Category > international baseball

DeNA Signs Gourriel

» 12 May 2014 » In international baseball, npb » 1 Comment

According to multiple Media outlets out of Japan (such as Nikkan Sports) the Yokohama DeNA Baystars have signed Cuban infielder Yulieski Gourriel. Nikkan Sports quotes Gourriel as saying “Japan is known as a high-level league, so I’ve always wanted to try playing there. I’m very happy to have that hope fulfilled. I appreciate the Baystars for giving me this opportunity.”

Gourriel will wear number 10 for the ‘Stars, and his arrival in Japan is of yet undecided. No other details have been announced as of yet.

For more on Gourriel and Cuban players in NPB, please see this previous post.

Continue reading...

Tags:

Updated: Baystars Negotiating with Gourriel

» 10 May 2014 » In international baseball, npb » 1 Comment

Update, Sunday 11:30pm Pacific time: Sports Hochi reports that DeNA has a basic agreement in place with Gourriel. GM Takada cautions that “he’s not signed yet”, but DeNA has a representative in Cuba to complete the deal. The Baystars plan to play Gourriel at second base, and bat him third in the order. The article also mentions that Yuliesky’s father, Lourdes, played industrial league ball in Japan for Isuzu.

Word on the street (err, Japanese media) is that the Yokohama DeNA Baystars are looking to follow the Yomiuri’s acquisition of Frederich Cepeda with a Cuban splash of their own: infielder Yulieski Gourriel. Baystars GM Shigeru Takada was quoted in Sanspo as saying, “We’re headed in a good direction. It won’t take much time. We’re going to wrap up the talks.” Nikkan Sports adds that DeNA scouted Cuba in the offseason.

Cuban defectors Leslie Anderson and Yuniesky Betancourt are currently active in NPB, but Cepeda will be the first Cuban non-defector to play in Japan since an over-the-hill Omar Linares from 2002-2004. If a DeNA is able to conclude a deal with Gourriel, it’s tempting to think that Cuba could become a new, much-needed talent stream for NPB.

From a pure baseball standpoint, I don’t think I could possibly like the idea of this signing any more for DeNA. Part of it is personal bias; Gourriel has been a favorite of mine for years and I’ve written about wanting to see him in Japan as far back as 2009. But in addition to that, Gourriel is still 29 and logically has more of his prime left than Cepeda. And he seems like a good fit for DeNA’s non-pitching needs, as their offense has been sluggish in 2014 and second base has been a hole for years*.

Kudos to Takada and DeNA for going outside the box after a talent like Gourriel. Now, if they could only apply some creative thinking to their pitching woes…

*this assumes they play him at 2b.

Continue reading...

Tags: , ,

Japan’s Independent Leagues 2014

» 09 February 2014 » In international baseball, something else » 13 Comments

Despite the steady decline in traffic to this site during it’s two years of idleness, one page that has attracted a steady stream of visitors is Ryo Shinkawa’s 2009 post on Japan’s independent leagues. Since that post is nearly five years old, I thought I’d attempt to come up with an update. I got a big helping hand from Brandon Mann, who spent the 2013 season with the Shinano Grandserows of the BC League and took the time to answer some questions about his experiences there. Thank you Brandon for your input.

Indy ball got its start in Japan in 2005, when former Seibu Lions star Hiromichi Ishige founded the four-team Shikoku Island League. The league did well enough to spawn an imitator in the Hokuriku region, the Baseball Challenge League (BC League), which started play in 2007. A third league, the Kansai Independent Baseball League, operated from 2008 to 2013, and has been supplanted by the Baseball First League, which is scheduled to play its first season this year.

The Indy leagues have become a source of talent for NPB, though a rather meagre one compared to amateur baseball and MLB and it’s affiliated minor leagues. 2012 Pacific League batting champion Katsuya Kakunaka stands out as far and away the most successful NPB player to have gotten his start in the Indy leagues, but his success seems more directly attributable to development as a pro. Kakunaka spent one year in the Island League, where he batted .253.

Some foreign players have used the Indy leagues as a path to NPB, to some success. Over the last few seasons, Francisco Caraballo, Alex Maestri and Steve Hammond signed with Orix; Edison Barrios signed with Softbank; and Chris Carter played in the BC League to prove he was healthy, which worked well enough to get him a return engagement with Seibu. Of the five players mentioned here, only Barrios lacked experience playing at 1A or above. Maestri has fared the best, and is going into his third season with the Buffaloes.

More interestingly, at least to me as an observer, is the number of players the Indy league teams have imported from non-traditional baseball countries. Some notable examples: the BC League’s Gunma Diamond Pegasus had French players Frederic Hanvi and Felix Brown, Nepal’s Iswor Thapa spent a couple seasons in the Kansai League, and last year Kagawa of the Island League signed Burmese lefty Zaw Zaw Oo. None of these players fared well, but that’s almost not important. Just the fact that they were there is something, enough to be a tiny step forward in baseball’s growth in Asia.

This post wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the fact that Tomo Ohka reinvented himself as a knuckleballer in the BC League, which led to a minor league deal with the Blue Jays. Ohka isn’t alone in: Brandon Mann parlayed his tenure with the Grandserows into a deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Red Sox and Indians have signed Japanese Indy ball prospects in the last year. So over the last five years, Japan’s Indy leagues have definitely cemented their place in the global baseball community.

That’s about where my insight into Japan’s Indy leagues ends, so I asked Brandon about his experiences.

NPB Tracker: How do American/foreign players hook on with Indy League teams?

Brandon Mann: In my situation I asked my agent if he could get me on an Indy team there. After getting released by the Nationals all i wanted was to be back in Japan. Some of my friends who have played there did a BC league tryout in California.

(ed. note: I found American tryout information for the Shikoku Island League here and the BC League here. Both tryouts have already happened, but it gives you an idea of what to expect for next year. The BC League is having a tryout in Gunma Prefecture on February 15.)

NT: I read years ago that the top pay for the Island League was about JPY 200,000 ($2000) per month. Is that accurate for the BC League?

BM: I can’t speak for Japanese players, but I was making $2,500 with incentives each month. My American teammates were making around 1,000 a month.

(ed. note: I spent some time looking into this, and found that Island League pays from JPY  100,000 to JPY 400,000 per month, and the BC League seems to start around JPY 150,000 per month, plus another JPY 50,000 in bonuses.)

NT: What is the level of play? How does it compare to US Indy ball or NPB’s ni-gun level?

BM: This is a question I get asked all the time. It’s hard to explain the level of play, because for me it was probably my worse year of my career statistically speaking. I usually explain it like this. Indy ball in the states or ni-gun NPB has much better players but the BC is more intense. Those players want it more than anyone I’ve ever played with. Baseball is truly life to these players.

NT: What are the living accommodations like?

BM: The team provided all of us foreigners with two bedroom apartments that we shared. It was about a 15 minute walk to the field which we would walk everyday. There was a Aeon across the street and that was about it for eating.

NT: Is there much of an NPB/MLB scouting presence at BC League games?

BM: I think that I saw a Boston Red Sox and a Texas rangers scout once last season. As with NPB there would be scouts depending on who was pitching usually. The coaches would tell me when they were there for me. To give an idea, most games there would be no scouts, and then we had 8-9 scouts at some games.

NT: Was it fun?

BM: Making no money, hanging banners up before every game, doing my own laundry, walking to the field and back ever day, and making no money? I loved every second of it to be honest. I absolutely love Japan and it was excited to experience a new part of life in Japan. Last season helped me to get signed with my current team and it honestly gave me a work ethic I never knew I could have.

Continue reading...

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Scot Drucker: Free Agent For Hire

» 12 January 2012 » In international baseball » Comments Off

Disclosure: Scot is currently a free agent and provided me this bio to run on the site. I have no financial interest in Scot’s contract situation, my only objective is to help out a hardworking ballplayer.

Scot Drucker, minor league veteran and world traveler, is currently a free agent and looking for a spot to play overseas this season. He just wrapped up a season in Venezuela for the Tigres de Aragua, and spent 2011 in Taiwan pitching for the Lamigo Monkeys. Scot played collegiate ball, initially at University of Florida and later transferring to the University of Tennessee, before being selected by the Oakland A’s in the 13th round of the 2004 MLB Draft. After playing four seasons with Oakland, he was picked up by the Detroit Tigers where he reached AAA with the Toledo Mudhens. Scot’s winterball travels include Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Venezuela. He has shown much versatility by closing, starting, and serving as swingman wherever he has been. He also has been a fan and clubhouse favorite everywhere he has played and actively engages his fanbase using social media.

Career line (including 2011 in Taiwan)

W L ERA Games GS GF Saves IP Hits BBs Ks
8 Seasons 42 26 4.27     209     68      68      21 627 660       172       432

RHP
6’2 200lbs
90-93 Fastball, Curveball, Slider, Change Up

Scot can be reached via email.

Continue reading...

Tags:

NPB Bullet Points: WBC Participation, All-Star Notes, Hiroshima Pitchers

» 25 July 2011 » In international baseball, mlb prospects, nichibei, npb » Comments Off

I don’t usually pay too much attention to All-Star games, but there were a few interesting items that came up over the weekend.

  • Japan’s participation in the next World Baseball Classic is up in the air, over (you guessed it) revenue sharing issues. There’s more to this story than I want to cover in a bullet point, so I’ll come back to this one in a later post.
  • Yu Darvish’s last win before the All-Star break came at the expense of fellow ace Masahiro Tanaka and the Rakuten Eagles. 44,826 spectators were in attendance, among them scouts from the Rays, Yankees, Angels, Mets, Pirates, Indians, and Diamondbacks.
  • Yakult ace Shohei Tateyama supposedly threw a total of seven gyroballs in the second All-Star game this year, though I have yet to find video of this.
  • Softbank prospect Hiroyuki Kawahara hit 155 kmph (96.3 mph) on the gun in the fourth inning of the Fresh All-Star game, tying Hirotoshi Ishii’s record for fastest pitch thrown by a Japanese lefty.
  • Alex Ramirez used a green glove in the first All-Star game.
  • Looks like All-Stars Bryan Bullington and Dennis Sarfate will both be back in Hiroshima next season. The Carp hold options on both pitchers, and they’re making it an easy choice.
And to close things out, here’s Jason Coskrey’s article on Yomiuri international scout Nate Minchey.

Continue reading...

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Brazilians in Japanese Baseball

» 01 July 2011 » In international baseball, npb » 10 Comments

Last week, a tweet asking about Brazilian ballplayers in Japan came my way (and Ken’s). I’ve maintained an interest in Brazil since David Byrne started marketing 1960’s psychodelic innovators Os Mutantes around the turn of the century, so I decided to write a little more about the subject. If nothing else, it gave me a chance to write that last sentence.

I don’t know much about baseball in Brazil, but I know that there are significant reciprocal expatriate communities in Brazil and Japan, and it’s generally known that baseball was brought to Brazil by Japanese immigrants. Although it’s not terribly common, it’s not that unusual to see players with Brazilian heritage active in the amateur ranks in Japan, particularly in high school and college ball. And Yakult has some kind of academy in Brazil, but I have no idea how active it is. That’s about the extent of my knowledge of baseball in Brazil. If anyone can enlighten me further, I’m all ears.

There are currently three Brazilian players active at the pro in Japan, all with Yakult: OF/1B/PH Yuichi Matsumoto, P Rafael Fernandes, and OF Maike Magario. Each took a different path to pro ball. Matsumoto is the elder statesman of the group, with 13 years in the Yakult organization. He’s mostly served as a pinch hitter over the last few years, but is probably the most successful Brazilian professional baseball player to date. Fernandes played college ball at Hakuoh University, where he apparently showed great velocity but little polish. Yakult drafted him as an ikusei player in 2008, and he earned a promotion to the regular roster this season. Through 38 innings at ni-gun, he has a 1.89 ERA, but command is still a problem, as he has allowed 22 walks. Magario was born in Sao Paulo but moved to Japan at age five and came up through the high school ranks, playing at Koshien and eventually getting drafted as an ikusei player. So far at ni-gun this year, Magario has a defensive replacement’s line: 25 games played, seven plate appearances.

Looking to the future, a couple of Brazilian Industrial Leaguers I’m keeping half an eye on as potential NPB draft prospects. The first is pitcher Felipe Natel of Yamaha, who has commented that he would like to go pro after meeting the residence requirements to qualify as a Japanese player, thus avoiding the foreign player limit. My Natel experience is limited to video clips that I’ve sought out, but I’d like to see a little more velocity from him. The other is outfielder Allen Fanhoni of NTT East. Fanhoni first caught my eye a few years ago when I saw him in a prefectural high school game. I probably wouldn’t have remembered him if not for his name. He doesn’t look like much of a prospect at this point, but he’s probably the biggest guy in the Industrial Leagues at 196 cm / 100 kg, only 19 years old, and relatively in experienced at higher levels of competition. If he can refine his approach and turn himself into a real power prospect, he’ll be valuable NPB commodity.

Continue reading...

Tags: , , , ,

Winter Ball

» 12 January 2011 » In international baseball, npb » 7 Comments

A topic that’s come up in the media a couple times this offseason is NPB’s role in winter ball. Japanese participation in the various international winter leagues is nothing new, but there seems to be somewhat of a renewed interest in it.

Before I get going, let me acknowledge that this is not a particularly thoroughly-researched post. If you see something that should be added, don’t hesitate to point it out.

On with the show.

I’ve picked up on two distinct threads in the current wave of winter ball interest. The first, and to me most interesting, is Softbank director of player development Itaru Kobayashi’s idea of hosting a winter league in Okinawa. In the Sponichi article I linked to, Kobayashi was quoted as saying, “I’ve told NPB and the players’ association, but (the reaction) was at a ‘that’s interesting’ level. I’ve also spoken with the major of Naha (Okinawa’s capital city). I definitely want to move towards realizing this next year.” Kobayashi’s vision calls for a four-team league that would focus on younger players, including prospects from Taiwan, Korea and Latin America.

The second, and more conventional idea is Yomiuri team representative Hidetoshi Kiyotake’s, which would have NPB sending more players to established winter leagues overseas. This isn’t a new idea, NPB clubs had players in winter leagues in Australia, Puerto Rico and the Dominican this year. The newness of Kiyotake’s idea is that he “wants all 12 teams involved” and goes as far as putting the idea of entering an all-Japanese team in a winter league on the table for discussion.

I say, why not do both? It’s certainly possible to have a league of younger prospects in Okinawa, and send a group of more advanced players to the Caribbean. Japanese teams and players tend to train pretty thoroughly throughout the offseason, in autumn team camps and players’ self-directed jishu training that typically takes place in January. Getting more players involved in competitive games against a more diverse group of opponents certainly couldn’t hurt.

Fittingly, the two teams leading these discussions were the two that sent the largest contingents of players to winter leagues this season. Softbank sent pitchers Sho Iwasaki and Shota Ohba and coach Shinji Kurano to Puerto Rico; and group of four players and one coach to Australia. Yomiuri dispatched six players, headlined by IF/OF Yoshiyuki Kamei, to Australia this winter to play for the Melbourne Aces. Both teams got some positive news back. Iwasaki won the Puerto Rican league’s MVP award top pitcher award, and his team badly wanted to keep him for the playoffs. Kamei tore apart the lower-level Australian Baseball League, and put in some infield work in preparation for the 2011 season. And taking a card out of Chunichi’s deck, the Giants also signed their players’ Melbourne teammate, lefty Adam Bright, to an ikusei contract.

Continue reading...

Tags: , , ,

Chunichi in Pursuit of “Chen The Second”

» 04 January 2011 » In international baseball, npb » 13 Comments

Alright, let me start with a admission: I stole that headline almost directly from the Sports Hochi article that I’m getting the content from.

Anyway, Chunichi has found another Chen to go after: 20 year-old Kuan-Yu Chen. Like current Chunichi star Wei-Yin Chen, Kuan-Yu is lefthanded and a product of Taiwan’s National College of Physical Education. Kuan-Yu had previously worked out for the BayStars, and multiple NPB teams are reportedly interested in him.  Chunichi team president Junnosuke Nishikawa commented “it’s true that we’re moving [on him]. If we acquire him, I think it will be under the ikusei framework.”

In an unrelated note, I found this (English language) article about Genji Kaku’s son Sou Kaku while researching Kuan-Yu on the Taiwan Baseball blog. The younger Kaku is a player on Meji University’s rugby team.

Continue reading...

Tags: , ,

Scouting Comments on Urbanus, Others

» 02 December 2010 » In international baseball, mlb prospects » 1 Comment

The news that Texas signed Dutch infielder Nick Urbanus caught my eye — Rogier van Zon told me ab out him back in 2009 when I interviewed him about Dutch baseball.

I wanted to learn more about Urbanus, so I asked an international scout about his game.

Nicky is a third-generation ballplayer. His father and grandfather are Dutch greats and he has it in his blood. He is a shortstop with very good instincts and plus makeup. Defensively he’ll be a very good middle infielder. Maybe he’ll be forced to second base for his arm, but I’d give him every chance to stick at short. He’s got very good hands and feet. He’s also a good athlete with a line drive swing to all fields. Lacks some power, but will hit his share of doubles and squares most pitches off. Seeing him handle US pitchers is going to be interesting and I really like his chances.

While I was at it, I also asked about Max Kepler, who signed with the Twins last year and made his US debut in the Gulf Coast League this year:

Kepler is an outstanding athlete with a fantastic frame. I think he’ll be a RF long term, but he has the chance to be a true 5-tool player. With him they’ll need patience, but he oozes with tools and only needs time to put things together.

Since we had gone that far, I asked who the other top European prospects currently active in the minors are:

Well, I’d have to say (Alex) Liddi and Kepler. Kepler has the best ceiling, while Liddi is obviously much closer and accomplished. I also like a few sleepers on the Twins: (Tom) Stuifbergen, (Matej) Hejma, (Andrei) Lobanov. Kai Gronauer is also an advanced defensive catcher who has to improve offensively. But several teams are working well in Europe right now and they’re catching up. It just happens that Mariners (they also signed (Greg) Halman before Liddi) and Twins were among the pioneers in European scouting and have had a strong presence for years.

Interestingly, Gronauer’s name came up in Jan Benner’s 2009 guest piece on German baseball.

Continue reading...

Tags: ,

NPB Bullet Points: News & Retirements

» 02 September 2010 » In international baseball, npb » 7 Comments

(insert witty introduction here)

Around NPB

  • Chihiro Kaneko has gotten himself in to the mix for the Pacific League’s wins title, with a career-best personal 10-game winning streak. Kaneko is now 14-7 on the season. He also has six shutouts.
  • The Giants have slumped to sub-.500 records in each of the last two months, and it’s showing on Tatsunori Hara’s face.
  • Craig Brazell cranked out his 40th bomb of the season the other day, becoming the first Hanshin foreigner to since Randy Bass back in ’86.
  • Orix righty Kazuki Kondo pitched a 144-pitch complete game loss on the 1st… and then got sent down. I didn’t see the game, but it must have been a save-the-bullpen kind of effort, as Kondo had allowed seven runs by the third inning.
  • Nippon Ham lefty Masaru Takeda has a personal seven-game winning streak going, and leads the Fighters with 12 wins.
  • Rakuten ace Masahiro Tanaka is out a minimum of three weeks with a torn pectoral muscle, and with Rakuten languishing in last place, it’s looking unlikely that he’ll pitch again this year.
  • At least one MLB club was seen watching lefty Daiki Uekida’s September 2 outing for Tokyo Gas of the Industrial Leagues. I haven’t seen Uekida but at first glance he looks like a Hisanori Takahashi type.
  • Today’s Japanese word: moudasho (mo-da-sho, 猛打賞), which means three hits in one game. An example: Lotte shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka has 22 moudasho games this season, a club record. Ichiro, of course, holds the NPB record with 26. With 21 team games left in the season, Nishioka has a shot at Ichiro’s record if he gets hot.

Player Personnel

  • Yakult is looking into re-acquiring Akinori Iwamura. Pittsburgh is set to move on from Aki after this season, and I believe Yakult still controls his NPB rights.
  • Longtime Hanshin catcher Akihiro Yano is calling it a career at the end of the season. Something of a late-bloomer, Yano made seven All-Star appearances in his 20-year career and was the runner-up for the 2003 MVP.
  • Orix ni-gun infielder Masahiro Nagata has already retired, according to a team announcement from August 31. Nagata was once a pretty decent prospect, but never made an impact at the top level.
  • Cuban pitcher Pedro Lazo is also retiring. I was planning on listing him as a dark horse to move to Japan next season, as Omar Linares and Orestes Kindelan did at the end of their careers.

Continue reading...

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,