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Friday, October 6, 2023

An Ode to a season gone: How are we shaping up for next year?

 In Nagoya, Tatsunami did coach,

But rice for his Dragons, he'd approach

With a stingy demeanor,

Their year grew much leaner,

No victories, just hunger, encroach!

I thought I'd start things off on a lighter note with a limerick. It's been an odd season and Tatsunami's hardassery has gotten tiring. Banning his players from eating rice was just seasoning on the onigiri he refused to give to his players. 

The team finished the year in 6th place. Had they won or tied their final game against the Giants they would have finished ahead of the Swallows. However, 56 wins is the total which is somehow better than I thought they'd end up. What has started happening however is a number of moving and shaking to make next year a better one for the team. Whether this will actually make a positive difference is yet to be seen but let's go through a few things. 

Roster Moves

Firstly, we already have an idea of who is staying and leaving. In terms of retirements, the team bid farewell to long-serving infielders Nobumasa Fukuda and Naomichi Donoue while former Fighters team-mates, Keisuke Tanimoto and Shota Ono said so long to their professional careers. We will be seeing three of them again next year in a different capacity but I will get to that a little bit later. 

In terms of other outgoings, big-money signing, Aristides Aquino has been shown the door after mastering a single homerun in 1-gun after one season. Zoilo Almonte has similarly been shown the door after a disappointing year for him as well. Who will stay is Orlando Calixte, who impressed down the stretch while mid-season additions Humberto Mejia and Michael Feliz are looking to be retained. With Dayan Viciedo becoming a "Japanese" player for roster purposes next season, the Dragons have a lot of roster flexibility with their import options next year. Calixte, Mejia, Feliz and closer Raidel Martinez are the only four foreign players on the full-time roster ahead of the 2024 season. I would 100% expect the team to pursue another slugger in the off-season however. 

The first line of senryokugai notices has also gone out with only three players being announced as being unrequired for next year. Righty pitcher Yuichiro Okano, outfielder Kosuke Ito and development contracted southpaw, Hiroaki Matsuda are on the way out. Okano was an older player drafted out of the industrial leagues in 2019 but failed to make a substantial impact. Matsuda was a media darling to start his life with the Dragons given he'd never thrown a baseball until he reached high school and was the ace of the Nagoya University team. Unfortunately after some early promise, he is on the way out. The most surprising however is the removal of Ito. The Aichi native was drafted out of Toho High School and played some first team games early in his career with the 1-gun side mostly in left field. He has had frequent issues with injury including this season. I'm surprised they didn't try to re-sign him on a development deal at least. It also baffles me they'd keep him over a 33-year old Shohei Kato, but I guess the veteran's current utility suits Tatsunami's philosophy about winning in the here and now. 

After the draft in October, we may see some further shake-ups but for the time being these are the main outgoings.  

Coaching Staff Shuffle

This is perhaps where some of the biggest changes are happening. The coaching staff is getting a shuffle after a derelict two years. On the outgoing side, we have the long-serving infield coach Masahiro Araki, battery coach Shuji Nishiyama and hitting coach, Nori Nakamura. Nishiyama left at his own volition, while the other two apparently seem to have been ousted. 

There is however a few new incomings confirmed. As I previously mentioned, three of the retirees will be joining the coaching ranks. Naomichi Donoue (infield defense), Nobumasa Fukuda (hitting) and Shota Ono (battery) have already been confirmed to replace the outgoing trio. It has also been reported that former outfielder and most recently, Hanshin Tigers head coach, Kazuki Inoue has been invited to take over the farm team from Atsushi Kataoka. The kicker however is that Kataoka will now become Tatsunami's right-hand man with the top-team while Eiji Ochiai will slip into a pitching coach only role. It has yet to be announced how the two coaching groups will be lining up but I can pitch my assumptions. My guess for the new formation would be: 

Kazuyoshi Tatsunami (Manager)
Atsushi Kataoka (Head Coach)
Eiji Ochiai (Pitching)
Akinori Otsuka (Pitching)
Kazuhiro Wada (Hitting)
Masahiko Morino (Hitting)
Kohei Oda (Battery)
Naomichi Donoue (Infield Defense)
Takayuki Onishi (Outfield Defense) 

I think we'll see a promotion of Oda to the first-team given he's a trusted confidant of Tatsunami's and the more experienced coach now that Nishiyama has been replaced by Ono. I also assume that between Yuito Morikoshi on the farm and Naomichi, that the team will go with the latter. Naomichi is still relatively young and many of the infielders he will be working with are also on the younger side of things which makes me think they'll stick him in a first-team coaching role. On the farm we can figure out the rest: 

Kazuki Inoue (Manager)
Daisuke Yamai (Pitching)
Takuya Asao (Pitching)
Yoshinori Ueda (Hitting)
Nobumasa Fukuda (Hitting)
Shota Ono (Battery)
Yuito Morikoshi (Infield Defense)
Yutaka Nakamura (Oufield Defense)
Hiroyuki Watanabe (Position player development)

I think this makes the most sense. Watanabe could be moved back into a scorers role if they wanted to, although he could also be a wild card for the infield-defense job on the top team as it is a role he's fulfilled before under Motonobu Tanishige's tenure. Yutaka Nakamura is an interesting one as his connection to the team was through Kataoka. I can't however see the Tatsunami agreeing to his mate Onishi being demoted to the farm. In the end, Nakamura will probably be fine on the farm having spent a year with his fellow coaches. He'll be familiar with Inoue as well as the two were both at the Tigers in 2020 and 2021. Ono's addition here makes more sense. Between Miya, Yamaasa and to a lesser extent, Kota Ishibashi, there's a lot of younger catchers that could benefit from his mentorship. There' also a good chance the Dragons chase another catcher at the draft this year. 

That's what I envision the shake-up to be. Kataoka' appointment as head coach seems like...fun. He wasn't successful in a similar role at the Tigers. There were murmurs that Kazuhiro Kiyohara, another former PL Gakuen alumnus, was going to be invited to fulfil the role for Tatsunami but rumours go that Chunichi Shimbun Co. blocked the move due to the image that Kiyohara brings with him as a former drug user. I don't really see a lot of difference here but maybe Kataoka coming in frees up Ochiai to work on the pitchers a bit more. Apart from that, unless some of this new appointees just say something that clicks with players, I can't see what would change. We'll just have to wait and see. 

Phoenix Fall League Squad

Before we get into fall camp, we will have the annual Phoenix fall league. A number of first teamers are going to join the team here. 

RHPAkira NeoJoin from 13th of Oct
LHPYuki Hashimoto 
LHPTaisei Ishimori 
RHPHiroto Mori 
RHPReia Nakachi 
RHPHiroshi Suzuki 
LHPYoshiki Sunada 
RHPTatsuya Shimizu 
LHPShota Fukushima 
LHPRen KondoWill join half-way
RHPTsubasa Kato 
LHPKenshin KakigoshiJoin from 13th of Oct
RHPYuta Matsukihira 
RHPTento NonakaWill join half-way
CTaisei Miya 
CRyunosuke Yamaasa 
CKota Ishibashi 
IFKaito Muramatsu 
IFTakaya Ishikawa 
IFMao Hoshino 
IFHiroki Fukunaga 
IFSeishu Higuchi 
OFHironori Miyoshi 
OFKenta Bright

The thing that sticks out for me here is, who's playing in the outfield? Miyoshi and bright can probably cover all three spots between them, but who's going to play left-field if Bright is in centre and Miyoshi is in right. Or who is going to play right if Miyoshi is in centre and Bright is in left? I really have no idea. None of the players being brought along have ever played in the outfield apart from those two. So, that's certainly going to be interesting to see how that plays out. Perhaps they think Hoshino or perhaps even Ishibashi could play in the outfield? We'll see. The rest of the team is about what you'd expect but interesting to see Ishikawa and Ryuku here as well given they've just played a full-season of first team ball. 


  • Kosuke Ukai and Kotaro Ueda are heading to the Dominican Winter League to develop their games. They're the first since 2015 to make the trip when it was Katsuki Matayoshi who travelled to the Caribbean League. Ukai also becomes the first position players since Atsushi Fujii and two others who went in 2008. 
  • Former all-star, golden glove, short-stop, Hirokazu Ibata has taken on the Samurai Japan job. Kudos to the former Dragon who had recently been coaching the Japanese U-12 side. He looks to be managing the U-15 side concurrently with the senior team. 

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