2019's slogan is "Return of the rising Dragon IN BLUE"
As we're getting close to the end of the year, the Dragons have been busy cleaning up the wage structure and re-signing players to deals.
Senior Director, Shigekazu Mori has been in the Carribean negotiating deals and looking at new talent.
Onelki gone, Enny in
Onelki Garcia, who put up 13 wins this year for the Dragons, had previously agreed verbally with the Dragons to a multi-year deal. However, due to his agent getting involved demands apparently skyrocketed out of the realms of the Dragons' interest. New demands apparently had Garcia asking for a multi-year deal at ¥200,000,000 per year (roughly $1.75M USD) which the Dragons management balked at, and let Garcia walk.
The lefty hurler had previously stated that Chunichi "blue runs in (his) veins" but apparently the insistence of an agent to get more money out of the Dragons has ended the association prematurely.
Not to be deterred, Shigekazu Mori jumped immediately into negotiating with what seems like a direct replacement, that being former Tampa Bay Rays and Washington National fireballer, Enny Romero. Romero has been pitching in the Dominican Winter League and a deal was struck yesterday to bring Romero to the Dragons on a one-season ¥50,000,000 deal just like the one that brought Garcia to the Dragons last year. Romero seems to have a similar profile to Garcia in a lot of ways including most recently pitching in the majors for the Kansas City Royals and mostly as a reliever. The exciting part about Romero is his max-velocity hitting around 160 km/h which is something Garcia isn't or wasn't capable of.
All of Romero's experience in the majors has come out of the bullpen, but the Dragons will likely be wanting him to start. Romero has started over 20 games in AAA mostly with Tampa Bay earlier in his career, but it is more than conceivable that he'll be viewed as a starting piece unless some Japanese pitchers find their mojo (I'm looking at you, Ono).
Whatever Romero's role will be among the pitching staff, he looks like he has the goods. He posted a 1.33 ERA in 54 innings and a 0.870 WHIP in the Dominican Winter League this year where 10 of his 11 appearances have been starts. His SO/9 stands at 9.0 and he didn't give up a homerun. Dominance in the DR can be a good indication of things to come. At MLB level, his career ERA sits at 5.12 over 146 IP. His most recent jaunt in the Pirates minor league system has looked far less encouraging however as he posted a 6.23 ERA over 4.1 IP with the Indianapolis Indians (AAA) as well as giving up 3 runs in his one and only appearance at A+ ending his time with Pittsburgh with a 13.50 ERA.
Romero has a lot of upside. His career AAA stat line looks more encouraging with a 4.43 ERA over 191 IP. Strangely however, his SO/9 looks better at MLB level which may be because of his primary utilization as a reliever. A WHIP of 1.382 in AAA would put him in with the better relievers and starters with the Dragons this year which is a little bit encouraging, but aside from this year's Winter League, Romero hasn't had a start since 2013.
Romero primarily goes to school with a reliance on his pacey fourseam that hovers in the mid 150's on average topping out at 164 km/h. A mix between fourseam and slider seems to be the key to taking strikeouts for Romero but he also has a cutter that he has used to varying success. Earlier in his career with the Rays he also frequently mixed in a change-up but he has limited his use of this pitch as his career has progressed.
This again, like most of the signings last year, is low risk high reward. Worst case, Romero gets injured, but we're only out ¥50M. Best case, he's lightning and supports the team in the rotation or the bullpen in the best possible way like Garcia and Rodriguez last year.
Overall, I think he has the profile to succeed in the NPB, but like with any foreign signing it will depend on how he adapts.
Viciedo back in 2019 on big money contract
Dayán Viciedo, ex of the white sox, signed a 3-year deal with chunichi of the Japan League. Believed to be for $10M.
Dayan Viciedo has reportedly agreed terms to a bumper contract with the Dragons according to Jon Heyman. 3-years for $10M looks like a very generous offer from the Dragons and represents a large increase on the 2-year $3.5-$4M deal that Viciedo had previously been on. For a players that has only really excelled for one season, I'm worried that this locks away a lot of money for a a lot of years. Then again, by the time Viciedo's deal is up, we should be in a good position to challenge for the Central League regularly again meaning that the money may well be freed up by the time some players need to get paid.
I'm on the fence about this one, but Viciedo has repaid the faith after his battles with his US citizenship and he has now bonded pretty well with the team. He will have played for the Dragons for 6 years by the time the deal is up which would be one of the longer serving foreign players in recent years. Locking Viciedo up for his prime years looks good on paper, but I can't get out of my head the niggle of the Ernesto Mejia contract at Seibu that has proven to be a bit of a money sink.
There have also been some moves in the jersey numbers department as shifts were made to accommodate for Daisuke Matsuzaka shifting to the 18 and Kyoda switching to 1.
Matsuzaka gets back his "ace" number that he wore for Seibu, Boston, Softbank and for the Japanese national team. This will no doubt drive more shirt sales particularly with new uniforms also announced for next year.
Tomonaga gives up the 1 to Kyoda to take up Kudo's 62 much in line with Tomonaga's previous comments at contract negotiations to be the next Kudo for the team. Kyoda takes up the 1 as an homage to his idol, Takashi Toritani of the Hanshin Tigers.
Taisuke Maruyama falls down the pecking order with a move to the nice number of 69 while the newly promoted Masaru Watanabe picks up the 31 vacated by the retired Kei Nomoto.
New draftees officially unveiled
Also, the press conference for the new draftees came a long and they new boys are looking snazzy.
The new uniforms certainly jump out a bit better here and they're looking really good to my eye. Neo and Umetsu look quite focused in this shot while I like the half smile form Katsuno as well.
Jersey numbers were of course dealt out for the new boys:
Akira Neo - 7
Kodai Umetsu - 28
Akiyoshi Katsuno - 41
Kota Ishibashi - 58
Kenshin Kakikoshi - 61
Kaname Takino - 51
The significant number goes to Neo of course who wears the 7 last worn by Masahiko Morino. The giving of the 7 to Neo has been pretty well known for a while now and it's gotten as far as former barer of the number at short, Masaru Uno. Uno was the last Dragons regular to wear the 7 at short-stop and the slugger holds the Chunichi record for career homeruns. There's a lot of pedigree that comes with the number and Neo looks like someone who will do it justice in the long-term.
Kodai Umetsu takes up the 28 that was vacated by Taisuke Maruyama. Through history, there have been a few familiar names with the number including Taiwanese major leagure, Wei-Yin Chen who wore it for a season as well as Shinji Iwata who was a pitching coach in 2-gun last year. The longest to bare the number however is Yujiro Miyako who also coached the 2-gun pitchers last year but had a semi-successful career as a starter in the mid-1980s. If not Sho Ishikawa, I think Umetsu could have his eyes on the 20 in the future. I hope so anyway.
Akiyoshi Katsuno I think gets the most fitting number in the 41. Takuya Asao of course is the most recent and probably most famous to hold the jersey. Like Asao, Katsuno is a Tokai native, a graduate of the industrial leagues and a very successful right-handed pitcher. I'd also throw in that they're both pretty handsome.
Kota Ishibashi takes on the 58 which became vacant after Tetsuya Tani's retirment. The last catcher to hold the jersey was Daisuke Tanaka who joined the Dragons in 2006 before departing in 2014.
Kenshin Kakikoshi takes on the number that Shunta Wakamatsu left behind. Another number with some connections as Wakamatsu and Kakikoshi joined the Dragons straight out of high school, both are from the Tokai region and both are pitchers.
Lastly, Kaname Takino takes the 51 that Kyoda left. Issei Nakamura was the last outfielder to hold the jersey and he had a modest career with the Dragons before moving to the Buffaloes where he saw some time at the plate.
Overall, there's a lot of interesting stories behind the numbers.
Now we truly enter the dark end of the season with individual training and new years preparation.
It's hit the time for contract updates in the off season as the current roster is assessed on this year's performances while the 2018 draftees get signed up.
For the curious, you can look-up last year's salary figures here.
This should give us a bit of an idea as to how much we have on the wage bill. The retirements of Araki, Asao, Kudo and Iwase have freed up close to $3M just on their own which means more money to go around.
Losing Shunta Wakamatsu also frees up about $250k.
A big raise is expected for Daisuke Matuzaka who has performed well both on and off the field with some outlets suggesting he's in for a $1M salary for next year. If the Dragons want to keep their foreign players from this year, a lot more cash will have to be sunk into investing for their return as Almonte, Garcia and Moya all joined the team on very team friendly deals while Viciedo's best season to date will push up his value and salary expectations.
As this is ongoing, I will be updating this table each day as more information comes to hand. I will also include the salaries of the new draftees as negotiations start to occur. Hopefully by the end of the month we'll have a better picture of what the overall wage bill is and how we'll look in 2019.
For the sake of simplicity and to make it easier to understand I've gone with a straight 100 yen = $1 approach. Please also note that an asterisk denotes farm appearances as that player has not played with the first team. Also note that 未 refers to undecided.
As of the 19th, the big mover in the down direction is Katsuki Matayoshi who lost 25% of his salary due to having a down year. Last year he was one of the most reliable, this year, not so much. Raises for young guns Yu Sato and Shotaro Kasahara. Both represented Samurai Japan recently against an MLB selection side and have progressed quite well this year. Shuhei Takahashi too gets a bit raise after having his most successful season to date hitting double digit homeruns and appearing in 100+ games. Masaru Watanabe meanwhile moves up from a development contract to become a fully rostered player. Watanabe was one of the better hitters on the farm last year.
Big hits for bullpen arms as Shinji Tajima and Katsuki Matayoshi got hit hard for their inability to back up previous years' excellence. Yudai Ono too got a hard hit due to his inability to throw anything that would stick over the plate in his limited appearances in the first-team. Among position players Nobumasa Fukuda and Shuhei Takahashi have received large increases with both making their respective positions their own this year taking on plenty of PAs and churning out decent numbers.
Contract extensions were given to Shota Ono and Kazuki Yoshimi with both receiving increases. Ono was an FA last year so I don't really understand why he was signed to a 3-year, $2.5M deal this year, but he has been while Yoshimi similarly received a 2-year, $1.8M deal as he gets a minor premium for being eligible for domestic FA this year and throwing 120+ innings.
Big money and 3 years has been given to Dayan Viciedo as a reward for this good numbers last season while Almonte doubles his money.
Winners are grinners as Shotaro Kasahara picks up
a sizeable raise.
This year's draft was underlined by two institutions with high level talent available. That of the summer Koshien winning Osaka Toin High School and the overflowing treasure chest of pitching at Toyo University.
Expected to be top of the bill as early as last year was Osaka Toin's Akira Neo. Neo, a native of Gifu Prefecture, was highlighted by Chunichi scouts very early on as someone that was going to be targeted in 2018. With their sights set on Neo as their first round pick, come draft day the major outlets were reporting up to 6 clubs being interested in selecting the young possible 2-way talent. The Dragons hadn't won a contest with more than 4 clubs in over 32 years, but it was to prove to be Chunichi's victory as new manager, Tsuyoshi Yoda's first job would prove to be a pivotal one, securing the ticket for the rights to negotiate with Neo.
The Dragons ended up drafting 3 players from high school, 2 from college and 1 from the industrial leagues this year in a draft still heavily focusing on youth. 3 pitchers, an outfielder, catcher and an immensely talented infielder were the spoils in a draft that can only be ranked as probably the best of any club this year where key areas were addressed with plus talents. Akira Neo of course will be the one to watch, but the pickups of Umetsu, Katsuno and Ishibashi in particularly will be very interesting to keep an eye on.
With the drafting of Neo, who prefers to play short, there are already talks of moving Kyoda to second or perhaps converting Neo to second as well with Shuhei Takahashi taking back his rightful place at third base. I still think it's a little bit early to be talking about Neo as a first team regular, but after I explain a bit more about his talents, you might understand why this conversation is occurring.
Let's now have a look at the A+ draftees for the year 2018:
1. Akira Neo (Osaka Toin High School) Infielder/Right-handed pitcher
Name: 根尾 昂 Birthdate: 19th April 2000 Birthplace: Hida, Gifu Prefecture Height: 177cm (5'9") Weight: 80kg (176lb) Bats: Left Throws: Right Max Velocity: 150 km/h (93 mp/h) Pitches: Four-seam, slider, curveball, change-up Base-running: 50m in 6 secs.
Akira Neo was quite simply the hottest talent available at this year's draft and the Dragons have snatched him. Potentially a 2-way talent, Neo represents someone that could, all going well, have a franchise built around. Long has it been since fans have been so excited about a talent like this before and it won't be long before Kazuyoshi Tatsunami comparisons abound should Neo find his way into the starting line-up next year. High ceiling talent with superstar potential, there's a lot to be excited about.
It is fate to see Neo in a Dragons
Neo was born in the Hida area of northern Gifu Prefecture, an area well known for it's beef products, and started playing baseball as in grade 2 at lementary school. During his final year of elementary school, Neo was picked up to play for the Dragons Junior team.
In junior high, Neo played for the local club team, Hida Takayama Boys where he would meet future teammate, Kenshin Kakikoshi (below). In his senior year of junior high, Neo was part of a touring team of the US with Nomo Japan (incidentally related to former Dodgers starter, Hideo Nomo), a team comprised of talented junior high students across Japan.
After being admitted to the prestigious baseball program at Osaka Toin High School, Neo sat on the bench in his first summer. In his freshman year, Neo's first appearance of note would come as a pinch-hitter against Osaka Kaisei in the Osaka Prefectural tournament's 4th round where he registered his first official hit, a solo home run to give his team the lead. In the Kinki regional tournament, Neo played a key role in 3 games batting 4th in the lineup and launched a solo homer in the quarter finals against Chiben Gakuen.
In spring of his second year, Neo played the field at short and centre while also pitching and played in every game of the Senbatsu tournament except for the final mostly batting 5th in the line-up. Although he was able to show his power, he struggled at the plate with a .211 average (19-4). He however showed his ability to hit in clutch situations where he helped start a winning rally in the 2nd round.
Neo helped the team otherwise win the tournament.
In his 3rd and final year, Neo helped the team to yet another Senbatsu victory and played in a total of 18 games including the qualifying rounds in fall, hitting .371 with 3 homers and 20 RBIs while playing 10 games at short, 4 in the outfield and 4 as pitcher. Through these games, Neo started to get noticed by scouts for his defensive skills. Neo found most of his success hitting fastballs from the centre to the outside, hitting 9 extra-base hits pulling between left and centre field.
At Koshien in 2018 against Urawa Gakuin ace and Seibu Lions #2 pick, Yutaro Watanabe, Neo hit a weak 140 km/h fastball into the left stand. Neo also went yard in the Koshien final against Kosei Yoshida (Fighters #1 pick) leading to Osaka Toin winning the tournament.
Neo was selected as to represent the U-18 Samurai Japan team as a result of his heroics and played at the Asian Baseball Championships as the starting right-fielder. Starting all 5 games in the #5 slot, Neo went 18-7 with one homer and 7 RBIs. In the 26-0 drubbing of Hong Kong, Neo also hit for the cycle by the 5th inning in the first game of the tournament. In the pre-tournament warm-up against the Japanese Collegiate Team, Neo also shone with a 2-hit game.
Neo is short-stop who can play the outfield and has great athletic ability. He is a lefty who can put-up medium-high power numbers with a no-care swing. At the summer Koshien this year, he hit the back screen with 2 homers and hit another over the left stand fence. Whilst his athleticism has been praised, he also has a great mentality and it known for his intelligence on and off the field. As someone who can pitch at 150 km/h, Neo has a strong arm that could potentially play anywhere on the left side of the diamond or in outfield.
As a pitcher, Neo throws with an overthrow action and tops out at 150 km/h while he generally averages in the mid 140's. He has a vertically moving slider that is around 120~130km/h a 110 km/h curveball and a 130 km/h change-up. Neo came to the attention of scouts in junior high when he threw down a 146km/h heater. At this year's Koshien he had a 8.79 K/9 and a 4.07 BB/9.
Mr Athletic was a premier skier.
As a 5th grade elementary schooler, Neo came second in the nationals for the 100m sprint and in the 6th grade set the Japanese record for the softball throw at 88m 92cm. The multi-talented Neo also achieved victory in the junior high school nationals for alpine skiiing.
Scouts have been understandably effusive in praise with Chunichi Scouting director, Muneo Tanaka comparing Neo's style to former major leaguer, Kazuo Matsui. Vice-Director and Orix has called his swing collegiate level and was impressed at his ability to not only defend in the infield but also the outfield also praising his ability to adapt between wooden and alumnium bats. Fighters manager, Hideo Kuriyama commented that anyone can see that Neo has the goods as a batter and praised his baseball intelligence as both pitcher and as a position player. Hanshin's chief scout Shunji Hatakeyama commented that Neo has the same kind talent as Tomoya Mori (Lions) and Shohei Otani (Angels) had in high school also saying there is no mistake that he has all the tools to be a star.
Upon being selected in a radio interview immediately following the draft, Neo mentioned his connection to the Dragons as it was the team that he grew up watching on TV where the team were one of the strongest in Japan. On being asked about returning to his home region, Neo commented he has warm feelings for the Tokai region as it is the place that started his baseball adventure and he is happy to be able to return. When asked who his favourite Dragons players was he replied with "all of them." A rarer answer than you might think. Asked who left the biggest impression on him when he was growing up, he mentioned the Araiba pairing of Masahiro Araki and Hirokazu Ibata. Upon being requested for a comment toward Dragons fans he said "I am very honoured to have been selected by the team and I will do my best to level up so that I can contribute to the success of the team. I look forward to hearing your cheers."
New manager, Tsuyoshi Yoda immediately went out to meet his man to hear his initial thoughts about being a 2-way player and to welcome Neo to the Dragons family.
Neo, upon sigining his contract with
a bat incribed with「継続は力になり」
(Persistence pays off)
As of this week, Neo became the fastest player to receive a contract among the 2018 draftees in the NPB where he secured a ¥15,000,000($132,000) per year deal, an ¥100,000,000 ($885,000) sign-on bonus with incentives that could amount to ¥50,000,000 ($440,000). At the presser it was also made clear that Neo would be focusing on being a position player, ignoring the allure of being a 2-way player at least for now.
Neo certainly appears to have all the goods and could, theoretically at least, see time in the first-team lineup this year. Much talk has been made about converting either he or Kyoda to second-base but there's still a lot to happen before then. Neo could be used to fill the outfield where we have the aging Oshima and Hirata outside of his preferred position at short. Kyoda certainly didn't set the world alight in 2018, Shuhei had a good season albeit not a great one and Nobumasa Fukuda falls into a similar category. The performances of these four in particular will probably shape how early Neo gets into the team. In the meantime, let's be excited to have such a wonderful talent coming to play in Nagoya. He will be a joy to watch.
Name: 梅津 晃大 Birthdate: 24th October 1996 Birthplace: Fukushima, Fukushima Prefecture Height: 187cm (6'1") Weight: 90kg (198lb) High School: Sendai Ikuei High School Bats: Right Throws: Right Max Velocity: 153 km/h (95 mp/h) Pitches: Four-seam, slider, cutter, forkball, curveball
Kodai Umetsu was actually mentioned as a possible back-up first round pick for Neo, but much like Sho Ishikawa last year, the Dragons have grabbed a sneaky second round pick in the lofty, Tohoku-born righty. Umetsu was one of three talented pitchers out of Toyo University this year with the other two, Taiga Kamichatani (Baystars) and Hiroshi Kaino (Hawks) going first round this year. Probably the most polished of the pitcher's taken this year, Umetsu could fight for a spot in the rotation from the get go.
Umetsu started playing baseball in grade two of elementary school and played for Shuko Junior High School (affiliated with Sendai Ikuei) after moving up.
At powerhouse Sendai Ikuei High School, Umetsu found space on the bench wearing the 11 in his second year. In the beginning of spring he made a good impression at a camp in Okinawa and became a member of the Senbatsu squad as a result. In a warm-up game against Kanto Daiichi, Umetsu threw down 3 innings for 3K in a scoreless showing. Unfortunately at the Senbatsu tournament, there was to be no place for Umetsu to make a showing and he was left off the summer Koshien roster but claimed the ace number 1 to begin the fall season.
At the Tohoku tournament, still with team that kept winning, Umetsu had only one appearance to speak of, 1 inning of relief in the semi-final against Rifu High School.
In spring of his senior year in the scond game of the regional tournament against Kogata Norin High School, he threw down 13Ks in a complete game shut-out. At the following Senbatsu tournament against Toryo High School he threw a complete game in a 7-2 win. Unfortunately, following his superb performances, Umetsu had issues with his left wrist and was excluded from the squad for that year's Tohoku regional tournament. In summer however he would return and threw 5 inning for 3 earned runs against Tohoku Gakuin High School where his team would eventually lose 4-3 in the 13th inning.
At high school, Umetsu was highlighted by pro scouts with Rakuten particularly interested, but he did not apply to be considered for that year's draft and he went straight to Toyo University.
In spring of his 1st year, he entered the bench of the second team at Toyo and played in 4 games registering 4IP, 4BB and a 4.50 ERA. As he was only 80kg, he increased his weight to 92kg and in his 3rd year against Hosei University, threw a PB velocity of 153 km/h. In the fall league of the same year, Umetsu made appearances as a starter and in relief and recorded 150km/h plus speeds in every game he pitched.
In Toyo's first apperance in 5 years at the national collegiate championships, Umetsu played in the opening game and registered 151km/h on the gun bringing the attention of pro scouts. In the second game of the tournament, he threw down an appealing 6 innings for 1 hit and 1 earned run (he was withdrawn due to injury).
In his final year, he pitched in 13 games including 10 as a starter throwing 53.2 innings and in the fall league he recorded his first win ( a relief appearance) in his final game. In the spring and the All-Japan Championships against Kyushu Sangyo University, he came into the game at a 0-3 cound in the bottom of the 3rd with one out on the board and loaded bases. On the back of his injury recover, he threw 4.1 innings for 5K but ultimately had issues with control leading to giving up 2 homeruns and 7 hits in a 3-10 loss.
In the league, Umetsu finished with a 1-3 record with 53.2 IP and a 1.94 ERA.
Umetsu's velocity sits in the mid 140's often touching the early 150's with a 120~130km/h slider, 140km/h forkball and a 100km/h curveball. Umetsu favours attacking the inside with a mix of his four-seam, slider and forkball. As a high schooler he was praised for his balance and flexibility.
Scouts across the country have had their eyes on Umetsu and there's no shortage
of glowing reports. Hiroshima scouts have said that Umetsu is not quite there yet, but has the potential to be a 20-win player. Muneo Tanaka has previously said that Umetsu is at about 50% of his total power suggesting he has a lot of potential yet to be tapped into even suggesting he could become a pitcher like Shohei Otani.
Upon being drafted, Umetsu expressed his relief and said that he was glad to have happy news to give to his recently hospitalized mother who had had a brain haemorrhage 3 days previous. After the draft, new manager Tsuyoshi Yoda went to meet his new man and proclaimed he expects Umetsu to be in the mix for the starting rotation next year. Yoda also spoke of how he had the chance to see a few games that Umetsu pitched in claiming he was the best of the 3 Toyo pitchers available this year.
In an interview with CBC announcer, Keiichi Wakasa post-draft Umetsu commented on his difficulty coming up through the ranks at Toyo where he suffered from a lack of motivation. Determined however, he put on the necessary weight and started throwing fireballs. He commented that that his difficulty at Toyo was perhaps the biggest turning point in his baseball career.
Umetsu seems to be a high celing, medium-low floor kind of player. When he's off he doesn't seem to do well, but there's lots of parts to him that make him an interesting piece for this team. Compared to his colleagues Taiga Kamichatani and Hiroshi Kaino he may be less NPB ready, but according to scouts could well surpass them if he reaches his potential.
3. Akiyoshi Katsuno (Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Nagoya) Right-handed Pitcher
Name: 勝野 昌慶 Birthdate: 12th June 1997 Birthplace: Kani, Gifu Prefecture Height: 183cm (6'0) Weight: 89kg (196lb) High School: Gifu Toki Commercial High School Bats: Right Throws: Right Max Velocity: 152 km/h (94 mp/h) Pitches: Four-seam, slider, curveball, forkball
Like Neo, Katsuno hails from Gifu prefecture. Katsuno appears to be billed as someone that could immediately slip in to a bullpen role.
Katsuno started playing baseball in primary school and played for his local team in Kani when he reached middle-school.
At Toki Commercial, Katsuno was given the 18 in his first year and found a place on the bench. Through experience as an ace at his junior high team, Katsuno developed and in fall of his second year helped his team to 3rd in the prefectural tournament.
In summer of his third year, Katsuno gave up 5 ER in 1.1 IP against Hashima North High School in a 7-2 come from behind loss where his team were knocked out in the 3rd round of the Gifu prefectural tournament. Katsuno however shone in earlier performances throwing 10K in 7 shut-out innings in Game 1, also hitting a 3-run homer over the left fence.
His best results as a high schooler was a semi-final appearance in the Gifu Prefectural Tournament and a 2nd round appearance in the Tokai tournament.
From his first year with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Katsuno appeared in official games. From spring, Katsuno was used as both a starter and a reliever. In the 2nd round of qualifiers for the inter-city tournament, Katsuno posted a 3.06 ERA in 17.2 innings pitched. Despite conceding 17 hits and giving up 14 walks, Katsuno took 16 SO (8.15 SO/9) showing off strong mental application.
At the following tournament, Katsuno threw down 7.2 innings including 5.1 innings as a starter in game 1 for only one hit.
While in his first year at Mitsubishi, he was called up for the U-23 Samurai Japan team for the U-23 World Cup. He was entrusted with starting the first game against Australia where he threw 4 innings with 4 Ks in while also recording his highest velocity of 147 km/h.
In spring of the following year, in the Nagano Tournament against Segasammy, Katsuno recorded a complete game shutout with 4 hits and 6K.
Due to pain in his elbow, he would miss the summer inter-city tournament, but would make a comeback in December's Asian Winter League Baseball team in Taiwan where he marked another PB velocity of 150 km/h.
In his final year, in the Sponichi Tournament, Katsuno shut-out Nitsu and won rookie of the tournament honours at the subsequent Shizuoka Tournament. Katsuno failed to make an appearance at the summer inter-city tournament but played again for the Samurai Japan team in the Asian Championships where he clocked 152 km/h on the gun.
While Katsuno can top out at 152 km/h, he sits in the high 130s to the lower 140s. He has a 120~130km/h slider, 110 km/h 12-6 curveball and a 130 km/h forkball. His four-seam is his main weapon. He still gives up walks and hits frequently so his control needs to be worked on. He can last long in games and favours attacking the on the inside of the plate.
Scouts claim Katsuno is very mature for his age and doesn't strike one as someone 3 years out of high school. He is said to have an aura before he pitches and can pitch anywhere across the batters line of sight. He also appear to get good break on his secondary pitches.
On draft night, Katsuno was said to be stoic but when selected that poker face turned into a wide smile.
Dragons have a guy here that could be used, I feel, in a swing role. His pitch mix gives him enough to be a starter, but his trouble with control means he might not be able to go too deep into a game which means that a relief role could also be suitable. In whatever case, he's at an age where he could certainly be tested in the NPB in 2019.
4. Kota Ishibashi (Kanto Daiichi High School) Catcher
Name: 石橋 康太 Birthdate: 7th December 2000 Birthplace: Yotsukaido, Chiba Prefecture Height: 180cm (5'10") Weight: 87kg (191lb) Bats: Right Throws: Right Pop time:Home to second in 1.9 seconds Base-running: 50m in 6.3 seconds
Chunichi were murmured to be going after another catcher at this year's draft and it seems they've got a gem in Kota Ishibashi. Ishibashi was widely regarded as the best high school aged catcher at the draft whom has a strong arm and a good bat to boot.
Ishibashi started catching very early on in his middle school boys team in Chiba. His performances also earned him a chance with the Chiba Lotte Marines Jr program.
Upon entering Kanto Daiichi High School, Ishibashi spent his first spring on the bench. By summer of the same year he had secured a position at first base, batting 5th and his debut at Koshien that year, he had a muti-hit game. In the following fall qualifying games, Ishibashi captured the catcher's mask batting at either 4 or 5 and in the second round against Musashigaoka, hit a solo homer. In December of the same year, he had knee meniscus surgery and was absent from any competitive games until May of his second year.
On the comeback trail, in summer Ishibashi returned to first base and went yard in four consecutive games in the Kanto tournament. In the 4th game of the tournament against Horikoshi HS he hit a grand slam, collecting a total of 6 RBIs and 2 hits in the game.
In fall of the same year, Ishibashi regained the catcher's mask but his team would lose out to Kotaro Kiyomiya's Waseda Jikkyo 1-5 in the 2nd round of the Tokyo tournament.
In his third year in the West Kanto tournament, batting 3rd, Ishibashi hit 4 extra-base hits. His team would however be knocked out in the semi-finals by Nishougakusha University High School. In the semi against Nishougakusha however, Ishibashi showed off his throwing prowess as he gunned down two runners in the game at a pop time of 1.9 seconds.
Ishibashi is a strong armed strong catchers with powerful bat with a good follow through on his swing. He can hit over either fence and has 57 jacks in his high school career.
Scouts have had glowing appraisals of Ishibashi. Scout director Muneo Tanaka had said he had no complaints about Ishibashi saying that out of all the catchers at the draft he had the best fundamental skills commented his has more potential to draw on than last year's 1st rounder Shosei Nakamura. Tanaka further mentioned that his raw skills, body strength and footwork make him a different animal.
Immediately upon being selected, Ishibashi expressed his relief and his gratitude to his family and well wishers. He said his current image of the Dragons was the wave or retirees and the change of the team. He said he wants to do the best of what he can when he joins up with the team. He sets his goal to be like former Swallows great, Atsuya Furuta not only behind the plate but also with the bat. Upon being asked about being teammates with Akira Neo he said humbly that Neo essentially lives on another planet talent wise and wants to be able to achieve that level as well.
Upon meeting with the scouting team post draft, Ishibashi said he has set himself the large task of being Japan Series winning catcher. When he entered high school he is said to have read through the catching treatises of Katsuya Nomura and Atsuya Furuta on receiving the ball. He said he reached for the books when he was reaching the limit of his experience when leading pitchers.
The Dragons don't have a lot of power-bats in general, so this is encouraging. Ishibashi is also the youngest catcher on the team by a long way with Takuma Kato at 26 being the next youngest behind the dish in the team. Ability to play first makes him versatile to get plenty of ABs on the farm. Perhaps a long term successor to the mask in Nagoya but I can't say I recall the last time a high school grad became a regular catcher. It certainly hasn't happened at Chunichi since Tatsuhiko Kimata in the 1960s who similarly joined the team lauded for his ability with the bat.
5. Kenshin Kakikoshi (Yamanashi Gakuin High School)
Name: 垣越 建伸 Birthdate: 3rd April 2000 Birthplace: Takayama, Gifu Prefecture Height: 184cm (6'0) Weight: 96kg (211lb) Bats: Left Throws: Left Max Velocity: 146 km/h (90 mp/h) Pitches: Four-seam, slider, change-up, curveball, cutter
A team-mate of Neo's during junior high school, Kakikoshi has not had the high profile of his friend, but he does add something that Chunichi needs desperately and that is in southpaw pitchers. Not over quick, Kakikoshi has a good form and will likely be a diamond in the rough that will need a bit of work.
Kakikoshi played for the Takayama Boys in Junior High alongside Akira Neo and helped the team to the semi-finals of the Gifu prefectural tournament.
Kakikoshi then went on to play for Yamanashi Gakuin High School and made the bench in his second year during spring. In summer of the same year, wearing the #18, he threw one no-hit inning against Maebashi Ikuei in the first round to mark his Koshien debut. In fall of the same year, Kakikoshi became a key member of the new team and threw 30 innings of work in 4 games for 21 earned runs showing determination with his pitching. He threw in all 5 games at the following Yamanashi prefectural tournament racking up 39 innings for 16 earned runs and up until the semi-finals had thrown 30 innings for only 2 runs.
In his third year, in the spring prefectural tournament, Kakikoshi threw his PB fastest pitch in a relief outing topping out at 144km/h. In game two against Yamanashi High School, he took 5 consecutive strikeouts in 2 innings of relief while in the final against Shuhei Takahashi's alma mater, Tokai Kofu HS he threw down a further 4 scoreless innings. At this point he had gathered the admiration of some pro scouts, but a poor outing against Nihon Univeristy 3rd High School in the first round of the Kanto tournament, but dampeners on his reputation.
In the summer qualifying tournament, Kakikoshi returned to form with 26K in 15 innings for 1ER and in the second game of the first round against Yamanashi High School, he fanned 9 batters in a row in 3 perfect innings. In the semi-finals against Kofu Technical HS, he moved back into a relief role due to some back pain recieved in the earl rounds and he marked a further PB in velocity with 146km/h on the gun. Kakikoshi's efforts helped his school reach their 8th consecutive appearance in the summer Koshien tournament.
On return to the tournament, Kakikoshi's team were knocked out in the first round by Kochi Commercial High School in a high scoring 12-14 loss. Kakikoshi was lit up as he conceded 2 home runs and 6 extra base hits in a disappointing game. He was knocked out in the 6th inning with 5 strikeouts and 10 earned runs.
Kakikoshi is a big built pitcher who generally sits between 135 km/h to 140 km/h in a starters outing. His slider sits around 110 to 120km/h while his change-up is at around 100km/h. He also possesses a cutter. Due to back pain suffered in the qualifying tournament this year, he was mainly used in relief where he showed an amazing K/9 rate of 15.60 over 15 innings.
Tomoya Yagi was the key scout for looking over Kakikoshi to begin with and
commented last year that his off-speed pitches were beginning to tail-off just in front of the batter to take strikes. Scouting director Muneo Tanaka had also weighed in pre-draft commenting that he has a relaxed form also mentioning his four-seam as a "big weapon." Yagi also mentioned upon officially greeting Kakikoshi in person that he feels he's one pitch short of making it professionally and expects him to work on a new off-speed pitch before he becomes effective.
Kakikoshi probably is most well known unfortunately for being the former team-mate of Akira Neo during their time in middle school, but Kakikoshi has said he is happy to be able to play again with Neo after they went their separate ways for high school. Neo and Kakikoshi had talked upon graduating from junior high that they wanted to play baseball again together some day and was happy to have a reunion at professional level.
On being selected he aid he was relieved to have been picked by the Dragons as he went to support the team at Nagoya Dome as a child and felt they were a team that was closest to him. He says there's still a lot he has to work on and wants to work on gradually getting up to 1-gun.
A high-school aged lefty that throws a max velocity of 146 km/h is pretty good. Kakikoshi however still seems very raw and will need a lot of work with pitching coaches to become a serviceable starter or reliever. He does however fulfill a need for left-handers in the team with only Shinnosuke Ogasawara, Yudai Ono, Shotaro Kasahara, Toshiya Okada and Hiroto Fuku filling the roster for that role. (Hard to call Ono an option these days) If nothing else, Kakikoshi's presence should help Neo settle as well and it creates a nice, very Japanese story about two young boys from country Japan working with each other to achieve their dream of being pro ball players.
Name: 滝野 要 Birthdate: 8th July 1996 Birthplace: Matsuzaka, Mie Prefecture Height: 185cm (6'1") Weight: 76kg (167lb) High School: Ogaki Nihon University High School Bats: Left Throws: Right Base-running: 50m in 6 seconds
Addressing an immediate need for young outfielders, the Dragons have used their last pick on Kaname Takino. There's a lot to like about Takino on paper as he has been a regular and done very well in the Kansai University leagues. How he will convert as a professional will be exciting to watch. Born in Mie prefecture, Takino is yet another player that was born within the Chubu/Tokai region widely regarded as Chunichi territory.
In middle-school, Takino played for Matsuzaka Boys as a pitcher and in his third year of junior high school he was chosen to represent Japan at a tournament in China.
Takino entered Ogaki Nihon University in neighboring Gifu prefecture and became a regular as a third-baseman in his second year with the team where he batted 4th in the order. That summer, after hitting 4 with 3 extra base hits, Takino helped his team to their 2nd Prefectural tournament victory. In the following summer Koshien, Takino would get two hits and two steals in a 5-4 loss in the first round to Arita Technical High School. From Spring in his third year, Takino played mostly in left-field and pitched as his team reached once again reached the summer Koshien after Takino batted .550 and threw 15 scoreless through the qualifiers. At the final tournament, Takino was the winning pitcher in the 1st round as a reliever in overturning an 8-0 lead to lead the team to victory over Fujishiro High School. Batting 4th in the line-up, Takino claimed 2 hits and 2 RBIs.
After high school, Takino entered Osaka Commercial University and was a starter from spring in his first year. Mostly batting 4th, Takino hit .286 with 2RBI as DH and was selected in the Best 9. In the following fall league, he capture Best 9 honours once more this time as a right-fielder batting .386 also claiming the rookie of the year award. In all, Takino claimed 5 Best 9 awards as a college player hitting .332 with 36 RBI and 26 steals over his career.
As you can probably tell, Takino isn't one to hit for the fences, however with a bit of build on his frame it might be possible for him to get a bit more power. He has good legs being clocked at reaching first base in 4.1 seconds and can play just about anywhere in the outfield.
Upon being selected, Takino let reporters know that he was willing to go in the development draft if he had to in order to get his chance to play professional ball and says he is very appreciative of the chance the Dragons have given him.
He has also said the the Dragons are a team that he's always been in awe of and says he wants to be a player that hits and shows his speed like Yohei Oshima.
Within the Dragons, Takino has a sempai to call on in Iori Katsura who also played for Osaka Commercial University. Takino reportedly called Katsura from whom he received the warm words of "let's do our best together." He also has a high school alumnus sempai in Takuma Achira who also attended Ogaki Nichidai.
Takino fills a need for outfield dept of which we have no one worthy of a spot on the farm. Kudo's retirement also increased the need for this particular. There are only 2 outfielders that played on the farm last year that were under 25, and that was last year's 5th round pick, Kosuke Ito and development player Masaru Watanabe. Shota Tomonaga, Masataka Iryo and Issei Endo are all outfield options but given their lack accomplishments given their age and their time with the team, they're possibly lucky to still have their contracts in tact.
Overall, the draft was an extremely successful one and one that Yoda will be happy with. The additions will put pressure players currently in the system as well which will be good. Most importantly there in now a young core of 18-21 year olds in the team that could guide this team for a long time to come if they can reach their potentials. There's always a large element of risk when going after prospects, but there's certainly a massive reward that could be available for one or more of these guys. We will look on with great interest as their careers unfurl.
* Acknowledgement: Much of the information about player histories leading up the the draft was sourced from the Japanese language resource ドラフト・レポート whom I recommend for any information on Japanese prospects. Much of the player histories are translations and paraphrases of the player profile pages available on the website.
This year with Tsuyoshi Yoda coming in for Shigekazu Mori, it was expected there would be a few changes to the backroom. Key changes really needed to happen with pitching coaching after it was confirmed that Kenta Asakura and Shinichi Kondo were stepping down. It has taken longer than it should have to confirm the backroom with Yoda wanting to finalize things before the draft, but it seems to have been put together relatively well now and there's a significantly refreshing feel to the backroom staff this coming season.
Let's take a look at what the staff looks like now. *Numbers updated as of 19/11/2018
There's very much a Kintetsu Buffaloes flavour to this backroom with the additions of Murakami, Awano and Akahori. I think it's quite possible that Awano, being of the same alma mater as Yoda (Asia University) was contacted first and this lead to bringing Akahori and Murakami in.
The other big addition is that of of Tsutomu Ito as head coach. I'm a little bit concerned about this appointment as it has the potential to undermine Yoda's authority. Ito is older than Yoda and already has a successful track record as a manager. It doesn't make much sense to me unless he's going to be the "shadow shogun" in the backroom much like Shigekazu Mori was during Motonobu Tanishige's ill-fated tenure. If Ito has been appointed with the intention of aiding Yoda in his direction of the team, I'm all for it, but I don't want this to be another case of what has gone before. There is just this niggle that says to me that in Yoda the front office got there born and bred Chunichi manager, but they brought in Ito to actually be the brains...
Former Kintetsu stars Hideyuki Awano, Motoyuki Akahori and
Hideyuki Murakami are part of the all new 1-gun backroom.
Of the new additions, Awano, Akahori and Murakami were all team-mates for the Kintetsu Buffaloes. Awano was a southpaw starter, Akahori a closer and Murakami a hard hitting short-stop. Awano has had extensive coaching experience with the Giants in particularly most recently finishing up a stint as their 3-gun pitching coach. Akahori previously saw time as the Orix Buffaloes pitching coach but most recently was working with the Yakult Swallows farm team's pitchers. Murakami, interestingly, up until now has been managing independent league and club teams. He started off with Osaka Gold Villicanes in the short-lived Kansai independent league in 2009 where he guided the team to a league win. Murakami then went on the manage the 06BULLS who have played in the Baseball First League since 2013. Murakami successfully led the team to 2nd place finishes in 4 consecutive years.
Also worth noting that Murakami is part of the talent agency run by Yoda's former manager at Rakuten, Masataka Nashida. Perhaps another connection used.
Takeshi Nakamura comes back into the fold after he was last part of the Chunichi staff under Morimichi Takagi in 2013. Nakamura has been coaching in Korea with the Kia Tigers for the past few seasons. Nakamura was one of the catching stalwarts of the Hoshino-era Dragons as the regular dish protector between Takayoshi Nakao and Motonobu Tanishige. Certainly a pick I'm happy about as he's a man with not only a lot of playing experience, but plenty of experience in the backroom. His experience coaching overseas as well I feel will be very valuable. One could also hope he might also bring some connections to players in the KBO.
Takahito Kudo's addition is probably a good one but seems a little forced. Kudo retired all of a sudden after the season had finished and rumors were he was enticed into retirement to be given this coaching job. Quite remarkable that a recently retired player slots straight into the 1-gun coaching set-up but given his defensive and base-running skills as a player, he has the potential to be a good choice.
Among the other choices, Masahiro Araki and Takuya Asao are confirmed as coaches in the 2-gun set-up with former Dragons and Giants starter, Ken Kadokura joining the fold. Comparatively, the 2-gun staff hasn't had as much of a shake-up. Fujio Tamura has moved down from the 1-gun staff while Morino, T. Ogasawara and Hidenori maintain the core with Guts Ogasawara as manager. There's a lot of familiarity anyway. Akio Ishii staying on is a bit of a surprise for me as I didn't have high hopes for him last year as he was coming out of the office from being a scorer for some years, but he seems to have made the right impressions as a hitting coach for the time being.
Hitoki Iwase has decided to take a rest from baseball despite having a part-time coaching role last year. Iwase, a fairly humble man has been said to be enjoying his retirement at home for the time being.
The majority of the coaches that have been cut from the backroom are likely to find other roles within the organisation with only a few leaving all together or perhaps retiring. Kazuo Hayakawa and Shinichi Kondo were the two longest serving coaches with the team with Hayakawa ending a 20+ year tenure with the Dragons while Kondo had been coaching since 2003.
Overall, it all looks very fresh which is probably a good thing. Not a lot of recycling, plenty of new faces from inside and outside the organisation. My only concern is that Yoda hasn't had the pull power that someone like a Kazuyoshi Tatsunami might have in bringing in an all-star backroom. By all reports, many former Dragons players turned down his overtures with the likes of Kazuki Inoue and Shinji Imanaka supposedly in the mix.
It is however a new beginning, so let's sit back and enjoy the ride.
Draft day. My favourite day of the year and the time seemed to crawl along in the lead-up. The Dragons had been mentioned to be in for Osaka Toin HS' Akira Neo. Shigekazu Mori, a notable absentee from the draft, had gone on record saying that the Dragons would be selecting Neo. Similarly, 5 other teams were predicted to select Neo in the first round.
Tsuyoshi Yoda's first job as manager was to be the one to pull out the ticket to claim Neo's signature. He, along with representatives from the Swallows, Fighters and Giants all had their hands on a ticket, and it was the former closer that closed the deal, pulling out the winning ticket. This is the first time in a long time the Dragons have gone after the tastiest pick at the draft, let alone with so much competition for the signature and it was to be the perfect start to Yoda's tenure.
Neo himself kept a demure posture after being selected. Neo was a Dragons fan when he was in primary school and being a native of Gifu prefecture falls well into the Dragons catchment. Neo is a short-stop but can pitch. It is possible he could be targetted to be a 2-way player with Yoda suggesting he would listen to what Neo wanted to do and go from there. He feels he has a superstar on his hands and wants to ensure he can be a productive member of the team in whatever way possible.
Neo himself has said that it's a team that he has a familiarity with as it was the team that was on TV when he turned it on as a child and he has said he has an image of the Dragons as as strong team. He feels that there is a connection between him and the team saying he wants to do his best as a member of the Dragons.
Akira Neo is "the one" for the Dragons
Apart from Neo, the Dragons has a wonderful draft with most players being taken being one's on the scouting team's shortlist for quite some time.
Osaka Toin HS
Mitsubishi Heavy Industry Nagoya
Kanto Daiichi HS
Yamanashi Gakuin HS
Osaka Commercial University
Kodai Umetsu looks good in blue.
For the second year running the Dragons have pulled of a bit of a coup with their #2 pick Kodai Umetsu who was mentioned in the lead-up to be a back-up pick to Neo much like how Sho Ishikawa was mentioned as a possible back-up 1st round pick last year. Somehow, all other teams took a pass on Umetsu and it was the Dragons that picked him up. Umetsu could work out the bullpen but scout reports say he could be a very good starter but is still a bit raw.
Katsuno is another that could be quite close to contributing.
Ishibashi is a hard-hitting slugger-catcher that I'm sure the Dragons will be over the moon to have on the books. He'll be the youngest catcher in the team by some way and it might also mean a goodbye to one of our existing catchers. Ishibashi was regarded as the top high school catching prospect at the draft this year.
Kota Ishibashi knows how to bashi a baseball.
Kakikoshi is a lefty who actually played with Neo in Gifu as part of the same boys team. He'll boost the numbers in the LHP department as we're pretty bare bones there. Takino looks like good pick-up at 6th as he'll give us depth in the outfield that we so sorely need.
Overall 10/10 draft for me. The Dragons addressed a lot of areas here that they wanted to address and captured some great players along the way.
I will be sure to provide more detailed profiles by the weekend. For the time being, a great day for the Dragons. Doraho~!