Who is Yusei Kikuchi?
Barring Junichi Tazawa, more has been written in the North American press about Yusei Kikuchi than perhaps any other amateur Japanese baseball player. And by the time he signs, I think Kikuchi will have surpassed Tazawa in ink. Most of what’s been written to this point, including what’s been on this site, is of the “Kikuchi is could change the baseball landscape” variety. Despite all the press, we still haven’t seen much about Kikuchi the individual. Here’s a crack at changing that.
Here in the States, it’s becoming more common to get to know top players before they reach the big leagues, and in some cases, before they are drafted. But the hype around Kikuchi is at a different level. Because of his two appearances at the Koshien high school tournament, Kikuchi was already well known as an amateur player, and this US-Japan cliffhanager has made him a regular news item. The closest parallel I can think of to this situation in the US would be a top college basketball player who’s gained stardom through the NCAA tournament.
I watched Kikuchi pitch as much as I could during this year’s Koshien tournament. He does throw hard, during the games I watched his fastball ranged between about 87 – 96 mph (142-155 kmph). He did get a bit wild when throwing at the higher end of his range and I think he may have a tendency to overthrow at times. Perhaps this contributed to the back strain he suffered during the tournament. This video shows Kikuchi throwing his fastball mostly around 90mph, down in the zone with good command.
In addition to the heater, Kikuchi mixes in a slider and a curveball. He has good movement on both pitches needs to work on commanding them. During Koshien, he would go through stretches where he threw mostly breaking pitches; Goro Shigeno suggested at some point that he may have been trying to polish up his secondary stuff in anticipation of beginning his professional career.
He also has a goofy eephus pitch that I didn’t see him throw at Koshien.
Kikuchi is a studious kid who reads 10 books per month and doesn’t watch TV. From what I’ve read, he seems to be a conscientious kid as well. The Nikkan Sports Draft Guide’s blurb on him leads off with an anecdote about how the writer was standing while watching Kikusei throw a bullpen session. Without saying anything, Kikuchi walked left the mound, and returned a few minutes later with a folding chair, offering it to the writer to sit in.
The May 25 issue of Shukan Baseball ran this lengthy quote on how he wants to conduct himself: “When I returned to Iwate (following the 2007 Koshien Tournament), even in town I heard people say ‘thank you for the excitement’. Of course through baseball, it’s a reality that my opportunities to be seen by the people around me have increased. I’m aiming for the pros after high school, but if I’m just messing around, the people who see me will think ‘even that kind of guy can go’. So I want to take action to live a responsible daily life and become a role model so the message will be ‘if I’m like Yusei I can go pro'”.
Kikuchi has waffled a bit on his decision between NPB and MLB, so take the above with a grain of salt. But he does seem like a decent kid.
Born in Iwate Prefecture on June 19, 1991. Bats and throws lefthanded. 184 cm (6’0 ) tall, 82 kg (180 lbs). Hobbies include reading, reads 10 books per month. Favorite baseball player is veteran lefty Kimiyasu Kudoh. Future dream is to become a major leaguer. (source: May 25, 2009 issue of Shukan Baseball)