This post is a little late — we’re officially in the second half of the season as the first post-All-Star games were played on Monday. The All-Star game is only a symbolic marker anyway though, as all the NPB teams have played at least 87 games out of the 144-game schedule. Still it’s a good time to take stock of the season that’s been played so far. Here are some thoughts conveniently split up into three categories.
A few general observations:
The Central League is again a three-team race between Yomiuri, Hanshin, and Chunichi. This makes the playoff race somewhat uninteresting but the playoffs themselves should be good.
The Pacific League is much more balanced, with SoftBank, Seibu, and Lotte nine or more games over .500, Orix even and Nippon Ham one game under. Rakuten is in the cellar at 40-49, but they have the second best pitching results in the league and could get into contention for a playoff spot if they start to hit.
My rookies to watch are either injured (Yusei, Kazuhito Futagami, Takashi Ogino), fat (Ryoji Nakata) or Hisayoshi Chono (Chono).
A couple of the imports I put on my watch list, Matt Murton and Kim Tae-Gyun, have taken off in Japan. Gio Alvarado is getting it together as well.
The veterans I picked to watch have mostly been duds, which isn’t a surprise as I deliberately listed a bunch of guys with question marks. That said, Yoshinobu Takahashi is having a nice bounce back season, Aarom Baldiris has contributed some a performance to Orix, and Sho Nakata is showing some signs of life.
NPB Tracker mid-season awards:
My first half MVPs: Central League – Kazuhiro Wada (Chunichi), Pacific League - Hiroyuki Nakajima (Seibu)
First half Sawamura Award winner: Kenta Maeda (Hiroshima)
First half RoYs: Central League – Chono (Yomiuri), Pacific League – Ogino (Lotte) despite missing significant time on the injured list
Breakout players: Central League – Shun Tohno (Yomiuri), Pacific League – T-Okada (Orix)
I’m suffering from something of writer’s block, so here we go with another list. This we’ll look at new foreign players on my watch list for the upcoming season.
Dionys Cesar (IF, Chunichi Dragons): Cesar tore up the Mexican League last year, and the Dragons seem to know what they are doing when it comes to Dominican players (nod to Domingo Martinez). So will lightning strike again? Cesar has put in 16 minor league seasons and spent some time in Taiwan, so it’s nice to see a guy like this get a chance to earn a solid paycheck in Japan.
Giancarlo Alvarado (P, Hiroshima Carp): The Carp also have a solid track record with foreign players (props for Erik Schullstrom), and like Cesar, Alvarado is a veteran who has bounced around the minors and independent leagues.
Matt Murton (OF, Hanshin Tigers): Murton was on my list, so that makes him an easy pick. He also has the unenviable task of taking over center field from retired star Norihiro Akahoshi, as well as following in failed American Tigers outfielders Shane Spencer, Lew Ford and Kevin Mench.
Lee Beom-Ho (IF, SoftBank Hawks) and Kim Tae-Gyun (IF, Chiba Lotte Marines): Honestly I’m not sure what to expect from these guys, as I haven’t seen much Korean baseball aside from the WBC and Asia Series, so that’s a reason look forward to seeing Lee and Kim this season. Kim is certain to get at-bats with the Marines, while Lee will have take turns in SoftBank’s 1B/3B/DH rotation with Jose Ortiz, Hiroki Kokubo and Nobuhiko Matsunaka. Lee had been adamant about wanting to stick at 3rd though. It’s too bad that Kim Dong-Ju didn’t make it to NPB for this season, as he had been trying for years.
Chris Bootcheck (P, Yokohama BayStars), Eugolio de la Cruz (P, Yakult Swallows), Juan Morillo (P, Rakuten Golden Eagles): All of these guys have the same profile: good velocity, bad control. But who will be this year’s Marc Kroon, and who will be this year’s Chris Resop?
And with that I’ll turn the floor over to the readers. Who are you looking forward to seeing?
*excluding the players on my list that were already in Japan in 2009
So that’s 5/28 (without the 2009 NPB guys), and the two Koreans were pretty easy predictions. I thought I got Bobby Keppel right too, but when I looked back at my list it was Bobby Korecky that I had guessed.
There were other guys that I took long looks at, but decided to leave out for various reasons. These were the last three in my notes:
Andy Marte –thought he would get an MLB shot with the rebuilding Indians
Carlo Alvarado – the number of 3A innings he threw over the last two years caught my eye; in retrospect I didn’t have enough starters on my list
Jeff Fiorentino – call this one gut feel. I favored slugging left fielder-types in my list, and thought Murton’s MLB experience distinguished him from Fio
Alvarado and Fiorentino signed with the Carp over the winter, while I assume Marte will get another look with Cleveland. Ironically, I would have loved to see the Carp get Marte instead of Justin Huber, but I don’t know if he was ever available.
Richard is an interesting option, Corey somewhat less so, and I don’t quite see where Richard or Zuleta fit with the recent addition of Kim Tae-gyun. Zuleta also stunk up the Mexican League last season.
Lotte has made the first significant signing of this offseason, picking up 1st baseman Kim Tae-gyun from Hanwha of the KBO. I’ll post more details at a later time; for now Matt and Gwynar have this story covered.
There’s always a high turnover among foreign players in Japan. This year will be no different, with 30+ players already gone from their 2009 employers. By the end of next season, we’ll have seen 35-45 new players in Japan.
Like most years, the biggest needs around the league are corner outfielders, pitchers, and first basemen. There will be a couple third base and DH spots open as well.
This is mostly my own speculation. Some of the names came out of the Japanese media, but many have not, so take this list with a grain of salt.
CJ Nitkowski - seemed like he had a deal to go back to Japan before Doosan snapped him up off waivers from SK
Rick Guttormson - Orix is looking at bringing Gutto back from Korea; has an NPB no-hitter to his name
Brad Thomas - Thomas has spent the last year or two in Korea, is on Hanshin’s list
Gary Glover – Yet another NPB vet in Korea, Glover had previously pitched for Yomiuri
Mitch Jones - didn’t get a chance in his stint with Nippon Ham, hit 35 home runs in the hitter-friendly PCL this year
Val Pascucci – has been productive in three AAA seasons since returning from his stint with Chiba Lotte
Buddy Carlyle - has been better with Atlanta than he was with Hanshin during the early 00’s
Winston Abreu - lit up AAA again this year, got lit up in the majors; did well in his tenure with Lotte
Kim Dong-Ju – Lotte is reportedly ready to jump on a plan and sign this guy once the FA season opens
Kim Tae-Gyun – Hanshin was scouting Korea over the summer, and this Kim was a name that showed up in reports
Lee Beom-Ho- ditto for Lee
Termel Sledge – won’t be back with Nippon Ham next year; Yokohama, SoftBank reportedly interested
Greg LaRocca – has been productive when healthy, could get a shot somewhere else if Orix chooses not to retain his services
Dan Johnson – batting average side, put in a productive year for Yokohama, still wasn’t retained
Seth Greisinger – has put up three good years in Japan, may not fit into Yomiuri’s plans for next year; Hanshin would gladly take him
Brian Sikorski – posted a great year for Lotte; if they don’t keep him, Yokohama is interested
Mike Hessman - tenured AAA slugger, doesn’t hit for average but walks and has a power bat
Lenny DiNardo – coming off a great AAA season, has never been able to strike MLB hitters out
Bobby Korecky – reliever with nothing left to prove at AAA
Kevin Frandsen – doesn’t fit the power-hitting mold NPB teams usually like, but can play multiple positions and hit for average
Matt Murton – another sharp hitter who has mastered AAA pitching
Chris Shelton – has had two productive MLB seasons, continues to perform at AAA
Brad Eldred – another veteran AAA slugger, though his average has dropped in the last few years
Wily Mo Pena - I thought he was on his way to Japan when the Mets released him during the season
Charlie Haeger - has come up on Hanshin’s list
Rich Hill - he has a Japan-style curveball
Jason Dubois – perhaps the most well-rounded of the AAA sluggers I’ve listed here, Dubois hits for reasonable average and gets on base, at least at AAA
Scott Strickland – was good with the Expos a few years ago, hasn’t gotten another chance
Evan MacLane – rumor is that he’s headed to Japan rather than resigning with the Cardinals
Fringey MLB Guys
Marcus Thames - Hanshin was interested in him a few years ago, but Detroit held on to him and he played pretty well
Eric Hinske – SoftBank was interested last year, and is again this year
Chris Bootcheck – has the velocity to succeed in Japan
Denny Bautista – another hard thrower who’s bounced between AAA and MLB
Kazuhiro Kiyohara made his first appearance in a Seibu uniform in a while, swinging through the ceremonial first pitch on August 22.I’m not sure what Kiyohara’s been up to since retiring, but it looks like it involves getting a tan.
Hanshin is scouting Korea, reportedly looking at Kim Tae-Gyun of Hanwha and Lee Taek-Keun of the Heroes as potential acquisition targets for this offseason. Lee Bum-Ho and Kim Dong-Ju are also drawing interest from NPB teams. Someone who knows better should check my Romanization of these names.
Yakult’s Norichika Aoki, in the midst of his worst season as a pro, had his first four-hit game of the year, bringing his average up to .278. Yakult lost the game 7-3 to the Giants.
Draft Reports has a list of the hardest-throwing pitchers in this year’s Koshien Tournament.Yusei Kikuchi, Takumi Akiyama, and Kenta Imamiya.