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Saturday, October 26, 2019

NPB Draft Meeting 2019: Pitcher heavy draft for Dragons; Yoda pulls Takaya Ishikawa

Going into this year's draft all indicators suggested that the Dragons were going to select Summer Koshien finalist, Yasunobu Okugawa as their top pick. Days before the draft however, manager Yoda declared his intention to select local talent, Takaya Ishikawa of Toho High School. Yoda put forward his vision of a line-up core of Akira Neo and Ishikawa as two that would support the Dragons for many years to come.

In a draft that had the generational talent of 100 mp/h hurler, Roki Sasaki, college fireballer Masato Morishita and the aforementioned Okugawa, it was a bit hard to believe the Dragons would go in for a position player, but that's how it played out.

The Dragons ended up having to contest their first round pick once more, this time with the Softbank Hawks and Orix Buffaloes; both teams were suggested to be going in for Sasaki so there were more than a few murmurs of surprise in the meeting room upon the announcement.

Yoda's first job as manager last year was to pull Akira Neo's rights to contract out of the hat and he once again proved to be the man with the hand of god as he pulled out the winning ticket for Ishikawa.

Prior to the draft, Ishikawa had shown his desire to join the Dragons and Yoda's winning hand made it a match made in heaven.

Along with Ishikawa, the Dragons drafted 4 pitchers and a catcher in the main draft as well as a pitcher in the development draft.

PickNamePositionAlma Mater
1Takaya IshikawaIFToho High School
2Yuki HashimotoLHPOsaka Commercial University
3Yuichiro OkanoRHPToshiba
4Yuya GunjiCKeio University
5Yuki OkabayashiRHPKomono High School
6Ryushin TakeuchiRHPOsaka Sousei High School
Development Draft
1Hiroaki MatsudaLHPNagoya University

The team picked a balanced 3 high school and 3 college/industrial league bunch of players. There's  a lot to like about this lot of picks. Yuki Hashimoto threw a no-hitter in the Kansai University league last year, Gunji is a catcher that can hit and Okabayashi is a fireballer from Mie Prefecture. Most outlets are calling this another successful draft for the Dragons and I tend to agree. So, without further ado, lets have a deeper look at who these guys are and then see how it affects the current roster.

1, Takaya Ishikawa (Toho High School)
Name: 石川昂弥
Birthdate: 22nd June 2001
Birthplace: Handa, Aichi Prefecture
Height: 185cm (6'1")
Weight: 87kg (191lb)
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Batter Type: Power hitter
Baserunning: 50m in 6.3 seconds

Takaya Ishikawa is a special player. The highest rated hitter in his class, he lead his high school almost single handedly to victory in the Spring Senbastsu Koshien tournament. While he was unable to repeat those heroics for the Summer tournament, Ishikawa maintained his stock throughout the year to be a contested first round pick at the draft. The Dragons have picked up a potential key cog for the team's line-up for the long-term and arguable someone that could grow alongside Akira Neo. Ishikawa wanted to come to the Dragons which only makes the story sweeter. A third-baseman, Ishikawa will have his work cut out for him to make an immediate impact with Shuhei Takahashi blocking his path, but the sky is the limit for one of the first high quality power hitting talents that Dragons have gone after since the aforementioned Shuhei.

Ishikawa was born in Handa city on the Chita peninsula, south of Nagoya city. When he was in Grade 6, Ishikawa was selected for Dragons Jr not unlike a certain Akira Neo. He attended Kamezaki Junior High School where he played short for Aichi Chita Boys. He was later selected for NOMO Japan where he travelled to the United States as part of a camp in his senior year of junior high.

After entering the prestigious Toho High School baseball program, Ishikawa found himself on the bench in the 2017 Spring Senbatsu tournament. He was able to force himself into the lineup in that year's Tokai tournament fielding at short. Some growing pains would limit his next participation to some pinch-hitting appearances in the Summer Aichi Prefectural tournament. From Fall however, Ishikawa secured his spot at third-base and fourth in the line-up where he went 14-6 and hit two homeruns in the Tokai Regional tournament.

His national debut in the Spring Senbatsu of 2018 didn't end as he would have liked going 4-0 where his team was bundled out in the first round by Hanamaki East (Iwate), 5-3. In the summer qualifiers however, Ishikawa returned with a vengeance hitting .737 with 1 homer and 11 RBIs. In fall, Ishikawa's rise continued as he captained his side to their first Tokai regional title in 3 years. As the team's ace he clocked 144 km/h, hitting .636 with an OPS of 1.744.

A return to the Spring Senbatsu in 2019 saw Ishikawa lead his team to it's first national title in 30 years as he registered 5 wins from the mound while hitting 3 homeruns. This brought Ishikawa national attention and no doubt upped his value at the draft.

Ishikawa is a power-hitter with 55 homeruns in his high school career. To give you an idea, this puts him in the company of Takeshi Yamasaki (56), Shohei Otani (56) and Takahiro Okada (55). He also has more homers than Yoshiharu Maru (49) and the Dragons own Nobumasa Fukukda (49). While it perhaps doesn't mean a lot, it is illustrious company to be amongst in any case.

Hitting to right-centre is his strength and he is superb at hitting anything pitched outside. In terms of arm strength, he can throw 120m (393ft) and is marked at reaching first base at around 4.3 to 4.4 seconds.

Scouts Japan over have been effusive in their praise for Ishikawa.

Akinobu Shimizu - Chunichi Scout
"He (Ishikawa) has an effortless swing and is an expert at connecting bat on ball. He particularly has the skills to pull the ball while his defense and arm are very solid."

Yukio Matsunaga - Chunichi Head of Recruitment
"I never had the impression that he swung at the first ball, but since joining the national team, I've noticed he wants to get after the ball more proactively"

Shinichi Kondo - Chunichi Scout
"His swing is better with a wooden bat. The swing is clean and he has adapted well"

Tsuyoshi Yoda's comments have been largely publicised but has said he hopes Ishikawa will be the slugger the team needs in the future forming the core of the order. He has also said that he'd like to see Ishikawa up close at the 2020 Spring Camp but fell short of confirming his invitation to the 1-gun camp.

Over the course of his competitive career, Ishikawa has a ridiculous slash line. 40 games, .469/.574/.938. An OPS of 1.512! There is of course a long way to go before Ishikawa replicates that at the professional level but it's an incredible achievement on it's own.

Upon being selected, Ishikawa announced his desire to slam 30 dingers in a season at the Nagoya Dome while also declaring he was going after triple-three honors .

Some would say that Ishikawa is a luxury pick. And he is but his selection gives the Dragons significant organisational depth. It also means that come the future, the left side of the diamond should all but be wrapped up by Ishikawa and Neo. While Ishikawa won't contribute immediately, he doesn't have to. Shuhei proved last year he is more than capable as both a leader and as a productive bat, so there's no urgency just yet. What I would like to see is maybe Ishikawa getting some reps at DH when interleague rolls around if he's to see any action. At the very least, he'll be battling it out with Masami Ishigaki for reps at third base on the farm.

Ishikawa will be among plenty of friends though as Kento Fujishima, Taisuke Maruyama and Kenta Mark Ishida are all his school seniors with all 4 players having been Toho's ace at some point or another.

A pick that we have a few years to go before we get super excited about, Ishikawa is a big piece in rebuilding the legacy of the Dragons on the field and in the community.

2. Yuki Hashimoto (Osaka Commercial University)
Left-handed pitcher
Name: 橋本侑樹
Birthdate: 8th January 1998
Birthplace: Takahama town, Fukui Prefecture
Height: 183cm (6'0")
Weight: 72kg (158lb)
High School: Nihon University Ogaki High School
Bats: Left
Throws: Left
Max Velocity: 152 km/h (94 mp/h)
Pitches: Fourseam, slider, forkball

A surprise to be sure, but a welcome one. Osaka Commercial University's MVP southpaw pitcher was selected second overall for the Dragons. Hashimoto adds depth to the Dragons left-handed options particularly on the younger end of the scale. Arguably someone who could make a contribution next year, it will be interesting to see how management sees him; as either a starter or a reliever.

Hashimoto is another born within just about what you'd call the Dragons catchment in Fukui Prefecture on the Japan Sea. He went to Takahama Junior High while playing for Wakasa Takahama Boys.

He moved south to Gifu prefecture for high school, attending Nihon University Ogaki High School, a favourite alma mater among Dragons players, where he was assigned as the team's closer. He played at the summer Koshien in his first year pitching only one inning for 3 runs. In his second year, due to an injury, he had to sit out but he returned in his third year to help his team reach the semi-finals of the summer qualifiers.

He would enter Osaka Commercial University in 2016 where he would immediately make a mark in the spring league. Over 7 seasons (fall and spring) Hashimoto had a 9-4 record over 34 games for a 2.64 ERA and a 9.79 SO/9. It was in fall of 2017 however that Hashimoto would capture MVP honours with a 3-0 record and a 1.75 ERA. In 2019, Hashimoto continued to show off his pedigree by pitching the first Kansai League no-hitter since Hiroshi Kobayashi in 2010 making him on the 9th pitcher to achieve the feat.

Mechanically, Hashimoto throws from a 3/4 slot. He has a quick toss from the set-up position with a small take-back. He normally pitches his fastball in the early 140s while his slider sits at around 120km/h. He also hold a 130km/h forkball he uses against right-handed hitters.

Largely under the radar, here's what the scouts had to say:

Masamichi Yamamoto - Chunichi Scout
"A lefty that throws a max 152 km/h. He throws across the batters with a release form that's hard to make out. He' s a power pitcher that can throw a slider, change-up and forkball"

Yukio Matsunaga - Chunichi Head of Recruitment
"With that fastball and that rich mix of breaking balls, he's no doubt a top class lefty"

Masahiro Takumi - Orix Scout
"The spin on his fastball is an attraction"

Hashimoto has already voiced his intention to learn from fellow no-hitting lefty, Yudai Ono. At college he was apparently taught by his manager to always think he was pitching at a 3-0 count to help him throw strikes.  Hashimoto has also said that he feels hardened by the pressure of having played university ball and feels that his sales point is keeping calm under pressure.
Hashimoto will give the Dragons more left handed options most likely in the rotation. Right now the team has 3 reliable options in-house options in Shotaro Kasahara, Yudai Ono and Shinnosuke Ogasawara so adding in another possibility as cover is a wise choice. Ono also is getting older at 31, so a pitcher that will likely be coming into his prime when the other is on the out, seems like a wise choice too.

At 22, there's still a long future ahead for Hashimoto but he does add to a growing, younger pitching staff that the Dragons have been cultivating over the past 3-4 drafts.

3. Yuichiro Okano (Toshiba)
Right-handed pitcher
Name: 岡野祐一郎
Birthdate: 16th April 1994
Birthplace: Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture
Height: 180cm (5'11")
Weight: 85kg (187lb)
High School: Seiko Gakuen High School
College: Aoyama Gakuin University
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Max Velocity: 149 km/h (92 mp/h)
Pitches: Fourseam, slider, cutter, two-seam, curveball, forkball

Blessed with an armory of off speed and breaking pitches, Okano is a polished, battling pitcher who has served as the ace for his Toshiba team this season. A late bloomer, at 26 years old next year, Okano will be expected to slot straight into the first team bullpen or rotation. Adding to a large group of just about reaching their peak pitchers with the Dragons, Okano should add more and more competition to spots on the mound particularly considering the lack of good right-handed options available.

Okano was born in Ishinomaki, Miyagi in Japan's northern Tohoku region. He started playing baseball in his 3rd year of elementary school and was part of the Ishinomaki Chuo Seniors baseball team while studying at Kadonowaki Junior High.

He started his high school career at Seiko Gakuen High School where he immediately made the bench as a reliever. In fall of his second year, Okano pitched 59 innings for 6 earned runs at a 0.15 ERA to help his team to victory in the Tohoku regional tournament. He was also able to throw 7 complete games including 4 CGSOs  over 9 games. In his third year, at the 2012 spring Senbatsu tournament, Okano threw a 5SO complete game shutout against Tottori High school in the first round. However he would be sent reeling against Yokohama where he gave up 7 runs in the second round. Following the tournament, Okano worked on his control and once again led his team from the mound in the summer Tohoku regional tournament but this time falling short of qualifying for the summer Koshien. He was however picked for the U-18 Japan team participating in the World Cup.

Okano would later skip the draft to go to Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo where he made his first appearance in spring against Komazawa University where he pitched 2.2 innings in relief as winning pitcher. In his second year, he was the starting day pitcher in the spring league where he threw a 1 run complete game.
Throughout his time at university, Okano pitched in 41 games for a 10-16 record over 238.1 innings and a 2.23 ERA.

In 2017, Okano would move into the industrial leagues with Toshiba and was an immediate contributor once more. He soldified his spot in the rotation and threw his first complete game against Nippon Seitetsu Hirohata in the Kyushu tournament. After defeating JX-ENEOS with another complete game shut-out, Okano led his team to their 9th straight qualification for the Inter-City tournament.
He started in the quarter and semi-finals and pitched 15 innings for 5 earned runs over the two games. He was subsequently selected for the JABA selection team in the Taiwan Asian Winter League where he took the most strike-outs in the tournament with 38K in 28 innings. He was also selected for the Japanese national team at the 2018 Asia Games where he started two games including the semi-final against Taiwan.

Okano is another that throws from the three-quarter slot. His has a soft follow through which gives him up to a 149 km/h velocity. He normally sits in the early 140s. He has a fastball that generates spin that he pairs with a 120km/h slider, 130km/h cutter, 130 km/h two-seam and 130km/h forkball. The forkball is his main strikeout taking delivery while he also generates a lot of grounders.

Okano was left unselected at last year's draft but he played alongside Akiyoshi Katsuno and the Tigers' Koji Chikamoto and Seiya Kinami at the Asian games last year.

Here's what the scouts have to say about him:

Yoshio Koyama - Chunichi Scout
"At each tournament he's left behind solid numbers. He doesn't have big ups and downs with his performances. He's a guy that could be in the rotation all year round"

Takayuki Saito - Swallows Scout
"I've never seen him throw away a game. From the 1st to the last inning, he's the same speed but with runners on he steps up a gear. It just shows that velocity isn't everything."

Toshihiko Sonada - Carp Chief Scout
"He's one of the few industrial league pitchers this year that could make an immediate contribution. He has the kind of solid approach that could see him contribute as either a starter or a reliever"

Okano was once again selected for the JABA Taiwan Winter League team, but commented that "as I didn't get selected last year, I'm honestly happy. My image of the Dragons is one of younger pitchers contributing a lot so I want to do my best. My best point is my ability to get out of bad situations. I just want to do what I can to add wins for the team."

Okano is by far the most ready to go talent of the draftees. All going well, he could contribute to the starting rotation from day one. It will be interesting to see how Yoda wants to use him. Kazuki Yoshimi and Daisuke Yamai have continued to fall down the pecking order. Yuya Yanagi is currently the only right hander that kept his place in the rotation all year. Takumi Yamamoto, Tatsuya Shimizu and Kodai Umetsu all otherwise shouldered the burden at different parts of the season so someone like Okano who could just slip right in, could definitely help the team's push into the top 3 places next year.

4. Yuya Gunji (Keio University)
Name: 郡司裕也
Birthdate: 27 December 1997
Birthplace: Ichihara, Chiba Prefecture
Height: 180cm (5'11")
Weight: 86kg (189lb)
High School: Sendai Ikuei High School
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Baserunning: 50m in 6.1 seconds
Pop Time: Home to second in 2 seconds

Chatter before the draft speculated the Dragons were after a young catcher to challenge Kota Ishibashi to the long-term catching mantle with the team. In Yuya Gunji the team have captured an all-round good looking catcher who can hit for power, lead a game and has a relatively strong arm. One of many Dragons catchers in the past to come through the Tokyo Big6 University League, Gunji will be right in the mix of it from day one.

Gunji was born in Ichihara on the Tokyo bay side of Chiba prefecture. He started playing baseball in year 2 while at Mizunoe Elementary. While at Chiharadai South Junior High, Gunji played for Chiba City Senior. In 2012, he helped his team to a national championship win.

He was accepted to the prestigious Sendai Ikuei High School program and sat on the bench for his first year. In his second year, he created a battery with former Buffaloes pitcher, Sena Sato where he helped his team to victory at the 2014 Jingu tournament. Gunji was largely used at 4th in the line-up for his clutch hitting and power where he hit .475 over 26 plate appearances. In the following year's Senbatsu and summer Koshien, Gunji started all 8 games and was part of the team that reached the semi-finals for the first time in 26 years in summer. In the final, Gunji squared up against then Tokai Sagami High school ace, Shinnosuke Ogasawara, where despite hitting an RBI, ultimately couldn't lead his team to victory. He would later pull on the mask for all of Sena Sato's starts in the U-18  World Cup and helped his team to their first shut-out win against the United States in 11 years.

Gunji became a first team regular behind the plate from fall of his first year at Keio University. He provided impressive game leading skills to 2016 #1 pick for the Carp, Takuya Kato, aiding him to no-hit Tokyo University on opening day. During his time at college, his batting was held in high regard as he made the Best 9 in Spring 2018. From 2019, Gunji was made captain of Keio where he hit .275/.420/.375 in the spring. Over the course of his college career, Gunji has hit .285, 9 homeruns and 46RBIs. 2 of those homeruns have come off the pitching of Hiroshima Carp's first pick in 2019, Masato Morishita.

Gunji is considered a balanced catcher. A right-handed batter that can spray the ball across the park for distance from a full-swing. Known for his clutch-hitting, his ability to hit the ball to right-field is considered one of his talents. His game calling from behind the plate is professional and has a relatively strong arm. From home to first base, he has been clocked at 4.5 seconds.

Here's what the scouts say:

Shinichi Kondo - Chunichi Scout
"He looks at everything carefully and has a very high potential with his game calling. His hitting is also one of his good points and he provides leadership"

Akira Yonemura - Chunichi Chief Scout
"We rate him based on how he leads pitchers and how he gets out of a pinch. During his time at high school he was a straight-A student, so we rate that as well"

Fumitoshi Takano - Eagles Scout
"He is really good in clutch situations. During the game his returns are fast and he has the power to be picked up on just as a university level catcher."

Gunji recently met with the scouting staff where he said "my sales point is my lead and game calling as well as signs throughout the entire game as well as communication. These things are hard to see with the naked eye, but try to look out for these things too." Gunji also made his goal to be with the first-team on opening day. In another more interesting side of things, he is writing his final year thesis on Pawapuro, a popular baseball game in Japan, trying to find out if those who play the game are good at baseball and if there are any other notable correlations.

Gunji quite easily comes in and replaces the released Shota Sugiyama. He also is still of a young age meaning he'll be able to challenge Kota Ishibashi for the future mask but also just about be ready to try and challenge for a position behind the plate almost immediately. I'm slightly concerned that Gunji will take away development time from Ishibashi, but perhaps the competition will push both of them to be better players.

5. Yuki Okabayashi (Komono High School)
Right-handed pitcher
Name: 岡林祐樹
Birthdate: 22nd February 2002
Birthplace: Matsusaka, Mie Prefecture
Height: 177cm (5'8")
Weight: 73kg (160lb)
Bats: Left
Throws: Right
Max Velocity: 153 km/h (95 mp/h)
Pitches: Fourseam, slider, forkball, curve, change-up

As per usual, 5th pick was used for a backyard talent with the Matsusaka born fireballer, Okabayashi being picked up. A popular pick among fans, while diminutive, packs a punch with a fastball topping out in the early 150 km/h range. Another high school arm, Okabayashi adds further stocks to the growing young brigade of pitching talent being collected by Yoda and his team.

Born in Matsusaka, Mie prefecture, Okabayashi started playing baseball in grade 2 following the influence of his older brother, now Carp development player, Tsubasa. He joined Matsusaka Umemura Senior while at Kubo Junior High where he helped his team to the top 16 of the national tournament. Okabayashi was selected to be apart of the Toyota squad that won the 2016 Taipei International tournament.

Okabayashi started on the bench at Komono High School but would debut against Eishin Hight School in the Mie prefectural tournament in a perfect 3K inning in relief. From 2018, Okabayashi was back-up to Norihiko Tanaka (now at Hiroshima) and showed off in the spring agasint Shirayama High School with 12Ks for only one hit. In the following Summer, Okabayashi clocked a personal best 148 km/h but eventually fell 3-4 to eventual champions Shirayama with his team exiting at the round of 16. From fall of that year however, he became the team's main pitcher where he K'd his team to victory in the prefectural tournament taking 40K over 30 innings for only 3 earned runs. In the Tokai regional tournaments, he would once again improve velocity with a 149 km/h showing against Chukyo Gakuin High school who would eventually dump out his team. Focused to improve his control, Okabayashi looked to improve his form by raising his glove higher. As a result he was able to throw 152 km/h in the first game of the summer prefectural tournament.

Okabayashi has little to no wind-up and relies on a quick motion of his arms
followed by a quick follow through to generate his velocity. He usually pitches in the mid 140s while also throwing a slider in the 120s. Okabayashi can also hit as he has 22 high school homeruns where he hit from the number 4 position from his second year at high school.

What do the scouts say:

Akinobu Shimizu - Chunichi scout
"His max 152 km/h velo and sharp turning slider are very appealing. Given his athleticism, I also rate his ability with the bat. He has very natural flexibility."

Akimitsu Ito - Swallows Head of Recruitment
"In the first (tournament) match he tried a bit too hard, but you can't do much about that. There aren't that many power pitchers, so he's one to look out for."

Takahiro Aoki - Giant scout
"Just rolling his arm like that is great. His batting and running look good too."

Upon being selected Okabayashi said he was "relieved but it woke me up. It's a hard world to go into so I want to take it one ball at a time, maintaining my hunger." As a pitcher, he said he wants to "take the title for most wins and become a pitcher that the team can trust to put out there."

According to some sources, Okabayashi could be used in a two-way role given the vast exodus of position players.This of course will be left up to the player himself

Okabayashi gives us more organisational depth. I'm concerned that the heat he's throwing at his age might be a problem, but given his natural athleticism, hopefully he won't be on the sidelines too often. It will be interesting to see if the 2-way option actually goes through, but if not, I could see Okabayashi maybe projecting to be a set-up man.

6. Ryushin Takeuchi (Sapporo Sousei High School)
Right-handed pitcher
Name: 竹内龍臣
Birthdate: 11th December 2001
Birthplace: Sapporo, Hokkaido Prefecture
Height: 178cm (5'8")
Weight: 80kg (176lb)
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Max Velocity: 147 km/h (91 mp/h)
Pitches: Fourseam, slider, forkball, curve, change-up, two-seam

Well, this one took me off guard. A stocky pitcher from Sapporo, Takeuchi is a pick I don't think many saw coming. Another pick from Tomoya Yagi that looks like it could be a diamond in the rough. Under the tutelage of a former Dragons player in Seiji Enda, Takeuchi apparently had dreams of playing for the Dragons some day growing up watching the likes of Masahiro Araki and Hirokazu Ibata in their heyday.

Born in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Takeuchi started playing baseball in grade 2. He played for JBC Sapporo while at Arakawa Junior High school.

Up until the second year of his high schooling, he hadn't put up any statistics of note but in the off-season he got stuck into weight training and gained 15 kilograms where he was able to increase his velocity by 7 km/h to 140 km/h. Following that he was able to increase to 145km/h in May and then 147 km/h in July. His rapid rise in velocity caught the attention of pro clubs as a result. In the summer of 2019, Takeuchi pitched 19 innings in relief helping his team to the quarter finals. While he gave up 22 hits, he was also able to take 21 strikeouts for a 9.95 SO/9. In the southern Hokkaido tournament, he threw a complete game against Shiriuchi High School in a 3-2 win, the first time Sousei had passed the first round in 18 years.

From the set-up position, he start movement, stops slightly before bringing his
weight forward with a quick release.

What do the scouts say about him:

Tomoya Yagi - Chunichi scout
"He has a nice throw. His pitch offerings are well balanced"

Takeuchi becomes the first pro baseballer from Sapporo Sousei High School. He's said to be relieved to have been selected and has big dreams of becoming a major leaguer. He has also said he wants to make it to the first team as soon as possible.

Takeuchi's massive rise of putting on 37 km/h of velocity from starting high school to finishing it is quite amazing. It reminds me of Shotaro Kasahara who also put on 10 km/h after starting university. Players that have the desire to grow like this are valuable for teams and I wish Takeuchi all the best. I don't expect too much of him but there might be a future in him for some relief innings. Similar type of pick to Kenshin Kakikoshi last year.

Development Draft Pick #1 - Hiroaki Matsuda (Nagoya University)
Left-handed pitcher
Name: 松田亘哲
Birthdate: 17th May 1997
Birthplace: Iwakura, Aichi Prefecture
Height: 176cm (5'7")
Weight: 83kg (182lb)
High School: Konan High School
Bats: Left
Throws: Left
Max Velocity: 148 km/h (92 mp/h)
Pitches: Fourseam, slider,vcutter, curve, change-up

The narrative! Oh the narrative that Matsuda bring. I don't know if this is a pick to sell papers, but if it wasn't it's certainly a pleasant flow on. Much like Kohei Miyadai, who was drafted from the academically prestigious Tokyo University by the Fighters in 2017, Matsuda is a player in a similar vane coming from the academically prestigious Nagoya University. Both Nagoya and Tokyo are not known for their baseball teams however, it is perhaps Nagoya University, who play in the 3rd division of the Aichi College Baseball League, that have more surprisingly contributed to professional baseball. More astonishingly, Matsuda didn't even play baseball in high school. He played volleyball for 3 years before picking up baseball again in college. THE NARRATIVE, PEOPLE!

Already fans are lining up at erstwhile empty games for Nagoya U trying to ogle their new guy and to be honest, his journey warrants a bit of inspection. Also, it wasn't just the Dragons that were interested in him either....

Matsuda was born in Iwakura, Aichi prefecture where he started playing baseball in grade 1. He played for Komaki JBC while at Iwakura Junior High School. At Konan High School, Matsuda turned away from baseball and played 3 years in the school's volley ball club.

After entering Nagoya University, Matsuda took up baseball again. From his first year he served as a reliever but from fall of his second year he became the team's main starter. In his second game as starter, Matsuda threw a complete game shut out against Doho University. The following spring, he threw 8 innings for two runs against Nagoya Commercial University in a good showing.
Matsuda and his team have been caught between the 2nd and 3rd division of Aichi's college baseball league where his best result so far has been a 5th place finish in the second league of fall 2017.

It was after hitting 148 km/h that Matsuda started attracting scouts and it is this fourseam delivery that is his most appealing point. Leading up to the draft up to 7 clubs had been scouting him but it was the Dragons that picked him up.

His black rimmed glasses are seen somewhat as a trademark.

What do the scouts say:

Akinobu Shimizu - Chunichi scout
"He's smart, and has the ability to think for himself. He's come along quite nicely"

Tomofumi Matsumoto - Carp scout
"He's appealing, that's why so many scouts are coming to see him. The spin on his fastball is good and he delivers off-speed pitches too. "

Seiya Kumazaki - Fighters scout
"He's done really well to get noticed by so many given he has no high school baseball experience." 

Upon becoming the first ever pro baseballer to be selected from Nagoya University, Matsuda said he was "happy, but it's become a strange feeling. From here on in I'll be taking on players of a much higher level so I'd like to put in study time toward learning about batters timing, when to press as well as understanding my own limitations."

I find Matsuda a little more appealing than Takeuchi actually. I quite like the fact that he's a smart guy (he'll fit in well with Koji Fukutani) and that he was able to get to such a level without having those extra three years of development through high school. Given the level he's playing at though, it might be a very hard slog for him to make it to the top team or even on to the roster.

Concluding Notes

The team have gone very pitcher heavy. Given Yoda and Awano making use of almost everyone this year, perhaps this is a ploy to continue that bullpen management philosophy employed so successfully in 2019. The team future needs however remain the same as they have been for the last 3 years. There are two aging, star outfielders that will need replacing eventually. Yohei Oshima and Ryosuke Hirata will leave big ol' gaping holes if they experience any big downturn. Oshima looks set to sign an extension while Hirata still has a few years before he will truly be going south, maybe it's not as big of a concern as once thought. Kengo Takeda's addition through the trade market this year has also provided us with stop-gap solution to centre-field so perhaps the team will manage.

There's a good mix of potential contributors for 2020 with a lot for the future. Hashimoto, Gunji and Okano all look like they could make a splash next year. Ishikawa, Okabayashi, Takeuchi and Matsuda on the other hand look like they'll spend the majority of the year picking up experience under Toru Nimura's watchful eye on the farm.

Overall, this was a draft where the Dragons could go after whoever they wanted with no specific needs requiring filling. The outfield question will however remain for a while to come though. Hopefully the Dragons are keeping a keen eye on Shota Morishita at Chuo University like I am to replace Hirata one day.

In the end, in terms of the talent gathered. There's not much to complain about. The Dragons took 7 players with varying skills and gifts that could all do a job. Spring camp can't come soon enough!

* 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.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

News of the Week: Phoenix League in full swing, Narahara & Matsuzaka leave, draft hints

Time for another wrap up of the news. Some rumours and some bits and pieces going on.

The Phoenix League in Miyazaki is in full swing. With Michihiro Ogasawara leaving the club and Toru Nimura not quite ready to step in, roaming outfield coach, Mitsuo Tateishi has been given charge of the team.

As per in previous years, the Phoenix League is an educational league more than anything that usually contains a mix of rehabbing 1-gun players and a host of promising young stars that could do with some extra work. Yota Kyoda played the host of games with the top squad this year, but he's joined the team hoping to improve his power output. Takuma Kato gets time for more practice after his breakout season while his battery mate, Takuya Kinoshita also hopes to get some time behind the plate.

Koji FukutaniPitcher
Takuma AchiraPitcher
Hiroshi SuzukiPitcher
Shotaro KasaharaPitcher
Tatsuya ShimizuPitcher
Takumi YamamotoPitcher
Kenshin KakikoshiPitcher
Yusuke KinoshitaPitcher
Tomohiro HamadaPitcher
Tatsuro HamadaPitcher
Takuya KinoshitaCatcher
Takuma KatoCatcher
Kota IshibashiCatcher
Iori KatsuraCatcher
Wataru TakamatsuInfield
Yota KyodaInfield
Akira NeoInfield
Shun IshikawaInfield
Masami IshigakiInfield
Hayato MizowakiInfield
Issei EndoOutfield
Masataka IryoOutfield
Masaru WatanabeOutfield
Kosuke ItoOutfield
Kaname TakinoOutfield
Kengo TakedaOutfield

In addition to the 2-gun staff leaving, 1-gun base-running coach, Hiroshi Narahara has been told he's free to leave the club after 3 years in his second stint. Despite the team having a superb defensive record this year, it looks as though Yoda wants to bring in his own man to replace him. Masahiro Araki has been mentioned as a replacement after his single season on the farm.

The Matsuzaka hype train has departed for new pastures

Daisuke Matsuzaka has officially left the club after the team failed to reach an agreement with the aging hurler. Speculation that without Mori and Tomori in the head office, Matsuzaka didn't feel inclined to stay given the reduced deal given to him. Mori and Tomori both had a big role in luring Matsuzaka to the Dragons after he left the Softbank Hawks 2 years ago. Matsuzaka made just two starts with the top team this year.

Naomichi Donoue was rumoured to be eligible for free agency this year, but the utility infielder who has a breakout season in power numbers this year, revealed that he had signed a 3-year deal with the Dragons last off-season and will be staying put. Donoue will be 33 when that deal ends so it looks like he's likely to remain a Dragon for the remainder of his playing days.

Okugawa and Yamase could be a great pair to grab.

In tomorrow's draft, the Dragons have listed up a number of candidates they'd like to look at including Seiryo high school stars Yasunobu Okugawa, Shinnosuke Yamase and Riseisha slugger Kota Inoue. The scout team has mentioned that it will be yet another pitcher focus at this year's draft while they're also hoping to grab another catcher. Alongside Yamase, it is said that Chiben's Junpei Azuma and Chukyo's Kento Fujita are being considered. The reason being that at present, the Dragons only have one young catcher in Kota Ishibashi and it would be the hope that one of these 3 of a similar age could push Ishibashi to become a better player.

By all reports, the Dragons should select Yasunobu Okugawa first up and go to a lottery with at least 2 or 3 other teams. What the next pick after that will be may be interesting to see but Kazuaki Tateno of Tokai Rika in the industrial league, who tops out at 152 km/h has been mentioned as a likely top 2 pick.

On the contract renewal front, Daisuke Yamai, Shinji Tajima and Keisuke Tanimoto have all been earmarked for the highest possible decrease to their annual salary's  (25%) after all having down years. All 3 players are said to be re-signing despite all being eligible to elect for free agency if they wish.

Will Almonte come back? He says he wants to.

The team wants Zoilo Almonte to return but there have been rumours of resigning him to a development contract deal. This doesn't make a lot of sense as it would at best be a roster spot saving measure. Almonte will not return for too much less than his current deal so the only possible explanation is roster flexibility. I don't really see much of a point and if I were Almonte, I might be a bit offended by that deal. In the end, that might be the point. While they'd like the convenience of holding on to him, it is possible that management want to focus on using left-field to train other outfield options coming through the ranks and focus on having international acquisitions making contributions in the pitching ranks. We'll see how it unfolds.

Akinori Otsuka will continue to aid the team from the US

More on acquisitions and contracts, but the team will seemingly be relying on Shigekazu Mori again to secure talent from the Dominican Republic. Reportedly the Dragons are doing due diligence into looking at who might be available despite showing a willingness to bring back Raidel Martinez, Joely Rodriguez, Enny Romero and Almonte. Rodriguez might be the only worry though as he is attracting interest from the MLB and most likely elsewhere. The team have also confirmed that San Diego Padres AAA affilate, pitching coach, Akinori Otsuka, will be returning as US scout. The former closer has said that he's seen a lot of players that would be useful in the NPB.

Finally, the idea of a homerun terrace at Nagoya dome had been floated around mid-season but it looks like they'll be going ahead with the idea with discussions with the Dome planners well underway. The team had a NPB worst 90 home runs this year and look to be taking a leaf out of the Chiba Lotte Marines playbook whom had success with "lagoons" at ZoZo Marine Stadium this year.

We won't likely see any terraces until the 2021 season however. The idea would be to push out the left and right field terraces and allow them to be taken out not unlike the Softbank Hawks homeground at Yahoo Auctions Dome in Fukuoka.
The right and left fences are currently 100 metres away while it's 122 metres to the centrefield fence. At 4.8 metres, the fence is the tallest in the NPB which, of course, limits homeruns.

Whether or not any changes will actually help the Dragons is another question. Teams of the past have been able to hit for the fences without the help of these terraces and once the team is strong again, they will be able to do it again. I personally want to protect the style of baseball that the Nagoya Dome promotes and while I like dingers, I like to see dominant pitchers even more.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Post Season Awards: A reflection on the 2019 Season

While I may not be able to report that often anymore, I would like to do what I can in the off-season as deadlines are far less demanding. As part of that I'd like to provide a bit of a wrap-up to the 2019 season with some assessments of the 2018 draftees and their performance as well as highlight key players this year who broke-out or otherwise performed above expectations. I will also throw shade on those that didn't live up to expectations as well.

Rookie Watch
First of all I'd like to take a quick look at the 2018 Draft Class and what they did for us this year. 

#1 Akira Neo
Neo was slated to start with the first team in Spring training but a minor injury in the lead-up saw him start on the farm and stay there. Neo had some struggles at the start of the year adapting to professional ball where he was averaging below .200. Even his famed fielding came under attack as he led the league in errors. A strong second half however showed what looked like something had clicked for the teenager where he finished the season with a .212/.268/.300 clip and a call-up to the senior team for the remainder of the season following a confirmed B-Class finish. 

Neo learned a lot this year and while he struggled early on, he was able to pick himself up a little bit. Over the course of the season, his stats aren't super flattering but he certainly received a lot of much needed experience. Given that Yota Kyoda and Toshiki Abe pulled together a good season together in the middle of infield means there's less urgency for Neo to take his place in the top team any time soon which will hopefully allow him to relax and slowly build year by year. 

Final Grade: B-

#2 Kodai Umetsu
Another marred by injury to start the year, Umetsu became an important part of the starting rotation in the late half push for third place and a spot in the Climax Series. The "Giants Killer" (as I hope he continues to be known) took down the league leaders twice in his first two appearances against them. He otherwise left behind a superb record with 4 quality starts in 6 appearances and a 2.34 ERA. Umetsu truly looked the part and we can only hope that he will come back even stronger with even filthier stuff next year. 

Final Grade: A

#3 Akiyoshi Katsuno
Katsuno was somewhat surprisingly the first of the 2018 draftees to get a run in the top team. He had a superb sub 2.50 ERA on the farm before his call up, at the time only Tatsuya Shimizu had a better start to the season an he experience a period with the starting rotation as well. Katsuno had a rough start of things unfortunately as he gave up 11 runs over 3 starts and 16.1 innings including 2 blow-outs. 

On the farm Katsuno dropped off to finish with a 4.82 ERA over 14 appearances with a 1-4 record.

Not the greatest start for Katsuno who didn't quite cut it when he was with the starting rotation in the top team. Still, at worse Katsuno projects to be a good reliever so we'll see how the Dragons want to develop him in future. A strong off-season however might see him return all the stronger for 2020. 

Final Grade: B-

#4 Kota Ishibashi
A personal favourite of mine, Ishibashi made himself well known to the Dragons staff early on by showing confidence well beyond his years vocalising and showing leadership behind the plate. With the bat, he also made an impact early on with a few fence clearing bombs but it was perhaps behind it that earned him a call-up to the first team. 

Ishibashi was introduced to the top-team half way through the year and what was made immediately apparent is that he didn't need the bench to help he lead a game like his colleague, Takuma Kato. Ishibashi made a good account of himself and managed to stick around with the big guys as a third-choice catcher likely to get to know the pitching staff in bullpen sessions. 

Tsutomu Ito has a track-record for nuturing promising catchers and his work with Ryuhei Tamura at the Marines is well publicized. It was at that time too that he chose 3 catchers of differing ages to work with, including the relatively young Tamura, where, in the end, Tamura worked his way up to become one of the top men with a mask in the Pacific League. A similar pattern seems to be emerging with the use of Ishibashi, so we may yet see some interested developments in that regard. 

Final Grade: A

#5 Kenshin Kakikoshi
Raw but with potential, Kakikoshi unsurprisingly spent the majority of the year on the farm building up experience through extended relief appearances. 

His year was a respectable one for a first year as he held a 3.58 ERA over 32.2 IP fanning 16 and walking 16. Still a long way to go with Kakikoshi, but early signs are good. Hopefully he can build on his experience in his first year. 

Final Grade: B

#6 Kaname Takino
Given his age, Takino was one of the more likely contributors this year, but injury slowed him down and he wasn't able to make the impact he would have liked to. Takino spend his year down on the farm where he collected 209 ABs for a slash line of .239/.299/.277 including 5 doubles and a triple.

Not exactly impressive but the Western League is not particularly kind to batters in general. Takino will likely be disappointed with his first year but, he's still got plenty of years ahead of him to figure it out. 

Final Grade: C+

Surprise, Surprise!

Next up, I'd like to talk about the biggest surprises of the season and those players that made a big leap forward. The top 5 candidates are Yudai Ono, Yuya Yanagi, Toshiki Abe, Shuhei Takahashi and Hiroto Fuku. All of these guys either bounced back in a big way or showed exponential growth.

Ono has had a torrid couple of years but the current pitching staff have helped him turn a corner and more importantly turn in an ace quality season. I was bemoaning Ono's lack of effectiveness last year, but he bounced back in a big way in 2019 taking ERA leader honours for his first ever title. There was rarely a time where Ono exploded this year (rare for him) and he proved to be the pitcher that other teams hate to face. He even threw the Dragons first no-hitter since 2013 against the Hanshin Tigers this year.Back to his destructive best, Ono had a fantastic season which resulted in his recall to the national team for the Premier 12 at the end of the year.

Yuya Yanagi broke out is a big way this year. The former Meiji University captain turned in a number of a double digit strikeout games where he showed increased velocity on his fast ball and a better command of his secondary pitches. My best memory of Yanagi was throwing up an in-course change-up that absolutely befuddled a batter to take the K. Yanagi was meant to shake things up from the beginning after he was drafted but he has had injury issues in the past. Yanagi went 11-7 to have the best record among Dragons pitchers this year with a respectable 3.53 ERA.

Shuhei Takahashi was given the captaincy of the team this year and truly lead by example for the first half of the season. The heard beat of the line-up until an untimely injury hustling into first base, Shuhei was all that was good about the Dragons. The third-baseman was hitting over .350 at one stage before BABIP took it's toll. Shuhei ended the season with a .293 average but ultimately cemented his spot once more in the line-up backing up on a breakout season in 2018.

Toshiki Abe was nowhere near my calculations for the first team this year, but a solid spring training and a new skipper to impress put him directly in the line-up from the starting day. He initially shared duties at second-base with Naomichi Donoue but Abe soon became the regular at his position showing off impressive batting skills and good glovework to back it up. Abe had previously been restricted to being used as a utility infielder, filling in where needed, but the 29 year old broke out in a big way this year slapping .291 and playing in 129 games over the course of the season.

Hiroto Fuku is another that bares mentioning here after solidifying himself as the lefty out of the bullpen this year, putting up impressive numbers.
Fuku was drafted in 2015 but an injury in 2017 had him put on a development contract for the majority of the season. After Ryuya Ogawa was traded to the Lions for cash in 2018, Fuku was restored to the first team roster. This year, with Toshiya Okada being given closing duties, another lefty in addition to Joely Rodriguez was required and Fuku slotted straight in.
 Fuku played in a a career high 52 games this year pitching 52.2 innings for a 2.05 ERA. Definitely a prime contender for being a comeback kid along with Ono.

In terms of shear "where did that come from?" factor, Toshiki Abe takes the cake for me. I never knew he had it in him and I can still hardly believe he was as productive as he proved to be. In terms of biggest growth, I think Yanagi has to be up there. He proved to be an excellent #2 starter behind Ono and really showed fans and the managerial team his potential to succeed at NPB level. For a team that had a lot of questions marks over it's rotation at the beginning of the year, Yanagi's emergence removed a lot of them.

Top of the pops

I'd now like to put forward my "best" players for some different areas:

Outstanding Outfielder/Batter:
Yohei Oshima
Oshima powered through with another fantastic season. The 33 year-old shows no signs of stopping as he topped the Central League in hits. Oshima once again found himself mostly at the head of the line-up and put in a respectable .376 OBP with his .312 average. Defensively, Oshima looked a little off the pace, but still did just about enough. Arguably the most productive of any Dragons batter this year with an oWAR of 3.5 which is his second best season as a professional.
His contract is up at the end of the season and the team are doing everything to tie him down to another multi-year deal.

Outstanding Inflielder:
Dayan Viciedo
The entire team performed admirably this year, but Viciedo put in another solid season's work. He didn't hit nearly as many homers as we would have liked with 18 for the year (his equal lowest total in 4 years) but the other numbers were still good. He slashed .315/.374/.496 to maintain the second highest OPS on the team behind Nobumasa Fukuda despite his lackluster homerun numbers. Not as impressive as his 2018 season, Viciedo still showed his value over the course of the year also chipping in with 93 RBIs which was far an away the best a Dragon mustered.

Outstanding Catcher:
Takuma Kato

It's not really fair to award a catcher, but I'm doing it for everyone else so here we are. Kato had a breakout season this year as the Dragons threw their trust in him and his bazooka arm. Once Central League runners figured out they couldn't run on him as often the theatrical highlight reels stopped, but Kato otherwise put in a repsectable season behind the dish albeit sharing it with Takuya Kinoshita, Shoto Ono and the departed Masato Matsui.

Outstanding Starter:
Yudai Ono
Ono was back to his electric best this year and while Yanagi took big steps forward this year, Ono showed his absolute class. Ono struck out 156 batters (a career high) and pitched 177 innings for a 9-8 record and 2.58 ERA. He barely looked like the same pitcher that struggled aimlessly last year, but we saw a return to the Ono's best as he started mixing more pitches higher in the zone to take more Ks. He even pitched a no-no against the Tigers this year to really cap-off his return to form.
A great season, unfortunately somewhat short of the Sawamura categories, Ono had his best year on the mound since 2015.

Outstanding reliever/closer:
Joely Rodriguez
Rodriguez got through a lot of work this year but proved to be an integral piece of the Dragons' bullpen. He showed glimpses of just how good he could be when he came in half way through last year, but 44 hold points later and we're looking at one of the most dominant relievers in the Central League. The Domincan pitched 60 innings this year which is a bit more than you'd really want for a reliever but a measley 1.64 ERA was followed by a scary K/9 of 12.8. MLB scouts have been circling and it might take a big deal from the Dragons to keep the southpaw in Nagoya. Clearly a benchmark season, we'll just have to wait and see what happens next year...

Young Achievers

Apart from the rookies there were a few younger players that got a good run in the first team this year and that mainly includes 2017 draftees, Tatsuya Shimizu and Takumi Yamamoto. 2016 draftee, Kosuke Ito had a look-in with the top team before he suffered from injury while I've already mentioned the contributions of Kota Ishibashi.

At the beginning of the season, Shimizu topped the farm team in ERA and as such was given an extended run in the top team rotation. He managed to get in 35.1 IP over 8 games with a 4.33 ERA. A couple of poor starts ballooned those statistics, but overall the 19 year-old put in a good account of himself in the limited appearances he was given.

Similarly, Takumi Yamomoto was given time in the rotation as well. The dimunitive pitcher showed plenty of grit and determination in his first real season with the top team where he pitched 45.1 innings for a 3-3 record and a very impressive 2.98 ERA. For someone in their second year that's impressive regardless of age but for a 19 year old who's only 160 something centremeters tall, that's a fantastic achievement.

As such, Yamamoto gets my vote as the most impressive young achiever this year.

Bottom of the Barrel

Under-performing veterans is the flavour of the day with these 2019 flops. Tends to be the way to go as expectation is a lot higher for them. 2 pitchers and a catcher make my list of the biggest flops this year.

Well, you have to take the good with the bad and there were some bad and a few players taking a further step back. Kazuki Yoshimi was perhaps the biggest culprit as, despite signing a new 2-year deal in the off-season, showed how woefully off pace he is getting a shellacking in almost every start with the top team. He had a 6.41 ERA over 5 starts lasting only 19.1 innings.

Apart from the former star starter, it was Shota Ono who also proved to be underwhelming. The catcher moved to the Dragons via free agency in the 2017 off-season where he has never really settled. He was meant to be the team's next full-time catcher but he's been anything but. There's been a merry-go-round of catchers over the past two years and while Ono had his injury worries last year, he's been just not with is this year. Ono did often see time with the first-team roster this year but often played second fiddle to Takuma Kato, Takuya Kinoshita and Masato Matsui. I know it takes time for a catcher to get to know his pitching staff, but even first year Kota Ishibashi has shown equally as good calling skills and relationships with his pitchers. A big bummer. Apart from helping to lead Yudai Ono's no-hitter, there's not much to be happy about with Ono's performance this year.

Lastly, because I don't want to dwell on the negatives too much, is Daisuke Matsuzaka. The merchandising magnet broke down this year and we saw no benefit to him being with the team aside from 2 starts, 5.1 innings and no less than 10 earned runs. The former Lions hurler had a decent comeback season last year so it was a real disappointment to see that 2018 may well have just been a fluke. Yoda also seems to have been hesitant to use him given his age, but it looks like he'll no longer be a problem...

What we learned about Yoda and Co

The course of a season for a new management team is a good way for us to finally gauge what kind of style they're going with and I've noticed a few things.
  • Semi-Abandonment of the long-ball
It appears, at least on the surface that the hitting philosophy has seen a switch to a focus on line drives rather than anything fence clearing. The Dragons 90 homeruns was the lowest in the NPB however the team set the record for fewest errors over the course of a season. There seems, at least on the surface, to be a preference for hitting for average and picking the gaps. Perhaps management see Nagoya Dome as too big a fortress to overcome and are simply not challenging their hitters to blast the ball. 
  •  Defense, ooh-ooh
Defense has been the focus once more with, as mentioned, the Dragons giving up the fewest errors over the course of the season and in doing so equalising the 2004 Dragons for the Central League record. The absence of Zoilo Almonte in left field for the majority of the season along with the acrobatics of Shuhei at 3rd and Kyoda at short have made for a very tough little team. 
  • Bullpen management
Unlike the Mori Dragons, the Yoda Dragons appear to have a much better handle on bullpen management. The bullpen was moved around well and even the closer role wasn't stuck to any particular player. Even with Toshiya Okada pitching as the main designated closer in the latter half, we occasionally saw Raidel Martinez and Joely Rodriguez out in the 9th as well. Otherwise, bullpen arms have been a strength this year which certainly helped the late season push. The bullpen itself underwent significant renewal with old hands Shinji Tajima and Katsuki Matayoshi being given only limited innings this year. Hiroto Fuku was perhaps the largest benefactor of this revamp while Martinez and Rodriguez became important cogs in the late inning.

  • Revamp the catching staff
Tsutomu Ito and Takeshi Nakamura were two of the best catchers of their respective generations and under their watch, the catching stocks have been reassessed and revitalised. Masato Matsui was just about the regular catcher last year, but he was ousted early on in 2019 for a mix of Takuma Kato, Takuya Kinoshita and Shota Ono. This trio would chop and change a bit throughout the season with Kato proving to be the regular this year. Matsui was eventually traded to the Buffaloes with Yusuke Matsui for Takahiro Matsuba and Kengo Takeda. Shingo Takeyama and Shota Sugiyama have since left the club while Kota Ishibashi enjoyed time with the top team. There's a much clearer philosophy here now and with Ito and Nakamura at the helm and a new battery coach to come in on the farm, the team is doing their best to educate the next generation of Chunichi catcher.

On the back of this assessment, albeit a layman's one, the foundations seem to be in place for a return to a team with a focus on a strong pitching/defensive unit. The lack of homeruns however is a problem. 90 is the lowest total for the Dragons since 2015 when they only hit 71. Compare that to the heady days of the dominant line-up through the mid-to-late 2000s and we're still a Tyrone Woods away from reaching that. Hitting philosophy may have changed but the fact of the matter is that the long ball is incredibly valuable in the modern game and an absolute game changer. One can only hope that next year we will see an uptick in production from Fukuda, Viciedo and one or two others in that department to really make a difference.

How was 2019?

From my perspective, it was a great year. Yoda came in with a mission to fix the pitching staff and he's done a great job of that so far. The rotation looked very solid toward the end of the year particularly when the likes of Ogasawara and Umetsu came back from injury. Kento Fujishima took another step forward as he pitched a great season in relief and I think I've already waxed lyrical about the effectiveness of the bullpen this year.

The line-up was about on par with last year's offering apart from Ryosuke Hirata's lack of effectiveness and injuries this year and Viciedo's downtick in production made the line-up a bit lacking in umpf. The bullpen being propped up by Martinez and Rodriguez meant that some power was sacrificed from the line-up with Zoilo Almonte missing but Nobumasa Fukuda had another great year hitting 18 homers while fielding in left. Fukuda had a team high OPS as well and seems to be showing what a late-bloomer he is.

The team came withing half a dozen wins of the Climax Series this year and had an extremely scary run in the back half of the season that made them look like contenders. Had Shuhei stayed fit through the entire season we may have seen a different team but given the injury and the team's slump following, it's not surprise this is where we ended up.

Looking to next year, if we can pick up another talented pitcher in the draft like Yasunobu Okugawa or Roki Sasaki, this team is going to look very solid. The rotation already looks like one that could last the next 5-7 years (minus Ono). With Yanagi, Kasahara, Umetsu, Ogasawara, Fujishima and Yamamoto all showing bright sparks this year, the future looks promising. Add in a high ceiling talent like Okugawa and Sasaki followed by a return from injury by Sho Ishikawa and there's suddenly quite a few options. If all these guys are fit to start the year, we are going to have a very solid crack at the top 3 next year.

All in all, a lot of positives to be taken away from this year. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Post Season Happenings; Farm team staff tilled; first senryoku-guy's announced

After Chunichi's 3-0 loss to the Hanshin Tigers on the final day of play, they allowed the Tigers to leapfrog the Carp to be the last team to qualify for the Climax Series. It did however spell the end of the Dragons season where the team walked away with a season they can be relatively happy about particularly considering the torrid periods the team endured this year.

It hasn't taken long for things to transpire and renewal to be afoot however as the 2-gun team has already received a shake-up as it has been confirmed that manager, Michihiro Ogasawara has left the club following the end of his contract. He has been linked to the vacant Nippon Ham Fighters managerial hot seat. Batting coaches Masahiko Morino and Akio Ishii have also been told they won't be a part of the farm staff next year with both seemingly taking the fall for the lack of progress among the team's hitters. Fujio Tamura, battery coach, has also been allowed to leave after he was demoted from the top team following Yoda's appointment late last year.
Guts and Morino gone.

Former Dragons captain, Toru Nimura has been instated as the new farm manager. Nimura played for the Dragons between 1983 and 1995. He was also the farm manager while the likes of Hirokazu Ibata were making their way through. This is another appointment that links to the generation of players that Yoda played with and we may well see more to fill out the remaining staff positions on the farm.
Toru Nimura captained the Dragons in 1994

Speculation will be rife with who will take over and while I've tried my best to speculate, I can't come up with any appropriate choices. Masaru Uno struck me as a possibility but his one year coaching in 2013 wasn't an overly successful one which makes me think they won't bring the Chunichi homerun leader back. We'll just have to wait and see.

In the back office, Shigekazu Mori has left the club as well. He was installed as Senior Director on the board after his 2 years managing the club. Mori leaves with a diverse knowledge of the Caribbean baseball scene and connections to the Dominican Republic Winter League among other things. Denny Tomori, once pitching coach turned international scout, has also been told he can leave the club.
Mori and Tomori both served on Motonobu Tanishige's staff.

How these two leaving will affect the club is hard to see but one can only assume Mori's connections to Latin players will affect recruitment in future.

Finally, 5 players have already received their marching orders as they were informed they were no longer needed. These include:

  •  Hiroki Kondo
  •  Shota Tomonaga
  •  Shota Sugiyama
  •  Shingo Takeyama
  •  Kyohei Kamezawa
Kondo, Tomonaga and Takeyama never quite secured starting jobs in the top team during their tenure. Tomonaga and Kondo were 2014 draftees but failed to break into the first team in any meaningful way. Poor farm results this year meant that both were deemed to be no longer needed with the more youthful Kanami Takino and Kosuke Ito requiring more at-bats on the. Takeyama will retire now after being told his contract wouldn't be renewed. The veteran catcher had spells with the top team over the past 3 years with Mori even favouring him for a long stretch during his time managing the team however, the club have deemed him surplus to requirements with several other options being available. 

Sugiyama, the almost man.

Sugiyama and Kamezawa were both first-team regulars at different stages of their careers. Sugiyama even led the team in OBP in 2016 however a change in philosophy regarding using a catcher that had stronger game calling and defensive skills meant that Sugiyama was dumped from first team duties and eventually didn't improve enough to be considered again for the top team. 

Kamezawa says he wants to do something "funky".

Kamezawa was a team leader and kept the dressing room fun and lively. He joined the Dragons as a free agent from the Softbank Hawks and spent some quality time on the farm. His hustle and determination were well received by the team, but the emergence of Toshiki Abe and Naomichi Donoue's defensive prowess means that Kamezawa's time with the team has come to and end. 

Finally, end of year awards have been decided. Yohei Oshima topped the Central League in hits while Yudai Ono, finishing with his 4 1/3 innings against the Tigers, was able to to take the ERA leader award away from the Carp's Kris Johnson. Lastly, Joely Rodriguez claimed most effective relieve honours with his 44 hold points.

Overall, a lot to sift through and a process already but it will make for an interesting off-season.