The Nippon Baseball League, Japanse highest level of professional baseball, has yielded tons of talented players that have succeeded within Japan and have also found success overseas in Major League Baseball. While the Blue Jays have not dipped their feet too far into the international pool when it comes to baseball players from Japan, their most recent experience was with Shun Yamaguchi, a right-hander signed by the club back in 2019/2020 offseason.
The NPB has also been a proving ground for former MLB players and minor league players alike, with some athletes choosing to play overseas rather than in the Minor Leagues or on the bench of a big-league time. Some players go over and struggle to adapt while others find their old forms, usually returning back to North America to try a second round at the MLB stage.
With all that in mind, the Blue Jays are well represented in the NPB in terms of former players, some with the team as recently as last year. Let’s take a look at how they are doing so far in 2022.
Note, that the following teams in the NPB do not feature any past Blue Jays players: 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 former Toronto Blue Jays who have decided to take their talents overseas to the Nippon Baseball League in Japan.
Tokyo Yakult Swallows
A.J. Cole – RHP
After spending the past two seasons with the Blue Jays organization, right-hander A.J. Cole took his talents overseas after an injury-filled 2021 campaign and signed a one-year deal with the Yakult Swallows.
Through 15 games in relief, Cole owns an impressive 2.76 ERA with 10 strikeouts and just five earned runs through 16.1 innings. While he has not earned a save on the year, Cole has two holds and boasts a 1.041 WHIP.
Nori Aoki – OF
Not many Blue Jays fans may remember that Nori Aoki was once a member of the Blue Jays, as he was an additional piece of the deal that saw Francisco Liriano head to Houston and Teoscar Hernandez find his way to Toronto back at the trade deadline in 2017. The outfielder spent one month with the Jays, collecting nine hits through 32 at-bats with three home runs and eight RBI before being DFA’d at the end of August and subsequently released.
Aoki returned to the Yakult Swallows (that was his original team before moving to the MLB) and has been on the roster since 2018. So far this year, the lefty batter owns a .210/.301/.268 slash line with five extra-base hits, six RBI, and a .569 OPS through 41 games while spending all his time in the outfield sporting a .986 fielding percentage.
Patrick Kivlehan – OF
Outfielder Patrick Kivlehan technically never played for the Blue Jays but he spent part of the 2019 season in the organization split between AA and AAA. He did start this past campaign in the Chicago White Sox organization down in AAA but was released in mid-April, signing with the Swallows in late April.
The former United States 2020 Olympic team member has yet to suit up for the Swallows this year but has instead spent time in their Minor Leagues. Through 12 at-bats, Kivlehan has three hits and two RBI.