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Wednesday, October 3, 2018

2019 Roster Construction: Where to now?

With the season looming to a close we're starting to get a better look at what faces won't be present going into 2019, so far, the following players are confirmed to be leaving the team.

Masahiro ArakiRetirementInfield41
Hitoki IwaseRetirementPitcher43
Takuya AsaoRetirementPitcher33
Kei NomotoRetirementOutfield34
Shunta Wakamatsu ReleasedPitcher23
Tetsuya TaniReleased/RetiredInfield33
Shu YoshidaReleasedPitcher22
                   Mikihiro NishihamaReleasedPitcher25
Masashi YamamotoReleasedPitcher23

This list only includes the latest senryokugai/release notices. There will likely be another round of culls occurring later this year. For the time being however, the team has lost 6 rostered players and 3 development players. As mentioned in my last post, the loss of Araki (not yet confirmed) and Iwase is a shame, but something that will be covered for while Asao and Nomoto's departures leave room for younger players to develop on the farm.
Senryokgai Suit Day

In regards to Wakamatsu and Tani, the other bigger departures, patience has simply run out with Wakamatsu and the team showed last year with Ryosuke Nomura that they're quite happy to cut high profile youngsters if they're not cutting it. Wakamatsu put up numbers beyond expectation when he posted 10 wins in 2015 but it's been a steadily declining slope from there. While his change-up remains a dangerous weapon, he has nothing else to pair it with. His fastball velocity is in the high 130's and none of his secondary pitches are all that inspiring. There is also some murmurs that Wakamatsu has been a disruptive influence among other players and generally not behaving in a manner expected of a Dragons player. While some fans may lament over cutting this one-trick pony, I'm glad that no further innings on the farm will be wasted trying to get him back up to speed. Wakamatsu will go to try-outs and my gut feeling is that someone will pick him up and try to work with him for a year.

Tetsuya Tani has always been on the fringes but last year saw some extra time at the plate as a pinch-hitter thanks to some solid performances on the farm. The utility man however is now seen as surplus to requirements and has been cut from the team. Tani took it fairly well and has decided to retire.

The other 3 development pitchers haven't done enough in the years they've been with the team to be given full-rostered status and as such have been cut. Yamamoto was originally a on the roster but was demoted in 2016 to a development contract. The Dragons however have seen enough and he along with Nishihama and Yoshida have been shown the door.

Overall, the first round of senryokugai notices fills me with hope regarding the direction of the team. Solid decisions have been made over players that weren't contributing. Last year, similarly level-headed moves were made to refresh the team. If anything, we're seeing a lot of the Ochiai GM class get shafted for new blood. I've been impressed with what Mori and his staff have done to shake up the club, and so far so good. I expect to see a couple more cuts in the coming months as players like Masataka Iryo, Shota Tomonaga, Taiki Mitsumata, Shun Ishikawa, Issei Endo and Ryota Ishioka might find themselves of little use depending on how FA, foreign and draft recruitment goes. All the players listed above are in their mid to late 20's with very little experience in the top team. As fillers on the farm they serve a purpose but nothing much more than that.

FA status will apply to 3 Dragons this off-season as Kazuki Yoshimi, Naomichi Donoue and Takahito Kudo are all eligible. Yoshimi has already firmed his stay in Nagoya but Donoue and Kudo could attract some offers as utility men.

FA Market

Let's now look forward at who's available on the FA market that we might be able to make use of or at least have a realistic shot at:

OrixYuki NishiPitcher1.2億
SoftbankHayato TeraharaPitcher4500万
HanshinHiroki UemotoInfield4300万
YakultKyohei MuranakaPitcher2800万
LotteTomohisa OtaniPitcher8800万

Some of these guys still haven't decided if they're going to explore the market yet, but Nishi and Uemoto look like they're going to have a look.
Yuki Nishi, coming home?

Nishi is by far the most interesting piece but also costs the most by a long shot.  He made his name throwing a no-hitter in 2012 in his third year of pro-ball.  He's had his ups and downs but the last two years have been solid posting 3.60 and 3.44 ERAs. Nishi, a native of Mie prefecture, is a childhood fan of the Dragons and given the ever constant need of good pitching, it would only make sense that the Dragons kick the tires on the 28 year-old.

Out of the other pitchers, Otani would be the nicest pick-up but looks unlikely to leave Chiba while Muranaka is perhaps too big a risk to look at seriously. Terahara was actually targeted by the Dragons in the 2001 draft as their #1 pick, but given his age and his current team's proximity to his hometown, a trip to Nagoya seems unlikely.

Hiroki Uemoto is an interesting one for me and one I think the Dragons should look at. While the in-house options of Shuhei and Kamezawa offer enough, having a right-hander to platoon at second and fill-in at third when necessary is useful. I don't see this being a priority at all, but if certain picks don't work out at the draft, Uemoto would be a signing. He'd be a good pick-up for just about anyone really.

2018 NPB Draft

Next, the draft. This obviously gets harder and harder the further you go down but here is a list of players that the Dragons have been linked with for their first round pick:

Osaka Toin HS
Akira Neo
Toyo University
Hiroshi Kaino
Toyo University
Taiga Kamichatani
Ritumeikan Uni
Ryosuke Tatsumi
Yuki Nomura
Toyo University
Kodai Umetsu
Nihon PE Uni
Wataru Matsumoto

Is Neo, the one?

Top of the list is Summer Koshien winner Akira Neo. Neo has been billed as a possible two-way player. He tops out at 150 km/h and has very good hitting tools. He has been billed as one of the top talents at the draft this year. Short appears to be his preferred position, so should the Dragons move in for Neo, it means that there might be a future headache of where to put Shuhei and Kyoda. Why are the Dragons going after Neo and not a pitcher which seems like the most logical? Key reason, the boy is local. A native of Gifu prefecture, Neo has the ability to be one of those homegrown superstars. Competition for his signature will however be fierce and Mori will have to have the magic touch to pull out the right ticket.

Should the Dragons fail to nab Neo with their first pick, there's a number of fall-back options to be explored. Another pitcher seems to be what the Dragons would most likely to go with and fits with last year's strategy of getting Hiroshi Suzuki after failing to get Shosei Nakamura. I can see one of the above pitchers being the next the Dragons go after.

Kamichatani is a mouthful, but he
looks one of the best college arms
this year.
Taiga Kamichatani seems to be the most likely to avoid being picked outright from the start but would also give the Dragons a good option. Kamichatani clocks out at 152 km/h and has a decent arsenal of secondary pitches. He was the MVP in his senior year at Toyo University after taking 93 strikeouts in 75 innings pitched. He seems to have decent control as well. His K/9 is around 11.11 with his BB/9 close to 2.5 this year which looks pretty impressive on paper. Scout Director, Muneo Tanaka has checked on him a few times this year and thinks he's certainly worthy of a top draft pick but just about every other team is looking at him too. Former Dragon infielder and now Rakuten scout, Toru Nimura has rated Kamichatani as the most complete university pitcher available regarding now as his growth period.

While Kamichatani looks pretty good, I hold out hope that Hiroshi Kaino could be added to the team to pump more velo into our pitching stocks. Kaino tops out at 159km/h and has a bit of height on his side at 186cm tall. His fastball is said to have elite spin at 2400 rpm. Kaino represented the Japanese Collegiate National team earlier this year as their closer and showed some of that velocity hitting as high as 156 km/h. Not as much control as Kamichatani, but I would just love to see back-end bullpen trio of Joely Rodriguez, Hiroshi Suzuki and Kaitani just to see some face melting fastballs. If Koji Fukutani could sort himself out I'd be even more excited.

In the end it's a bit hard to see exactly where the Dragons will go at the draft but Ryuji Kuribayashi, another fireballer, from Meijo University in the Dragons backyard might be a possible 2nd pick. After that, I'm lost. I do think we'll see a couple more high school kids mixed with some more college talent.

O/S Talent

Viciedo is guaranteed a payday, but what lies ahead
for Moya and Almonte?

In terms of foreign talent, I think the Dragons will do what they can to keep a hold of what they have. Onelki Garcia and Dayan Viciedo have been outstanding, Almonte has made a significant impact, Joely Rodrigiuez has settled very well into his bullpen role after some early bumps and Steven Moya has been a good backup when called upon. Assuming there's enough dosh to go around, most of these guys should be retained. The will certainly is there I feel. Moya is the only one I would feel could go either way. He does seem however happy to be living in Japan and we might get another season out of him as a rotational option. Raidel Martinez is the only other foreign player, but I dare say he'll also be retained given the minimal outlay he's on. From what it appears however, much of what can be done with Garcia and Almonte will be linked to what Viciedo's demands are. The Tank has done more than enough with the bat this year to warrant an extension and given the trauma over Guerrero leaving last year, I think they'll lock him up early. Whether that will be at the cost of someone else is however to be seen.

Lastly, the construction of the team may come down to how the back room shapes up in the off season. Bungo Shirai, the Chunichi chairman has given no assurances to Shigekazu Mori about managing for a third year. Reports are saying that senior management at the club has a clean slate to work from in regards to selecting a manager for next year with some mention of Mori perhaps making the move to General Manager which was vacated by Hiromitsu Ochiai in January last year. Unlike Ochiai, I think Mori would be quite a good GM. His evaluation of talent seems fairly good and he's been a big influence in two of the best drafts we've had in while in 2016 and 2017. I can't think of anyone better to drive recruitment and the shaping of the club more than Mori in the mid-term. As a manager I still like him and I'd be happy to see him come back next year, but it may be time to bring in a younger manager to grow with the team. I personally think the Dragons are at least another 2 years away from being a credible threat so maybe one more year under Mori might be the way to go. We'll see how Mr Shirai sees it.

Overall, there will be a bit of a shakeup to the squad following the draft as well most likely as poor performances in the Phoenix League may see some additional chopping.

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