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Thursday, November 3, 2016

The 2016 NPB Draft: What have we been served?

On the 22nd of October one of the most exciting days of the Japanese baseball calendar was held. That's right, the draft. The Draft is an almost romantic experience quite a bit unlike the MLB component. The Japanese draft hosts the hopes and dreams of high school, university and industrial league players a like to make their mark on professional baseball. Unlike the MLB system where one needs to go through all levels of minor league baseball before hitting the big time, teams can go into the draft and usually pick up one or two guys that will play straight away in most cases. Last year all but one of our 7 draftees saw some time in the first team and the only one that didn't played very well in the 2-gun team after coming back from injury.

I think there is a sense of romance about the NPB draft. A fresh behind the ears 18 year old high school kid that just played a big role in putting his high school team in the national spotlight at the Koshien can then be selected to show what he can do playing full time. And if he's good enough, he might well just slot right in.

Anyway, enough of my sentimental drivel, lets get to know the players that Manager Mori, GM Ochiai, Head Scout Tanaka and the other senior heads put together.

The 2016 Draft

As with every year, the first round is the spectacle. Often only the first round will be broadcast on radio and TV with the diehards, like me, struggling to find a feed for the rest of the picks. Last year our first pick off the rank was Jumpei Takahashi but that pick was also shared by the Fighters and Hawks and it was the Hawks that claimed him. We went to battle with Fighters in the second chance saloon for Shinnosuke Ogasawara and it was Motonobu Tanishige who pulled out the winning ticket.

This year, there had been much confusion as to who we would pick. Soka University's Seigi Tanaka was an early favourite but that was replaced my ever persistent rumours about Meiji University's Yuya Yanagi. On the day before the draft Sakushin High School's Tatsuya Imai was the front runner and out of 6 of the major newspapers on the day of the draft, 5 had Chunichi selecting Imai in the draft.

Ah, but things never go that smoothly. Mori, upon hearing that the Lions were going after Imai (through the grapevine I'm sure), decided to lean toward what he thought would be an uncontested pick: Yuya Yanagi. He was however proven wrong as the Yokohama Baystars selected the Meiji Uni starter for their first pick as well. Given the 5 team fight for Seigi Tanaka, the Baystars and Dragons were given the instructions to dance first and it was our man Mori with his best Yakuza impression that secured our first pick, Yuya Yanagi.

Not a far removal from Meiji colours, Yanagi poses with Doara doll.
1. Yuya Yanagi, Meiji University, Starting Pitcher

The man that has gathered so much attention in the media from the Dragons press as the guy we were going after is the guy we ended up getting. Very highly rated, Yanagi captained the Meiji University team to victory in this Fall's Big6 Tokyo League where he went 5-0 in decisions with a 1.64 ERA. Overall in his university career he sits with a 22-8 record and a 1.87 ERA. Very nice reading. 

Meji University and the Dragons have a very strong connection when it comes to the pitching department. Both Senichi Hoshino and Kenshin Kawakami, Sawamura Award winners with the Dragons are former Meiji alumni. Not much to say about either apart from the two being among the best pitchers in their respective eras, but that is a little insight into the kind of pedigree that Yanagi comes with. Not only that but Yanagi actually has a higher strikeout total at Meiji than Kawakami did ranking in the top 10 in team history with over 326 strikeouts. 

Chief Scout Muneo Tanaka is very impressed with his man praising his control and velocity as well as his strength of heart. Feels he is a very clever pitcher that presses when he needs to press and holds off when necessary. He fully believes that Yanagi will be in the starting rotation next year. 

In an interview with Yanagi himself expressing himself as feeling a heavy responsibility as being selected as number one by the team but of course wants to do the best he can to fulfill that expecatation. He feels that the Dragons are a team with great history and tradition and hopes that he can follow in the footsteps of his Meiji university antecedents. 

In terms of what he's got in his locker, I explained this a little in an earlier post but he's got a nice fastball that sits in the mid 140s, a killer curveball, a slider, cutter and a change-up. His curveball is the highest rated of his pitches and has been pointed out in a few different scout reports. 

Yota Kyoda congratulated by his Nihon Uni teammates.
2. Yota Kyoda, Nihon University, Short-stop

Naoki Yoshikawa from Chukyo Gakuin University was supposed to be the Dragons second pick but due to the Giants failing to nab Seigi Tanaka or Chihaya Sasaki, they selected the Gifu born middle infielder as their first pick. With the Chunichi team staff shrugging their collective shoulders, they turned attention to the next best thing, Nihon University's Yota Kyoda.

Kyoda and Yoshikawa were team-mates for the Japanese university team with Kyoda mostly at short-stop while Yoshikawa played second base. Safe to say that he is one of the best middle infielder prospects in his age group at the draft and needless to say I'm happy we snagged him. 

The kid however has a mouth. And I mean this in a nice way. He has big aspirations. Upon being selected by the team he singled out none other than Mr Dragons, Kazuyoshi Tatsunami as the man he wanted to emulate. Having read Tatsunami's book Makenki (Hating to lose) Kyoda was inspired to be like the Dragons legend. Kyoda says he wants to be the guy on the team that people can count on to get a hit. 

Kyoda's biggest weapon is his speed. He can run 50 meters in 5.9 seconds and has very assured defensive skills. We can expect he'll be battling with Naomichi Donoue for a spot in the starting line-up in the near future. Kyoda played with Yanagi in the Japan national university team and apparently got along rather well with him which will hopefully help both settle in. The two apparently even had an encouraging chat following the draft.

He seems like a good lad and could well be the long-term solution to Araki/Kamezawa at second base. For the time being, he's likely to be an option at short stop who can offer a few different dimensions over Donoue. 

Hip, hip hooray for Masami Ishigaki
3. Masami Ishigaki, Sakata South High School, Power Hitter

Like most draft picks beyond number 2, Ishigaki was an unknown to me before the draft, but the youngster certainly has power that excites the scouting team. Most recently an infielder but also has played outfield, Ishigaki has been rated by our head scout as someone with a similar power rating to Nobumasa Fukuda. Not too shabby. 

Ishigaki himself is pretty chuffed and coming out of the frigid north in Yamagata prefecture, he has set himself a map to success that sees him taking out triple three honours in 10 years time. He can hit for power and can run around the bases surprisingly quickly. It's no wonder he idolises Yakult Swallows' double-triple-three man, Tetsuto Yamada. 

He has 37 homeruns in his high school career and hit 3 homers in 4 games in the Yamagata prefectural high school tournament this year. He has a big arm, and can throw over 100 metres and, not unlike Kyoda, can cover ground very quickly cracking 5.9 seconds to run 50 metres. 
He says he wants to play short-stop but I think we'll end up playing him in the outfield. He has the skills to do so and we have a few different options for the middle infield positions at the moment in any case. Either way, this is the first sign of a power bat I've seen us go after in the draft for a long time. It won't address our immediate issues with the line-up but hopefully Ishigaki will be one for the future. 

Shotaro Kasahara is congratulated.
4. Shotaro Kasahara, Niigata University of Health and Welfare, Southpaw Pitcher

Kasahara is someone that the more I think about the less I remember about. He has represented his country and has otherwise put up some fairly good stats at university level. 

Kasahara actually entered university in order to become a physical therapist and took the test like all the other shmos without special consideration of his baseballing talents. He had absolutely no delusions about going pro but worked on his body while playing ball with his university. He was able to gain about 10kg, get his velocity up from around 130km/ph to a much more impressive 147 km/ph.

In this years university league he posted 6-0 in decisions with a 0.72 ERA which lead him to selection as a train on member with the national team. A southpaw, Kasahara adds more depth to our options. 

Head scout rates him as a pitcher that really gets up batters noses and throws in pitches that cramp them up. He's seen as someone that can be either deployed in relief or as a starter. He's been likened to former bullpen master, Akifumi Takahashi now of the Hanshin Tigers. 

Kasahara throws several pitches including a fastball, cutter, slider and curveball. 

It's yet to be seen whether or not Kasahara has the potential to make an impact in 2017, but that's all up to him and how he develops.

The hometown boy, Kento Fujishima is sure to win fans hearts.
5. Kento Fujishima, Toho Senior High, Mentally tough pitcher

Fujishima's story is one of the more heartwarming of this years's draft. He made a name for himself for his displays of passion at the Koshien tournament this year putting everything he had into his pitching. It was not only his pitching that caught the eye however, as he batted cleanup for his team and and one point even hit for the cycle. A mini Otani perhaps, but it was Fujishima's pure desire to do his best to overcome his challenges that won him a lot of fans. 

Fujishima is from Toyohashi. He's a hometown boy. He was a Dragons fan growing up and attended a fair share of games. He can sing the team songs and he was more than delighted to be picked up by the team. Scouts had already mentioned in the lead-up that they saw Fujishima as a #5 pick, and that's where they got him.

He is a guy that wants to win at all costs that shows off a variety of different pitches. He clocks out in the mid-140s but it is said his mental toughness could well bring him some wins and bring smiles to the faces of the Chunichi faithful. Though a canny batter, he is rated by the Dragons staff as a pitcher. He can throw a few different pitches including a knuckle curve ball, a slider a cutter and a splitter. I don't think there are any Dragons pitchers that can throw a knuckle anything and Tajima in the only one I know of with a splitter so if nothing else, he brings with him a bit more "stuff we don't have."

With a bit of training and some experience under his belt, I'm hoping we can see Fujishima push his velocity up and really get into some games. He seems like a great kid and I want nothing more than his pro career to work out for him. 

Taisuke Maruyama read to fight.
6. Taisuke Maruyama, Tokai University, Power Pitcher

I use the term "power pitcher" a bit loosely here, but that is how Maruyama has been described. He would have been a higher pick had it not been for an injury that kept him away from pitching particularly well in the fall, but he is highly rated by scouts and is seen to have a lot of potential.

Like Fujishima, Maruyama is a local having been born in Tokoname in Aichi prefecture and is a sempai of Fujishima's having played for Toho High School before moving to university. He wanted to join the Dragons most of all, and like Fujishima, is very happy to call Nagoya home. 

He impressed scouts apparently with his speed and ability to really push batters in pressure situations. He tops out at 151km/ph but possesses a fairly stock standard variety of offspeed stuff with a curve, fork and slider. 

He is the same age as Tatsuro Hamada who was drafted straight out of high school and is said to be looking forward to seeing the man he used to face up against in the Aichi prefectural tournaments as a youngster. 

Trainee Draft: 1. Yusuke Kinoshita, Tokushima Indigo Socks, Pitcher

Kinoshita was the only development player contracted at the draft this year and he's a guy that apparently the scouts were pretty happy with. He dropped out of Komazawa University and decided to follow his baseball dreams in the independent Shikoku Island League Plus with the Tokushima Indigo Socks.

He has expressed his pleasure at being given the opportunity to turn pro and wants to make it to the first team roster as soon as possible. His main weapon is a 150km/ph fastball launched from his 183cm frame. He says he wants to do battle with his fastball and he might well be an interesting pitcher to watch.

He has seemingly played mostly a relief role in the independent leagues this year with a 3.45 ERA in 28 games and 44 innings pitched. His 34 strikeouts don't look too bad but I'm not quite sure what the fuss is about. We'll see what kind of impact he makes on the farm next year!


I think we had a very good draft this year. We got our first choice pitcher who can slot right in and we picked a few position players that I think we're going to need going forward. There's a lot of talent here that excites me and I think that's the wonder of the draft. We'll see how these players go, should they sign contracts, over Spring training and see who might pop up in the starting day roster. I think we have a very good chance of seeing Kyoda and Yanagi there.

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