Draft Prospects: Interesting Names

» 06 June 2010 » In amateur baseball, npb draft »

By a wide margin, the Japanese-language blog I read the most is Draft Report. If you haven’t seen the site before and can read Japanese, I highly recommend checking it out. It’s like an MLBTR-style aggregation site for NPB draft prospects.

Names with katakana in them always catch my eye, and I’ve noticed five so far this year. Not all these guys will be in the draft his year and it’s possible/probable that some won’t be drafted ever, but they come from unique backgrounds, which is what caught my attention.

  • Hugo Kanabushi, LHP, Hakuoh University: Kanabushi is a Japanese-Brazilian who went to Japan for high school, and is now at the same university that produced Yakult farmhand Rafael Fernandez (Hakuoh University has a couple other Brazilian-looking names on its roster as well). According to Draft Reports, Kanabushi hides the ball well and has a fastball that stretches to about 145 kmph, plus a slow curve. Command is listed as an issue for him.
  • Felipe Natel, RHP, Yamaha: Another Brazilian, Natal is a rather diminutive righthander with a delivery that is somewhat reminiscent of El Duque Hernandez’s. Natal will most likely sit out this year’s draft and play another year of shakaijin ball, since next year he will meet the residence requirements to escape the foreign player framework and qualify to as a Japanese player.
  • Fionn Ryuji Boylan, RHP, Kwansei Gakuin: Born and raised in Osaka to a Japanese mother and Irish father, Boylan is a pitcher who idolizes Kyuji Fujikawa. He spent his junior high school years in Ireland playing rugby, so he has a bit of a different pedigree than other pitchers his age. Draft Report says that we should see his velocity increase as he adds strength.
  • Jose Gonzalez, RHP Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Yokohama: Gonzalez is a 30 year-old alumni of the Hiroshima Carp’s Dominican Academy, and is in his third year of industrial league ball and residence in Japan. Similarly to Natal, Gonzalez is two years away from being able to enter the draft without the foreign player constraints. If he does enter the NPB draft, it’ll be the first case (that I can think of) of a former Carp Academy player to do so. I don’t think it’s often we see a former Academy player in the Industrial Leagues either, though Dioni Soriano and Wilfreiser Guerrero are recent examples of Academy players who reached NPB through Japan’s independent leagues. Gonzalez is a big guy (188cm) with a big fastball (maxing out at 153 kmph), so at least superficially he seems like a prospect despite his age.
  • Justin Nakano RHP, Koujou high school (Kanagawa): For Nakano I’ll borrow this from the excellent Goro Shigeno Koukou Yakyu site: “Yes, this is another case where a person has an American father although unlike Minami at Urawa Gakuin, Justin doesn’t appear to have the stature bonus. He can touch 140 with his fastball and compliments it with a sharp slider as well as a curve.”

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  1. Patrick
    07/06/2010 at 7:52 pm Permalink

    Here’s something I’ve always wondered about. Almost all American-Japanese players in the NPB were military brats. It’s against the odds for the following two reasons. If a marriage stays intact, it’s unlikely that children grow up to be baseball players in Japan (cf. Dave Roberts, etc.). Marriages between the US military personnel and Japanese civilians constitute only a small fraction of marriages between US and Japanese citizens. I know it wasn’t against the odds soon after the WWII, but we have a half Iranian player now.

    Any personal insights?

  2. Patrick
    07/06/2010 at 8:18 pm Permalink

    Then again, it does require some physical fitness to be in the military, so maybe the military brats have an athletic genetic advantage compared to non-military international kids.

    Father Darvish was a pro soccer player, so there is definitely athleticism there too.

  3. Patrick
    07/06/2010 at 8:28 pm Permalink

    Certainly, military is not the only place where physical fitness is required. US civilians who come to Japan could have played varsity sports just like Mr. Darvish, although, maybe last 10 years or so, they tend to be “nerds” due to the popularity of Japanese anime, etc.

  4. Patrick
    07/06/2010 at 9:53 pm Permalink

    Well, one example is Robert Boothe, a product of a Japanese baseball upbringing who is now in the Dodgers system. His father played minor league ball but I don’t think was in the military.

    I don’t exactly get the question though. Is it “why haven’t we seen more non-military American-Japanese NPB players?”

    First off, I have my doubts about your assertion that marriages between military personnel and Japanese citizens are a minority of American-Japanese marriages. I checked Wikipedia, and as of 2009 there were ~36,000 military personnel stationed in Japan, plus another 5500 civilians employed by the Dept of Defense. By contrast, I worked for Nova (language school) between 2001-2003, which at the time was the largest employer of foreigners in Japan, and Nova had something like 3600 foreigners on the payroll. I would also guess that Americans made up less than half of Nova’s foreign employees as well. These stats don’t say anything about marriages or residents with other occupations, but I always felt that the military was the largest demographic of Americans in Japan.

  5. Patrick
    07/06/2010 at 10:55 pm Permalink

    – Is it “why haven’t we seen more non-military American-Japanese NPB players?”


    – First off, I have my doubts about your assertion that marriages between military personnel and Japanese citizens are a minority of American-Japanese marriages.

    Well, the majority of those who are on the military career track are already married before coming to Japan. There is also a social stigma of marrying the US military personnel in Japan. If you take those factors into account, the number of those who can marry a Japanese civilian is not that big. Of course, we would like to know some of census, but I couldn’t find any.

    No matter what the exact number is, the fact that there have been almost no non-military American-Japanese NPB players is still striking when there is a half Indian player.

  6. Patrick
    07/06/2010 at 11:36 pm Permalink

    Felipe is Natel, not Natal (do you have Xbox on your brain? Just kidding…) And the tag for “Boy-chan” should be Fionn, not Fillon.

    Hmmm, Nakano is half? Uragaku’s Minami is only one quarter American, but taller, kind of like Yuki Kuniyoshi who just got drafted by the Baystars, who is also a quarter American and really tall.

    Also, uhh… one major question is “why haven’t we seen more half-Japanese players?” in the first place, and I think a big part of that is that simply, until recently, and even still, really, not being fully Japanese in Japan is seen as a social stigma. I don’t know this for sure, of course, but I could totally see how in the past a half-Japanese guy may have not wanted to join a sports club in school just because he wouldn’t fit in or want to call attention to himself. (I’ve certainly observed that on the JHS level.) Half-Japanese baseball players often tried to hide that fact if they could — take Hideki Irabu as an example, or how Don Nomura used to play baseball under the name “Katsuaki Itoh”. I still don’t entirely understand how, say, Sachio Kinugasa was viewed in his prime. Denney Tomori also went by “Yui Tomori” in his early playing days.

    Seeing katakana names in the draft is really a relatively recent phenomenon over here, really. Katakana names indicated a foreign suketto for the most part for a very, very long time.

    There are a LOT of Brazilian-Japanese guys in the industrial leagues. I kind of wonder how many of them will make it pro in the future.

  7. Patrick
    08/06/2010 at 8:12 am Permalink

    Deanna — made your corrections. Though I’m afraid I don’t get your X-Box reference.

    Here’s a quote from Wikipedia’s page on interracial marriages (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interracial_marriage#Japan):

    “In 2003, there were 36,039 international marriages between Japanese and non-Japanese in Japan – about one out of twenty marriages. About 80% of these interracial marriages involved a Japanese male marrying a foreign female (predominantly Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Thai and Brazilian), and 20% involve marriage to a foreign husband (predominantly Korean, American, Canadian, Chinese, Egyptian, Iranian, British and Brazilian).[25]”

    The page this references resolves to a 404 error. That’s the extent of the data I’ve found on the subject, though I haven’t looked very hard.

    If you search “ハーフ” on Draft Report, you get a lot more results than I have in this post. So maybe we’ll see more “openly” half-Japanese players in future generations.

    Perhaps Deanna’s comment is an indirect response to passer-by’s original comment. Irabu, for example, was abandoned by his father and took his step-father’s name. Maybe having a Japanese name allowed him to assimilate a little bit more. Maybe if his parents had stayed together he wouldn’t have grown up in Japan. These are just “what ifs” so don’t take them too seriously.

    Another point is that Darvish has said that he tried to fit in with the other Japanese kids by being good at baseball. So there’s that perspective as well.

  8. Patrick
    08/06/2010 at 9:07 pm Permalink

    I kinda wonder why so many Brazilian baseball players end up going through Hakuoh — I mean, looking at the college they seem to have decent international studies, but… it’s kind of like how Hachioji HS also seems to turn out a lot of non-Japanese baseball players.

    Still, looking at Hakuoh’s roster right now:

    I spot at least 6 Brazilians:
    Hugo Kanabushi
    Oscar Nakaoshi
    Alex Yun Nakashima
    Welisson Viana
    Henrique Tsutomu Yoshida

    and coach Renan Isamu Satoh (brother of former Yakult player “Tsugio”).

    I mean, I think it’s cool, I just wonder whether there is some kind of connection there.

    BTW, Patrick, some stats from the Japan Ministry of Labor and Welfare on marriages…

    It’s up to 2006 but has numbers all the way from the 1950s. In the 2006 count, there were 36000 or so cases of Japanese men marrying foreign women — but 80% of those were Asian women. There were 8700 counts of Japanese women marrying foreign men… but only 40% of those were to Asian men, about 17% being to American men. The other way around, Japanese men marrying foreign women, less than half a percent were to American women.

    Kind of crazy, really.

    Maybe Simon would be better suited to talk about this stuff than me, though…

    Oh, the Natal reference was to the new XBox “controller” that involves all motion-capture and no physical controller. Google “Project Natal”, it’s supposed to be the next big thing, but I don’t actually have an Xbox so it doesn’t much matter to me.

  9. Patrick
    08/06/2010 at 9:49 pm Permalink

    Thanks for sharing that page Deanna.

    You know what jumps out at me there? The rate of Japanese women marrying American men has remained fairly constant relative to all the other nationalities over the time studied. The most marriages were in the first year of the study, Showa 45 (which is actually 1970), before the US turned Okinawa back over to Japan. It actually tailed off a little bit before rebounding at Heisei 7, which I think would be 1996.