May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and we are grateful that this demographic is celebrated and recognized every year. We’ve taken the time to do so in years past, recognizing trailblazers in baseball like Bobby Balcena, and highlighting why his impact on the game should not be ignored.
This year, however, we want to shift the lens from the past to the present. Did you know that there are currently 24 Asian Americans playing in Major League Baseball (MLB)? Furthermore, do you think you can name them and what teams they play for? Perhaps not, but that’s why we’re here. Done just in time to celebrate AAPI month, here is the 2022 edition of Asian Americans in Major League Baseball.
(Note: For this list, we chose to exclude native-born Asian players in an effort to focus on Asian Americans. For more information about Asian-born players, be sure to check out our monthly recaps of their performances!)
Catcher, Atlanta Braves
Whether you know him from being a longtime fan favorite of the New York Mets or his more recent success with the Atlanta Braves – earning a Silver Slugger in 2020 and winning the World Series in 2021 – d’Arnaud has become a respected player for multiple franchises. He has ties to the Philippines, as his mother, Marita, is Filipino American, and his brother Chase was scheduled to play for the country in the 2020 World Baseball Classic before its cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Still producing for Atlanta, d’Arnaud will likely be a veteran that sticks around for a long career.
Pitcher, Texas Rangers
Once considered one of game’s the top pitching prospects, Dunning has become a steady presence in the Texas Rangers’ rotation after being traded to the club in 2021. Making his debut for the Chicago White Sox in 2020, Dunning showed a calm presence and has a dominating pitching profile, relying on nasty sinker/slider combination – to get him out of tricky innings. Born to a Korean mother, Dunning has spoken about his desire to eventually pitch for the South Korean National Team in international play; in the meantime, he’ll keep trying to bring Texas out of the basement.
Second Base, St. Louis Cardinals
While he may just be 27, Edman – whose mother was born in South Korea – is already a St. Louis Cardinals fan favorite. The Cardinals faithful know a “gamer” when they see one, and Edman has made quite the impression since making his MLB debut in 2019, turning heads with his speed, defensive excellence, versatility, and batting ability. He got a chance to become the team’s starting second baseman in 2021 and immediately made the position his own, winning a Gold Glove for his defensive efforts and finishing second in the National League in doubles with 41. It’s only a matter of time before he locks in a major contract, so MLB teams should keep their head on a swivel for this special player.
Catcher, New York Yankees
Higashioka is one of the more interesting stories in recent baseball history: he started his career 0-for-22 at the plate, was the 24th Yankee to hit three home runs in a game, learned Japanese in order to better communicate with Masahiro Tanaka and Spanish to communicate with his Latin American teammates, and he was the first Yankee catcher to catch a perfect game since Joe Girardi. Higashioka, whose father is Japanese American, is now seeing regular playing time following the trade of Gary Sanchez to Minnesota and is already turning heads with his defense. Hopefully, his bat wakes up soon.
Infielder, Milwaukee Brewers
Hiura – who is of both Chinese and Japanese descent – is currently trying a new role with the Brewers, playing left field for the first time since college. While he may have had more experience at first and second, there’s no denying that his bat has a valuable place in the lineup, as he whacked 19 home runs in 84 games in 2019, and 13 in 59 games in 2020. While he may be a reserve in Milwaukee, there is still plenty to look forward to from the 25-year-old as he looks to regain the pure hitting ability he demonstrated as a rookie.
Outfield / 1st Base, Colorado Rockies
Joe, whose grandparents immigrated from China, has quietly become one of the best stories of the 2022 MLB season, batting leadoff for the surprisingly-strong Colorado Rockies. Seeing his first regular playing time after years of bouncing between organizations and sitting out 2020 to battle testicular cancer, Joe’s impact is felt both on and off the field, notching a .283 average and providing inspiration to his teammates in a heavyweight NL West division. This top-of-the-order sparkplug has been a favorite sleeper pick of fantasy baseball owners thus far, and should be watched as the Mile-High squad attempts to upset the top dogs in the west.
Infielder, New York Mets
After toiling in the minors for eight seasons, Katoh was an early feel-good story this season; his first major league hit – coming with the Toronto Blue Jays in April – brought tears to his eyes. The utility player said that after overcoming everything, it was not the hit itself that brought on the emotion, but the reactions of his teammates from the dugout. While he’s currently in the minors with the Syracuse Mets, his impact on the clubhouse is unmistakable, and he’ll hopefully be back in the majors soon.
Third Base, New York Yankees
Kiner-Falefa, who is of Samoan, Hawaiian, Japanese, and Caucasian descent, has made a splash with two MLB teams recently. With the Texas Rangers, he won a Gold Glove at third base in 2020 and then led MLB in singles in 2021, recording 136 with a .271 average and 20 stolen bases. After being traded to the New York Yankees in 2022, Kiner-Falefa has enjoyed regular time for the Bronx squad, and recently got the stamp of approval from manager Aaron Boone, who said that “he plays the position with speed… I think that serves him well and will continue to serve him well.”
Outfielder, Cleveland Guardians
Kwan, who has both Japanese and Chinese ancestry, has quickly become the story of the 2022 season. He had one of the most impressive debuts in the history of baseball, becoming the first player since 1901 to reach base 15 times in his first four major league games. Being named AL Rookie of the Month for April, there will be plenty of eyes on Kwan as he continues to torment pitchers with his pesky, contact-oriented approach.
Outfielder, St. Louis Cardinals
Nootbar – whose father is Dutch and mother is Japanese – is just 24 years old and has already made an impact on an upstart St. Louis squad. Regularly coming off the bench, he appeared in 58 games in 2021, including multiple pinch-hit home runs and a memorable August walk-off against the Tigers that would help spark a run to a Wild Card berth.
Currently on the taxi squad, Nootbaar could become a key fixture in a storied franchise. It’ll be exciting to see what he does next.
General Manager, Miami Marlins
Ng, whose father was Chinese American and mother is of Chinese descent (although born in Thailand), is quite the trailblazer in several categories, being the first woman and first East Asian to serve as the general manager of an MLB team (Farhan Zaidi of the Giants is Pakistani Canadian), having joined the Miami Marlins in late 2020. Ng’s impact in the role has been an inspiration to several other Asian Americans in baseball, saying things like, “someone made it to the top of the hill,” and that seeing her in such a role will inspire other young Asian Americans to take up the career, being recognized as a legitimate career path and industry. There’s no doubt that Ng will continue to inspire women and Asians in baseball for years to come.
Outfielder, Cincinnati Reds
Pham’s story is interesting enough without being the only current MLB player with Vietnamese ancestry. The Cardinals drafted him in 2006, and after a couple of struggling seasons, he was diagnosed in 2008 with keratoconus, an eye disorder that causes degenerative vision problems. Pham kept fighting, and things changed for the better after receiving a cutting-edge procedure after the 2011 season. His turnaround was deemed a “miracle” by one of his doctors. When Pham made his MLB debut at age 26 for the Cardinals in late-2014, it was one of the team’s feel-good stories of the year. Finally able to track pitches with proper vision, Pham became the club’s everyday right fielder and went on to have a monster year in 2017, becoming the first Cardinal since 1900 to record a .300 average, 20 home runs, 20 doubles, and 20 stolen bases in the same season. Causing havoc on the basepaths and inspiring his teammates, Pham is an amazing athlete to watch, and with his eyes working properly, we hope that this late-bloomer’s body allows him to play for many more years.
Second Baseman, Boston Red Sox
Making his debut as just the fourth MLB player to be born in South Korea, Refsnyder represents the true spirit of utility. In 2021, when the Minnesota Twins lost three of their center fielders, Refsnyder was thrown into the role despite never having played the position in the majors; he proceeded to hit .320 in 16 games in the position. Refsnyder’s adaptability is perhaps his greatest asset, as he’s seen time at first base, second base, shortstop, third base, center field, right field, and designated hitter. Currently in the Boston Red Sox organization, there’s no doubt that Refsnyder would be a fit in any MLB organization.
Manager, Los Angeles Dodgers
What is there to say about Roberts that hasn’t already been said? Born in Okinawa, Japan, Roberts is the first manager of Asian heritage to lead a team to a World Series title. He has been a key person on winning squads his whole career, highlighted by when he helped spark the 2004 Red Sox’s title run with his memorable stolen base in Game 4 of the ALCS.
Winning Manager of the Year in 2016 and leading the Dodgers to three World Series appearances in the last five seasons, there’s no doubting his ability to lead a team. Only one question remains: Where will he end up on the pantheon of great winners when the 49-year-old eventually calls it quits?
Catcher, Los Angeles Angels
An All-Star in 2014 and backstop of the World Series-winning 2019 Washington Nationals, Suzuki is amongst the most accomplished catchers in MLB history, being just the 16th player to record 10,000 putouts at the position and 33rd in all-time games played. The 38-year-old Suzuki, who is currently serving in a backup role with the Los Angeles Angels, is Hawaiian and a fourth-generation Japanese American, and is one of the most recognizable Asian Americans in baseball history. He is lauded for his leadership abilities and the lengths he goes to help his younger teammates.
Retired, First Asian MLB Manager
While he retired after the 2021 season, we must give tribute to one of the most respected coaches in recent MLB history. Wakamatsu, who is Japanese American, became the first Asian American manager in MLB history while with the Seattle Mariners in 2008; in doing so, many wrote of his dedication to the game and his relationships on and off the field; famed baseball executive Fred Claire stated that Wakamatsu “is well-known and highly respected within the game.” Serving in bench roles across the league, Wakamatsu won a World Series ring in 2015 with the Kansas City Royals, where he also got notoriety for his beautifully-written lineup cards (see photo below).
We are grateful for Wakamatsu’s 25+ years in the game, and wish him a happy retirement!
Pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers
White may not have the accolades just yet, but seeing as the Los Angeles Dodgers have so many pitching legends and prospects already, it is understandable that he hasn’t seen much time at the major league level. However, that doesn’t mean the half-Korean hasn’t dazzled in his limited playing time, as he posted a 3.66 ERA in 46.2 innings for the Dodgers in 2021, including a stunning 7.2=inning scoreless relief performance in August. It may be a while before the 27-year-old sees a starting role in the Dodgers’ loaded rotation, but rest assured, he is capable of being a key member of the staff.
Outfielder, Staten Island FerryHawks
Whitmore is nothing short of a trailblazer. Since 2016, she has been making regular appearances on professional baseball teams around the country, and became the first woman to start an Atlantic League game on May 1, playing in left field. Like others on this list, Whitmore is a true utility player, as she plays both left field and pitcher, being pretty good at both; in 2021, while pitching for the Portland Pickles against the Venados de Mazatlan of the Mexican Pacific League, she threw five innings without allowing a run. As of this article’s writing, the half-Filipino Whitmore (her mother is from the Philippines) is still playing for the Staten Island FerryHawks.
(Author’s note: Whitmore’s story is nothing short of remarkable, and cannot be fully acknowledged in a blurb. For more information, check out features from the New York Times, the Associated Press, and MLB.com.)
Catcher / Utility, Boston Red Sox
Wong, whose middle name is Sun-Han, is the true definition of a utility player. Sent as a top prospect to the Red Sox from the Dodgers in the Mookie Betts trade, Wong is a switch hitter, strong defender, and has played every position but pitcher in his time in the minor leagues. While he hasn’t seen too much playing time at the majors yet, there is a lot of buzz around him already, as Boston skipper Alex Cora has said that he’s done “an amazing job in the handful of games he played for us. He’s a guy we trust.”
Second Base, Milwaukee Brewers
Perhaps one of the top second-basemen in the league today, Wong – who is of Hawaiian, Chinese, Filipino and Portuguese descent – is a true defensive wizard, making plays that leave those watching completely speechless.
Winning Gold Gloves in 2019 and 2020, Wong is also known for his clutch play in key moments, whacking several walk-off home runs and late-inning RBIs that give his team the lead. Currently in the final year of his contract with the Milwaukee Brewers, he is the type of player that many teams will want on their roster next year.
Second Base, Los Angeles Angels
The brother of Kolten, Kean has yet to see regular time at the MLB level, but has racked up big numbers in the minor leagues, including a .339 batting average and a .476 slugging total in AAA in 2021. He enjoyed moderate success as a September callup with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2019, with manager Kevin Cash saying “he’s a guy we’ve known pretty well for the last couple of years… I think he deserves to be here.”
Wong then joined the Los Angeles Angels on a minor league deal, where he remains today. With a stellar bat and excellent ability to get on base, however, it is only a matter of time before he joins the big league club once more.
Pitcher, New York Mets
Yamamoto, who is Hawaiian and of half-Filipino descent with Japanese, Chinese, Spanish and Portuguese ancestry, burst onto the MLB scene as a 23-year-old rookie in 2019. Making his MLB debut with the Miami Marlins, the crafty righty threw 14 straight shutout innings with 12 strikeouts, earning the wins in his first two starts. Currently playing for the Syracuse Mets after a down year in 2021, Mets fans hope that he can return to form quite soon.
Right Field, Milwaukee Brewers
A two-time All-Star, three-time Silver Slugger winner, two-time National League batting champion, and the 2018 NL MVP, Yelich is perhaps one of the best players in the current MLB era. Yelich, whose maternal grandfather was Japanese, is nothing short of a bonafide stud. He’s also already looking to return to top-tier status this season, having hit for the cycle earlier in the year.
Who knows what’s next for the superstar?