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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Spring Training Camp members announced

Spring training members have been announced for the hard slug in the Okinawan sun. The Dragons, like every year, have split up the roster into two groups with one representing the "1st team" and the other representing the "2nd" team. These two groups never end up reflecting what the roster looks like on opening day, but it does give you a bit of an idea of who the coaches want to look at.

The second team, although mostly for the younger players, does also help rehabilitate more senior members of the team where they may join first team training during the off-season anyway.

Well, let's get straight down to it. Here is the roster for the team going to Kitatani where first team training will take place.

Pitchers: Shinji Tajima, Hitoki Iwase, Yu Sato, Katsuki Matayoshi, Yuya Yanagi, Shota Suzuki, Kazuki Yoshimi, Ryosuke Nomura, Toshiya Okada, Yudai Ono, Koji Fukutani, Taisuke Maruyama, Daisuke Yamai, Hiroto Fuku, Takuya Mitsuma, Raul Valdes, Shotaro Kasahara, Elvis Araujo, Shunta Wakamatsu, Ryosuke Oguma, Junki Ito, Jorge Rondon, Jordan Norberto

Catchers: Takuya Kinoshita, Masato Matsui, Takuma Kato, Shota Sugiyama

Infielders: Shuhei Takahashi, Toshiki Abe, Masahiko Morino, Issei Endo, Ryota Ishioka, Alex Guerrero, Hayato Mizowaki, Yota Kyoda, Kyohei Kamezawa, Naomichi Donoue

Outfielders: Atsushi Fujii, Ryosuke Hirata, Yohei Oshima, Takeru Furumoto, Dayan Viciedo, Hiroki Kondo

Hayato Mizowaki a chance?
No huge surprises here. Mori previously mentioned that he wanted all the university grads from the 2016 draft class to be with the first team. Only minor eyebrow raisers would be Mizowaki and Ishioka who played very well in the Taiwanese winter league. Ishioka can play across the infield while Mizowaki mainly stays in the middle areas. Both are quick, athletic slap hitters who, one would hope, could show off their credentials to replace Masahiro Araki in the long term at 2nd base. Also worth noting is that Viciedo is still registered as an outfielder, no need to worry about that. There has been talk that Viciedo could play left-field to allow for Morino or Fukuda to come in at first, but he'll likely primarily be a first-baseman. Issei Endo as well is no guarantee in the infield, as he is apparently in the midst of being trained to work in the outfield.

So, you can probably already have a good guess what the second team at Yomitani is going to look at, but let's go through it anyway.

Pitchers: Shinnosuke Ogasawara, Yuta Muto, Takuma Achira, Daisuke Sobue, Takuya Asao, Takeshi Kaneko, Kento Fujishima, Ryuya Ogawa, Tomoya Yagi, Junki Kishimoto, Yusuke Kinoshita (D), Tomohiro Hamada (D), Tatsuro Hamada (D), Masashi Yamamoto (D), Shu Yoshida (D), Mikihiro Nishihama (D)

Catchers: Iori Katsura, Shingo Takeyama, Ryuichiro Akada, Masaru Fujiyoshi (D)

Infielders; Masahiro Araki, Shun Ishikawa, Masami Ishigaki, Taiki Mitsumata, Nobumasa Fukuda, Tetsuya Tani, Tatsuro Iwasaki (D)

Outfielders: Shota, Tomonaga, Masataka Iryo, Kei Nomoto, Yusuke Matsui, Takahito Kudo, Kazuyuki Akasaka, Masaru Watanabe (D)

*Players listed with (D) are on a development contract and are ineligible for the first team roster.

Only real surprises here are maybe Fukuda, Araki and Ogawa. Ogasawara is on the mend following his nagekomi induced elbow injury and I can only assume that Araki has been thrown in the second team for guidance and at the expense of some newer guys that the first team staff want to have a good look at while Fukuda is apparently recovering from an injury. Ogawa I think too has had his spot taken by Kasahara in the first team, but that doesn't mean that he won't feature again this season. He was one of our best relievers last year mostly as a LOOGY.

Training starts on the 1st of February where training sessions will be interrupted by some practice games here and there with other teams that come to Okinawa to train. The KBO often has the majority of it's teams in the vicinity, so we have a few friendlies lined up against Korean opponents like we did last year. Last year, some of the games were broadcast on the team's UStream account along with some training sessions, but I haven't seen anything scheduled just yet. Keep an eye on my twitter for news in that regard or just check the channel periodically.

As for the games here's a very bare bones schedule (all times are JST):

Feb 1st: Camp Starts
Feb 12th: Practice match vs Hanwha Eagles from 1pm at Kitatani Ballpark (1-gun)
Feb 15th: Practice match vs Kia Tigers from 1pm at Kitatani Ballpark (1-gun)
Feb 16th: Practice match v DeNA Baystars from 1pm at Ginowan Public Ballpark (2-gun)
Feb 17th: Practice match vs DeNA Baystars from 1pm at Peace Forest Ballpark (2-gun)
Feb 18th: Practice match vs DeNA Baystars from 1pm at Kitatani Ballpark (1-gun)
Feb 19th: Practice match vs Rakuten Eagles from 1pm at Kitatani Ballpark (1-gun)
Feb 21st: Practive match vs Hanwha Eagles from 1pm at Peace Forest Ballpark (2-gun)
Feb 22nd: Practice match vs LG Twins from 1pm at Peace Forest Ballpark (2-gun)
Feb 23rd: Practice match vs Nexen Heroes from 12:30pm at Kitatani Ballpark (1-gun)
Feb 24th: Practice match vs Nexen Heroes from 1pm at Peace Forest Ballpark (2-gun)
Feb 25th: Open Match vs Hiroshima Carp from 12:30pm at Kitatani Ballpark (1-gun)
Feb 26th: Open Match vs Hanshin Tigers from 1pm at Kitatani Ballpark (1-gun)
Feb 27th: Camp Ends

I'll end this post on an interesting note I saw regarding how Mori was seeing the team shape up and who he was in his thinking for his regulars in the 2017 season. I did up this depth chart a month or so ago, but it looks as though our Mori has some slightly different ideas. Here's what I proposed:
Now, this is a little bit more detailed than it needs to be and I have updated it a little bit after some discussion with some other fans, but essentially this is how I see us in 2017. However I caught a news segment with the very candid Mori, who apparently just tells the media everything, which contradicts my thinking a little bit.

Firstly, the pitching, this is what was presented by Mori on a Dragons...show thingy..segment. Most interesting parts for me is the inclusions of Ito, Nomura and Suzuki as starters this year. Mori half joked on the program that he was going to trade Ito if he didn't shape up and apparently Mori had included the Nagoya born hurler in a proposed trade deal in this off-season. While the trade didn't go ahead, Ito has a chance to prove himself this year. He's been with the Dragons an awful long time now and if he's not becoming a regular this year, he'll probably never do it. Nomura and Suzuki have done fairly well in off-season training and in the Chinese Winter league. Both are former #1 picks and I guess there is a bit of pressure to use them both as well. 
Other point of interest here for me is that Tajima and Iwase are the only two pitchers currently in contention for the closing role. I don't personally agree with either choice unless Iwase can reach some semblance of his former self. Tajima could well grow into the role and most closers do start off in relief but it does irk me that someone like Rondon who throws fire and has experience as a closer in AAA isn't being considered for the role at this stage.
Finally, just an interesting part, but those in green are players being considered for relief and starting roles. Nothing terribly surprising there.

Here is what was proposed for the batting line-up. Most interesting take away for me was that Mori asserted that while 3B was Takahashi's to lose, he would be just as happy sticking in Guerrero at third if he didn't think the youngster was up to scratch. Probably a good thing for Takahashi given he didn't really have any competition for his spot last year. Hopefully this spurs him on even more. 
Issei Endo is firming for a spot in the outfield following his transition from short, and Mori also let fly that it would be feasible to put Viciedo out in left-field given the right circumstances. The Dragons have some fairly good options at first base so we might see that position rotate a little bit through the season depending on who's hot. I've even heard rumours that we might see Guerrero at 2nd base in more "attacking" line-ups. Would certainly be fun to see Viciedo, Guerrero, Fukuda, Hirata and Takahashi in the same team, but I'd be afraid of giving up 10 errors a game.Well, I doubt it would really be that bad, but I can't imagine putting Guerrero at 2nd base given his atrocious record when fielding. 

Well that's how we're shaping up going into February. Let the excitement begin. As I mentioned previously, keep an eye on my Twitter and the Dragons UStream account for any movement on broadcasting of training games. They may not be offering it this year, but fingers crossed. Had a lot of fun watching Viciedo hit dingers against KBO teams last year.

Until next time!

Monday, January 16, 2017

The start of January Tango: 2017 roster finalised, Spring camp thinking, and whatever else

Hello Sports Fans,

We're back for another exciting edition of whatever on earth I call this series of updates and posts.
I am currently back in Australia but still have my finger firmly on the Chunichi pulse looking for new news and views to give you all. Due to having a bit more time these days I've been able to listen to more Dragons related media on YouTube so I'm possibly more up to date than I have been in a while.

Well, it truly is off season. There's not a whole lot that has gone on as we're not playing games and there's very little training going on, but I'll fill you in on the big one.

First of all, the Dragons have signed up two Venezuelan pitchers to add depth to our options. Former Philly, Elvis Araujo, a 201cm LHP with a 4.23 ERA in the majors has been brought in following his release from the Miami Marlins organisation. He throws a four seamer in the high 140s (94mph) with a slider and a changeup. Apparently also has a sinker. Sound like he does get a fair percentage of flyballs, but hopefully the pitcher paradise that is the Nagoya dome will negate that somewhat. He pitcher 20 innings for the Phillies last year with a 5.60 ERA with 29 strikeouts. I think the Dragons will use Araujo mostly as reliever and possibly a set-up man. Mori has made mention, or maybe it was Tomori, either or, that they would like pitchers that can relieve and start, so we might see Araujo starting games at some point too if all goes well for him and all goes poorly for the rest of the pitching staff.

Here he is taking down Bryce Harper last year.

The other Venezuelan arm we've added is RHP handyman, Jorge Rondon. The journeyman has been everywhere...man. He's played at MLB level with the Cardinals, Rockies, Orioles and  the Pirates. Rondon only pitched 3.2 innings in 2 games in the Majors last year giving up 7 earned runs, but he looks to have good stuff with a 98 mph four seam, 89 mph slider and a 96mph sinker. The more interesting part however that I think the Dragons will be interested in is that he finished off 31 games in AAA last season, notching up 11 saves in the process. While I've heard every which rumour as to how he'll be used, including putting him in as a starter, I think we've found the solution to our closer problem. His ERA was an impressive 2.67 with a so-so WHIP of 1.203 with a slightly worrying FIP of 3.69 in AAA, but hey, Eddie Gaillard looked pretty ordinary in that regard too (I know that's a good 17 years ago though...). Marcos Mateo is about the only pitcher that comes to mind when it comes to current foreign closers outside of Sarfate at the Hawks, and Mateo put up some good numbers in AAA with the Padres before getting on the first team roster and then moving to Hanshin. We'll see how we go but I think he's going to be the best option we'll have to close games. Tajima is our best set-up guy, and Fukutani can't cut it mentally unfortunately.

Here's Rondon's first punchout with the Orioles in 2015.

Finally, as I have also pointed out previously, Jordan Norberto has been re-signed to have another go around in 2017 with the Dragons. As it stands the new foreign legion is Alex Guerrero, Dayan Viciedo, Raul Valdes (Cuba), Jorge Rondon, Elvis Araujo (Venezuela) and Jordan Norberto (Dominican Republic). 6 foreign players seems a bit like overkill to me given we can only ever put 4 on the first team roster at a time, but it might be just a matter of hedging bets. 

In other news, the new draftees are now bunked up in the team dormitories and have started individual training (under the watchful eye of the coaching staff). Kento Fujishima has been given a lot of time in the media due to his likable personality and the fact he's been a Chunichi fan since he was a kid (still is a kid mind you). He brought with him the most of any of the new inductees to help furnish his new room. 

In the meantime, Mori and his coaching team are working out the spring training rosters to be held in Kitatani in Okinawa this March. So far he has mentioned that all the university grads from the 2016 draft class (Yanagi, Kyoda, Kasahara and Maruyama) would be joining the first team along with Hitoki Iwase, Kazuki Yoshimi and Masahiko Morino while experienced campaigners Masahiro Araki  and 2011 MVP, Takuya Asao would be starting with the second team. This usually has little bearing on what the opening day roster looks like, at least at first. Last year Shota Sugiyama started with the second team and ended up on the first day roster and was one of our best performers in 2016. Hard to gauge these things and I think there are a few different reasons for mixing up the teams to start with.

In relation to Yanagi, his big ol' Meiji Uni and Dragons sempai, Senichi Hoshino has told him to get out there and claim the number 20 jersey currently held by Ryosuke Nomura. The coveted number has largely been dealt to staff aces in the Chunichi past with hall of famers Shigeru Sugishita and Hiroshi Gondo wearing the jersey while Hoshino himself bore the pressure the number held for a number of years along with pitching legend Tatsuo Komatsu. With the Dragons #20 there are 6 Sawamura Awards attached to it and it is certainly a highly coveted number that any future would be aces should be aiming for. 

Speaking of the legendary Hoshino, the big man was inducted to the Japanese baseball hall of fame today for his mostly managerial exploits. Hoshino won two Central League titles with the Dragons, one with the Tigers in 2003 and of course led the Rakuten Eagles to their first Pacific League pennant and Japan Series win. 

Meanwhile in Taiwan, Kazuki Yoshimi is training with Marlins hurler and former Chunichi star Wei-Yin Chen. The two guys are absolute bros and I've just felt all warm inside watching them train through news programs. The banter is there and they seem to really just like hanging out together. Yoshimi is finding the MLB level training very taxing with Chen lifting 320kg on a leg press while Yoshimi struggled with 250kg. Certainly a difference between the two but an interesting way to compare workloads and core strengths. Here's a segment I found:

And again with pitchers, Junki Ito has been told by Mori to either make this year his year or face being traded or cut from the team. Ouch. I have a feeling he'll have a decent go this year. We'll just have to wait and see.

More pitching news, but Yudai Ono appears to be the most likely to be the opening day starter making it his second year in a row and the nominated "ace" of the staff. Well, usually in Japanese ball the ace pitcher starts on opening day and I do think Ono is the most effective pitcher we have at the moment and throws the most fire. I am more of a Yoshimi fan myself, but the fact we have both of them means we've got the makings of a good starting rotation.

Lastly, some news no one really cared about; Shuhei Takahashi announced his marriage to an Aichi woman a few years his senior. They have been dating apparently since Shuhei's first or second year in Nagoya, and plan to have their wedding ceremony and reception at the end of the year.

Well, that's about all from me for today. I'll try and keep you in the know the more knowledge I get to hand. Peace.