How can the Cubs know Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka is worth the risk that comes with a nine-figure investment?
They don't. Theo Epstein doesn't have a crystal ball. But the organization feels confident in the legwork they've done in vetting Tanaka.
"On the Tanaka front, you really have to trust your scouts, first and foremost," said Jason McLeod, the vice president of scouting an player development. "We have a lot of history with this player in terms of seeing him and getting looks at him. We understand the competition levels and what he's going to face here.
"If there is a team that is fortunate enough to get him, then you have to start the build-up to that, what led to the decision and what you think he's going to be.
"Everything we do is all about projection. Whether it's a 16-year-old like Eloy Jimenez, whether it's 21-year-old Kris Bryant or whether it's 25-year-old Tanaka."
Tanaka's name kept getting mentioned on Saturday at Cubs Convention, but he’s been on the radar for years. Pro scouting director Joe Bohringer has been familiar with Tanaka since he saw the young right-hander in Japan while working with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2008.
Bohringer and the Cubs have seen Tanaka every year since, including the 2013 World Baseball Classic, where he competed against some of Major League Baseball's best players.
"Any time we had a chance to see him get in an arena like that,” Bohringer said, “where we knew he was facing major league caliber players and watching his success or failure, that gives us a better idea of how he would actually be if we translate it to the major leagues.
“Tanaka is still a prospect. But because he's played at such a higher level of competition, it makes us feel a little more comfortable with our overall evaluation for how it's going to translate."
The Cubs believe the organization's top pitching prospects — right-handers C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson — carry more risk than Tanaka simply because they don't have the same track record of success against top competition.
"In Tanaka's case, although Japan is not the major leagues, it is an established pro league," Bohringer said. "We have a track record of players like Hideo Nomo and Hiroki Kuroda and Yu Darvish that had dominated in Japan and come over and established themselves in the major leagues.
"The advantage we have with Tanaka — and why Tanaka will probably get a bigger contract — (is) he has less risk because we've had a chance to see him against higher competition."