The NPB draft is just around the corner, Monday the 26th to be exact. We've only a little while to wait to see who the latest players into the fold will be. It will however be a different kind of draft this year thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic still raging on in Japan. The grandiose draft meeting will be a little more subdued with each team having a private room to minimize contact, while perhaps the biggest story is that, without the Koshien and other amateur tournaments going ahead this year, there's a lot larger element of luck with picking your guys.
There isn't a Takaya Ishikawa or Akira Neo that dazzled for their high school teams on the biggest amateur stage in Japan. There isn't a Kyota Fujiwara, Shinnosuke Ogasawara or Taiga Hirasawa that lead their team deep into these tournaments which makes the pickings at the top all the harder to plan for and also provides fewer bolters for the first round of picks.
Whatever the case may be, this may be a bit of a crapshoot of a draft beyond the first couple of rounds. I think we'll see even more high school amateurs take the college route as well to avoid being missed entirely by pro teams. That in itself will make the 2024 Draft quite intriguing for the COVID-19 generation of high school kids.
So, with all this going on in the background, who are the top talents available? I'm going to give you a taster of who is being talked about for the top few rounds and with a basic idea of who wants them and what kind of player they are. I will just run through 6 highly talented players (in no particular order) just to give an idea of who’s out there.
Hiroto Takahashi (高橋宏斗)will be one of the top targets at the draft. The right-handed pitcher has a fireball 153km/h velocity at 18 years old. Born in Owariasahi to Nagoya's northeast, Takahashi has been turning heads. Up to 7 clubs have expressed interest in the Chukyo hurler, and it has been murmured that his backyard club, the Chunichi Dragons are the most interested of the lot. This would be another "backyard" pick for the Dragons, whose last 3 top picks have been local or at least within team catchment talent. According to SportsNavi!, Takahashi is the highest rated talent at the draft this year. Nikkan Sports, seems to think the Dragons may even have a clear run at him.