA Baystars, and Saitama Seibu Lions.
A current look at the former Toronto Blue Jays who have decided to take their talents overseas to Japan’s Nippon Baseball League.
Tokyo Yakult Swallows
After spending the last two seasons with the Blue Jays organization, right-hander AJ Cole took his talents abroad after an injury-riddled 2021 season, signing a one-year deal with the Yakult Swallows.
Through 15 relieved games, Cole has an impressive 2.76 ERA with 10 strikeouts and just five earned runs through 16.1 innings. While he hasn’t earned a save this year, Cole has two holds and a 1,041 WHIP.
Nori Aoki – BY
Not many Blue Jays fans might remember that Nori Aoki was once a member of the Blue Jays as he was another part of the deal that saw Francisco Liriano go to Houston and Teoscar Hernandez found his way to Toronto back at the close of trading in the 2017 The outfielder spent a month with the Jays and racked up nine hits through 32 at-bats with three homers and eight RBI before becoming a DFA in late August and subsequently being released.
Aoki returned to the Yakult Swallows (which was his original team before moving to MLB) and has been on the roster since 2018. So far this year, the left hitter owns a .210/.301/.268 slash line with five extra -base hits, six RBI and .569 OPS in 41 games while spending all his time in the outfield and a fielding percentage of 0.986 had.
Patrick Kivelehan – BY
Outfielder Patrick Kivlehan never actually played for the Blue Jays, but he did spend part of the 2019 season in the organization, which was split between the AA and AAA. He started that past campaign in the Chicago White Sox organization down in AAA but was fired in mid-April and signed with the Swallows in late April.
The former 2020 US Olympic team member has yet to qualify for the Swallows this year but has been serving time in their minor leagues instead. Through 12 at-bats, Kivlehan has three hits and two RBI.