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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Pre-season Megaupdate: Coach shuffling, new acquisitions, other notes

Apologies to all for the blackout, I'm back on track with some other projects and can now devote some more time to the blog. This is a post I've been working on for a few months and has been on the backburner. Some of it you may already be well aware of, but I think it bears repeating in the lead-up to the expected season now slated for a late April start.

Staff Ins and Outs

The backroom has been given quite a shake-up this year with 2-gun posts almost being wholesale replaced while the 1-gun staff have also received some additions and promotions from the farm.

  • Michihiro Ogasawara (2-gun manager)
  • Masahiko Morino (2-gun batting coach)
  • Akio Ishii (2-gun batting coach)
  • Fujio Tamura (2-gun battery coach)
  • Hiroshi Narahara (1-gun infield defense/baserunning coach)
  • Toru Nimura (2-gun manager)
  • Kenta Kurihara (1-gun batting coach)
  • Alonzo Powell (roaming batting coach)
  • Shingo Takeyama (2-gun battery coach)
  • Hiroyuki Watanabe (2-gun infield defense/baserunning coach)

The exits of Ishii and Morino are a result of poor hitting results from farm batters in 2019 while Fujio Tamura was just running out his contract as a left-over from Shigekazu Mori's backroom. Narahara was seemingly let go in the immediate aftermath, but after his appointment as Rakuten Eagles farm manager was announced, you can see why he left. It's a step up in his career and even though he did wonders for the Dragons defense last year, it's time for him to open up a new page in his career.

The big additions here at that of the former Carp clean-up hitter Kenta Kurihara and the 3-time Central League batting champion, Alonzo Powell. Powell was a star for the Dragons in the early to mid-90s and has been coaching in the United States since retirement. He most recently finished an assignment as the San Francisco Giants hitting coach but also served as the hitting instructor for the now infamous 2017 World Series winning Houston Astros. You can't help but be a little excited that the Dragons are bringing in a foreign coach with that kind of experience. Apparently Powell and Yoda have been pals since their playing days. Yoda had played with the idea of recruiting Powell to his backroom if he ever became manager and while it wasn't able to happen this year due to Powell's MLB commitments, it has come to fruition for 2020.
You can listen to an interview with Powell here care of Japan Baseball Weekly podcast. It's a great listen and hopefully we'll hear more from him this year.

Kenta Kurihara is another that Yoda shares a bond with having both served in the backroom for the Rakuten Eagles. Kurihara was a hard-hitting first-baseman for the Hiroshima Carp in the 2000s also serving as clean-up hitter for Samurai Japan on a number of occasions. Certainly a younger staff member, Kurihara will be looking to help inject more power hitting prowess into the Dragons hitters.

Otherwise, Hiroyuki Watanabe comes back into the fold after spending some time in the shadows of the Dragons office. He previously stood beside first-base for Motonobu Tanishige. One of a very select few defensive specialists at first-base in his playing days.

Former team captain, Nimura returns as chief farmer.
Toru Nimura returns to his position as farm manager after helping the likes of Hirokazu Ibata break-out when he was beginning his career. Seen as somewhat of a hardass, it will be interesting to see if he will be as good as Ogasawara was with the team. If anything, Guts approach was rather hard nosed as well, so maybe the players won't notice a difference.

Finally, Shingo Takeyama's retirement has been rewarded with a coaching role. By all means a solid defensive catcher with good game-calling skills, Takeyama should be just about good enough considering the catching royalty that the 1-gun staff holds claim to in Takeshi Nakamura and Tsutomu Ito.

While there have been a lot of ins and outs, there also been a lot of shuffling between the two teams. Here's what the everything looks like going into 2020.

1- gun positionNameNumber
ManagerTsuyoshi Yoda92
Head CoachTsutomu Ito83
Organisational batting coachAlonzo Powell93
Batting coachTakayuki Murakami85
Batting coachKenta Kurihara73
Pitching coachHideyuki Awano74
Pitching coachMotoyuki Akahori84
Battery coachTakeshi Nakamura80
Infield/baserunning coachMasahiro Araki88
Outfield/baserunning coachHidenori89
Conditioning coachYasushi Miki91
Conditioning coachHiroshi Tsukamoto95

2- gun positionNameNumber
ManagerToru Nimura72
Batting coachToshio Haru71
Pitching coachTakuya Asao81
Pitching coachTakashi Ogasawara86
Pitching coachKen Kadokura87
Battery coachShingo Takeyama75
Infield/baserunning coachHiroyuki Watanabe76
Outfield/baserunning coachTakahito Kudo78
General position player coachMitsuo Tateishi90
Conditioning coachHiroto Mizuno94
Conditioning coachTakemi Miyamae96

As you can see, Haru and Kudo have been demoted while Hidenori and Araki are given a chance with the top team this year. Araki is only in his second year of coaching, but by all means received rave reviews with the farm team this year, while Hidenori is somewhat more seasoned having already seen time with 1-gun as the the third-base coach under Motonobu Tanishige. The other thing that we might find outstanding about the shuffle is that 2-gun have only one batting coach (with Powell likely to come in here and there) while the team in general has no left-handed hitter among the staff. Yonetoshi Kawabata was supposedly linked with a batting coach position, but for whatever reason that seems to have fallen through. Kazuki Inoue was also linked to the position before joining Akihiro Yano's staff at the Hanshin Tigers.

I feel as though we've finally stepped out from the Ochiai/Mori shadow and have really started to find a new looking Dragons team molded by Yoda's leadership. 

Player INs and OUTs

Most of the dirty work has been done through the senryokugai notices in October, but we have had one more departure with Joely Rodriguez signing a 2-year deal with the Texas Rangers in the MLB. The lefty was on-fire for the Dragons for the last 18 months and it's no surprise he's picked up a major league deal. Better the US than the Yomiuri Giants.

A big loss, but a big move for Rodriguez.
In regards to the foreign legion, the Dragons have been able to negotiate new deals with Enny Romero and Zoilo Almonte while negotiations with the Cuban government, have resulted in Raidel Martinez and development catcher, Ariel Martinez sticking around for another year. Dayan Viciedo otherwise moves into year two of his 3-year deal. Otherwise, the Dragons have also snared a Cuban hurler through their negotiations with the government in Yariel Rodriguez. The 22 year-old who played for Cuba in the Premier12 this year will be coming in on a development deal.

With Rodriguez gone and Almonte's health in question, the Dragons have been quick to make some acquisitions to cover any eventuality. Former Orioles farmhand, Luis Gonzalez has been signed as a replacement for Rodriguez but unfortunately lacks the same profile of his predecessor. Gonzalez seemingly has a high fly-ball rate which seems like an odd idea give the effectiveness of the Dragons infield defense. However, that is the man that has been picked up on this occasion. Former major leaguer, Moises Sierra has also been captured but on a development deal. Sierra has been brought in to cover for Almonte if he's not 100% at the start of the season. As he is over 26, NPB rules state that he has to be activated by the end of March or be released. It will be interested to see how that plays out particularly with the season delayed. I say the Dragons probably activate him in any case rather than risk seeing him leave while Almonte breaks down. 
Something has to be done about Sierra's contract.
Development deals included, the Dragons will be running with 8 Latin players on their roster this year with 4 Cubans and 4 Dominicans. The Dragons have only had 4 non-Latin players with the team since 2009 (Wei-Yen Chen, Matt Clark, Drew Naylor, Dillon Gee) which shows the continued reliance on the Caribbean pipeline and the connections that Shigekazu Mori has brought and continues to bring to the team.

Overall however I think we'll see Romero, Gonzalez, R. Martinez and Viciedo as the first-team regulars to start the season. Gonzalez may fizzle however and we might see more of Almonte/Sierra as a result. There'll be similar juggling issues that we faced last year but I'm confident that the bullpen will be stronger this year even without Rodriguez in the back-end. Unfortunately Romero is now out for the first half of the year which does open a chance for someone to make their mark in the top team but unfortunately leaves a hole in the rotation.

Spring Training

While the rookies stated training in Nagoya after the New Year period, the team will generally be coming together after a well rested or full on training schedule over the majority of the off-season. Perhaps the most interesting training that was undertaken was a short-course at Driveline Baseball for Takumi Yamamoto, Kento Fujishima, Katsuki Matayoshi, Shotaro Kasahara and Akito Okura. Driveline sent out instructors to Japan to for a clinic or two with more than a few players across the NPB.

For those that don't know, Driveline is known for it's use of biometric data to help players identify issues with their form and help them use their body more effectively. Nippon Ham Fighters, Chihiro Kaneko was one of the first NPB players to seek out Driveline and he went stateside to work with them in the 2018-19 off-season. Since then, the profile of the Driveline team has risen in Japan and it's good to see some notable, young Dragons having some of their stuff analysed. Let's hope we can see an uptick from all 5 pitchers involved. I personally think Matayoshi and Kasahara have the potential to benefit greatly.

Spring camp went about as well as you could hope with the majority of open-sen games played behind closed doors. With most fielding position filled, it's been mainly an audition for the starting rotation with quite a few different names milling around. I plan to make a post regarding the outlooks for the rotation in the coming week or so in a lead up to the new opening day as well as some other notes about the team and fringe players we might see in the team.

For the time being I hope this tides some over. I do apologise for the long absence and while I can't guarantee any regularity, I still want to be one of your first stops for Dragons news in English. 

1 comment:

  1. Welcome back !
    And thank you for always bringing the news about our team =)