Tag Archive > Junichi Tazawa

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.

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.

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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More on Kikuchi

» 09 October 2009 » In mlb prospects, NPB Tracker » 7 Comments

Even if Yusei Kikuchi winds up choosing to sign with an MLB team, NPB is not going to go down without a fight.

NPB is trying to employ some new tactics in the hopes of giving their teams an edge in signing Kikuchi. The Daily Yomiuri has conveniently run the story in English, which saves me a step:

Japan’s teams say they want to meet pitcher Yusei Kikuchi.

On Thursday, Nippon Professional Baseball’s board of directors met and filed a request to the High School Baseball Federation that asked Iwate Prefecture’s Hanamaki Higashi High School to bring the pitcher to the table when NPB’s clubs come calling.

The school has said the pitcher, who has said he may sign with a major league club, will not attend meetings with the representatives of Japanese teams.

NPB also requested the youngster not meet with anyone from a major league team until after Japan’s amateur draft later this month.

(for those interested in the original Japanese, please find it here)

Kikuchi doesn’t have an agent, but he and his family have entrusted his high school manager, Hiroshi Sasaki, with the task of inter-mediating negotiations for the time being. Junichi Tazawa used his manager at Eneos, Hideaki Ohkubo, in a similar manner last year. Sasaki has yet to meet with any MLB teams during these negotiations, and it remains to be seen whether he and the school will grant NPB’s request.

In other news, the Rangers continue to be perhaps the most frequently mentioned in the media among Kikuchi’s suitors. Most recently  GM Jon Daniels told a Chunichi Sports reporter, “he’s the type of player we’re looking for”. The Rangers have also signed Kazuo Fukumori and Yukinaga Maeda out of Japan, and plucked Keisuke Ueno from the old Samurai Bears of the Golden League.

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NPB Bullet Points: Saito Backs Kikuchi, Sponichi Now for Kids Too

» 19 September 2009 » In amateur baseball, mlb, mlb prospects, npb » 9 Comments

It’s been one of those weeks, but the world of baseball carries on.

Japanese Articles:

  • Waseda University pitcher Yuuki Saito is showing a little support for Yusei Kikuchi: “Kikuchi? The Majors, right. I think it’s a good idea. He throws fast and has good movement and control of is breaking pitches. He’s younger but I’m pulling for him. He really has his own way.” Saito was widely thought to be the first Japanese player to test jumping directly from amateur ball to the Majors, but Junichi Tazawa beat him to the punch.
  • You might have picked this up on our Twitter feed already, but Keiichi Yabu isn’t quite ready to throw in the towel yet. The 40 year-old hung out Stateside for a while after the Giants cut him from Fresno, but he’s back in Japan now, with plans to return in October to work out for MLB clubs. Yabu has come off the scrap heap once already, so maybe he’ll get another shot.
  • Stephen Randolph picked up his fourth win for the Yokohama BayStars. He’s done pretty well so far and at this pace I think he’ll get an invitation to return next year.
  • Sponichi is becoming the first sports publication in Japan to publish an edition specifically intended for kids. Why am I mentioning this here? Because children’s books are a great way to learn Japanese, even as adults. I wish this would have been around when I was really learning Japanese.
  • Jon Heyman’s mention of Hideki Matsui made it back to the Japanese media.
  • With the independent Kansai League struggling to survive, female knuckleballer Eri Yoshida is going to get a start in an effort to draw out a few fans. Her manager wants to get at least three innings out of her.
  • According to baseball sources, MLB’ers Brett Tomko and David Dellucci could look to Japan after this season.

Lastly, this isn’t NPB related, but my favorite player as kid growing up in Chicago was Harold Baines. In a backwards kind of way, this hilarious Onion article points out how underrated he was.

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Inside the Industrial Leagues

» 02 September 2009 » In amateur baseball, sports business » 3 Comments

With current Boston Red Sox prospect Junichi Tazawa making the jump from the Japanese Industrial Leagues to the Major Leagues, the attention toward Industrial Leagues is increasing as we speak. Also the 2009 Baseball World Cup is set to begin from September 9th and you may have noticed the Japan national team roster is composed of only Industrial League players.

The Industrial League, operated by the JABA (Japanese Amatuer Baseball Association), is explained as a minor league unaffiliated with the Nippon Professional Baseball in the NY Times article, Japanese Are Irked by U.S. Interest in Pitcher. Teams are fielded by company’s operating in Japan, and the Industrial Leagues are treated as amateur baseball with players not receiving salary as a baseball player, but as an employee with the company.

There are two types of team registered for the Industrial League: Corporate teams and Club teams. Every teams registered is listed on Wikipedia. Teams across the nation participate in tournaments and leagues year around. The one currently in the final stage is the 80th annual Intercity Baseball Tournament (Toshi Taikou Yakyu Taikai) and the finals will be played September 1st from 6pm at the Tokyo Dome (Japan time) between Toyota and Honda. Also the first round of the 36th Industrial League National Tournament  (Shakai-jin Yakyu Nihon Senshuken) has started its regionals. Other notable tournaments include the 34th All-Japan Club Tournament (Zen-nihon Club Yakyu Senshuken). The history among these tournaments are established and there are plenty of games for teams and players to participate in.

Many current stars in the NPB and some MLB players have taken the Industrial League route to professional baseball. Current Chicago Cub Kosuke Fukudome played as a member of the Nihon Semei (Osaka) and won the Rookie of the year title in the 67th Toshi Taikou Yakyuu Taikai tournament. Japanese MLB pioneer, Hideo Nomo, is a former industrial leagues player as well. NPB stars such as Michihiro Ogasawara (Yomiuri Giants), Yasuyuki Kataoka (Seibu Lions), and Hitoki Iwase (Chunichi Dragons) are couple other players with Industrial League experience.

Even though the Industrial Leagues play a role in developing future NPB and possible MLB players, the existence of many teams have become an issue due to current business environment in Japan. If the parent company is struggling to make a profit, the existence of a baseball team for the company would always be a candidate for a budget cut. Industrial League powerhouse teams like Nissan had no choice, but to fold due after this season due to the parent company having financial problems.

In order for Industrial Leagues to survive and to reduce the financial responsibilities for some companies, talks are on-going to merge some of the tournaments and to reform the structure of the league. Sanspo recently published a lengthy article on the topic in Japanese. The recent change in Japanese political leadership could have an effect on the Industrial Leagues and its participating companies and this will be an issue we should all keep an eye on.

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Matsuzaka to Return

» 19 August 2009 » In mlb » Comments Off on Matsuzaka to Return

Sanspo and others are reporting that Daisuke Matsuzaka is expected to make his return to the Red Sox on September 8th vs the Orioles. Matsuzaka has been training in Florida for the duration of his stay on the DL and should return to Boston with an attitude adjustment. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next in the saga; look out for more on that here in the future.

In other Red Sox news, Junichi Tazawa is getting another MLB start, this time against the Yankees on August 22.

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More on the Draft

» 14 August 2009 » In international baseball, mlb, npb » 4 Comments

My posts (1, 2) on flaws with MLB draft (and by association, the NPB draft) elicited some interesting and occasionally impassioned responses.

After writing those original posts, I came across some interesting ideas put forth by writers whom I read regularly. Here are a couple of the more interesting ones:

Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus speculates that we might see a more controlled draft in the future:

Said one exec, “Look, Bobby Abreu can’t find a job and then signs for $5 million. While 16-year-old are getting signed off sandlots in the Dominican for $3 and $4 million? That’s the kind of thing that’s going to get the union going,” he added, while predicting than during the next bargaining session, once the players figure out what they want, them giving into financially harnessing the signing system for both draftees and international players will be what they use for leverage.

There are also some indications that both sides might not be willing to wait for the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, as multiple sources have indicated that the reason for Bryce Harper’s early entry into college in order to be eligible for the 2010 draft revolves as much around his desire to sign within a system with no limits, rather than being subject a more controlled draft that could be in place sometime down the road.

Jim Allen of the Daily Yomiuri seems to favor more of a universally free system:

[Junichi] Tazawa was able to choose the club he thought was the best fit for him. A Japanese who aspires to take his game to the highest levels here has to negotiate with the team assigned to him through NPB’s draft. By going to America, he could choose from among different options.

Draft apologists say the system is necessary to maintain competitive balance, which it has. But its purpose from Day 1 was to cheat amateurs of the right to sell their own services to the highest bidder.

In most markets, this would be considered contemptible. It’s an indictment of the baseball business that depriving people of their rights is standard operating procedure in MLB and NPB and acceptable to the fans.

Commetor Crawdad of the Orioles Hangout, had my favorite response to my original post:

What might work better would be that teams pay into a draft bank. The bank receive money in a progressive format where teams that take in more money than others pay more to it. Each team is allotted 35 slots and those slots have a cost fixed to them that decrease.

For instance:
1 slot at 5MM
1 slot at 2.5MM
1 slot at 1MM
1 slot at 0.5MM
1 slot at 0.3MM
15 slots at 0.05MM
15 slots at 0.015MM

Players can sign with any team and if a player exceeds the slot in terms of MLB performance, MLB pays dividends out to the players until they reach arbitration.

So there is impetus for change and ideas being articulated. I hope we see a more free, fair system sometime in the future.

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Tazawa Promoted

» 08 August 2009 » In mlb prospects » 6 Comments

As Ryo posted on Twitter yesterday, the Red Sox have called Junichi Tazawa up to the MLB team. He promptly took the loss in Boston’s 15-inning defeat to the Yankees, giving up a walk-off homer to Alex Rodriguez.

Boston used three Japanese pitchers in the game — Tazawa, Hideki Okajima and Takashi Saito; and another, Ramon Ramirez, who has NPB experience.

I’ve written about Tazawa extensively on this site, including this early scouting report-ish post, a deeper analysis of reasonable expectations for him, and an interview with Portland sports writer Kevin Thomas on his progress.

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Tazawa to Start at Fenway

» 03 August 2009 » In mlb prospects » 4 Comments

Junichi Tazawa is getting his first start at Fenway Park — though it might not be what you think. According to Sponichi, Tazawa will get the call for Pawtucket in Futures at Fenway, a 3A game the Red Sox hold annually at the MLB stadium. The game will be on August 8.

Tazawa was quoted as saying, “being able to pitch at Fenway Park will be a good experience. I’ll probably be nervous but I’m looking forward to it”.

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Time to End the Draft System?

» 19 July 2009 » In international baseball » 18 Comments

This is mostly about the MLB draft,  but applies to the NPB draft to some extent as well.

Consider the following events:

  • In 2001, the Minnesota Twins draft the relatively unknown Joe Mauer over Mark Prior, 2001’s Stephen Strasburg, for a combination of baseball and signability reasons. This turned out to the be right choice.
  • 2005, Luke Hochevar refuses to sign with the LA Dodgers after a series of blunders. The following year, Hochevar is drafted first overall by the Royals. This too is seen as a signability move.
  • In 2006, the Chicago Cubs sign Jeff Samardzjia for first-round money despite having drafted him in the fifth round.
  • In July 2008, the Oakland A’s signed Michel Ynoa to a $4m+ deal, which would have put him in the top ten largest bonuses had he been drafted. The A’s gave their first round draft pick, Jemile Weeks, a $1.9m bonus.
  • In November 2008, Junichi Tazawa avoids his country’s draft and signs with the Boston Red Sox for $3m. The most he could have gotten from the NPB draft would have been a $1m bonus and $150k salary. In retaliation,  NPB brass installs an exile rule. In theory American-born players could take the opposite route.
  • in July 2009, the Twins shell out $800k to sign 16 year-old German prospect Max Kepler.
  • Aside from those specific examples, there are obviously hundreds of international prospects who have signed with the MLB team of their choice, and a rather smaller number of international free agents who have signed with teams in Japan. Meanwhile, amateur players who are educated in the US or Japan are bound to the draft entry rules of their respective domestic leagues.

The MLB draft was established in the sixties with the intent of more evenly distributing the available amateur talent among the MLB teams. I think it basically works, though it’s been proven that teams, players, and agents can game it a bit when they want to. It’s also important to remember that the draft was established in a time when there was far less international talent in major league baseball than there is today. Nearly 30% of the players at the MLB level were born outside the US, and nearly half of minor leaguers were as well. This year we’ve seen a lot more hype around the international signing period as well. It doesn’t quite match the draft but it’s gaining ground, and the signings of Tazawa and Kepler indicate a diversification of the talent pool.

So we have a system that’s moderately regulated for domestic players, and completely unregulated for international players. Should national players not have the same rights to choose their employers as international players?

What I’d propose is a regulated amateur free agent system, in which the draft is discarded entirely. Every amateur player who meets the entry criteria (age, education, whatever) would be allowed to negotiate and sign with any team, regardless of national origin. The single regulation I’d put in place would be a spending cap and a spending floor, based on league revenues. This would be to keep the Yankees from outspending everyone, and the Marlins from going cheap. There could also be a maximum and minimum number of players signed, to keep teams from giving their entire budget to one player. Beyond that, teams would be free to compete with each other on the basis being well-run operations. Essentially, the system would give the players the freedom to choose where they work and the teams the freedom to allocate their budgets as they see fit, while taking money out of the equation to a certain extent.


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A Year of NPB Tracker

» 15 June 2009 » In NPB Tracker » 11 Comments

It’s now been a year since my first post on NPB Tracker.

It’s been a fun year of blogging, it’s gone by quickly. I’ve been able to reach far more people with the site than I expected, and the response I’ve gotten has been overwhelming positive. NPB Tracker is a tiny pixel on 200-inch HDTV that is blogosphere, but considering the nichieness of the content, I’m happy with the audience the site has built. I hope to continue to produce content that people will enjoy.

The positive reaction I’ve gotten to the site has motivated me to write more. When I started this site, I anticipated posting three to five times a week, but looking back now we’ve published over 400 articles. I say “we” because Ryo has contributed a couple dozen posts – Thanks Ryo!

Another unexpected outcome of this blog is that I’ve gotten to see my work and occasionally my name in some more mainstream media outlets. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Both Rob Neyer and Will Carroll picked up my news about Ichiro pitching earlier in the year. I’ve enjoyed reading both Rob and Will for years so it was very exciting having them link to NPB Tracker.
  • The baseball blogger at the Washington Post mentioned my work a number of times, including this blurb about Junichi Tazawa.
  • The Boston Score asked me some questions last autumn, also on Tazawa.
  • My busted translation of a Nikkan Sports piece on Hideki Irabu’s comeback got picked up by NBC New York. This was one of the best because the writer gave EWC a nod as well.
  • Links to NPB Tracker have started showing up on Wikipedia.

I think my overall favorite was my interview with Ted Berg of sny.tv. An inaccurate article that Ted wrote back in 2007 was part of my motivation for starting the site, and I shared the story in a thread on EWC, which Ted then found and contacted me after reading. Getting to take part in that interview was like coming full circle in a way.

I hope this doesn’t come across as self promoting; the attention this site has gotten has definitely exceeded my expectations and it’s a great honor to have been acknowledged by this group of people.

So, what does the next year hold for NPB Tracker? Mostly more of the same. The majority of the content will still be about Japanese baseball, and it will mostly be in English. I’m planning to have some content on baseball in other countries as well. Outside of that, I’m hoping to find some time to add some additional functionality to the site, mostly with the goal of making it more interactive (suggestions are always welcome).

So thanks for reading everyone, the pleasure has been all on this side of the ‘net.

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