Stars of Senbatsu

» 03 April 2011 » In Koshien »

Tomorrow’s professional baseball stars have to come from somewhere, and in Japan more often than not a young ballplayer will cut his teeth with a top high school team. The best kokoyakyu (high school baseball) teams are featured in two annual national tournaments, known colloquially as Spring and Summer Koshien. The spring tournament, or Senbatsu, is an invitational competition involving 32 teams. This year’s champion, Tokaidai Sagami, was crowned on Sunday. Here’s a look at some of the top individual performers from the just-concluded event:

Shuuto Takajo, C, Kyushu Kokusaidai Fuzoku

Though his team fell short in the final game, Kyukou’s catcher put on one of the best hitting shows of the tournament. He batted 12-for-19 (.632) over 5 games and had a stretch of 8 consecutive hits. His talent was best on display when he batted 5-for-5 with a double against Hokkai.

Yoshinao Kamata, RHP, Kanazawa

Though his team lasted only one game, it was clear from the outset that Kamata was the best professional pitching prospect this tournament had to offer. His fastball reached 150 kph, but more importantly he has good command and movement of an excellent slider and change-up. He started out fooling batters with a terrific ability to change speeds and locate his pitches. His pitch selection was intelligent.

His defense failed him, however, and by the 5th inning seemed to either run out of gas or let frustration get the better of him. His team had very little offense as well and it all lead to a 4-0 loss in which he allowed 8 hits but struck out 11. He needs to improve his stamina, but should be an exciting player to look out for this summer.

Tokaidai Sagami hitters: Hirotsugu Satoh (C) Shunta Tanaka (IF) Tetsuya Usuda (CF), Masaru Watanabe (RF)

I’m cheating a bit on this one. I had wanted to select one player to represent how powerful this team’s offense was, and I couldn’t. The team banged out a tournament record 74 hits and outscored their final two opponents by a combined score of 22-3 (46-9 overall). These four players alone, who comprise the top of the lineup, went 21-for-42 (.500) with 11 extra base hits over just those two games! In the championship game, Watanabe also played outstanding defense, making two difficult catches in deep right field and the team ran the bases very aggressively. It made a huge difference as their offensive machine steamrolled the competition.

Takumi Miyoshi, RHP, Kyushu Kokusaidai Fuzoku

It’s hard to get through Koshien without an ace, and Kyukoku had Miyoshi to lean on. The right hander started out the tournament like gangbusters, striking out 23 batters and allowing only 12 hits over his first 18 innings pitched. As the competition became tougher, his numbers dipped, but he was still able to maintain a 3.00 ERA for the tournament despite taking a 14 hit, 6 run pounding in the final game. While he didn’t hit for much average, Miyoshi clubbed two home runs of his own.

Sho Azegami, CF, Nichidai-san

The only player to outdo Takajo in a single-game performance, Azegami’s highlight game was a 6-for-6 day in a 13-2 win over Kakogawa Kita. Over the entire tournament he batted .688 (11-for-16) for his strong Tokyo team. He knocked in 6 runs while adding 3 doubles and a triple to his ledger. Over his four game stint, it added up to a 1.000 slugging percentage. Unfortunately, his team was done in by Kyukoku in the semifinal round.

Ryoma Matsuda, RHP, Hasami

Lastly, it wouldn’t be right to conclude without mentioning the stellar individual effort of Ryoma Matsuda. He was able to stifle a traditionally strong Yokohama High School in his opening game, allowing no earned runs. He showed a similar effort in the second round, surrendering two runs (1 earned). Despite this, his team bowed out of the competition by not providing him any run support that day, and Matsuda finished the tournament 1-1 with a 0.50 ERA.

** I would like to thank my friends Edwin Dizon (who can be found on Twitter as @RealEdwinDizon) and Shin for their input and insight during these past two weeks. I could not have compiled this list without their help.

A special thank you goes to Michael Westbay for once again providing all the Koshien fans a free online space to interact, watch, chat, and learn together during Senbatsu.

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