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213 Draft Candidates

» 16 October 2009 » In amateur baseball, npb draft » Comments Off

A total of 113 high school graduates and 100 college players have declared eligible for this year’s NPB draft. The total of 213 players declaring for the pros out of academic institutions is the highest since the application process has been in place. This figure does not include independent or industrial league players.

If the player does not submit an application, he will not be eligible for the draft on October 29th. Yusei Kikuchi will not be among that group as he turned in his application on time, despite all the scheduled meetings with NPB and MLB teams. Other well known high school names that will be in this year’s draft are Takeru Imamura (Seiho HS), Yoshitomo Tsutsugou (Yokohama HS), Shota Dobayashi (Chukyoudai Chukyou), and Masato Kiyashiki (Kindai Kousen). Some of the big college names entering the draft are Hosei University pitchers Kazuhito Futagami and Hisashi Takeuchi.

Even though all eyes are on Kikuchi whether he declares for the MLB or not, there are number of quality players in the upcoming draft and some teams might be better off focusing on other talents rather than taking their chances on drawing Kikuchi from the box, if he even stays in the NPB draft.

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Update: Kikuchi’s MLB Meetings; Red Sox in the Mix?

» 14 October 2009 » In amateur baseball, mlb prospects, npb draft » 6 Comments

Nikkan Sports has an updated version of what I posted yesterday on Yusei Kikuchi’s meeting schedule:

October 19: Dodgers, Red Sox, Rangers, Giants
October 20:Mariners, Mets, Yankees, Indians

This is the first mention I’ve seen in the Japanese media of the Red Sox being in the mix. According to Nikkan, Boston had scout Craig Shipley at Koshien, observing in deep secrecy.

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Who is Yusei Kikuchi?

» 14 October 2009 » In amateur baseball, mlb prospects, npb draft » 8 Comments

Barring Junichi Tazawa, more has been written in the North American press about Yusei Kikuchi than perhaps any other amateur Japanese baseball player. And by the time he signs, I think Kikuchi will have surpassed Tazawa in ink. Most of what’s been written to this point, including what’s been on this site, is of the “Kikuchi is could change the baseball landscape” variety. Despite all the press, we still haven’t seen much about Kikuchi the individual. Here’s a crack at changing that.

Here in the States, it’s becoming more common to get to know top players before they reach the big leagues, and in some cases, before they are drafted. But the hype around Kikuchi is at a different level. Because of his two appearances at the Koshien high school tournament, Kikuchi was already well known as an amateur player, and this US-Japan cliffhanager has made him a regular news item. The closest parallel I can think of to this situation in the US would be a top college basketball player who’s gained stardom through the NCAA tournament.

Pitching
I watched Kikuchi pitch as much as I could during this year’s Koshien tournament. He does throw hard, during the games I watched his fastball ranged between about 87 – 96 mph (142-155 kmph). He did get a bit wild when throwing at the higher end of his range and I think he may have a tendency to overthrow at times. Perhaps this contributed to the back strain he suffered during the tournament. This video shows Kikuchi throwing his fastball mostly around 90mph, down in the zone with good command.

In addition to the heater, Kikuchi mixes in a slider and a curveball. He has good movement on both pitches needs to work on commanding them. During Koshien, he would go through stretches where he threw mostly breaking pitches; Goro Shigeno suggested at some point that he may have been trying to polish up his secondary stuff in anticipation of beginning his professional career.

He also has a goofy eephus pitch that I didn’t see him throw at Koshien.

Makeup
Kikuchi is a studious kid who reads 10 books per month and doesn’t watch TV. From what I’ve read, he seems to be a conscientious kid as well. The Nikkan Sports Draft Guide’s blurb on him leads off with an anecdote about how the writer was standing while watching Kikusei throw a bullpen session. Without saying anything, Kikuchi walked left the mound, and returned a few minutes later with a folding chair, offering it to the writer to sit in.

The May 25 issue of Shukan Baseball ran this lengthy quote on how he wants to conduct himself: “When I returned to Iwate (following the 2007 Koshien Tournament), even in town I heard people say ‘thank you for the excitement’. Of course through baseball, it’s a reality that my opportunities to be seen by the people around me have increased. I’m aiming for the pros after high school, but if I’m just messing around, the people who see me will think ‘even that kind of guy can go’. So I want to take action to live a responsible daily life and become a role model so the message will be ‘if I’m like Yusei I can go pro'”.

Kikuchi has waffled a bit on his decision between NPB and MLB, so take the above with a grain of salt. But he does seem like a decent kid.

Bio Information
Born in Iwate Prefecture on June 19, 1991. Bats and throws lefthanded. 184 cm (6’0 ) tall, 82 kg (180 lbs). Hobbies include reading, reads 10 books per month. Favorite baseball player is veteran lefty Kimiyasu Kudoh. Future dream is to become a major leaguer. (source: May 25, 2009 issue of Shukan Baseball)

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Kikuchi’s October Schedule

» 13 October 2009 » In mlb prospects, nichibei, npb draft » 5 Comments

Update: Added some details from Nikkan Sports.

Sanspo has gotten a hold of Yusei Kikuchi’s meeting schedule over the rest of the month, leading up to the draft. Here’s the breakdown:

Oct 16: meetings with Hanshin, Seibu, and Orix
Oct 17: Chunichi, Yakult, Nippon Ham, Chiba Lotte, Hiroshima, Rakuten and others
Oct 19: begin meeting with MLB clubs
Oct 20: Cleveland Indians, others
Oct 22: conclude meetings

Nikkan Sports lists the MLB clubs stopping by as the Giants, Mets, Dodgers, Yankees, Rangers, Mariners and Indians. With the 12 NPB clubs, that gives us a total of 19 teams that will meet with the young lefty. The Kikuchi camp appears to have accommodated NPB requests in some regards; the NPB teams are getting a chance to talk with him first, and Kikuchi himself will take part in the meetings rather than relying solely on Sasaki-kantoku. Kikuchi did not pander to the request of holding off meeting with MLB clubs until after the draft.

This is a pretty unusual situation in NPB, I can’t think of another draft prospect who’s been handled quite this way since the current draft rules were installed (maybe someone will remind me). It kind of makes me wonder if the NPB teams will collude to allow Kikuchi be drafted by the team that he wants to play for, just to keep him in the league.

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Kikuchi War Begins

» 06 October 2009 » In amateur baseball, international baseball, mlb prospects, nichibei, npb draft » Comments Off

Yusei Kikuchi completed his high school career and decision time is drawing near. He declared for pro turning in his draft application on October 5th, which he may start talking with teams from the following day. It was first believed he will only talk to couple MLB teams, but he changed his mind and has decided to talk with all teams that shows interest. Sponichi states Kikuchi’s side is planning to start talk with teams from the 13th Japan time. Manager Hiroshi Sasaki will be in charge of all talks as Kikuchi’s class schedule will not be able to create equal time availability for all teams. (for more, please see Yakyu Baka’s full article on Kikuchi’s press conference)

As more than 20 teams from NPB and MLB combined are thought to be interested, it is stated that he will start talking with one team at a time beginning with NPB teams. A Nikkan Sports article lists that NPB teams other than the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants (who have decided to go with Hisayoshi Chono) and Baystars, Carp, and Hawks are thought to be using their first-round pick for Yusei Kikuchi.

MLB teams listed in the same article that are believed to be interested are the Dodgers, Yankees, Giants, Cubs, Braves, Twins, Mets, Mariners, Rangers, Indians, Tigers, and the Phillies. The list seems to be growing every minute.

A big decision which could change the structure of amateur baseball in Japan is in Kikuchi’s hands. This is just the first stage of his decision… NPB or the MLB. After following this story for until now, my big decision at the same age to come to the United States for undergraduate studies seems just a little bit lame.

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Hanamaki Higashi Loses, Time for Kikuchi to Decide

» 30 September 2009 » In amateur baseball, mlb prospects, nichibei, npb draft » 2 Comments

Yusei Kikuchi’s Hanamaki Higashi has lost in the Kokutai Tournament, so now it’s time for the coveted young lefty to make what is certainly the biggest decision of his life to this point. Kikuchi has kind of gone back and forth with his decision, and the media has collectively interpreted his words however they’ve wanted to, so we don’t really have any more of an idea what he wants to do they we did a month ago. To me he seems like a normal 18 year-old kid who isn’t quite sure what he wants to do. I’m glad I wasn’t an international media subject when I was 18.

Having said all that, Kikuchi’s manager Hiroshi Sasaki was quoted in Nikkan Sports the other day as saying “I think he’ll make Japan his main choice and listen on the Majors”. Per the above paragraph, I’ll take that with a grain of salt, but there has been some talk of Kikuchi declaring eligible for the NPB draft and still negotiating with MLB teams. I have to think that MLB teams would back off if he gets drafted.

It’s been widely reported in the Japanese media that over 10 MLB teams have watched Kikuchi. I’ve actually kind of lost track of all of them, but the Texas Rangers seem to be among the most interested.The Rangers have been scouting Kikuchi since the spring, and had Asia Pacific scout Jim Colborn present at the Kokutai to watch him. Sponichi quotes Colborn as saying, “this last tournament is ending, and I would definitely liked to ask Sasaki if I could meet with him. For that, we can prepare an offer. Team president Nolan Ryan is of course watching video of him. He also wants Kikuchi to become a member of the Rangers” (translation of a translation). Remember that Texas also had the top dollar offer for Junichi Tazawa last year.

Aside from that, the newest interested party I’ve seen that hasn’t cropped up in the US media yet is the Astros. Sponichi again quotes Ed Wade: “I hear he’s 50/50 on coming to the Majors. If it turns out that he wants to come to the majors, we’d look into acquiring him.”

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Kikuchi Rocks the Draft

» 14 September 2009 » In amateur baseball, nichibei, npb draft » 1 Comment

Yusei Kikuchi’s impending decision is something that the baseball world in not only Japan, but also in the United States is keeping an eye on. Kikuchi is scheduled to meet with his high school coach on the 15th (JST) regarding his decision, and has hinted in the media that his final decision will come once the Niigata Kokutai wraps up at the end of the month.

Kikuchi has been going back and forth with his choice,  and we’re reading in interviews that his decision between NPB and MLB still remains to be 50/50. However it’s not a secret that he eventually would like to challenge the MLB and the question is a matter of now or later. He stated in a television interview that his dream is to become a Major Leaguer, which is a big statement to make on public.

His recent comments directed to a baseball magazine were quoted in gossip rag Yukan Fuji, “there has not been a high school player who directly went to the MLB without going through the NPB, so there is a part of me that wants to be the pioneer.” He also states that if he waits to be a free agent when he is 27 years old after joining a NPB team, that might be a little too late.

Until he comes to a decision, Kikuchi will be the center of attention and many scouts and media should be at the Niigata Kokutai, where he is scheduled to pitch for the first time since sustaining back pain at the Koshien Tournament. Not only will be the baseball world keeping an eye on the decision, but the outcome will be crucial for media giant TBS (Tokyo Broadcasting System) as well.

The 2009 draft will be open to public and televised live for the first time and teams participating in a lottery draw to obtain the future ace is supposed to be the biggest catch of the event. Losing the big fish of this years draft will not only hurt now, but TBS could take a hit for the future as the live draft broadcast is a three-year project. NPB losing an amateur prospect for two years in a row to the MLB might consider restructuring the draft and the return of kibouwaku (players agreeing to terms with teams before the draft) will be a possibility if that’s the case.

All we can do is wait and see what Kikuchi decides. We’ll keep you posted on NPB Tracker.

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Kikuchi to Visit the States

» 08 September 2009 » In amateur baseball, mlb prospects, nichibei, npb draft » 14 Comments

When we last left our heroes,Yusei Kikuchi had strongly suggested that he was going to start his professional baseball career in Japan, saying, “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.”

Note, however, that he stops short of saying he’s filed for draft eligibility, which he still has yet to do.

Now, news has emerged that Kikuchi is planning on visiting the States in October, and wants to see the Majors once before he decides to proceed. The best quote I’ve seen so far was in Sponichi: “I like to do things that people say are impossible. To be showered in criticism makes me want to do it. I don’t have any unease with life in America. I want to speak English, and there is leading-edge training which is different from Japan, so that’s exciting.” Mainichi News puts his decision between NPB and MLB at 50/50.

We’re seemingly a month away from really knowing that Kikuchi wants to do, so we’ll see how things play out until then.

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Draft to be Open to Public

» 07 September 2009 » In amateur baseball, npb, npb draft, sports business » Comments Off

Nippon Professional Baseball is taking another step to further engage its fans. NPB is opening an online drawing from which 1000 fans will be chosen to enjoy the atmosphere of the draft. The draft will take place on October 29th in Tokyo and the lucky 1000 fans will be the first to enjoy the prospects being named to their new professional teams.

The draft will attempt to add an entertainment side to the event making the drawing box clear so that the fans will be able to see the last moment of the manager picking the names out. On a business note, Toshiba has agreed in terms to be the special sponsor of the event, so it’s definitely something NPB can expand on.

A franchise’s future could depend on the winning the rights to Yusei Kikuchi (assuming he decides to enter the NPB Draft) and other prospects, so NPB made the decision to allow some fans to enjoy the special moment in history live. We ran down some of the other top draft prospects as well last week.

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Looking Ahead to the Draft

» 05 September 2009 » In npb draft » 7 Comments

One of my favorite sites, Draft Reports, has published a rundown of what’s known about each NPB team’s draft plans for this year.

Obviously Yusei Kikuchi is the consensus favorite this year, but there are a couple other names to watch as well. The popularity of Kikuchi as a pick could lead to some interesting strategies for other teams — will teams use the popularity of Kikuchi as a pick to swoop in a grab other top candidates uncontested? To get a sense of how the the NPB draft works, please see our overview of the topic.

On to the projections.

Orix

1st pick candidates: Yusei Kikuchi (Hanamaki Higashi HS), Kazuhito Futagami (Hosei University), Masato Nakazawa (Toyota), Masanori Fujiwara (Ritsumeikan University), Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (Yokohama HS), Shota Dobayashi (Chukyo HS)

Other high-round candidates: Takashi Ogino (Toyota), Masato Kiyashiki (Kinki-Dai HS)

Orix appears to be undecided among the 1st-round candidates listed above.

Yokohama

1st pick candidates: Tsutsugo,  Kikuchi, Nakazawa, Fujiwara

Other high-round candidates: Dobayashi, Kiyashiki

The latest reports suggest that Yokohama has narrowed its first pick choices down to Kikuchi and Tsutsugo. I would expect them to default towards local boy Tsutsugo, but he’s a slugging first baseman, and the organizational need is pitching.

Chiba Lotte

1st pick candidates: Kikuchi, Futagami, Toshiya Okada (Chiben Wakayama HS), Ikuhiro Kiyota (NTT East), Takayuki Makka (Tokai Boyo HS)

Other high-round candidates: Ogino, Kenta Imamiya (Meiho HS), Masato Mashiro (Nissan), Shota Ohmine (Yae Sho HS)

Latest word is that Lotte is set on Kikuchi with Okada and Imamiya to fall back on.

Hanshin

1st pick candidates: Kikuchi, Nakazawa, Futagami, Fujiwara, Ogino, Makka, Okada, Nobuaki Nakabayashi (Keio University), Hisayoshi Chono (Honda), Hisashi Takeuchi (Hosei University),Tetsu Anan (Nittsu), Hiroyuki Kawahara (Fukuoka University Ohori HS),

Other high-round candidates: Dobayashi, Kiyota, Kiyashiki, Takahiro Araki (Kinki University), Yutaka Ohtsuka (Soka University), Yusuke Matsui (Tokyo University of Agriculture), Masato Matsui (Jobu University)

Now it gets interesting. Hanshin has Kikuchi in their sights as well, but is actively planning a contingency in case they don’t get him. Hanshin has been floating the idea of Chono with their first pick if they miss out on Kikuchi. My guess is that this is a bluff to get the Giants to spend they’re first pick on a guy who isn’t really first round talent.

Rakuten

1st pick candidates: Kikuchi, Tsutsugo

Other high-round candidates: Ogino, Dobayashi, Imamiya

Things have been quiet on the Rakuten draft front. On the surface Tsutsugo would appear to better address the organization’s main need, which is offense.

Hiroshima

1st pick candidates: Kikuchi, Dobayashi, Imamiya, Futagami

Other high-round candidates: Takeuchi, Kenta Matsushita (Waseda University), Nobuyoshi Yamada (Tsuruga Kehi HS), Yutaro Sakurada (Hachinohe University)

Pretty familiar looking names on Hiroshima’s first pick list; but some new ones on their secondary list.

Seibu

1st pick candidates: Kikuchi, Tsutsugo, Futagami

Other high-round candidates: Ryoji Nakata (Asia University)

First mention of Nakata, the short, round college first baseman. On paper, I have my doubts about that guy’s ability to succeed at the pro level, but to see him bookended in the infield with the pudgy Okawari-kun would be interesting to say the least. Reportedly looking at Futagami as their top pick, and they could probably get him easily in the first round.

Yakult

1st pick candidates: Kikuchi, Tsutsugo, Nakazawa

Other high-round candidates: Imamiya, Makka, Katsu Nakamura (Kasukabe Kyoei HS)

Pretty vanilla list, with the exception of Nakamura, who draws comparisons to Yu Darvish. His delivery is clearly Darvish-inspired. Yakult is currently between Tsutsugo and Kikuchi for their top pick.

SoftBank

1st pick candidates: Kikuchi, Kawahara, Takeru Imamura (Seiho HS)

Other high-round candidates: Imamiya

Another unexciting pool, SoftBank is looking at Kikuchi or Imamura with their top pick according to the latest issue of Shukan Baseball.

Chunichi

1st pick candidates: Kikuchi, Imamiya, Fujiwara, Makka

Other high-round candidates: Futagami,Takahiro Suwabe (Honda), Yohei Oshima (Nihon Seimei)

Same players, different team for Chunichi. Chunichi has quietly drafted consistently well over the last few years, so we’ll see how they do with this group.

Nippon Ham

1st pick candidates: Kikuchi, Makka, Tsutsugo, Imamura, Futagami, Okada, Fujiwara

Other high-round candidates: Imamiya, Masayoshi Kato (Kyushu International University)

Kikuchi would give Ham a golden boy to go with Darvish; while Tsutsugo would be a contemporary for Sho Nakata.

Yomiuri

1st pick candidates: Chono

Other high-round candidates: unknown

The Kyojin-gun hasn’t deviated publicly from their intent to select Chono, but there has been some speculation that they’re interested in Kikuchi like everyone else. Not too long ago, however, I read an article that quoted a member of the Giants’ front office as saying to the other Central League teams “go ahead and pick Kikuchi”.

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