Who is the player known as The Lizard King?
A lot of Major League Baseball's attention in the early stages of free agency surround Shohei Ohtani, the Japanese two-way star, and his decision on were he will chose to play in the 2018 season. At the same time, there is another pitcher from Nippon Professional Baseball League who could draw interest for teams seeking starting pitching assistance.
Miles Mikolas, 29, is nowhere near a household name in Japan like Ohtani but he broke out as an ace in his three years playing for the Yomiuri Giants. He posted a 2.18 ERA in his 424 1/3 innings for the Giants and is coming off a season in which he went 14–8 with a 2.25 ERA, 9.0 SO/9 and 1.1 BB/9 in 188 innings pitched.
He wouldn't be a total stranger to fans in the United States. He was a member of the San Diego Padres organization after being drafted in the seventh round of the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft out of high school in Florida. He worked his way from the low levels of Single A to the Major League roster as a reliever in 2012. He went 2–1 with a 3.62 ERA in 25 games before heading back to the minors. He only pitched in two major league in 2013 and in the offseason was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates and shortly thereafter to the Texas Rangers.
Up until this point in his career, there isn't a whole lot that has stood out about Mikolas except for the fact that he once ate a lizard. This would later result in his nickname "The Lizard King" in San Diego and then Japan.
Mikolas joined the Rangers rotation by July and made ten starts but struggled to a 2–5 record with a 6.44 ERA. He was sent back to Triple A and was released after the 2014 season.
Five days after his release, he signed a one-year deal with the Yomiuri Giants and went 13–3 in his first season. His control improved and he finished the year with 1.4 BB/9 and 6.6 K/9. The Giants decided to re-sign him to a two-year deal worth about $5 million and he posted his best season in 2016.
A few MLB teams could have Mikolas on their shopping list. The Chicago Cubs could make sense, according to NBC Chicago's Patrick Mooney and Jesse Rogers of ESPN. Mikolas would be a name familiar to the Cubs front office since he was a prospect when Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod were in charge for the 2010 and 2011 seasons. The Milwaukee Brewers and Oakland Athletics are also teams that could use Mikolas as backend of the rotation option.
Jon Heyman of Fan Rag Sports estimated that Mikolas could draw $7.5 million to $8 miillion for two years and draws comparisons to Colby Lewis. Lewis pitched for the Rangers, Tigers and Athletics from 2002 to 2007 before heading to Japan's Central League for two seasons and then returned to pitch for the Rangers from 2010 to 2016.