Category > amateur baseball

NPB Bullet Points: Imaoka Released, Williams Too?

» 02 September 2009 » In amateur baseball, npb » 2 Comments

In Japanese:

  • Amid rumors of his retirement, Hanshin has released infielder Makoto Imaoka. Reportedly no other teams are interested in picking him up. Imaoka was a big time contributor to Hanshin’s Central League championships in 2003 and 2005, so if this is really the end of the road for him it’s a shame for him to go out this way.
  • Jeff Williams has headed back to the States for arm surgery, but wants to return to Hanshin for next season: “the decision was made about a week ago. Of course I want to avoid surgery and it’s not something I want to do, but I think surgery is the direction we’re going in. My goal is take the mound in a Tigers uniform again next season.” Despite Williams’ productive seven-season run with the Tigers, rumors persist that the team will not exercise their option on his services for next season.
  • Sho Nakata set a ni-gun record by hitting his 28th homer of the year for Nippon Ham’s farm team.
  • Bobby Valentine’s replacement in Chiba: Marines head coach Norifumi Nishimura.
  • Honda won this year’s Industrial League Intercity Championship. Hisayoshi Chono was the top batter.

In English:

  • Gen has set up a new blog at
  • Yesterday on my morning commute, I happened to tune to NPR, where Michael Krasny was discussing Japan’s recent elections with a panel of experts. My commute is 30 minutes so I only caught half of the program, but it can be listened to online.
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Pro vs. College All-Stars

» 01 September 2009 » In amateur baseball, npb, sports business » Comments Off on Pro vs. College All-Stars

Celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Central and Pacific Leagues, the NPB young stars will take the field against a university all-star team on November 22nd at the Tokyo Dome. The NPB team will mainly consist players under the age of 26 and the candidates for the team include Masahiro Tanaka (Rakuten Golden Eagles) and Hayato Sakamoto (Yomiuri Tokyo Giants). The university team should include Yuuki Saito and players (Junior or below) who will be eligible for the World University Championship taking place in Japan next year.

Each team will select 24 players and current Tokyo Yakult Swallows manager Shigeru Takada will manage the pros and current Kinki University manager Tamotsu Enomoto will lead the university team.

On August 30th, Japan Student Baseball Association approved a revision the Japan Student Baseball Charter and the change will allow the professionals to build relationship with a student-athletes with practices and games. There have been numerous revisions to the charter, but not in an extreme way which allowed the pros to exchange time together on the field with high school and college amateur players. However with the recent movements of amateur players opting to go straight to the United States, the last thing NPB wants to see are college prospects leaving the country without playing in the NPB. In order to avoid that, building a stronger relationship with the Japan Student Baseball Association was a must.

This will be an interesting attempt for both sides and a big crowd is expected as a possible Masahiro Tanaka vs. Yuuki Saito showdown might be seen again, bringing back memories for the fans of the memorable 2006 summer Koshien Tournament. The same generation choosing different paths after graduating from high school taking to the same field should bring numerous stories to the Tokyo Dome on November 22nd.

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World Cup Roster

» 30 August 2009 » In amateur baseball, international baseball » 17 Comments

The Japanese roster for the 38th IBAF World Cup has been announced. The schedule overlaps with the college baseball fall league, so the 24 players on the roster are all from the industrial leagues.


  • RHP Hirofumi Yamanaka (Honda Kumamoto) Video Clip
  • LHP Atsushi Tanaka (Panasonic)
  • LHP Takashi Saitoh (JR East)
  • LHP Tetsu Anan (Nippon Tsuun) Video Clip
  • RHP Rikiya Chikugawa (Honda)
  • RHP  Hirotoshi Masui (Toshiba)
  • RHP Tomohisa Ohtani (Toyota) Video Clip
  • LHP  Hiroyuki Kamekawa (Mitsubushi Jyukou-Yokohama)
  • RHP Eiichi Hirai (Fuji Jyukou)
  • RHP Motoki Higa (Hitachi Seisakusho) Video Clip


  • Ryo Saeki (Honda)
  • Kenji Suzuki (Nihon Tsuun)
  • Go Yamaoka (Shinnihon Sekiyu ENEOS)


  • Ken Kume (Mitsubishi Jyukou-Nagasaki)
  • Yoshiaki Sawamura (Nihon Tsuun)
  • Shiro Mori (Panasonic) Video Clip
  • Kentaro Miyazawa (Shinnihon Sekiyu ENEOS)
  • Tsutomu Sasaki (Mitsubushi Jyukou- Yokohama)
  • Kenichi Yokoyama (Mitsubushi Jyukou- Kobe)


  • Hisayoshi Chono (Honda) Video Clip
  • Yoshinobu Kotegawa (Honda)
  • Keiji Ikebe (Shinnihon Sekiyu ENEOS)
  • Ikuhiro Kiyota (NTT East Nippon)
  • Sho Aranami (Toyota) Video Clip

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Pitch Counts at Koshien

» 28 August 2009 » In amateur baseball, international baseball, Koshien, pitching » 3 Comments

The response we received to my recent article about pitch counts reaffirmed to me that the subject is of interest to baseball fans. To continue on the topic, I will take a look at the Koshien High School Tournament, which is known to be grueling for pitchers.

49 teams representing each prefecture (Tokyo and Hokkaido with two each) qualify for the single-elimination tournament. There was a total of 48 games in the tournament. In those 48 games, 48 complete games were thrown. Naoki Itoh from runner-up Nippon Bunri was the hardest-working pitcher this year, throwing five total complete games including the final and averaged for 131 pitches per game. In the 48 complete games thrown, pitchers averaged a total of 127.88 pitches per game.

The most grueling game of the tournament was thrown by Hayato Shoji (Tokoha Gakuen Tachibana), who already had two complete games in the books when he threw 211 pitches in a twelve inning game. Ironically, Shoji had the most efficient complete game as well, with a 98-pitch effort. The face of this year’s tournament, Yusei Kikuchi of Hanamaki Higashi, threw three complete games (124, 118, 125 pitches) and was looking for more until he started suffering from back pain.

The Koshien Tournament is always an emotional dramatic event, but is it safe for pitchers such as Shoji to be throwing that much? There are handful of promising pitchers in the Koshien Tournament who will make it to the professional stage and may develop into key players in NPB or even the majors. Even though the injury suffered by Kikuchi does not look serious, evaluating a limit on  pitch counts at a high school tournament where the top teams will play up to six games in the fifteen days should be something we should consider about thinking about the future that lies for the face of Japanese baseball.

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Kikuchi Decides on Japan?

» 25 August 2009 » In amateur baseball, international baseball, mlb prospects, npb draft » 1 Comment

Daily Sports has comments from Yusei Kikuchi suggesting that he’s decided on beginning his pro career in Japan: “It’ll be after I consult with my parents and manager, but I’m thinking domestic. In the future I think I’ll go to the Majors if I can, but after building my strength domestically.”

There were some hints on Kikuchi’s direction in yesterday’s news, but it seemed like observers basically took his comments and interpreted what the wanted to hear (Gen comments on this as well). If this most recent revelation is true, I think it’s the right choice for Kikuchi. I’ll go into once the story is confirmed.

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Ni-Gun Baseball

» 25 August 2009 » In amateur baseball, international baseball, npb » 12 Comments

We mentioned on twitter that Yu Darvish will have his turn in the rotation skipped to work on his form in Nippon Ham’s ni-gun practice facility, so in this post I will address how the ni-gun is structured in Japanese baseball. In the NPB, there is no Triple-A, Double-A, or Single-A; there is the ni-gun, meaning “second troop”. The top level, major league-equivalent teams are known as ichi-gun or “first troop”.

Two leagues exist in the NPB minor league system: the Eastern and the Western Leagues. The statistics and schedule are available in Japan here. Here are some details of the two leagues:

The Eastern League (Operated by the Central League)

  • Composed of seven ni-gun teams: the Lotte Marines, BayStars, Giants, Fighters, Swallows, Lions and the Golden Eagles
  • The league started in 1955 as the “Shin Nippon League” with the concept of NPB teams developing their young players
  • The league was not able to continue due to financial reasons, but started back up again in 1961 with five teams, and added the Lions in 1979 and the Golden Eagles in 2005

The Western League (Operated by the Pacific League)

  • Five ni-gun teams: the Dragons, Tigers, Buffaloes, Carp, and the Hawks
  • The league was founded in 1952 as the “Kansai Farm League” with seven teams not affiliated with the NPB
  • With teams leaving for the “Shin Nippon League,” the Western League turned to the NPB and reorganized as a minor league system for the then-14 teams in the NPB and seven teams would be part of the Western League
  • The Western League lost the Lions due to the NPB team moving to Saitama and the merger of Buffaloes and Blue Wave led to the league contracting to five teams from 2005

With both leagues operating with an odd number of teams, the team with no game scheduled often plays against amateur industrial league teams belonging to the JABA (Japanese Amateur Baseball Association). Although the existence of these ni-gun teams are similar to minor leagues from a player development standpoint, the business behind the operations of these teams is completely different from the world of US minor league baseball.

Even though Minor League Baseball teams here in the States are affiliated with a MLB team they operate business as independent organizations. Minor League ball clubs has their own websites, stadiums, and in most cases their hometowns. However, the ni-gun differs in many ways compared to the operations of a minor league team as they usually do not operate independently and are run as more of a practice and development facility for the NPB teams. The only team name differing from its affiliated ball club is the Shonan Shirex and they don’t even have their own website.  A scene of announcing the starting lineup at the ballpark can be seen here and it is quite a bit different from an atmosphere you may be able to experience at a minor league game. Even though the Nippon Ham Fighters’ ni-gun team, playing at Kamagaya Stadium, is attempting to operate like a minor league ball club with promotions and events in a “Minor League” style, those types of ni-gun teams are still rare.

With only twelve teams at the professional level in NPB, there are few opportunities for players to make a living by just playing baseball. Teams are making efforts to provide playing time for young players like the Chiba Lotte Marines and the Yomiuri Giants working together forming a new team called Sirius for ikusei players and younger players to get game experience. However, with teams being limited in their roster spots and the future looking certain that there will not be a new team joining NPB anytime soon, independent leagues and ni-gun teams operating independently is one possible area of growth for professional baseball in Japan. If the number of professional teams increases in Japan outside of NPB, more players will have the opportunity to play at a higher level and the game will grow popularity around the country. Will the new development of independent leagues impact the state of professional baseball in Japan, and will ni-gun baseball begin evolving into a business of its own?

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Kikuchi’s Future

» 25 August 2009 » In amateur baseball, mlb prospects » 1 Comment

Koshien is over, and inevitably the media has turned the spotlight back to the injured Yusei Kikuchi, overshadowing the fantastic finale of the tournament.

Kikuchi has already commented on his future, but before we get to that, let’s take a glimpse into the world of the Japanese media. Check out the contrast between these two headlines, both featured prominently on Yahoo! Japan Sports:

Sports Hochi: “Hanamaki Higashi’s Yu Kikuchi Will First be a Star in Japan! ‘There Are Things Left to Do’.” (花巻東・菊池雄、まず日本の星になる!「やり残したものある」)

Sanspo: “A Japan-US Battle! Hanamaki Higashi’s Kikuchi Wants to go to The Majors” (日米争奪戦!花巻東・菊池、メジャー行きたい)

These two publications have distilled out very different headlines from roughly the same content. Sports Hochi is owned by the Yomiuri media conglomerate, the same corporation that operates the Yomiuri Giants, one of the NPB teams that has been after Kikuchi’s services. So they have a vested interest in a headline like that. Sanspo, on the other hand, is somewhat prone to sensationalism.

With that, let’s look at what Kikuchi actually said.

As quoted in Hochi: “if possible, I feel like I want to go (to the Majors) soon. But to go right away is a big risk. I could build a solid foundation in Japan. But it’s something I’ll consult with my manager and parents on and decide…”

Sanspo has the same statement, but followed by “I kind of think I’d like to become a poster boy for high school baseball. Tazawa-san’s self-belief is amazing.” Sanspo also adds, “I know that I’ve been regarded (by big league teams). I want to study the draft system. If I go to the US (now), it will be a problem when I come back to Japan. I want to study that area.”

And the last quote I’ll translate is this one from Hochi: “I finished high school baseball with an injury. It feels like I have unfinished business in in Japan.”

Both articles agree that Kikuchi will decide what to do in about a week’s time.

Meanwhile, Draft Reports compiled some data indicated that Kikuchi appears as a first-round pick candidate for every NPB team except the Giants, who remain locked in on Hisayoshi Chono. I’m not sure I buy that, Kikuchi is clearly a better prospect than Chono. Kikuchi has gotten attention from reportedly more than eight MLB teams, including the Cubs, Yankees, Giants, Dodgers, Braves, and Mets, with reports calling the Dodgers and the Mets the most interested.

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NPB Bullet Points: Koshien Wraps Up, Dragons Get Sick Too

» 24 August 2009 » In amateur baseball, international baseball, Koshien, npb » 1 Comment

Koshien wrapped up yesterday with a wild finale. If you missed it live, you can still check it out in the archives. Standard url-tweaking applies. On to the links…

Japanese Articles:

English Articles:

  • Goro Shigeno live-blogged yesterday’s Koshien final. Despite losing, Nihon Bunri put a great never-say-die effort.
  • With Koshien over, Japan will send a team of high school all-stars to Compton, CA for a three-game series against US all-stars. Gen has the Japanese roster, and before you ask, no Yusei Kikuchi will not take part, ostensibly due to his back injury.
  • Toshiya Sugiuchi struck out 15 Nippon Ham Fighters on Sunday and has quietly put up another excellent season.
  • I’m no Deanna, but I’ve travelled a bit and taken a few pictures. I decided to share a few of the better ones as desktop backgrounds. Give ’em a look if you’re interested.
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More Kikuchi News: Back Ache and Mets Interest

» 22 August 2009 » In amateur baseball, Koshien » 4 Comments

Hanamaki Higashi has advanced to the semi-finals at Koshien, but not without a little scare — ace pitcher and current MLB scout darling Yusei Kikuchi left the mound in the fifth inning with back pain. Third baseman Takuro Sarukawa took to the hill and finished the game as Hanamaki won in extra innings.

Kikuchi did not appear to be seriously hurt as he watched the game from the top step of the dugout and even joined the team for a conference on the mound. He had his back x-rayed, but no irregularities were found. Said Kikuchi,”there was pain, so just in case, I had it checked. Tomorrow I’m going to take care of my body and not throw. I will consult with my manager about the semi-final game.” I’d be surprised if he doesn’t play.

Meanwhile, Mets GM Omar Minaya has commented on having some interest in the lefty.Gossipy publication ZakZak quotes Minaya as saying, “I haven’t seen him throw myself, but I’ve heard his name. He wants to come to the majors? If so we’ll continue watching him”. Mets Pacific Rim Scout Isao Ojimi commented “I don’t thoughtlessly tell high school students ‘come to the majors’. However he [Kikuchi] is different. If his hope it is to take the challenge, it would be a waste not to.”

I’m going to shelve this topic until the end of Koshien, and just enjoy the rest of the tournament. We’ll see what happens after that.

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