Tag Archive > Tomo Ohka

Japan’s Independent Leagues 2014

» 09 February 2014 » In international baseball, something else » 13 Comments

Despite the steady decline in traffic to this site during it’s two years of idleness, one page that has attracted a steady stream of visitors is Ryo Shinkawa’s 2009 post on Japan’s independent leagues. Since that post is nearly five years old, I thought I’d attempt to come up with an update. I got a big helping hand from Brandon Mann, who spent the 2013 season with the Shinano Grandserows of the BC League and took the time to answer some questions about his experiences there. Thank you Brandon for your input.

Indy ball got its start in Japan in 2005, when former Seibu Lions star Hiromichi Ishige founded the four-team Shikoku Island League. The league did well enough to spawn an imitator in the Hokuriku region, the Baseball Challenge League (BC League), which started play in 2007. A third league, the Kansai Independent Baseball League, operated from 2008 to 2013, and has been supplanted by the Baseball First League, which is scheduled to play its first season this year.

The Indy leagues have become a source of talent for NPB, though a rather meagre one compared to amateur baseball and MLB and it’s affiliated minor leagues. 2012 Pacific League batting champion Katsuya Kakunaka stands out as far and away the most successful NPB player to have gotten his start in the Indy leagues, but his success seems more directly attributable to development as a pro. Kakunaka spent one year in the Island League, where he batted .253.

Some foreign players have used the Indy leagues as a path to NPB, to some success. Over the last few seasons, Francisco Caraballo, Alex Maestri and Steve Hammond signed with Orix; Edison Barrios signed with Softbank; and Chris Carter played in the BC League to prove he was healthy, which worked well enough to get him a return engagement with Seibu. Of the five players mentioned here, only Barrios lacked experience playing at 1A or above. Maestri has fared the best, and is going into his third season with the Buffaloes.

More interestingly, at least to me as an observer, is the number of players the Indy league teams have imported from non-traditional baseball countries. Some notable examples: the BC League’s Gunma Diamond Pegasus had French players Frederic Hanvi and Felix Brown, Nepal’s Iswor Thapa spent a couple seasons in the Kansai League, and last year Kagawa of the Island League signed Burmese lefty Zaw Zaw Oo. None of these players fared well, but that’s almost not important. Just the fact that they were there is something, enough to be a tiny step forward in baseball’s growth in Asia.

This post wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the fact that Tomo Ohka reinvented himself as a knuckleballer in the BC League, which led to a minor league deal with the Blue Jays. Ohka isn’t alone in: Brandon Mann parlayed his tenure with the Grandserows into a deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Red Sox and Indians have signed Japanese Indy ball prospects in the last year. So over the last five years, Japan’s Indy leagues have definitely cemented their place in the global baseball community.

That’s about where my insight into Japan’s Indy leagues ends, so I asked Brandon about his experiences.

NPB Tracker: How do American/foreign players hook on with Indy League teams?

Brandon Mann: In my situation I asked my agent if he could get me on an Indy team there. After getting released by the Nationals all i wanted was to be back in Japan. Some of my friends who have played there did a BC league tryout in California.

(ed. note: I found American tryout information for the Shikoku Island League here and the BC League here. Both tryouts have already happened, but it gives you an idea of what to expect for next year. The BC League is having a tryout in Gunma Prefecture on February 15.)

NT: I read years ago that the top pay for the Island League was about JPY 200,000 ($2000) per month. Is that accurate for the BC League?

BM: I can’t speak for Japanese players, but I was making $2,500 with incentives each month. My American teammates were making around 1,000 a month.

(ed. note: I spent some time looking into this, and found that Island League pays from JPY  100,000 to JPY 400,000 per month, and the BC League seems to start around JPY 150,000 per month, plus another JPY 50,000 in bonuses.)

NT: What is the level of play? How does it compare to US Indy ball or NPB’s ni-gun level?

BM: This is a question I get asked all the time. It’s hard to explain the level of play, because for me it was probably my worse year of my career statistically speaking. I usually explain it like this. Indy ball in the states or ni-gun NPB has much better players but the BC is more intense. Those players want it more than anyone I’ve ever played with. Baseball is truly life to these players.

NT: What are the living accommodations like?

BM: The team provided all of us foreigners with two bedroom apartments that we shared. It was about a 15 minute walk to the field which we would walk everyday. There was a Aeon across the street and that was about it for eating.

NT: Is there much of an NPB/MLB scouting presence at BC League games?

BM: I think that I saw a Boston Red Sox and a Texas rangers scout once last season. As with NPB there would be scouts depending on who was pitching usually. The coaches would tell me when they were there for me. To give an idea, most games there would be no scouts, and then we had 8-9 scouts at some games.

NT: Was it fun?

BM: Making no money, hanging banners up before every game, doing my own laundry, walking to the field and back ever day, and making no money? I loved every second of it to be honest. I absolutely love Japan and it was excited to experience a new part of life in Japan. Last season helped me to get signed with my current team and it honestly gave me a work ethic I never knew I could have.

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Changes for 2012: Yokohama DeNA Baystars

» 28 January 2012 » In npb » 9 Comments

It’s time again for this series of posts.I was hoping to get these in before camps open on February 1, but alas, sometimes real life intervenes. This year we’ll go in the reverse order of the final 2011 standings, Central League first. 

Coming: Alex Ramirez, Masaaki Koike, Shugo Fujii, Gio Alvarado, Kazunari Tsuruoka, Masanori Hayashi, Kazumasa Kikuchi, Taketoshi Goto, DeNA ownership, manager Kiyoshi Nakahata, new uniforms

Going: Shuichi Murata, Termel Sledge, Brett Harper, Shingo Takeyama, Naoto Inada, Tomo Ohka, Daisuke Hayakawa

Staying: Clayton Hamilton, Brandon Mann

2011 was another year in the cellar for Yokohama. The Baystars finished last in the Central for the eighth time in ten years, including the last four consecutively with sub-.360 winning percentages. Better news came following the season though, when the previous ownership group TBS finally found a buyer, mobile gaming company DeNA. The combination of new ownership and charismatic new manager Kiyoshi Nakahata has generated a level of buzz around the team unseen since Kazuhiro Sasaki’s return.

Despite 2011’s last place finish, there were a few bright spots: Kentaro Takasaki emerged as a solid starter, slugger prospect Yoshitomo Tsutsugo performed well in his late-season trial, 2009 ikusei draftee Yuki Kuniyoshi emerged as a prospect, and lefty Brandon Mann put up good numbers in limited work.  The obvious rub is that of the four guys mentioned, only Takasaki made a contribution that lasted the entire season.

The Baystars’ 2012 roster changes aren’t going to vault the team into contention, but they aren’t going to hurt either. Yomiuri refugee Alex Ramirez and the emerging Tsutsugo should cancel out the losses of Termel Sledge and Shuichi Murata, and perhaps the departure of Brett Harper will lead to a few at-bats for prospect Atsushi Kita. Ramirez will be a defensive liability, and Tsutsugo probably will be as well, but then again, Sledge and Murata weren’t exactly gold glovers.

The bigger issue for Yokohama over the last several seasons has been run prevention. Last year, Yokohama had only two pitchers through 100 or more innings, Kentaro Takasaki and NPB Tracker favorite Daisuke Miura. To that end, if newcomers Gio Alvarado and Shugo Fujii can contribute 100-120 IP of league average or slightly better ball, the dual benefit of giving the younger pitchers some breathing room and making the more competitive will be realized.

The Baystars seem destined for another last-place finish in the Central this year, but for the first time in quite a while it feels like there’s a little competitive light visible at the end of the tunnel.

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Offseason Changes: Yokohama BayStars

» 22 January 2011 » In npb » 16 Comments

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be publishing team-by-team summaries of this offseason’s NPB transactions. There aren’t enough hours in the day to make this a comprehensive list of all movement, so we’ll focus on the highest-impact changes. Our series starts at the bottom of the Central League, which again means the Yokohama BayStars.

Coming: Hichori Morimoto, Shogo Yamamoto, Go Kida, Naoto Watanabe, Brandon Mann, Clayton Hamilton, Brent Leach, Ikki Shimamura, Koji Ohnuma, Kuan Yu Chen

Going: Seiichi Uchikawa, Hayato Terahara, Kazuya Takamiya, Chris Bootcheck, Stephen Randolph, Jose Castillo, Atsushi Kizuka,Yataro Sakamoto, Toshihiro Noguchi, Takahiro Saeki, Shingo Nonaka, Kentaro Kuwabara

Staying: Shuichi Murata, Brett Harper, Termel Sledge, Tatsuhiko Kinjoh, Tomo Ohka

Summary: A lot of turnover for the BayStars again this year, headlined by the losses of Uchikawa and Terahara. Uchi will be missed, as he was Hama’s most consistent on-base threat, and while Morimoto is a useful player, he doesn’t match up at the plate. And trading Terahara for Yamamoto… I just can’t understand that one. Even if they were dead set on acquiring a lefty, they could have simply signed Eric Stults or kept Randolph. But ‘Stars took a different approach to their import roster this year, signing less experienced minor leaguers Mann, Hamilton and Leach rather than getting more 4A guys. Signing a number of guys and seeing if one of them works out is actually a decent strategy for a team that can’t realistically expect to content in 2011. Or perhaps ownership is keeping the payroll down in anticipation of a team sale.

Yokohama finished last in run production and run prevention last year, and didn’t acquire any veteran talent that will immediately improve the team on either side of the ball. So is there any hope by the Bay in 2011? If there is, it has to come from the team’s young talent. The BayStars’ 2010 draft focused on college and Industrial League players who can help soon, and top picks Kota Suda, Kisho Kagami, and Sho Aranami should all be in the mix for ichi-gun time as rookies. Yokohama doesn’t have great organizational pitching depth, but any steps forward taken by Takayuki Makka, Hitoshi Fujie, Atori Ohta and Yoh Sugihara will be meaningful. Overall, though, this looks like a team that is headed for another last place finish.

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Potential NPB Returnees

» 22 October 2009 » In nichibei, npb » 8 Comments

It looks like we could to see a wave of Japanese major leaguers make their respective ways back to Japan this offseason. I don’t expect all these guys to go back to Japan, but some of them will, and I’ve listed in order of probability of actually returning.

  • Kenji Johjima – appears to be headed to Hanshin, perhaps as early as the 25th.
  • Masahide Kobayashi – Hanshin, Orix, Yokohama and Lotte have all be mentioned as suitors for KobaMasa.
  • Yasuhiko Yabuta – Yabuta’s contract with the Royals quietly expired earlier in the month, and he hasn’t been in the news lately but I’ve seen both Yokohama and Lotte mentioned as interested.
  • Ken Takahashi – is weighing a return to Japan against taking another shot at MLB. Hiroshima seems to be the obvious destination.
  • So Taguchi — Orix wants to bring Taguchi back to where he spent the first part of his career.
  • Tomo Ohka — I think he’d rather stay in 3A than go back to Japan, but there has been speculation that Yokohama would have him back. Ohka started his career by the bay.
  • Hideki Matsui – For a while during the summer, it looked like both Hanshin and Yomiuri were going to go after Matsui, but his MLB stock has risen and that talk has mostly died down.
  • Akinori Iwamura – Aki has stated that his first preference is to remain in Tampa Bay, but Hanshin is reportedly interested in bringing him in. Since Yakult posted him they should still own his NPB rights, so I’m not sure if that move is feasible.

And as a special bonus:

  • Eric Hinske — Hinske wouldn’t be an NPB returnee, but the Hawks are reportedly interested in signing him this year. They had him on their list last offseason as well.

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Yokohama Considering Japanese Major Leaguers

» 03 September 2009 » In npb » 15 Comments

The Yokohama BayStars have routinely had the worst pitching staff in Japan the last few years, and word from Sponichi has it that they’ll be looking to re-import some help from the States this off-season. Said an unnamed member of the ‘Hama front office: “we’re two or three starters short, and getting a pitcher who can close is a point to improve on. We’re seeing if we can use any of the Japanese pitchers who are playing in America.” Ironically, this is the team that wouldn’t take Satoru Komiyama back after he returned from the Mets.

Sponichi mentions Tomo Ohka, Yasuhiko Yabuta, and Masahide Kobayashi as guys the BayStars could look at. Ohka spent time with Yokohama early in his career, but requested and was granted his release to pursue a shot at the Majors. Two other names I’ll throw out are Kei Igawa, who would have to take a pay cut to return to Japan (among other things, see comments), and Takashi Saito, who is much more of a wildcard — he’d need to be non-tendered, and he’s also performed much better in the States than he did in Japan.

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Minor Leaguers Going Overseas This Offseason

» 19 February 2009 » In mlb prospects » 4 Comments

This offseason, we’ve seen a large number of released NPB players announce an intent to pursue contracts with MLB organizations. I’m not sure if this is a record, but it’s the most I can recall. I’m not including Junichi Tazawa and Ken Takahashi in this list, because Takahashi turned down NPB offers, and Tazawa would have been drafted. All of these guys were either released by their NPB teams, or in the case of Yamarin, not drafted.

  • Shigeki Noguchi -> agreed with Blue Jays, failed physical
  • Ken Kadokura -> Cubs
  • Kazuhiro Takeoka -> Unsigned (Braves?)
  • Katsuhiko Maekawa -> Cardinals
  • Takateru Iyono -> Unsigned
  • Tatsuya Ozeki -> trying out with the Rockies in March
  • Ryohei Tanaka -> Orioles
  • Michinao Yamamura -> Unsigned (Golden League?)
  • Koichi Misawa -> Unsigned (played in the Northern League in ’08)
  • Yoshinori Yamarin -> Braves
  • Itsuki Shoda -> Sinon Bulls (Taiwan)

Five Players are still unsigned, which doesn’t surprise me, but I can see Yamamura and Iyono getting a shot as they’re still in their 20’s. Takeoka has worked out twice for the Braves and played AAA ball, so he might a chance too.

Notable MLB returnees:

  • Jeremy Powell -> Pirates
  • Jason Standridge -> Marlins
  • Craig Brazell -> Orioles
  • Winston Abreu -> Rays

Without a doubt, all of the players listed above obvious face big uphill battles to making it to the majors. But the fact that they are getting a chance indicates either a heightened respect for the level of talent in Japan, or a greater need to find low-cost, low-risk players through non-traditional channels. There will be 22 Japanese players in 14 big league camps this spring.

Reasons not to write these guys off just yet: Tomo Ohka, Takashi Saito, Hector Carrasco, Buddy Carlyle, Brian Shouse and  Pedro Feliciano. Saito looked like he was on the downside of his career when he came over, and none of the other guys had lasting success at the top level in Japan. All have been at least useful MLB players.

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