Category > npb draft

Time To Start Writing Again

» 02 April 2013 » In npb draft » 7 Comments

Well, it’s been a while. Life has kept me hectically busy, but every once in a while I get the urge to express myself creatively by way of printed word again, so I’ve decided to attempt to begin again.

The change this time around is that what I post will probably be less straight translation of news events, and more commentary and writing writing. I hope I turn out to be good at it.

Here’s what I have in mind for the next couple months:

  • The influx of rookies into NPB and the true changing the guard it signifies.
  • Tomohiro Anraku and the cautionary tales of Koshiens passed.
  • How Nippon Ham persuaded Shohei Ohtani to remain in Japan and whether it will work or not.
  • How to become a consumer of Japanese baseball without speaking a word of Japanese.
  • The pending internationalization of NPB.
  • The Major League futures of Masahiro Tanaka and Yoshio Itoi.
  • More Yakyu Nihongo lessons.
  • Finally follow up on this post from 2009.
  • Some reflection on my baseball “expertise”.
  • Some reflection on my experience writing and developing a following.
  • (Baseball) stuff I find on various 2ch/matome sites, which I have become fascinated by.
  • How not to suck at programming. Or, at least, sucking less at programming.

We’ll see how it goes.

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Report: Nippon Ham Intends to Draft Otani

» 24 October 2012 » In mlb prospects, nichibei, npb draft » 22 Comments

Update: Nippon Ham did indeed draft Otani, and Ben Badler has confirmed that that won’t legally stop him from signing with an MLB team. I had implied that it would, at least until the negotiation period ends, and I was incorrect about that.

Aaaaaaaaaaaand we have our first bit of drama in Shohei Otani‘s journey to MLB. Quoted in Sanspo, Nippon Ham Fighters GM Masao Yamada has declared his intent to select Otani with his first pick in today’s (JST time) draft.

“Regarding Otani-kun, he’s made comments saying like to go to a Major League team, but as a ball club we will follow through with our intent to select the strongest player with our first pick. We plan to select Otani-kun.”

 

「大谷君に関しましてはメジャー球団に行きたいというコメントがありましたが、球団としましては一番力のある選手を1位指名するという方針を貫きます。大谷君を1位指名するつもりです」

note: the “kun”  suffix is a name identifier; kind of like “san” for young men.

If Nippon Ham (or any other NPB team) drafts Otani, they will have the right to sign him until the end of March 2013. The MLB and NPB working agreement prohibits one league from signing players who are under contract with a team from the other league, so at a minimum being selected in the draft would delay Otani signing with an MLB club for several months.

Why would Yamada pick Otani, despite his intent to sign with an MLB club? Well, he’s within his rights to do so, since Otani announced his MLB plans after declaring eligible for the NPB draft. Yamada must feel that Otani’s upside is worth the signability risk. Maybe he thinks he can talk him into signing. This move is not unprecedented; last year Yamada selected Tomoyuki Sugano, the consensus top college arm in the draft, who had let it be known that he would not sign with anyone other than the Yomiuri Giants. Sugano didn’t even negotiate with Nippon Ham and is back in the draft this year.

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Who Is Shohei Otani?

» 18 October 2012 » In mlb prospects, nichibei, npb draft » 4 Comments

Okay, so the cat is out of the bag about high school pitching prospect Shohei Otani. Here’s everything I know about him.

I first found out about Otani about a year ago, when Yakyu Kozoh had a story on potential successors to Yu Darvish. Otani caught my eye because he graded a perfect 5/5 “Darvishes” and, at 17, he was the youngest pitcher profiled. Every tall, young righty elicits some kind of comparison to Darvish from the Japanese media, so Otani is not unique in that regard. What is a little more unique is that in terms of physique and ability, the comparison stands up reasonably well. At 193 cm (6’4) and 86 kg (189 lbs), Otani measures similarly to Darvish, though a little shorter and perhaps a little heavier than Darvish was at 18. Otani also has a similarly live arm, though with a little more velocity and a lot less polish than Darvish exhibited as a high schooler.

I’ve only seen one Otani pitch one full game, his appearance in this spring’s Koshien Senbatsu tournament against fellow draft phenom Shintaro Fujinami. It was a frustrating game to watch, as the raw quality of Otani’s stuff was evident, but his command was non-existent. He featured a fastball ranging from about 145-152 km/h (90-95 mph), a slider around 132-136 km/h (82-84 mph) and curve around 125 km/h (77 mph). Everything had movement, and his wildness was of the effective variety until the 6th inning, when he and his defense faltered, before melting down (video) in the 7th. For the day, Otani struck out 11, walked 11 and gave up nine runs (five earned) while taking the loss. That looks bad, but Otani was facing a quality lineup with aluminum bats on a big stage, and his manager left him out for 173 pitches. The raw talent is there, but it was clearly just that in that game – raw.

Helpfully, the Koko Yakyu site live-blogged this game in English, so it is available for your perusal.

I didn’t see the July 19 prefectural tournament game that Otani has since become known for, when he hit 160 km/h (99 mph) on the scoreboard gun, but I did Tweet about it when it happened. I’ve since found about 14 minutes worth of Otani footage from that game (skip to the 7:58 mark if you want to see the 160 km/h fastball). Obviously the 14 minutes we have are biased, but Otani appears to be a lot more confident with his stuff than he was in the Senbatsu game, and accordingly his command is much better. Grains of salt apply; he was facing weaker competition and the stadium gun was hot, as the scouts in attendance had his velocity a bit lower. Still, an even more limited set of highlights from his appearance in the IBAF 18U tournament implies that he’s capable of better command than he showed in the spring.

So Otani is a prospect, and an excellent one at that. If his command was better I might call him the best high school pitching prospect I’ve seen in the 12 years or so that I’ve been paying attention, but for now I think that distinction will remain with Hayato Terahara. My preferred print publications Shukan Baseball and Yakyu Kozoh have him at the top of this year’s draft class, and NPB Prospect Watch ranks him third, noting his command issues but also his excellent track record as a batter. Draft Reports has a long list of comments from scouts on him, too many to translate individually but unanimously in praise of his potential. A couple of notable comments were from the Dodgers’ Logan White, who said that he went to Japan just to see Otani, and the Rays’ Tim Ireland, who compared him to Felix Hernandez.

What happens now? The NPB draft will take place on October 25, and Otani has declared eligible. As of September he was 50/50 on NPB vs MLB, but some Japanese media outlets seem convinced that he’s headed to MLB. I’m not sure if I find those reports credible just yet. Otani has met with the Dodgers, Red Sox and Rangers, and had a meeting with the Orioles that he couldn’t get on to his schedule. Otani will not meet with any more MLB clubs. One wrinkle that Otani will have to consider is that if he signs with an MLB club, he’ll be barred from joining an NPB team for a period of three years after he leaves MLB, under a rule enacted after Junichi Tazawa signed with Boston.

Coincidently, Otani attends Hanamaki Higashi high school in Iwate Prefecture, the school that produced lefty Yusei Kikuchi. Kikuchi was a similarly hot prospect back in 2009, and went through his own dramatic NPB/MLB decision in which he was publicly courted by all 12 NPB teams and eight MLB teams before choosing to remain in Japan. The Otani situation has not developed in to the same kind of media frenzy that the Kikuchi situation did, which is good  because the stress clearly took it’s toll on Kikuchi. Perhaps Hanamaki manager Hiroshi Sasaki is applying the experience he had with Kikuchi to this year’s edition.

We should know which way Otani is headed in the next week or so. Wherever he winds up it’ll be fun to see how he develops.

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NPB Bullet Points: Ouen-dan, Wakui, Darvish, Orix Uniforms

» 08 January 2011 » In mlb prospects, nichibei, npb, npb draft, NPB Tracker » 10 Comments

Before I get caught up on my more analytical pieces, here’s about a week’s worth of news items:

  • The Yomiuri Giants have broken up the Tokyo Yomiuri Kyojin-gun Ouen-dan (Tokyo Yomiuri Giants Cheering Club) over “improper re-sale of game tickets”.
  • Seibu ace Hideaki Wakui is having a hard time reaching an agreement with the Lions on his 2011 salary. It’s reportedly possible that he won’t have a contract signed by the time camp opens, and thus have to pay his way there.
  • Chiba Marine Stadium has been rechristened QVC Marine Field. Yes, that’s QVC, the television shopping network.
  • Sponichi points out that, in addition to being the son of former Chunichi Dragon Mark Ryal, Rusty Ryal was also the guy that hit a line drive off Hiroki Kuroda’s head back in 2009.
  • The Yukan Fuji paper published an article about Bill James projections found at my other haunt, Fangraphs.com. The headline was James’ projection that Koji Uehara would save 31 games with a 2.81 ERA for the Orioles this upcoming season.
  • According to Sankei News, the Chiba Lotte Marines took in 8bn yen in revenue in 2010, the highest figure in team history. While the club finished 2bn yen in the red, they lost 1.3bn yen less than the previous year, and the 8bn yen represents a quadrupling in revenue since 2004. Winning the Nippon Series and posting Tsuyoshi Nishioka helped boost Lotte’s income.
  • Despite being in great shape, former Yokohama and Orix player Katsuaki Furuki got his face bashed in his fighting debut.
  • Yu Darvish’s New Year’s Resolutions are to read two books per month, and watch movies that he doesn’t typically like. His intent is to “refine his sensitivity” (“感性を磨けるかなって理由です(^^)”).
  • Darvish’s Nippon Ham teammate, incoming rookie Yuki Saito, wants to play until he’s 50.
  • Here’s a great pic of Hiroshima ace Kenta Maeda working out with a medicine ball.
  • Lotte managed to sign their 6th-round draft pick, USC right Shuhei Fujiya. Fujiya gets Johnny Kuroki’s number 54.
  • Orix has unveiled their new uniforms. I’m a little disappointed, I thought they would change them more. I think they should have brought back the old Kintetsu Buffaloes logo, at least on an arm patch or something.
  • And finally, one in English: speaking to ESPN, Matt Murton called going to Japan “100 percent the best decision I made.”

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Draft Prospects: Interesting Names

» 06 June 2010 » In amateur baseball, npb draft » 9 Comments

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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Top 10 Events of 2009

» 28 December 2009 » In mlb, nichibei, npb, npb draft » 2 Comments

2009 went by super fast. Here are my top ten events in Japanese baseball for the year that was.

10. Koji Uehara, Kenshin Kawakami sign with MLB teams; Yomiuri, Chunichi don’t notice. Uehara and Kawakami both signed with MLB clubs early in 2009, meanwhile, their former teams finished 1-2 in the Central League, with Yomiuri taking the Japan Series Championship.

9. Tuffy Rhodes hits 450th NPB home run. Tuffy continued his remarkable comeback in 2009, reaching 450 homers early in the season. A healthy 2010 will see him reach 500.

8. Rakuten makes first ever post season appearance as Katsuya Nomura retires. Rakuten to reached the second round of the playoffs in their fifth year of existence and appears to have a bright near-term future. Nomura restored his legacy with Rakuten after arguably failing to revive Hanshin and his wife’s ugly tax fraud problems.

7. Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium opens. Japan’s first new stadium in years opens to rave reviews, and while the Carp look competitive at times, they ultimately slump to a fifth-place finish.

6. Yusei Kikuchi stays in Japan; gets selected by only six teams in draft. After a lengthy cross-Pacific courting process, Kikuchi gave into social pressures and choose to stay in Japan and enter the NPB draft. After speculation that he could get picked by 10 or 11 teams,he winds up getting taken by six, with the remaining six teams grabbing other players uncontested. He eventually signs a max contract with Seibu.

5. Hideki Matsui wins World Series MVP. Matsui leaves NY in style with a dominant World Series performance, despite not starting any of the games played in Philadelphia.

4. Bobby Valentine leaves Marines. Bobby V goes back to Connecticut after a successful six-year run with Chiba Lotte, in which he turned around a moribund franchise and became one of the finest advocates for Japanese baseball in the West.

3. Yomiuri wins first title since 2002. It took seven years for Yomiuri to win a Japan Series post-Matsui. The Giants won three times in his ten-year Giants career (1994, 2000, 2002).

2. Ichiro collects 200 hits for ninth straight year. ’nuff said.

1. Japan wins second straight WBC title. Japan is now 2-2 in WBC appearances, avenging its embarrassing 2008 Olypmic loss.

Honorable mentions: Junichi Tazawa reaches MLB in first pro season; great Koshien finale; Yu Darvish/Alex Ramirez win MVPs; Hanshin re-imports Kenji Johjima

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Contreras, Son Reportedly Looking for Move to Japan

» 21 November 2009 » In Koshien, npb, npb draft » 9 Comments

Here’s one I didn’t think of: Jose Conteras is reportedly looking for a job in Japan.

Sanspo reported a few days ago that Contreras reached out to the Hanshin Tigers, who despite being in need of pitching, aren’t interested in his services. The Hanshin source quoted by Sanspo said that “it seems like he wants to play in Japan. We’ve already decided against it, but it’s not 100%,” later adding, “(Contreras) seems like he would be quite inexpensive, so there will probably be other teams that show interest.”

Sanspo also pointed out that this would be the first time NPB is in the mix for a big-name player since Sammy Sosa tried to get a deal in Japan for the 2006 season.[1]

I didn’t think much of this story at first, but now it makes a little more sense. Today Nikkan Sports published a report saying that Contreras’s son, Kevin, is hoping to take part in an exchange program to Fukuoka’s Yanagawa high school. Kevin, 16, is a catcher at the IMG Baseball Academy in Florida, where he heard about the Koshien Tournament from his Japanese academy-mates. Yanagawa has played in the spring and summer Koshien Tournaments a total of 16 times.

The Contreras family is going to visit Japan next week, to look for Jose’s next employer and visit Kevin’s prospective high school. If Kevin does wind up attending high school in Fukuoka, the geographically close SoftBank Hawks and Hiroshima Carp would appear to be the most logical choices. I saw Contreras once or twice after he was traded to Colorado, and he showed a good fastball and splitter, which makes me think he has a little life left as a reliever. Then again, I saw him pitch against the Giants. Even at 37, he has good enough stuff to succeed in Japan, whether he has the health and composure to is another question. If everything comes together, this has the makings of a great story.

[1] After posting a dreadful season for Baltimore, Sosa offered to play the 2006 season for the Yokohama BayStars for 50m yen ($500k), but was turned away. A Yokohama executive was quoted in the media as saying “just because a player can’t play in America, it doesn’t mean he can play in Japan. He’d leave in two months.”

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Kikuchi Signs With Seibu

» 20 November 2009 » In npb, npb draft » Comments Off

Yusei Kikuchi is officially a pro. The young lefty has inked his first contract with the Seibu Lions. Unsurprisingly, Kikuchi gets the max deal: 100m yen (about $1m) signing bonus, a 15m yen ($150k) first year salary, 50m yen ($500k) in performance bonuses.

Kikuchi will wear number 17. Word is that he’ll be in camp with the top team next spring, and have a special training program.

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NPB Draft Notes

» 30 October 2009 » In npb draft » 3 Comments

Here are some unorganized, rapid-fire notes about yesterday’s draft. Some of these are my own observations, others are from the media.

  • In the end, ‘only’ six teams went after Yusei Kikuchi in the first round. Still impressive, but not exactly an unprecedented number. It seemed that the other teams used the distraction of Kikuchi to nab the guy they wanted.
  • Despite this being considered a thin draft, the only player that was selected by more than one team in the first round was Kikuchi.
  • Kikuchi’s parents are happy with the outcome of the draft.
  • The one team that should have been in on Kikuchi, but wasn’t, was Yokohama, who took slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugo with their first pick. This looks like a case where the team allowed the appeal of taking the local kid outweigh the choice that really best fit their needs (pitching).
  • I think Hiroshima made a great first round pick in Takeru Imamura, and then followed it up with strong picks with Shota Dobayashi, Hisashi Takeuchi, and Hayato Shoji. I could just be biased towards fame though; Takeuchi is a well-known college pitchers and the other guys were noted Koshien performers. Shoji put a lot of mileage on his arm at this year’s Koshien.
  • Hisayoshi Chono finally wound up with the Giants.
  • Fat, short first baseman Ryoji Nakata got taken in the third round by Chunichi. He’ll need to get into shape as a pro, and even then I still think he looks more like a pinch hitter than a starter.
  • Honda hurler Takao Suwabe was annoyed at not being picked until the sixth round, and might not sign because of that.
  • In another bittersweet result, high school righty Takumi Akiyama cried at lasting until Hanshin drafted him in the fourth round, but vowed to do his best at Koshien.
  • In more tear news, Kenta Imamiya wept for joy at being selected by his local SoftBank Hawks in the first round.
  • I’m looking forward to seeing how Shuichi Furukawa, Yutaka Ohtsuka, and Yosuke Okamoto do as pros.
  • I was wondering why Akihiro Hakumura wasn’t drafted, but it turns out he’s going to college rather than the pros.
  • Former Braves farmhand Masayoshi Tokuda was not taken by the Carp, despite ‘passing’ their tryout.
  • A couple other non-picks I was slightly disappointed with were Michiya Minato and Shogo Akiyama. Admittedly I haven’t seen much of either of these guys, but they both seem to have good pitchers’ frames, decent velocity and command issues (particularly Akiyama on the last point). I was hoping to see if they’d develop as pros.

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2009 Draft: International Influence

» 29 October 2009 » In npb draft » Comments Off

My post on foreign players in the draft last year went over well, and I had meant to publish an update for 2009 prior to this year’s draft, but the gods of time weren’t on my side. In any case it’s not too late, so here’s a look at some players who brought a multicultural air to this year’s draft.

Pedro Okuda: Okuda is a third-generation Japanese Brazilian who came to Japan to play baseball. He made a name for himself in the 2007 Koshien tournament with a walk-off home run, but still didn’t get picked in yesterday’s draft.

Maike Magario: Magario is another Brazilian, though one who has grown up for most of his life in Japan. I haven’t seen much of Magario, but his build reminds me a little bit of Shawn Green. Yakult took Magario with their first ikusei pick. Note that Yakult also took Brazilian Rafael Fernandez in the ikusei draft last year, and operates an academy in Brazil.

Juanyoni Allan: Yet another Brazilian, I know even less about Allan than the previous two players – I don’t even know if I have the Romanization of his name correct. Draft reports indicates that he’s a big kid (196 cm, 100km; 6’5, 220lbs) who came to Japan with the goal of becoming a pro ballplayer. The report also says that he’s a power hitter who has seen time on the mound, but struggled with his command. Allan was not selected in the draft.

John Clayton Unten: clearly the best prospect of this bunch, Clayton was born to an American father and Japanese mother and attended high school in Okinawa. Shukan Baseball compares him to Seibu starter Takayuki Kishi, which I take a real compliment. Nippon Ham has become known for acquiring half-Japanese players (Yu Darvish, Romash Tasuku Dass, previously Micheal Nakamura as well), and indeed the Fighters drafted Unten in the fourth round.

Deanna has a full breakdown of who went where that goes into far more detail than I’ll get to. You’ll see more from me on the draft, though.

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