Thursday, January 24, 2019

Spring Training Notes; News for January 2019

Well Spring training is just a day away now. All players have been doing their own individual training as of the turn of the year except for the rookies who have a heavily supervised individual training at Nagoya ballpark.

Rookie Watch
All the rookies have reported in to their dormitories with much of the attention falling on 1st draft pick, Akira Neo. Neo's reputation and potential to be the best thing since miso tonkatsu, has brought in waves of media and fans to practice games to the point where at times pointless looking articles surface asking Neo how he's going to combat the flu season. For your information, he plans to gargle and wash his hands frequently.

It hasn't been all bad however, as one of my favourite stories to come out of camp so far is former Dragons short-stop, Masaru Uno coming out to visit Neo. Uno is the Dragons all-time homerun leader and was also a bearer of the number 7. Media have been in contact with Uno frequently given the parallels between him and Neo and he finally had the chance to meet the Gifu-born infielder earlier this month. He was generally encouraging, asking Neo to play in a way befitting of himself. Uno also had the similar experience of being the incumbent when a young star was brought into the team in 1988. Kazuyoshi Tatsunami was a short-stop out of PL Gakuen high school and Uno was told by then manager Senichi Hoshino that "(Tatsunami) will play whether he hits or not." Perhaps some advice for Yota Kyoda too in that regard? Uno moved to second for the season and then moved back to short in 1989 before leaving the team for the Marines in 1993.

Unfortunate news is that Kodai Umetsu experienced some discomfort and has been put on a light training program. The number two pick suffered from a right shoulder impingement which has delayed his progress a little bit. One was hoping that he would be in the mix for the starting day rotation, but that was perhaps a bit premature. Nonetheless, he seems to be okay and is recovering.

Other rookies Kota Ishibashi and Kenshin Kakikoshi caught a bout of the flu earlier this month, but both recovered fairly quickly. Ishibashi unfortunately was diagnosed after catching his first bullpen as a professional.

Oh Captain, My Captain
In other news, Shuhei Takahashi, who became a father in November, will be
appointed as team captain for the upcoming season. The 25 year old who was drafted first round in 2013, played his first full-season last year at second base and has now been given the added responsibility to lead by example. He says he wants to be a leader that is approachable and wants to create an environment that makes it easier for junior players to speak up. He has also especially promised support for Neo as a former high-school first rounder with high hopes on his back. Yohei Oshima threw his support behind the young captain saying that "Shuhei is a mood maker" while Issei Endo made comment that "if he doesn't overthink and hits the ground running I think he'll go in a good direction." Shuhei himself commented upon being made captain "The first thing that need to be done is make sure I do my own things right. In order to make sure that my team-mates and the fans aren't asking "what are you doing?!" I need to take on responsibility and (a level of) self-awareness."

Ryosuke Hirata was the last to hold the captaincy in the 2016 season under Motonobu Tanishige's tenure and you have to look back to Toru Nimura in 1992 to find an example before then. It's not an oft used responsibility in this day and age but it might just help Shuhei gain an air of responsibility as a senior member of the team who can provide that bridge between the growing pool of high-school aged players and the more seasoned pros. Certainly an interesting decision by Yoda and his staff.

Fame! I'm gonna live forever!
January also brings with it the ballot for the Japanese hall of fame and there were two former Dragons inducted into the 2019 class marking the 26th and 27th inductees that have either coached or played for the Dragons during their careers.

Mr Dragons the third, Kazuyoshi Tatsunami was elected based on his success as a player while Hiroshi Gondo, a man with the legend of throwing over 400 innings in his rookie season, received recognition in the "expert" area of the hall for his work as a coach and as an analyst.
Tatsunami was part of the famous PL Gakuen High School teams of the late 1980's where he was drafted first round by the Dragons at the 1987 draft. He would win rookie of the year honors in 1988 and would go on to be an integral piece of the Dragons during the 1990's. He was a 10 time All-Star and 2 time Best 9 winner. He was perhaps best known for his ability not to hit for power, but to pick the gaps where over his 22 year career, he captures the NPB record for career doubles. A face of his generation alongside the likes of Ichiro Suzuki, Kazuhiro Kiyohara and Hideki Matsui, Tatsunami certainly ticks all the boxes for the "fame" category. Never really the best player on his team, Tatsunami had a long and successful career beloved by fans the country over. He has been pining for a return to pro baseball as a manager but has successfully carved out a niche as an analyst and occasional author for the time being. 

Hiroshi Gondo started his career in the 1960's and in probably best known for his rookie season in 1961 where his feats created the the well known phrase "Gondo, Rain, Gondo, Gondo" due to him pitching what seemed like every day. At age 22, Gondo threw 429.1 innings in 44 starts and 69 games played. What is perhaps more amazing is that he did it for a 1.70 ERA and a 0.911 WHIP. Unsurprisingly, this season not only got him rookie of the year honours, but also the Eiji Sawamura award. He backed up this season with 362.1 innings in 1962 where he had a 30-17 record and a 2.33 ERA, capturing most wins in the Central League. Gondo's rate of innings steadily declined and by 1965 he arm was spent, converting to the field where he mostly a sub .220 hitter. 
After coaching with the Dragons, Buffaloes and Hawks, Gondo would later rise to prominence as manager of the Yokohama Baystars where he led them to their first Japan Series appearance and win in 38 years in 1998. He is still one of only two managers to win the Japan Series with Yokohama and one of only three to make a Japan Series appearance with the team. Gondo has otherwise also been prolific as a commentator and analyst where he is attributed with, among other things, predicting the rise of the change-up. 

Overall, there will be no Chunichi fan unhappy with this but much of the English media coverage has not so much been about Tatsunami and Gondo as it has been about the omission of former Kintetsu Buffaloes and Yomiuri Giants slugger, Tuffy Rhodes who has been largely ignored by voters. This however is a story for another time and I do recommend checking in on Jim Allen for more commentary on the topic. 

Springtime for Yoda in Okinawa

The squads top and bottom squads have been decided for spring training that commences in Okinawa at Chatan and Yuntan tomorrow. Akira Neo was long ago locked in to start with the top team but he will be joined by fellow rookies Akiyoshi Katsuno and Kaname Takino. The full compliment of the foreign legion will start with the top team with only development contracted Ariel Martinez starting with the farm team. 

The Dragons will also be giving a test to Sandy Brito, a Dominican RHP who was released by the Tampa Bay Rays organisation this year with a view to signing him to a development contract deal. 

Here is the squad list:

First Team

12Shinji Tajima27Shota Ono23Issei Endo
16Katsuki Matayoshi35Takuya Kinoshita26Masataka Iryo
17Yuya Yanagi45Shota Sugiyama31Masaru Watanabe
18Daisuke Matsuzaka52Takuma Kato42Zoilo Almonte
19Kazuki Yoshimi44Steven Moya
22Yudai OnoInfielders51Kaname Takino
23Toshiya Okada#Name56Yusuke Matsui
24Koji Fukutani1Yota Kyoda62Shota Tomonaga
25Yu Sato3Shuhei Takahashi
29Daisuke Yamai5Toshiki Abe
33Daisuke Sobue7Akira Neo
34Hiroto Fuku9Shun Ishikawa
41Akiyoshi Katsuno53Kyohei Kamezawa
46Hiroshi Suzuki55Nobumasa Fukuda
47Shotaro Kasahara63Naomichi Donoue
54Kento Fujishima66Dayan Viciedo
57Joely Rodriguez
64Ryosuke Oguma
70Enny Romero
97Raidel Martinez

Second Team

11Shinnosuke Ogasawara38Masato Matsui4Atsushi Fujii
14Keisuke Tanimoto39Shingo Takeyama6Ryosuke Hirata
28Kodai Umetsu59Kota Ishibashi8Yohei Oshima
30Takuma Achira68Iori Katsura49Kosuke Ito
40Sho Ishikawa210Ariel Martinez67Hiroki Kondo
43Takuya Mituma
50Tatsuya ShimizuInfielder
59Takumi Yamamoto#Name
61Kenshin Kakikoshi0Wataru Takamatsu
65Junki Ito32Masami Ishigaki
69Taisuke Maruyama36Ryota Ishioka
98Yusuke Kinoshita37Taiki Mitumata
99Shota Suzuki48Hayato Mizowaki
202Tomohiro Hamada
203Tatsuro Hamada
206Akito Okura
209Kento Mark Ishida

A quick look over both squads and I think it's obvious what the coaches are looking at. There are a lot of players in the top team that I'm sure Yoda and his team want to get familiar with. Guys like Ishikawa, Abe, Tomonaga, Iryo and Sugiyama in particular will need to be assessed. Iryo and Tomonaga in particular may be lucky to have a job next year if they can't break out this year, so it's important for the new management team to make sure they're not going to lose anyone important. After a week or so though there'll be some shuffling of players between the two squads. This is even more likely with players like Ogasawara and Umetsu coming back from injuries. 

Fujii, Hirata and Oshima will start with the bottom team but will eventually head up the top when the practice games start getting more serious. The three senior outfielders have been given time to tune-up by themselves and won't be really be a part of the squad proper. They'll also be among friends as many of their former team-mates make up the coaching staff on farm team which is another reason that has been cited for their tune-up to occur in Yuntan.

Otherwise, I don't think there are any other real surprises with this squad but I
think there will be something interesting happening with our catching this year. Something tells me that Matsui won't be in favour as much this year with Takuma Kato earmarked for more attention this year. Takeyama at least shouldn't be much more than a bullpen catcher this year (one can only hope) while Iori Katsura and Shota Sugiyama really need to turn their careers around as they get closer and closer to the scrap pile. Katsura has been unlucky with injury and Sugiyama fell out of favour under the Mori regime. This will I think be one of the key focuses leading into the new season.

Other key talking point will of course be the opening day rotation which could look a bit different depending on how things go. By my thought, the only locks are Yoshimi and Kasahara. Matsuzaka will I think likely make it, Ogasawara may not be ready in time, Yanagi will be there if he shows good form in camp while Enny Romero, Kento Fujishima and Akiyoshi Katsuno will likely be the others hovering in the background for the final spots.

The closer role will be an interesting battle as well which has three likely candidates in a fitter looking Shinji Tajima, a fireballing Hiroshi Suzuki and the second coming of Kazuhiro Sasaki, Yu Sato. (I'm joking, I don't think he's quite that good) How the closer role shapes up will in turn affect the set-upper position where we'll see a combination of Joely Rodriguez and the above.

News as of today has put shade on Neo's start with the top team as he seems to have pulled his calf muscle and has since been put on an individual training menu. He may well be two weeks away from returning to full training. 

The first practice game for both teams will be against KBO's Hanwha Eagles on the 11th and 16th respectively while there will be inter-squad games on the 3rd and 4th to start things off. First NPB opposition will be the Marines on the 14th for the first team in Chatan while the second team faces the Baystars on the 19th in Yuntan.

The new season is still 2 months away, but we're getting closer and the excitement is building. A new manager and staff hopefully means a new beginning for many of the players that haven't had their chances yet which I hope means a flashier more successful Dragons team in the near future.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Squad News Update: Draftees in, Garcia out, new numbers decided

2019's slogan is "Return of the rising Dragon IN BLUE"

As we're getting close to the end of the year, the Dragons have been busy cleaning up the wage structure and re-signing players to deals.

Senior Director, Shigekazu Mori has been in the Carribean negotiating deals and looking at new talent.

Onelki gone, Enny in
Onelki Garcia, who put up 13 wins this year for the Dragons, had previously agreed verbally with the Dragons to a multi-year deal. However, due to his agent getting involved demands apparently skyrocketed out of the realms of the Dragons' interest. New demands apparently had Garcia asking for a multi-year deal at ¥200,000,000 per year (roughly $1.75M USD) which the Dragons management balked at, and let Garcia walk.
The lefty hurler had previously stated that Chunichi "blue runs in (his) veins" but apparently the insistence of an agent to get more money out of the Dragons has ended the association prematurely.

Not to be deterred, Shigekazu Mori jumped immediately into negotiating with what seems like a direct replacement, that being former Tampa Bay Rays and Washington National fireballer, Enny Romero. Romero has been pitching in the Dominican Winter League and a deal was struck yesterday to bring Romero to the Dragons on a one-season ¥50,000,000 deal just like the one that brought Garcia to the Dragons last year. Romero seems to have a similar profile to Garcia in a lot of ways including most recently pitching in the majors for the Kansas City Royals and mostly as a reliever. The exciting part about Romero is his max-velocity hitting around 160 km/h which is something Garcia isn't or wasn't capable of.

All of Romero's experience in the majors has come out of the bullpen, but the Dragons will likely be wanting him to start. Romero has started over 20 games in AAA mostly with Tampa Bay earlier in his career, but it is more than conceivable that he'll be viewed as a starting piece unless some Japanese pitchers find their mojo (I'm looking at you, Ono).

Whatever Romero's role will be among the pitching staff, he looks like he has the goods. He posted a 1.33 ERA in 54 innings and a 0.870 WHIP in the Dominican Winter League this year where 10 of his 11 appearances have been starts. His SO/9 stands at 9.0 and he didn't give up a homerun. Dominance in the DR can be a good indication of things to come. At MLB level, his career ERA sits at 5.12 over 146 IP. His most recent jaunt in the Pirates minor league system has looked far less encouraging however as he posted a 6.23 ERA over 4.1 IP with the Indianapolis Indians (AAA) as well as giving up 3 runs in his one and only appearance at A+ ending his time with Pittsburgh with a 13.50 ERA.

Romero has a lot of upside. His career AAA stat line looks more encouraging with a 4.43 ERA over 191 IP. Strangely however, his SO/9 looks better at MLB level which may be because of his primary utilization as a reliever. A WHIP of 1.382 in AAA would put him in with the better relievers and starters with the Dragons this year which is a little bit encouraging, but aside from this year's Winter League, Romero hasn't had a start since 2013.

Romero primarily goes to school with a reliance on his pacey fourseam that hovers in the mid 150's on average topping out at 164 km/h. A mix between fourseam and slider seems to be the key to taking strikeouts for Romero but he also has a cutter that he has used to varying success. Earlier in his career with the Rays he also frequently mixed in a change-up but he has limited his use of this pitch as his career has progressed.

This again, like most of the signings last year, is low risk high reward. Worst case, Romero gets injured, but we're only out ¥50M. Best case, he's lightning and supports the team in the rotation or the bullpen in the best possible way like Garcia and Rodriguez last year.

Overall, I think he has the profile to succeed in the NPB, but like with any foreign signing it will depend on how he adapts.

Viciedo back in 2019 on big money contract

Dayan Viciedo has reportedly agreed terms to a bumper contract with the Dragons according to Jon Heyman. 3-years for $10M looks like a very generous offer from the Dragons and represents a large increase on the 2-year $3.5-$4M deal that Viciedo had previously been on. For a players that has only really excelled for one season, I'm worried that this locks away a lot of money for a a lot of years. Then again, by the time Viciedo's deal is up, we should be in a good position to challenge for the Central League regularly again meaning that the money may well be freed up by the time some players need to get paid.

I'm on the fence about this one, but Viciedo has repaid the faith after his battles with his US citizenship and he has now bonded pretty well with the team. He will have played for the Dragons for 6 years by the time the deal is up which would be one of the longer serving foreign players in recent years. Locking Viciedo up for his prime years looks good on paper, but I can't get out of my head the niggle of the Ernesto Mejia contract at Seibu that has proven to be a bit of a money sink.

Numbers changes
There have also been some moves in the jersey numbers department as shifts were made to accommodate for Daisuke Matsuzaka shifting to the 18 and Kyoda switching to 1.

Yota Kyoda 51 -> 1
Shota Tomonaga 1 -> 62
Daisuke Matsuzaka 99 -> 18
Shota Suzuki 18 -> 99
Taisuke Maruyama 28 -> 69
Masaru Watanabe 212 -> 31

Matsuzaka gets back his "ace" number that he wore for Seibu, Boston, Softbank and for the Japanese national team. This will no doubt drive more shirt sales particularly with new uniforms also announced for next year.

Tomonaga gives up the 1 to Kyoda to take up Kudo's 62 much in line with Tomonaga's previous comments at contract negotiations to be the next Kudo for the team. Kyoda takes up the 1 as an homage to his idol, Takashi Toritani of the Hanshin Tigers.

Taisuke Maruyama falls down the pecking order with a move to the nice number of 69 while the newly promoted Masaru Watanabe picks up the 31 vacated by the retired Kei Nomoto.

New draftees officially unveiled
Also, the press conference for the new draftees came a long and they new boys are  looking snazzy.

The new uniforms certainly jump out a bit better here and they're looking really good to my eye. Neo and Umetsu look quite focused in this shot while I like the half smile form Katsuno as well.

Jersey numbers were of course dealt out for the new boys:
Akira Neo - 7
Kodai Umetsu - 28
Akiyoshi Katsuno - 41
Kota Ishibashi - 58
Kenshin Kakikoshi - 61
Kaname Takino - 51

The significant number goes to Neo of course who wears the 7 last worn by Masahiko Morino. The giving of the 7 to Neo has been pretty well known for a while now and it's gotten as far as former barer of the number at short, Masaru Uno. Uno was the last Dragons regular to wear the 7 at short-stop and the slugger holds the Chunichi record for career homeruns. There's a lot of pedigree that comes with the number and Neo looks like someone who will do it justice in the long-term.

Kodai Umetsu takes up the 28 that was vacated by Taisuke Maruyama. Through history, there have been a few familiar names with the number including Taiwanese major leagure, Wei-Yin Chen who wore it for a season as well as Shinji Iwata who was a pitching coach in 2-gun last year. The longest to bare the number however is Yujiro Miyako who also coached the 2-gun pitchers last year but had a semi-successful career as a starter in the mid-1980s. If not Sho Ishikawa, I think Umetsu could have his eyes on the 20 in the future. I hope so anyway.

Akiyoshi Katsuno I think gets the most fitting number in the 41. Takuya Asao of course is the most recent and probably most famous to hold the jersey. Like Asao, Katsuno is a Tokai native, a graduate of the industrial leagues and a very successful right-handed pitcher. I'd also throw in that they're both pretty handsome.

Kota Ishibashi takes on the 58 which became vacant after Tetsuya Tani's retirment. The last catcher to hold the jersey was Daisuke Tanaka who joined the Dragons in 2006 before departing in 2014.

Kenshin Kakikoshi takes on the number that Shunta Wakamatsu left behind. Another number with some connections as Wakamatsu and Kakikoshi joined the Dragons straight out of high school, both are from the Tokai region and both are pitchers.

Lastly, Kaname Takino takes the 51 that Kyoda left. Issei Nakamura was the last outfielder to hold the jersey and he had a modest career with the Dragons before moving to the Buffaloes where he saw some time at the plate.

Overall, there's a lot of interesting stories behind the numbers.

Now we truly enter the dark end of the season with individual training and new years preparation.

Friday, November 9, 2018

2019 Contract Negotiations: Ups and downs

It's hit the time for contract updates in the off season as the current roster is assessed on this year's performances while the 2018 draftees get signed up.

For the curious, you can look-up last year's salary figures here.

This should give us a bit of an idea as to how much we have on the wage bill. The retirements of Araki, Asao, Kudo and Iwase have freed up close to $3M just on their own which means more money to go around.

Losing Shunta Wakamatsu also frees up about $250k.

A big raise is expected for Daisuke Matuzaka who has performed well both on and off the field with some outlets suggesting he's in for a $1M salary for next year. If the Dragons want to keep their foreign players from this year, a lot more cash will have to be sunk into investing for their return as Almonte, Garcia and Moya all joined the team on very team friendly deals while Viciedo's best season to date will push up his value and salary expectations.

As this is ongoing, I will be updating this table each day as more information comes to hand. I will also include the salaries of the new draftees as negotiations start to occur. Hopefully by the end of the month we'll have a better picture of what the overall wage bill is and how we'll look in 2019.

For the sake of simplicity and to make it easier to understand I've gone with a straight 100 yen = $1 approach. Please also note that an asterisk denotes farm appearances as that player has not played with the first team. Also note that 未 refers to undecided.

As of the 19th, the big mover in the down direction is Katsuki Matayoshi who lost 25% of his salary due to having a down year. Last year he was one of the most reliable, this year, not so much. Raises for young guns Yu Sato and Shotaro Kasahara. Both represented Samurai Japan recently against an MLB selection side and have progressed quite well this year. Shuhei Takahashi too gets a bit raise after having his most successful season to date hitting double digit homeruns and appearing in 100+ games. Masaru Watanabe meanwhile moves up from a development contract to become a fully rostered player. Watanabe was one of the better hitters on the farm last year.

Big hits for bullpen arms as Shinji Tajima and Katsuki Matayoshi got hit hard for their inability to back up previous years' excellence. Yudai Ono too got a hard hit due to his inability to throw anything that would stick over the plate in his limited appearances in the first-team. Among position players Nobumasa Fukuda and Shuhei Takahashi have received large increases with both making their respective positions their own this year taking on plenty of PAs and churning out decent numbers.

Contract extensions were given to Shota Ono and Kazuki Yoshimi with both receiving increases. Ono was an FA last year so I don't really understand why he was signed to a 3-year, $2.5M deal this year, but he has been while Yoshimi similarly received a 2-year, $1.8M deal as he gets a minor premium for being eligible for domestic FA this year and throwing 120+ innings.

Big money and 3 years has been given to Dayan Viciedo as a reward for this good numbers last season while Almonte doubles his money.

Winners are grinners as Shotaro Kasahara picks up
a sizeable raise.
Kazuki Yoshimi34RHP$900k$150k20125.25703.871.273
Keisuke Tanimoto33RHP$850k-89.200014.902.586
Daisuke Matsuzaka38RHP$800k$650k1155.16403.741.488
Shinji Tajima28RHP$700k$400k3028.204157.221.674
Katsuki Matayoshi28RHP$660k$220k4041.12506.531.718
Daisuke Yamai40RHP$620k$100k1062.13604.041.219
Yudai Ono30LHP$600k$200k627.10308.561.866
Joely Rodriguez27LHP$600k$200k2627.10312.301.317
Enny Romero27LHP$500kNew Arrival
Toshiya Okada27LHP$300k$10k2721.11005.061.734
Daisuke Sobue31RHP$290k-5148.22203.141.315
Koji Fukutani27RHP$230k$50k29270105.001.407
Hiroshi Suzuki21RHP$220k$70k53494644.411.489
Shotaro Kasahara23LHP$220k$90k20108.26404.141.371
Shinnosuke Ogasawara21LHP$210k-17107.15604.111.444
Yu Sato25RHP$200k$90k4243.11252.081.154
Yuya Yanagi24RHP$145k-1053.12505.231.444
Junki Ito27RHP$140k$30k1113.22003.951.756
Kento Fujishima19RHP$120k$54k1971.13103.661.374
Ryosuke Oguma28RHP$120k-843.13406.231.408
Akiyoshi Katsuno21RHP$120kNew Arrival
Kodai Umetsu21RHP$120kNew Arrival
Shota Suzuki23RHP$100k$20k28.20005.191.962
Takuya Mitsuma25RHP$100k$20k45.200011.122.118
Raidel Martinez22RHP$100k-721.21306.651.662
Hiroto Fuku26LHP$90k$10k10.10000.003.000
Sho Ishikawa19RHP$70k-110000.000.000
Takuma Achira26RHP$70k$10k18*59.22515.131.689
Yusuke Kinoshita24RHP$70k$28k1416.20005.401.560
Tatsuya Shimizu19RHP$70k-220009.002.500
Taisuke Maruyama23RHP$60k$15k*110009.002.000
Tatsuro Hamada24LHP$60k$20k*220000.001.000
Tomohiro Hamada26LHP$56.3k-*811.20001.540.982
Kenshin Kakikoshi18LHP$55kNew Arrival
Takumi Yamamoto18RHP$55k-120000.001.500
Akito Okura24RHP$30k-*11141105.791.714
Kento Mark Ishida23RHP$30k--------

Position PlayerAgeRoleWageUp/DownGBAABHRRBISBOPS
Dayan Viciedo29IF$3.6M$1.9M1350.348512269930.974
Yohei Oshima33OF$1.8M-1410.283588757210.697
Ryosuke Hirata30OF$1.8M$600k1380.32949395580.866
Zoilo Almonte29OF$1M$500k1320.321498157710.861
Shota Ono31C$1M$450k630.21513721000.603
Atsushi Fujii37OF$500k-960.24114533000.649
Steven Moya27OF$500k-460.3019331600.787
Nobumasa Fukuda30IF$470k$110k1330.261440136300.727
Yota Kyoda24IF$450k$50k1430.235632444200.572
Shuhei Takahashi24IF$350k$185k1280.254433116900.705
Naomichi Donoue29IF$300k-740.213470600.491
Kyohei Kamezawa30IF$260k-1100.2861850850.669
Masato Matsui31C$200k-920.22921822200.622
Akira Neo18IF$150kNew Arrival
Shota Sugiyama27C$150k$50k*490.230740510.654
Shingo Takeyama34C$150k-300.068440600.267
Yusuke Matsui31OF$150k$10k170.136220000.273
Takuya Kinoshita26C$100k$20k160.120251200.494
Ariel Martinez22C$100k-*390.239940900.605
Toshiki Abe28IF$95k$5k180.217230400.656
Issei Endo27OF$90k$30k20.00010000.000
Iori Katsura27C$90k$23k*310.295441200.690
Masataka Iryo29OF$72k$18k*600.24316911420.644
Kaname Takino21OF$72kNew Arrival
Hiroki Kondo25OF$70k$11k50.00040000.000
Shota Tomonaga 27OF$65k$5k*890.1842120950.522
Kota Ishibashi18C$60kNew Arrival
Wataru Takamatsu19IF$60k-*30.00020000.000
Ryota Ishioka26IF$60k$10k*730.26619931260.644
Taiki Mitsumata26IF$60k$10k*900.17622111700.504
Hayato Mizowaki24IF$60k$5k*900.27631911650.665
Shun Ishikawa28IF$60k-10.00010000.000
Takuma Kato26C$55k-*610.1931140710.468
Kosuke Ito19OF$55k-*930.19823721540.494
Masami Ishigaki20IF$54k-*1000.18332812430.490
Masaru Watanabe25OF$50k$20k*680.24413521160.694

Players Released/Retired
Araki and Iwase wave goodbye.

Dillon Gee32RHP-$1.7M4270304.00
Hitoki Iwase44LHP-$750k48352034.67
Takuya Asao34RHP-$560k109.10004.82
Onelki Garcia28LHP-$500k27168.213902.99
Shunta Wakamatsu23RHP-$250k*522.11106.04
Shu Yoshida22RHP-$30k------
Mikihiro Nishihama25RHP-$30k------
Masashi Yamamoto24RHP-$30k------

Position PlayerAgeRoleWageUp/DownGBAHRRBIOPSSB
Masahiro Araki40IF-$700k520.268130.6550
Takahito Kudo37OF-$210k730.133010.3213
Tetsuya Tani33IF-$130k30.000000.0000
Kei Nomoto34IF/OF-$98k80.125010.3750

*Data correct as of 19th December 2018

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

NPB Draft 2018: All new Dragons talents under the looking glass

This year's draft was underlined by two institutions with high level talent available. That of the summer Koshien winning Osaka Toin High School and the overflowing treasure chest of pitching at Toyo University.

Expected to be top of the bill as early as last year was Osaka Toin's Akira Neo. Neo, a native of Gifu Prefecture, was highlighted by Chunichi scouts very early on as someone that was going to be targeted in 2018. With their sights set on Neo as their first round pick, come draft day the major outlets were reporting up to 6 clubs being interested in selecting the young possible 2-way talent. The Dragons hadn't won a contest with more than 4 clubs in over 32 years, but it was to prove to be Chunichi's victory as new manager, Tsuyoshi Yoda's first job would prove to be a pivotal one, securing the ticket for the rights to negotiate with Neo.

The Dragons ended up drafting 3 players from high school, 2 from college and 1 from the industrial leagues this year in a draft still heavily focusing on youth. 3 pitchers, an outfielder, catcher and an immensely talented infielder were the spoils in a draft that can only be ranked as probably the best of any club this year where key areas were addressed with plus talents. Akira Neo of course will be the one to watch, but the pickups of Umetsu, Katsuno and Ishibashi in particularly will be very interesting to keep an eye on.

With the drafting of Neo, who prefers to play short, there are already talks of moving Kyoda to second or perhaps converting Neo to second as well with Shuhei Takahashi taking back his rightful place at third base. I still think it's a little bit early to be talking about Neo as a first team regular, but after I explain a bit more about his talents, you might understand why this conversation is occurring.

Let's now have a look at the A+ draftees for the year 2018:

1. Akira Neo (Osaka Toin High School)
Infielder/Right-handed pitcher
Name: 根尾 昂
Birthdate: 19th April 2000
Birthplace: Hida, Gifu Prefecture
Height: 177cm (5'9")
Weight: 80kg (176lb)
Bats: Left
Throws: Right
Max Velocity: 150 km/h (93 mp/h)
Pitches: Four-seam, slider, curveball, change-up
Base-running: 50m in 6 secs.

Akira Neo was quite simply the hottest talent available at this year's draft and the Dragons have snatched him. Potentially a 2-way talent, Neo represents someone that could, all going well, have a franchise built around. Long has it been since fans have been so excited about a talent like this before and it won't be long before Kazuyoshi Tatsunami comparisons abound should Neo find his way into the starting line-up next year. High ceiling talent with superstar potential, there's a lot to be excited about.

It is fate to see Neo in a Dragons
uniform again.
Neo was born in the Hida area of northern Gifu Prefecture, an area well known for it's beef products, and started playing baseball as in grade 2 at lementary school. During his final year of elementary school, Neo was picked up to play for the Dragons Junior team.
In junior high, Neo played for the local club team, Hida Takayama Boys where he would meet future teammate, Kenshin Kakikoshi (below). In his senior year of junior high, Neo was part of a touring team of the US with Nomo Japan (incidentally related to former Dodgers starter, Hideo Nomo), a team comprised of talented junior high students across Japan.

After being admitted to the prestigious baseball program at Osaka Toin High School, Neo sat on the bench in his first summer. In his freshman year, Neo's first appearance of note would come as a pinch-hitter against Osaka Kaisei in the Osaka Prefectural tournament's 4th round where he registered his first official hit, a solo home run to give his team the lead. In the Kinki regional tournament, Neo played a key role in 3 games batting 4th in the lineup and launched a solo homer in the quarter finals against Chiben Gakuen.

In spring of his second year, Neo played the field at short and centre while also pitching and played in every game of the Senbatsu tournament except for the final mostly batting 5th in the line-up. Although he was able to show his power, he struggled at the plate with a .211 average (19-4). He however showed his ability to hit in clutch situations where he helped start a winning rally in the 2nd round.
Neo helped the team otherwise win the tournament.

In his 3rd and final year, Neo helped the team to yet another Senbatsu victory and  played in a total of 18 games including the qualifying rounds in fall, hitting .371 with 3 homers and 20 RBIs while playing 10 games at short, 4 in the outfield and 4 as pitcher. Through these games, Neo started to get noticed by scouts for his defensive skills. Neo found most of his success hitting fastballs from the centre to the outside, hitting 9 extra-base hits pulling between left and centre field.

At Koshien in 2018 against Urawa Gakuin ace and Seibu Lions #2 pick, Yutaro Watanabe, Neo hit a weak 140 km/h fastball into the left stand. Neo also went yard in the Koshien final against Kosei Yoshida (Fighters #1 pick) leading to Osaka Toin winning the tournament.

Neo was selected as to represent the U-18 Samurai Japan team as a result of his heroics and played at the Asian Baseball Championships as the starting right-fielder. Starting all 5 games in the #5 slot, Neo went 18-7 with one homer and 7 RBIs. In the 26-0 drubbing of Hong Kong, Neo also hit for the cycle by the 5th inning in the first game of the tournament. In the pre-tournament warm-up against the Japanese Collegiate Team, Neo also shone with a 2-hit game.

Neo is short-stop who can play the outfield and has great athletic ability. He is a lefty who can put-up medium-high power numbers with a no-care swing. At the summer Koshien this year, he hit the back screen with 2 homers and hit another over the left stand fence. Whilst his athleticism has been praised, he also has a great mentality and it known for his intelligence on and off the field. As someone who can pitch at 150 km/h, Neo has a strong arm that could potentially play anywhere on the left side of the diamond or in outfield.

As a pitcher, Neo throws with an overthrow action and tops out at 150 km/h while he generally averages in the mid 140's. He has a vertically moving slider that is around 120~130km/h a 110 km/h curveball and a 130 km/h change-up. Neo came to the attention of scouts in junior high when he threw down a 146km/h heater. At this year's Koshien he had a 8.79 K/9 and a 4.07 BB/9.
Mr Athletic was a premier skier.

As a 5th grade elementary schooler, Neo came second in the nationals for the 100m sprint and in the 6th grade set the Japanese record for the softball throw at 88m 92cm. The multi-talented Neo also achieved victory in the junior high school nationals for alpine skiiing.

Scouts have been understandably effusive in praise with Chunichi Scouting director, Muneo Tanaka comparing Neo's style to former major leaguer, Kazuo Matsui. Vice-Director and Orix has called his swing collegiate level and was impressed at his ability to not only defend in the infield but also the outfield also praising his ability to adapt between wooden and alumnium bats. Fighters manager, Hideo Kuriyama commented that anyone can see that Neo has the goods as a batter and praised his baseball intelligence as both pitcher and as a position player. Hanshin's chief scout Shunji Hatakeyama commented that Neo has the same kind talent as Tomoya Mori (Lions) and Shohei Otani (Angels) had in high school also saying there is no mistake that he has all the tools to be a star.

Upon being selected in a radio interview immediately following the draft, Neo mentioned his connection to the Dragons as it was the team that he grew up watching on TV where the team were one of the strongest in Japan. On being asked about returning to his home region, Neo commented he has warm feelings for the Tokai region as it is the place that started his baseball adventure and he is happy to be able to return. When asked who his favourite Dragons players was he replied with "all of them." A rarer answer than you might think. Asked who left the biggest impression on him when he was growing up, he mentioned the Araiba pairing of Masahiro Araki and Hirokazu Ibata. Upon being requested for a comment toward Dragons fans he said "I am very honoured to have been selected by the team and I will do my best to level up so that I can contribute to the success of the team. I look forward to hearing your cheers."

New manager, Tsuyoshi Yoda immediately went out to meet his man to hear his initial thoughts about being a 2-way player and to welcome Neo to the Dragons family.

Neo, upon sigining his contract with
a bat incribed with「継続は力になり」
(Persistence pays off)
As of this week, Neo became the fastest player to receive a contract among the 2018 draftees in the NPB where he secured a ¥15,000,000 ($132,000) per year deal, an ¥100,000,000 ($885,000) sign-on bonus with incentives that could amount to ¥50,000,000 ($440,000). At the presser it was also made clear that Neo would be focusing on being a position player, ignoring the allure of being a 2-way player at least for now. 

Neo certainly appears to have all the goods and could, theoretically at least, see time in the first-team lineup this year. Much talk has been made about converting either he or Kyoda to second-base but there's still a lot to happen before then. Neo could be used to fill the outfield where we have the aging Oshima and Hirata outside of his preferred position at short. Kyoda certainly didn't set the world alight in 2018, Shuhei had a good season albeit not a great one and Nobumasa Fukuda falls into a similar category. The performances of these four in particular will probably shape how early Neo gets into the team. In the meantime, let's be excited to have such a wonderful talent coming to play in Nagoya. He will be a joy to watch.

2. Kodai Umetsu (Toyo University)
Right-handed pitcher
Name: 梅津 晃大
Birthdate: 24th October 1996
Birthplace: Fukushima, Fukushima Prefecture
Height: 187cm (6'1")
Weight: 90kg (198lb)
High School: Sendai Ikuei High School
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Max Velocity: 153 km/h (95 mp/h)
Pitches: Four-seam, slider, cutter, forkball, curveball

Kodai Umetsu was actually mentioned as a possible back-up first round pick for Neo, but much like Sho Ishikawa last year, the Dragons have grabbed a sneaky second round pick in the lofty, Tohoku-born righty. Umetsu was one of three talented pitchers out of Toyo University this year with the other two, Taiga Kamichatani (Baystars) and Hiroshi Kaino (Hawks) going first round this year. Probably the most polished of the pitcher's taken this year, Umetsu could fight for a spot in the rotation from the get go.

Umetsu started playing baseball in grade two of elementary school and played for Shuko Junior High School (affiliated with Sendai Ikuei) after moving up.
At powerhouse Sendai Ikuei High School, Umetsu found space on the bench wearing the 11 in his second year. In the beginning of spring he made a good impression at a camp in Okinawa and became a member of the Senbatsu squad as a result. In a warm-up game against Kanto Daiichi, Umetsu threw down 3 innings for 3K in a scoreless showing. Unfortunately at the Senbatsu tournament, there was to be no place for Umetsu to make a showing and he was left off the summer Koshien roster but claimed the ace number 1 to begin the fall season.
At the Tohoku tournament, still with team that kept winning, Umetsu had only one appearance to speak of, 1 inning of relief in the semi-final against Rifu High School.
In spring of his senior year in the scond game of the regional tournament against Kogata Norin High School, he threw down 13Ks in a complete game shut-out. At the following Senbatsu tournament against Toryo High School he threw a complete game in a 7-2 win. Unfortunately, following his superb performances, Umetsu had issues with his left wrist and was excluded from the squad for that year's Tohoku regional tournament. In summer however he would return and threw 5 inning for 3 earned runs against Tohoku Gakuin High School where his team would eventually lose 4-3 in the 13th inning.
At high school, Umetsu was highlighted by pro scouts with Rakuten particularly interested, but he did not apply to be considered for that year's draft and he went straight to Toyo University.

In spring of his 1st year, he entered the bench of the second team at Toyo and played in 4 games registering 4IP, 4BB and a 4.50 ERA. As he was only 80kg, he increased his weight to 92kg and in his 3rd year against Hosei University, threw a PB velocity of 153 km/h. In the fall league of the same year, Umetsu made appearances as a starter and in relief and recorded 150km/h plus speeds in every game he pitched.
In Toyo's first apperance in 5 years at the national collegiate championships, Umetsu played in the opening game and registered 151km/h on the gun bringing the attention of pro scouts. In the second game of the tournament, he threw down an appealing 6 innings for 1 hit and 1 earned run (he was withdrawn due to injury).

In his final year, he pitched in 13 games including 10 as a starter throwing 53.2 innings and in the fall league he recorded his first win ( a relief appearance) in his final game. In the spring and the All-Japan Championships against Kyushu Sangyo University, he came into the game at a 0-3 cound in the bottom of the 3rd with one out on the board and loaded bases. On the back of his injury recover, he threw 4.1 innings for 5K but ultimately had issues with control leading to giving up 2 homeruns and 7 hits in a 3-10 loss.
In the league, Umetsu finished with a 1-3 record with 53.2 IP and a 1.94 ERA.

Umetsu's velocity sits in the mid 140's often touching the early 150's with a 120~130km/h slider, 140km/h forkball and a 100km/h curveball. Umetsu favours attacking the inside with a mix of his four-seam, slider and forkball. As a high schooler he was praised for his balance and flexibility.

Scouts across the country have had their eyes on Umetsu and there's no shortage
of glowing reports. Hiroshima scouts have said that Umetsu is not quite there yet, but has the potential to be  a 20-win player. Muneo Tanaka has previously said that Umetsu is at about 50% of his total power suggesting he has a lot of potential yet to be tapped into even suggesting he could become a pitcher like Shohei Otani.

Upon being drafted, Umetsu expressed his relief and said that he was glad to have happy news to give to his recently hospitalized mother who had had a brain haemorrhage 3 days previous. After the draft, new manager Tsuyoshi Yoda went to meet his new man and proclaimed he expects Umetsu to be in the mix for the starting rotation next year. Yoda also spoke of how he had the chance to see a few games that Umetsu pitched in claiming he was the best of the 3 Toyo pitchers available this year.
In an interview with CBC announcer, Keiichi Wakasa post-draft Umetsu commented on his difficulty coming up through the ranks at Toyo where he suffered from a lack of motivation. Determined however, he put on the necessary weight and started throwing fireballs. He commented that that his difficulty at Toyo was perhaps the biggest turning point in his baseball career.

Umetsu seems to be a high celing, medium-low floor kind of player. When he's off he doesn't seem to do well, but there's lots of parts to him that make him an interesting piece for this team. Compared to his colleagues Taiga Kamichatani and Hiroshi Kaino he may be less NPB ready, but according to scouts could well surpass them if he reaches his potential.

3. Akiyoshi Katsuno (Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Nagoya)
Right-handed Pitcher
Name: 勝野 昌慶
Birthdate: 12th June 1997
Birthplace: Kani, Gifu Prefecture
Height: 183cm (6'0)
Weight: 89kg (196lb)
High School: Gifu Toki Commercial High School
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Max Velocity: 152 km/h (94 mp/h)
Pitches: Four-seam, slider, curveball, forkball

Like Neo, Katsuno hails from Gifu prefecture. Katsuno appears to be billed as someone that could immediately slip in to a bullpen role.

Katsuno started playing baseball in primary school and played for his local team in Kani when he reached middle-school.

At Toki Commercial, Katsuno was given the 18 in his first year and found a place on the bench. Through experience as an ace at his junior high team, Katsuno developed and in fall of his second year helped his team to 3rd in the prefectural tournament.

In summer of his third year,  Katsuno gave up 5 ER in 1.1 IP against Hashima North High School in a 7-2 come from behind loss where his team were knocked out in the 3rd round of the Gifu prefectural tournament. Katsuno however shone in earlier performances throwing 10K in 7 shut-out innings in Game 1, also hitting a 3-run homer over the left fence.

His best results as a high schooler was a semi-final appearance in the Gifu Prefectural Tournament and a 2nd round appearance in the Tokai tournament.

From his first year with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Katsuno appeared in official games. From spring, Katsuno was used as both a starter and a reliever. In the 2nd round of qualifiers for the inter-city tournament, Katsuno posted a 3.06 ERA in 17.2 innings pitched. Despite conceding 17 hits and giving up 14 walks, Katsuno took 16 SO (8.15 SO/9) showing off strong mental application.
At the following tournament, Katsuno threw down 7.2 innings including 5.1 innings as a starter in game 1 for only one hit.

While in his first year at Mitsubishi, he was called up for the U-23 Samurai Japan team for the U-23 World Cup. He was entrusted with starting the first game against Australia where he threw 4 innings with 4 Ks in while also recording his highest velocity of 147 km/h.

In spring of the following year, in the Nagano Tournament against Segasammy, Katsuno recorded a complete game shutout with 4 hits and 6K.
Due to pain in his elbow, he would miss the summer inter-city tournament, but would make a comeback in December's Asian Winter League Baseball team in Taiwan where he marked another PB velocity of 150 km/h.

In his final year, in the Sponichi Tournament, Katsuno shut-out Nitsu and won rookie of the tournament honours at the subsequent Shizuoka Tournament. Katsuno failed to make an appearance at the summer inter-city tournament but played again for the Samurai Japan team in the Asian Championships where he clocked 152 km/h on the gun.

While Katsuno can top out at 152 km/h, he sits in the high 130s to the lower 140s. He has a 120~130km/h slider, 110 km/h 12-6 curveball and a 130 km/h forkball. His four-seam is his main weapon. He still gives up walks and hits frequently so his control needs to be worked on. He can last long in games and favours attacking the on the inside of the plate.

Scouts claim Katsuno is very mature for his age and doesn't strike one as someone 3 years out of high school. He is said to have an aura before he pitches and can pitch anywhere across the batters line of sight. He also appear to get good break on his secondary pitches.

On draft night, Katsuno was said to be stoic but when selected that poker face turned into a wide smile.

Dragons have a guy here that could be used, I feel, in a swing role. His pitch mix gives him enough to be a starter, but his trouble with control means he might not be able to go too deep into a game which means that a relief role could also be suitable. In whatever case, he's at an age where he could certainly be tested in the NPB in 2019.

4. Kota Ishibashi (Kanto Daiichi High School)
Name: 石橋 康太
Birthdate: 7th December 2000
Birthplace: Yotsukaido, Chiba Prefecture
Height: 180cm (5'10")
Weight: 87kg (191lb)
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Pop time: Home to second in 1.9 seconds
Base-running: 50m in 6.3 seconds

Chunichi were murmured to be going after another catcher at this year's draft and it seems they've got a gem in Kota Ishibashi. Ishibashi was widely regarded as the best high school aged catcher at the draft whom has a strong arm and a good bat to boot.

Ishibashi started catching very early on in his middle school boys team in Chiba. His performances also earned him a chance with the Chiba Lotte Marines Jr program.

Upon entering Kanto Daiichi High School, Ishibashi spent his first spring on the bench. By summer of the same year he had secured a position at first base, batting 5th and his debut at Koshien that year, he had a muti-hit game. In the following fall qualifying games, Ishibashi captured the catcher's mask batting at either 4 or 5 and in the second round against Musashigaoka, hit a solo homer. In December of the same year, he had knee meniscus surgery and was absent from any competitive games until May of his second year.

 On the comeback trail, in summer Ishibashi returned to first base and went yard in four consecutive games in the Kanto tournament. In the 4th game of the tournament against Horikoshi HS he hit a grand slam, collecting a total of 6 RBIs and 2 hits in the game.
In fall of the same year, Ishibashi regained the catcher's mask but his team would lose out to Kotaro Kiyomiya's Waseda Jikkyo 1-5 in the 2nd round of the Tokyo tournament.

In his third year in the West Kanto tournament, batting 3rd, Ishibashi hit 4 extra-base hits. His team would however be knocked out in the semi-finals by Nishougakusha University High School. In the semi against Nishougakusha however, Ishibashi showed off his throwing prowess as he gunned down two runners in the game at a pop time of 1.9 seconds.

Ishibashi is a strong armed strong catchers with powerful bat with a good follow through on his swing. He can hit over either fence and has 57 jacks in his high school career.

Scouts have had glowing appraisals of Ishibashi. Scout director Muneo Tanaka had said he had no complaints about Ishibashi saying that out of all the catchers at the draft he had the best fundamental skills commented his has more potential to draw on than last year's 1st rounder Shosei Nakamura. Tanaka further mentioned that his raw skills, body strength and footwork make him a different animal.

Immediately upon being selected, Ishibashi expressed his relief and his gratitude to his family and well wishers. He said his current image of the Dragons was the wave or retirees and the change of the team. He said he wants to do the best of what he can when he joins up with the team. He sets his goal to be like former Swallows great, Atsuya Furuta not only behind the plate but also with the bat. Upon being asked about being teammates with Akira Neo he said humbly that Neo essentially lives on another planet talent wise and wants to be able to achieve that level as well.

Upon meeting with the scouting team post draft, Ishibashi said he has set himself the large task of being Japan Series winning catcher. When he entered high school he is said to have read through the catching treatises of Katsuya Nomura and Atsuya Furuta on receiving the ball. He said he reached for the books when he was reaching the limit of his experience when leading pitchers.

The Dragons don't have a lot of power-bats in general, so this is encouraging. Ishibashi is also the youngest catcher on the team by a long way with Takuma Kato at 26 being the next youngest behind the dish in the team. Ability to play first makes him versatile to get plenty of ABs on the farm. Perhaps a long term successor to the mask in Nagoya but I can't say I recall the last time a high school grad became a regular catcher. It certainly hasn't happened at Chunichi since Tatsuhiko Kimata in the 1960s who similarly joined the team lauded for his ability with the bat.

5. Kenshin Kakikoshi (Yamanashi Gakuin High School)
Left-hand pitcher
Name: 垣越 建伸
Birthdate: 3rd April 2000
Birthplace: Takayama, Gifu Prefecture
Height: 184cm (6'0)
Weight: 96kg (211lb)
Bats: Left
Throws: Left
Max Velocity: 146 km/h (90 mp/h)
Pitches: Four-seam, slider, change-up, curveball, cutter

A team-mate of Neo's during junior high school, Kakikoshi has not had the high profile of his friend, but he does add something that Chunichi needs desperately and that is in southpaw pitchers. Not over quick, Kakikoshi has a good form and will likely be a diamond in the rough that will need a bit of work.

Kakikoshi played for the Takayama Boys in Junior High alongside Akira Neo and helped the team to the semi-finals of the Gifu prefectural tournament.
Kakikoshi then went on to play for Yamanashi Gakuin High School and made the bench in his second year during spring. In summer of the same year, wearing the #18, he threw one no-hit inning against Maebashi Ikuei in the first round to mark his Koshien debut. In fall of the same year, Kakikoshi became a key member of the new team and threw 30 innings of work in 4 games for 21 earned runs showing determination with his pitching. He threw in all 5 games at the following Yamanashi prefectural tournament racking up 39 innings for 16 earned runs and up until the semi-finals had thrown 30 innings for only 2 runs.

In his third year, in the spring prefectural tournament, Kakikoshi threw his PB fastest pitch in a relief outing topping out at 144km/h. In game two against Yamanashi High School, he took 5 consecutive strikeouts in 2 innings of relief while in the final against Shuhei Takahashi's alma mater, Tokai Kofu HS he threw down a further 4 scoreless innings. At this point he had gathered the admiration of some pro scouts, but a poor outing against Nihon Univeristy 3rd High School in the first round of the Kanto tournament, but dampeners on his reputation.

In the summer qualifying tournament, Kakikoshi returned to form with 26K in 15 innings for 1ER and in the second game of the first round against Yamanashi High School, he fanned 9 batters in a row in 3 perfect innings. In the semi-finals against Kofu Technical HS, he moved back into a relief role due to some back pain recieved in the earl rounds and he marked a further PB in velocity with 146km/h on the gun.  Kakikoshi's efforts helped his school reach their 8th consecutive appearance in the summer Koshien tournament.

On return to the tournament, Kakikoshi's team were knocked out in the first round by Kochi Commercial High School in a high scoring 12-14 loss. Kakikoshi was lit up as he conceded 2 home runs and 6 extra base hits in a disappointing game. He was knocked out in the 6th inning with 5 strikeouts and 10 earned runs.

Kakikoshi is a big built pitcher who generally sits between 135 km/h to 140 km/h in a starters outing. His slider sits around 110 to 120km/h while his change-up is at around 100km/h. He also possesses a cutter. Due to back pain suffered in the qualifying tournament this year, he was mainly used in relief where he showed an amazing K/9 rate of 15.60 over 15 innings.

Tomoya Yagi was the key scout for looking over Kakikoshi to begin with and
commented last year that his off-speed pitches were beginning to tail-off just in front of the batter to take strikes. Scouting director Muneo Tanaka had also weighed in pre-draft commenting that he has a relaxed form also mentioning his four-seam as a "big weapon." Yagi also mentioned upon officially greeting Kakikoshi in person that he feels he's one pitch short of making it professionally and expects him to work on a new off-speed pitch before he becomes effective.

Kakikoshi probably is most well known unfortunately for being the former team-mate of Akira Neo during their time in middle school, but Kakikoshi has said he is happy to be able to play again with Neo after they went their separate ways for high school. Neo and Kakikoshi had talked upon graduating from junior high that they wanted to play baseball again together some day and was happy to have a reunion at professional level.

On being selected he aid he was relieved to have been picked by the Dragons as he went to support the team at Nagoya Dome as a child and felt they were a team that was closest to him. He says there's still a lot he has to work on and wants to work on gradually getting up to 1-gun.

A high-school aged lefty that throws a max velocity of 146 km/h is pretty good. Kakikoshi however still seems very raw and will need a lot of work with pitching coaches to become a serviceable starter or reliever. He does however fulfill a need for left-handers in the team with only Shinnosuke Ogasawara, Yudai Ono, Shotaro Kasahara, Toshiya Okada and Hiroto Fuku filling the roster for that role. (Hard to call Ono an option these days) If nothing else, Kakikoshi's presence should help Neo settle as well and it creates a nice, very Japanese story about two young boys from country Japan working with each other to achieve their dream of being pro ball players.

6. Kaname Takino (Osaka Commercial University)
Name: 滝野 要
Birthdate: 8th July 1996
Birthplace: Matsuzaka, Mie Prefecture
Height: 185cm (6'1")
Weight: 76kg (167lb)
High School: Ogaki Nihon University High School
Bats: Left
Throws: Right
Base-running: 50m in 6 seconds

Addressing an immediate need for young outfielders, the Dragons have used their last pick on Kaname Takino. There's a lot to like about Takino on paper as he has been a regular and done very well in the Kansai University leagues. How he will convert as a professional will be exciting to watch. Born in Mie prefecture, Takino is yet another player that was born within the Chubu/Tokai region widely regarded as Chunichi territory.

In middle-school, Takino played for Matsuzaka Boys as a pitcher and in his third year of junior high school he was chosen to represent Japan at a tournament in China.

Takino entered Ogaki Nihon University in neighboring Gifu prefecture and became a regular as a third-baseman in his second year with the team where he batted 4th in the order. That summer, after hitting 4 with 3 extra base hits, Takino helped his team to their 2nd Prefectural tournament victory.  In the following summer Koshien, Takino would get two hits and two steals in a 5-4 loss in the first round to Arita Technical High School. From Spring in his third year, Takino played mostly in left-field and pitched as his team reached once again reached the summer Koshien after Takino batted .550 and threw 15 scoreless through the qualifiers. At the final tournament, Takino was the winning pitcher in the 1st round as a reliever in overturning an 8-0 lead to lead the team to victory over Fujishiro High School. Batting 4th in the line-up, Takino claimed 2 hits and 2 RBIs.

After high school, Takino entered Osaka Commercial University and was a starter from spring in his first year. Mostly batting 4th, Takino hit .286 with 2RBI as DH and was selected in the Best 9. In the following fall league, he capture Best 9 honours once more this time as a right-fielder batting .386 also claiming the rookie of the year award. In all, Takino claimed 5 Best 9 awards as a college player hitting .332 with 36 RBI and 26 steals over his career.

As you can probably tell, Takino isn't one to hit for the fences, however with a bit of build on his frame it might be possible for him to get a bit more power. He has good legs being clocked at reaching first base in 4.1 seconds and can play just about anywhere in the outfield.

Upon being selected, Takino let reporters know that he was willing to go in the development draft if he had to in order to get his chance to play professional ball and says he is very appreciative of the chance the Dragons have given him.
He has also said the the Dragons are a team that he's always been in awe of and says he wants to be a player that hits and shows his speed like Yohei Oshima.

Within the Dragons, Takino has a sempai to call on in Iori Katsura who also played for Osaka Commercial University. Takino reportedly called Katsura from whom he received the warm words of "let's do our best together." He also has a high school alumnus sempai in Takuma Achira who also attended Ogaki Nichidai.

Takino fills a need for outfield dept of which we have no one worthy of a spot on the farm. Kudo's retirement also increased the need for this particular. There are only 2 outfielders that played on the farm last year that were under 25, and that was last year's 5th round pick, Kosuke Ito and development player Masaru Watanabe. Shota Tomonaga, Masataka Iryo and Issei Endo are all outfield options but given their lack accomplishments given their age and their time with the team, they're possibly lucky to still have their contracts in tact.

Concluding note

Overall, the draft was an extremely successful one and one that Yoda will be happy with. The additions will put pressure players currently in the system as well which will be good. Most importantly there in now a young core of 18-21 year olds in the team that could guide this team for a long time to come if they can reach their potentials. There's always a large element of risk when going after prospects, but there's certainly a massive reward that could be available for one or more of these guys. We will look on with great interest as their careers unfurl.

* Acknowledgement: Much of the information about player histories leading up the the draft was sourced from the Japanese language resource ドラフト・レポート whom I recommend for any information on Japanese prospects. Much of the player histories are translations and paraphrases of the player profile pages available on the website.