Tag Archive > Shintaro Fujinami

Fujinami’s Most Egui Pitch

» 07 May 2014 » In mlb prospects, npb » Comments Off

Today’s Japanese word of the day is egui (エグい), which in a baseball context refers to a particularly “nasty” or “sick” pitch.

Hanshin sophomore Shintaro Fujinami’s hard splitter/sinker/shuuto is as about as egui as you’ll find in NPB.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Check out these gifs that I’ve gleefully borrowed from 2ch:

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fujinami1

150 km/h is about 93.2 mph, 147 km/h is 91.3 mph.

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Who’s Next?

» 15 February 2014 » In mlb prospects, nichibei » 15 Comments

Within minutes of Masahiro Tanaka signing with the Yankees, I started getting questions on Twitter about the next star out of Japan.

The short answer is that there’s no one of Tanaka’s caliber that we’ll see in MLB in the next few years.The longer answer is that there are a number of interesting pitchers currently active in Japan who could eventually wind up in North America. Here are the ones I’m watching most closely.

Kenta Maeda RHP starter, Hiroshima Carp: Maeda is Tanaka’s heir apparent as Japan’s best pitcher, but he grades well below Ma-Kun as an MLB prospect, both on pure stuff and statistical dominance. On this list, he compares most closely to Kenshin Kawakami, but with the advantages of youth and health. A reasonable expectation is that he’ll be a viable mid/back rotation starter for someone. Maeda is expected to be posted following the 2014 season, so we should see him in MLB in 2015.

Chihiro Kaneko RHP starter, Orix Buffaloes: Kaneko is pretty good, but for whatever reason, frequently overlooked in discussions about Japan’s best pitchers. He’s a bit less consistent than Maeda, but has more breaking stuff and generates a few more whiffs. Kaneko is eligible for domestic, NPB-only free agency after the 2014 season, and there are already rumors that Yomiuri is going to go after him. If he wants to play in MLB it likely wouldn’t be until 2016 at the soonest.

Seung-Hwan Oh RHP closer, Hanshin Tigers: 2014 will be Oh’s first year in NPB, having spent his career to this point in Korea. He was expected to move to MLB this past offseason, but wound up signing a two-year deal with Hanshin instead. The thought is that he could move on to MLB at the conclusion of his contract, so that would be 2016. I haven’t seen Oh yet so I haven’t formed an opinion of him as a prospect.

Hideaki Wakui, RHP starter, Chiba Lotte Marines: A few years ago, Wakui would have ranked among Japan’s better MLB prospects, but now he’s a bit of a question mark. He hit his peak in 2009, winning the Sawamura Award, but overuse, a contentious relationship with his team, girl trouble, and possible conditioning problems has resulted in several steps backward. I’ve been hearing for years that Wakui wants to move to MLB; he signed a two-year contract with Lotte this offseason where he could rebuild value.

Takuya Asao, RHP reliever, Chunichi Dragons: Asao was so dominant in 2011 that won the 2011 Central League MVP Award, despite pitching in middle relief. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been the same since, suffering from shoulder discomfort and pitching 30 and 30.2 in 2012 and 2013 respectively. If he’s healthy, there’s no doubt his stuff — mid-90s fastball, hard splitter, funky palmball — is good enough for MLB. He’s a few years away from free agency so we’ll see what happens.

Yusei Kikuchi, LHP starter, Seibu Lions: Kikuchi made waves in 2009 for considering forgoing NPB to sign with an MLB club. He ultimately remained in Japan, and was drafted by Seibu. In 2013, Kikuchi was in the midst of making good on the potential that made him such a hot commodity as a high school prospect when he was stricken with shoulder inflammation and lost for the season. It obviously remains to be seen how he’ll fare when he returns, but so far he’s at least show that he can turn his ability in to results. Kikuchi is at least six years away from free agency.

Shohei Ohtani RHP starter/OF, Nippon Ham Fighters: Here’s where it gets interesting. Like Kikuchi, Ohtani also showed an interest in jumping right to MLB out of high school. Unlike Kikuchi, he seemed intent on actually doing it, but Nippon Ham drafted him anyway and eventually convinced him to sign. Despite flashing 100mph heat in high school, Ohtani opened the 2013 season as Nippon Ham’s starting right fielder. A few months later, he made his ichi-gun debut on the mound, and pitched 61.2 innings, becoming the first nitouryu (double-bladed) player since Yozo Nagabuchi in 1968. Ohtani’s offseason training centered on pitching, but he’ll reportedly continue to play both positions this season. Nippon Ham has been publicly supportive of sending Ohtani to MLB after a few years of seasoning, but of course that was before this posting system nonsense took place.

Shintaro Fujinami RHP starter, Hanshin Tigers: Ohtani’s 2013 rookie brethren Fujinami might not be as flashy, but he’s a lot more polished. Fujinami opened the 2013 as Hanshin’s third starter, and essentially stuck in the rotation for the duration of the season, an impressive feat for an 18 year-old. At this point, Fujinami probably has the best potential of any pitcher on this list. He already shows polish and pitchability, and he’s extremely lanky 6’7. As he fills out and adds strength, it’s reasonable to expect that he could develop a bit more fastball velocity, and handle more innings pitched. At age 19 he’s a long way away from free agency and MLB, but if 2013 is any indication fans on both sides of the Pacific have a lot to look forward to.

Tomohiro Anraku RHP starter Saibi High School: Anraku’s still a high school student, but he’s an interesting prospect. Clearly the top player in last year’s spring Koshien Sembatsu tournament, he was famously pitched into the ground by his manager. The bodily wear he sustained from the effort led to worse performances later in the year, and his stock as an NPB draft prospect has dropped. We don’t know what 2014 holds, but it’s conceivable that he could follow in Kikuchi and Ohtani’s footsteps as a player who tests the MLB waters out of high school.

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Spring Training Story Lines

» 03 February 2013 » In npb » 2 Comments

Spring has arrived in Okinawa, and NPB camps are underway. As with every new season, there are a number of stories developing. Here are a few to look out for:

  • How long before Nippon Ham settles on a position for Shohei Ohtani?

Part of Nippon Ham’s pitch to Ohtani was letting him pitch and hit. Ohtani has the physique and high school track record to make this a very interesting idea, but I suspect that reality will eventually settle in and he’ll wind up sticking to his best role. That said, here’s hoping he pulls it off. I’d love to see him come in from right field to close a game.

  • How will top draftee Shintaro Fujinami adapt to life as a pro?

There is no such positional debate about the other high school prize of last year’s draft, Hanshin pitcher Fujinami. The sentiment echoed throughout the Japanese media following the draft was the question of whether Hanshin has the ability to develop a pitcher with the potential of “Mount Fuji”; now we begin to find out.

  • How will Yomiuri draftee Tomoyuki Sugano perform after a year away from competition?

Sugano took a year off in 2012, after his rights were won by the Nippon Ham Fighters in the 2011 draft. Undeterred, the Giants grabbed him uncontested in the first round of the 2012 draft, and he immediately signed. If he’s some approximation of this, the Giants will be quite happy he was insistent on playing for them.

  • Which of the bari bari Major Leaguers will sink and which will swim?

Andruw Jones, Bryan LaHair, Casey McGehee, Jose Lopez, Vincente Padilla and Nyjer Morgan are among this year’s NPB imports. It’s always hard to predict who will do well in Japan, but I’m particularly pessimistic about Padilla and Morgan.

  • Who will step in to Hiroyuki Nakajima’s shoes for Seibu?

History repeats itself. 10 years ago, Nakajima stepped forward as the replacement for star shortstop Kazuo Matsui, who had departed for the Majors. Now Seibu finds itself needing a replacement for Nakajima. It looked like Hideto Asamura could emerge as a successor, but he failed to impress last season. A return to form from speedster Yasuyuki Kataoka would be welcome, and perhaps Esteban German could see time at shortstop.

  • Who is Eddy Rivera?

Billed a “mystery” player, Rivera is in camp with the Chunichi Dragons on a trial basis (“testo sei“). Rivera has Dominican Summer League experience with academy affiliates of the Cardinals and Padres, but hasn’t appeared in a game since 2010.

Rivera stepped off his flight from the Dominican and immediately impressed with his velocity. Chunichi has found Latin American bargains such as Tony Blanco and Enyelbert Soto in recent years, we’ll see if lightning strikes again.

  • Has Orix improved?

Orix recently grabbed headlines for acquiring star outfielder Yoshio Itoi in a trade with Nippon Ham, but has made a couple other interesting moves this offseason. The Buffaloes signed 2B Keiichi Hirano, picked up starter Shun Tono in a trade with Yomiuri, and snagged closer Takahiro Mahara as compensation for losing free agent starter Hayato Terahara. On the negative side of the ledger, the B’s parted ways with talented, but health-challenged starters Terahara Hiroshi Kisanuki, as well as Alfredo Figaro. Orix is still on the outside looking in at a top-3 finish, but if everything goes absolutely right for them, they could make things interesting.

  • Has Yokohama DeNA improved?

DeNA’s offseason largely consisted of poaching Tony Blanco, Jorge Sosa and Enyelbert Soto from Chunichi, getting OF Hitoshi Tamura back from Softbank, and signing Nyjer Morgan. All of these moves, with the probable exception of Morgan, improve the Baystars, but none really addresses the team’s main weaknesses of the starting rotation and middle infield. The real step forward will have to be lead by the ‘Stars young players: 3B Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, C Shuto Takajo, pitchers Yuki Kuniyoshi and Kisho Kagami, and 2012 draftees IF Hiroyuki Shirasaki and pitcher Kazuki Mishima.

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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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