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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Dragons Den: News around the dome; Fall Camp wraps up, 3 Golden Gloves and more

Fall camp has wrapped up now with Tatsunami and co. holding the reigns for the first time. There were a few interesting stories to come our of camp, but the overall theme seems to be "aim high" and instill players with confidence. Case in point being the encouragement to Yota Kyoda that he could be a "triple 3" player. Much encouragement was given to Takaya Ishikawa as well as someone who could hit 40 homers in a season. Overall, the messages have been very positive and some of the new techniques passed on by the new coaching staff seem to have been a hit. Dayan Viciedo was also on the receiving end of some tips to change his approach to hit for more power.

Missing from the camp however were new 1-gun pitching coaches, Eiji Ochiai and Akinori Otsuka. 2-gun coach, Takashi Ogasawara needed to step in as the "on the ground" coach, but Ochiai had sent on instructions from Korea. Ochiai's KBO team, the Samsung Lions had playoff commitments this year which has delayed Ochiai's arrival. Otsuka meanwhile has been sent to the Dominical Republic to scout new players. Possible international signings however have been put on the back burner while the world sorts out the severity of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

In awards news, the Golden Gloves were announced on Thursday with the Dragons capturing three different positions. Dayan Viciedo (1st Base), Yuya Yanagi (Pitcher) and Yohei Oshima (Outfield) all picked up ther 2nd, 1st and 9th awards respectively. Oshima's 9th golden glove is a club record. 

Without further ado however, let's skip to some of the pick-up points of the past few weeks: 

Much of the buzz at fall-camp has been about Takaya Ishikawa's potential and his sessions with Norihiro Nakamura. A few adjustments seems to have increased his power slightly which is exciting and a number of Dragons former players, coaches and players have commented on his prodigious talent. 

Aside from Fall Camp, the contract situation continues. There are still a number of players that haven't renewed their contract, most notably Yota Kyoda and Yuya Yanagi. Otherwise there are a number of players that have been released and offered development contract deals such as Shota Fukushima, Sho Ishikawa and Tatsuro Hamada. This now leaves 7 positions open on the roster with two likely to be filled by a new international bat and pitcher while Matayoshi may also return. 

Lastly, it looks like the gathering of rookies for their official induction to the team will occur on the 22nd of December. An online event is planned for Fan Club members.  What numbers will go to which players is part of the excitement here. I'm a bit unsure of who will wear what but I could imagine: Bright #4, Ukai #23, Ishimori #29, Miya #56, Hoshino #61 and Fukumoto #43. I actually have no idea although I think the first three are reasonable guesses.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Chunichi's Greatest Pitching Seasons: Gondo to Ono

 I have been playing around with a statistics database and decided to put together a little retrospective on the Dragons pitching staff over the years. The Dragons have been blessef with any number of excellent pitchers in their history, and it is here that I'd like to examine some of the best seasons, as calculated by wins-above-replacement (WAR). While not the definitive statistic, WAR can go a long way to help us understand how good a player was relative to his peers. 

I have capped the dates at 1960 as data before then for WAR is incomplete. I've also not included any pitcher with a score of 4.5 WAR or lower to include. Firstly, I will list each "leader" of each decade since the 1960s. Baseball has changed and I think it only fair to judge players in each era. I have also put together a more definitive list of single-season WAR leaders into a small list to show you what some of the best pitching years in Dragons baseball have been. 

First, the 1960s: 

Hiroshi Gondo entered folk-lore with the saying "Rain, Gondo, Rain, Gondo, Gondo" as the only thing that stopped him pitching was the rain. In 1961, Gondo's rookie year, he threw a painful, 429.1 innings over 44 starts which included 32 complete games, 12 of them shutouts. Gondo went on to win the Sawamura Award and the Rookie of the Year award for his mammoth efforts. The load took it's toll however as Gondo only pitched for 3 more seasons before converting to the field as his arm all but fell off.

The 1970's: 

There's a few interesting candidates here, but it's Mitsuo Inaba who claims the top spot. In 1972, Inaba started in 35 games, pitching 261.1 innings for a 2.76 ERA with 14 complete games including 8 shutouts. A 20-11 mark in decisions would prove to be a career high for the righty who would move to the Hankyu Braves in 1977 and have further success.

The 1980's: 

This one surprised me a bit, but Tatsuo Komatsu in 1985, his Sawamura Award winning year, was to be the best of this era. Over a relatively modest 25 games started, Komatsu pitched 210.1 innings for a 2.65 ER, 17-8 record and 172 strikeouts. Komatsu actually played a further 8 games as a reliever appearing in 33 games in all. Alongside Genji Kaku, the 1985 Dragons team had a pretty formidable 1-2 at the top of the rotation. Komatsu would play for a further 9 years with Chunichi having another excellent year in 1987.

The 1990's:

I knew this one as he's one of my favourites. Shinji Imanaka pitched a peach of a season in 1993 where he captured the Sawamura Award. Masa Yamamoto was his rotation mate that similarly had a career year in WAR. Imanaka dazzled his contemporaries with his slow-curve and 148 km/h fastball. Imanaka started 30 games with 14 complete games including 3 shutouts. What's perhaps the most impressive is an 8.9 SO/9 as he fanned 247 batters over 249 innings. One of the best of the best, Imanaka was an amazing pitcher to watch. Unfortunately, much like Gondo, his longevity would be affected and while he still put up a further four 10+ win seasons, he ultimately succumbed to injury at age 30. 

The 2000's: 

Again, another surprise but this one is edged out by former Major Leaguer, Wei-Yin Chen. Alongside Kazuki Yoshimi, Chen showed himself to be the MLB calibre talent he was with a remarkable 2009 season. Chen pitched in 24 games, hurling down 164.0 innings. He would show amazing control to strikeout 146 batters for a miniscule, 0.933 WHIP. While only claiming an 8-4 record, Chen would put himself in the shop window for a move to the Orioles in 2012. 

The 2010's:

Chen's partner in crime, Kazuki Yoshimi in 2011 put up the best WAR during the lull that was the 2010s for the team as a whole. Yoshimi would have an 18-3 record with a 1.65 ERA and 0.87 WHIP over 190.2 innings. If it weren't for a certain Masahiro Tanaka, Yoshimi may well have been the Sawamura Award winner in this year. A career best season for the then staff ace, it's perhaps not a surprise he's on this list. After a good 2012, injuries got the best of Yoshimi but he still pitched 100+ innings for the Dragons in 2016 and 2018 before retiring in 2020.

The 2020's

We've really only just started this decade, but Yudai Ono's 2020 Sawamura Award winning year was pretty good. In a shortened season, Ono threw down 148.2 innings over 20 starts. His 6 shutouts and 10 complete games rang among the best conversion of a CG to SHO out of any of these pitchers. Striking out more or less a batter per inning, Ono also has one of the best SO/9 out of any of the luminaries on the below list.

The List

Here the top 15 pitchers by WAR in Dragons history based on their best season:

1Hiroshi Gondo11.6196135191.7069443212429.1310
2Minoru Kakimoto7.3196321131.70482812326083
3Kentaro Ogawa7.3196729122.515527163279.2178
4Tatsuo Komatsu7.119851782.653325141210.1172
5Shinji Imanaka6.719931772.203130143249247
6Mitsuo Inaba6.0197220112.763835148261.1140
7Wei-Yin Chen5.82009841.54242354164146
8Masa Yamamoto5.519931752.052724105188.1132
9Genji Kaku5.3198511113.483429151230.1157
10Yudai Ono5.320201161.8220 106148.2148
11Shigeki Noguchi5.119991972.65292974203.2145
12Kazuki Yoshimi5.120091672.00272554189.1147
13Senichi Hoshino4.8197718133.524230133245.1125
14Yujiro Miyako4.819821653.13432982221.1141
15Kenshin Kawakami4.820021262.35272733187.2149

You can now see why I decided to group these seasons by decade. You can definitely see that the 1960s were still dominated by pitchers that could throw a lot of innings. If you take away the top 3 however, you have a fairly decent list of pitchers that still did things in largely fairly recent times. Hiroshi Gondo's season may well be one of the highest WAR seasons by a pitcher in NPB history. Tatsuo Komatsu ranking so high surprised me while Kenshin Kawakami similarly ranking so low was also a surprise. A few new names came to my attention from this list in Minoru Kakimoto a side-armer, who looks like the ultimate ground-baller based on his statistics, and Mitsuo Inaba who was a regular contributor to the  rotation through the 1970s. 

I hope you enjoyed this little delve into the past. 

Monday, November 15, 2021

Yoda-gun vs Tatsunami-gun: Who wins the WAR?

Did somebody say, off-season content?!

Something short and sweet. I previously talked about Kazyoshi Tatsunami putting together an All-Star backroom. I decided to look at the data and see how many wins this dastardly team of coaches would put together if they were in their hey-dey. To make this spicier, I decided to compare this with the outgoing coaching team of Tsuyoshi Yoda. I'm using WAR to make these comparisons.

For fairness sake, I've included the same number of position players and pitchers for both teams. I've chosen the players based on how well I could wedge them into a position and given precedence to players with higher WAR totals. Unfortunately for Atsushi Kataoka, who played exclusively in the infield corners, there isn't a space for him in our team. Both Morino and Nakamura have higher career WAR totals.  I've had to otherwise be a little creative to make this a "team". I have put WAR calculations for the peak of the coach's career and then a career total next to it. The year indicated in the 3rd column is the year they had that peak year in WAR.

3BN. Nakamura20027.046.3
RFY. Nakamura20010.2-0.3

This team has a very chunky middle of the order. Tatsunami, Nori Nakamura and Morino make for a very solid line-up. Overall, a pretty solid line-up on paper if all of these guys performed at their peak. The starting-pitching doesn't have a lot to it, but the relief makes up for it a little bit. I was a little shocked that Tatsunami ended up having higher WAR than Nori Nakamura over the course of his career, but I guess Tatsunami's longevity helped in that regard. 

So, with the baseline now set, what about Yoda's backroom? 

CT. Nakamura19912.619.6

Unlike the Tatsunami backroom, this team has it's strength morseso in it's pitching. There's a little more balance to the side. Surprisingly somewhat is that the career-year WAR is actually higher largely in thanks to Hideyuki Awano's spectacular 1989 season. Another gem  I found was Motoyuki Akahori's 5.4 WAR season in 1992 as a reliever which actually eclipses Takuya Asao's MVP season in 2011. I'm not sure how accurate the data is now! Unfortunately, with no great first-baseman to fill in, Yoda-gun has to sit a -0.6 WAR earning Hiroyuki Watanabe on first-base.

Over the course of a season, Yoda-gun has Tatsunami-gun beat, but the latter will win the WAR with some glittering, long-lasting careers.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

2021 Salary Negotiations

The time has come for players to meet with their destiny. The yearly contract renewal. We've already heard word that Dayan Viciedo and Raidel Martinez have signed big deals to stay on. New additions will be forthcoming shortly as well with new Cubans, Guillermo Garcia and Frank Abel Alvarez signed up for 2022. The team are still looking for a foreign power bat with Akinori Otsuka in the Dominican Republic looking at players now. 

Four players are still yet to declare whether they'll test the waters in free agency with Katsuki Matayoshi, Daisuke Sobue, Nobumasa Fukuda and Shinji Tajima all looking for new deals. Ryosuke Hirata also finds himself off-contract after two of the worst years of his career. It is customary to cut salary no more than 25% with a player, but with Hirata's 5-year, $1.8M AAV deal coming to a close and he no longer being a key contributor, the team may be looking to slash that salary considerably with some fears the player might be forced our like Hirokazu Ibata was back in 2014. The team had a massive downturn financially last year and have traditionally struggled to find money to throw at the team in the past few years. On a lesser note, catcher, Shota Ono will finally finish up his contract that brought him to the club as a free agent from the Fighters in 2018. He also may be in for a larger decrease than perhaps hoped. 

The team are seemingly spending more than they have in the past 5 years or so however with Martinez, Ono, Oshima and Viciedo all taking home considerable money which at least suggests the club are willing to spend when required on their own players. I will keep updating the information as it comes in, but feel free to look over the data I've collated below. Once it's all wrapped up, I'll draw up some totals and see where we're at financially for 2022.

You should be able to arrange the elements of the spreadsheet to show who's lost the most, who had the best ERA and so-on. Please note that there are two tabs. P (pitcher) and B (batters).

Something to keep in mind as I've added percentages, generally speaking the team can only decrease a player's salary by a maximum of 25% while it can be increased by as much as they want to give. There are however cases where this maximum downturn can actually be lower, but as a general rule, it is usually 25%. So far, Toshiya Okada and Yu Sato are the only players to receive offers lower than the usual 25% decrease.

  • Bold - Refers to farm statistics as that player has no appearances in 1-gun this year.
  • Italics - Refers to statistics of a player that has moved mid-season.
  • Currency is 100 yen per $1 for ease of understanding and calculation.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Under New Management: Kazuyoshi Tatsunami is the Dragons new manager; backroom announced


1-Gun & 2-Gun Staff and Numbers Decided

It's official. Kazuyoshi Tatsunami is the new Dragons manager. There's a lot of media to wade through as a result, but first one of the more important announcements, the staff. There's been large turnover with only six staff members surviving from the Yoda regime and only Masahiro Araki with 1-gun.

The new backroom staff was announced on the 4th of November. Nothing to surprise with either 1-gun or 2-gun as all those that were linked in the media were given jobs with the team. Shinya Miyamoto and Hirokazu Ibata were the only two linked that didn't end up inking a contract with the team. What Tatsunami has done however is create a literal All-Star backroom with only 3 staff members without a title or an All-Star appearance through their career. 

With no Ibata or Miyamoto, Eiji Ochiai has taken over duties as head coach alongside his pitching coach duties. Tatsunami has said he will more or less entrust anything regarding pitching to him. Ochiai has a good pedigree as a coach and it's perhaps surprising he hasn't linked up with the Dragons as a coach before not. He has apparently made comment now that he promised Tatsunami he would serve in his backroom around the time he retired in 2006. This loyalty to Tatsunami is apparently the reason why he hasn't come back since. 

The rest of the backroom is certainly a wait and see. Otsuka, Morino and Araki all have experience coaching with the Dragons while Onishi and Nishiyama have both cut their teeth in the Giants organisation. Everyone in this backroom has a connection to the Dragons except for Nishiyama who really is an out of left-field appointment. There have been rumors that Takeshi Nakamura may have been preferred but his recent illness meant he wanted to take a break from coaching. Nishiyama was hired apparently on the basis of providing "uncomfortable (for batters) game-calling" as a player. Expectations will be biggest for Nakamura and Morino however as they have the unenviable task of trying to turn a poor hitting staff into a half-decent one. Nakamura has already been given the job of helping develop Akira Neo and Takaya Ishikawa with the latter already claiming Nakamura's approach to be "a breath of fresh air" in their first session together on the 4th of November. Tatsunami has commented that he believe Nakamura has a great ability to teach. Here's hoping.

Tatsunami has also already made clear that Masahiro Araki will reprise his role as first-base coach while Onishi will be in charge of sending runners at third base. Both were adept base-runners in their playing days. Tatsunami's reasoning for Araki at first was his base-stealing expertise while Onishi previously has experience standing at third-base with the Giants.

Onto the farm, and it took a while for the coaching team to be announced. The first-team coaching set-up was more or less set in stone a week ago while it seems the farm coaching team has taken a little while longer to confirm. Tatsunami's buddy from high school, Atsushi Kataoka will manage the team. He has previous coaching experience with the Hanshin Tigers. Daisuke Yamai is also a new addition to the coaching staff having just retired this season. A seasoned veteran, Yamai's journey as a player should be a good experience to pass on to others as he worked hard to get to where he is now. Not many players of his pedigree can say they've pitched a no-no and an almost perfect (albeit shared) game. Former fan favourite, Kohei Oda comes in as battery coach to replace Shingo Takeyama. Yutaka Nakamura looks like an appointment made by Kataoka himself as they both journeyed from the Fighters to the Tigers during their coaching careers. Hidenori however has fallen on his feet as his demotion from the top team means he picks up a role that was previously held by Mitsuo Tateishi. One problem still remains however; Toshio Haru is the only batting coach. It will be hoped I guess that Kataoka can do some hitting classes as well, but given the team's issues with hitting, it's a surprise no one has been brought in. This also brings up an issue as well. One of the criticisms made by Tatsunami of players on the Dragons team is their compact approach to hitting rather than the more open attacking approach that bring more homeruns. Haru's hitting philosophy is one of being very compact so it is rather confusing as to why he's still in the organisation, let alone as the only hitting coach on the farm. 

Of the coaches that were replaced in both teams, no one has been retained in any capacity in the front office. Tsuyoshi Yoda, Hideyuki Awano, Motoyuki Akahori, Alonzo Powell, Kenta Kurihara, Tsutomu Ito and Takeshi Nakamura have all left the organisation. This is the same for Toru Nimura, Takahito Kudo, Shingo Takeyama and Mitsuo Tateishi. It is interesting that the farm team has not been shaken up as much as the top. Many of the key contributors from last year have stayed on. 

On paper at least, this coaching team seems an upgrade on Yoda's backroom. The lack of an exclusive head coach and the inexperience of the hitting coaches raises questions. Whether or not Haru is the guy to develop the next generation of Dragons hitters on the farm is another question if the hitting philosophy is to change. Nori Nakamura's addition has already made some positive news, as his instruction of Takaya Ishikawa to use his hand more when hitting has already seen some improvement in hitting the ball a bit further.

Of all the staff, it is only Atsushi Kataoka, Yutaka Nakamura and Shuji Nishiyama that have no obvious ties to the Dragons. Kataoka is of course a pal of Tatsunami's from PL Gakuen while it certainly looks like Nakamura was added at Kataoka's request. Nishiyama is really the odd one out. Otherwise, Tatsunami's career has overlapped with every other coach that spent time at the Dragons. Another interesting thing to note is that 9 out of the 17 backroom coaches hail from the Kansai region of Japan, including Tatsunami himself (this is also about the only common thread I can find between Nishiyama and Tatsunami). Otherwise, Kanto is next best represented with five followed by Chubu (two) and Kyushu (one). Perhaps a bit of a Kansai boys club being created by the new manager.

Big Changes for Dragons

So, that's the staff. Now I'd like to take some time to address what Tatsunami has said in the media about his management style and what he want to see from players. To say it's been a bit of a shock would be an understatement as he has been drawing up some very Draconian rules summed up in the below from Bernard Black of BBC's "Black Books". 

This is perhaps the key point that has gotten the most attention. Tatsunami has outlawed facial hair, hair dying and otherwise unkempt hair from the team. In a Yankees-esque approach, it would appear that he wants his players to focus on the important things while impinging on their individual expression at the same time. The response from the players has been quick however, as Hiroto Fuku has shaved his head, Yota Kyoda has dyed his hair black while Toshiki Abe and Daisuke Sobue have shave off their trademark scruff. Tatsunami is said to be influenced by the managers he had, particularly Senichi Hoshino and Hiromitsu Ochiai, whom valued a clean looking player.

There have been a number of media appearances by Tatsunami that have given the media weeks worth of 1-topic articles to talk about. Here's a list of some of the major things he's brought up and I'll dissect and muse about them after:
  • Captaincy will be abolished
  • Starting pitchers should pitch 7 innings, pitch count doesn't matter
  • Isao "Hardass" Harimoto has been invited to be a guest coach in Spring
  • Hirokazu Ibata was invited to become part of the staff but couldn't accept because "reasons"
  • There will be no limit on how long players want to train (on a related note, Hiroto Fuku now has a stress fracture in his throwing arm)
  • Thoughts regarding baseball haven't changed since retirement, but says he understands modern players; i.e. he knows he can't smack his players like Hoshino did.
  • Catcher should play 130 games a season
  • Ōshima and Viciedo are the only regulars 
  • Solidifying the centre line is a priority 
I'll have to review some of the media appearances again to get some more ideas, but I think there's enough here to discuss. Firstly, pitch count. There's a reason that pitchers are pulled around the 100 pitch mark and that has to do with tiredness and stress. While there is still plenty of debate over the usefulness or helpfulness of a pitch count even in MLB, it's safe to say that the more a muscle is used, the more it tires and the more susceptible it becomes to injury. Oddly enough pitching to the 7th, is something that NPB saves leader, Hitoki Iwase agrees with.

No limits on training is an interesting one. Japanese players are notorious for pushing themselves too far. I wasn't aware of a limit imposed by Yoda, but it would be understandable to place limits on senseless training to ensure players are fresh and uninjured. Removing this gives players the ability to push themselves a bit harder, but it may also lead to more injuries. 

I'd like to touch now on the catcher. Tatsunami was lucky enough to have the everlasting Takeshi Nakamura and Motonobu Tanishige as the primary catchers during his playing career. The fact of the matter however is, catching is tiring. 130 games is equal to 89% of all games in the NPB season. In the 2021 MLB season, the highest percentage of games played by a catcher was 80% set by the Red Sox, Christian Vasquez.  The next, Salvador Perez of the Royals played in 75% of all games. It is just plain silly to suggest a player needs to play 130 games, particularly in a position where stress on knees becomes a major issue. In the NPB, only Ryūtarō Umeno (130) and Takuya Kai (143) hit this mark in 2021. It’s worth mentioning neither of their teams won the pennant this year, but anyway. There’s also the absurdity of catching talent the Dragons have which makes it a perfect situation to rotate them. Ariel Martinez, Kōta Ishibashi and Yuya Gunji are all very competent backstops. Takuya Kinoshita not playing every game is just not an issue. On doing alittle research, even Tanishige and Nakamura didn't play 130 games in a season too many times. Nakmura did it once in 2001 while Tanishige hit the mark in 7/13 years with the Dragons. It's worth noting that Nakamura helped produce two Sawamura Award winning pitchers (Shinji Imanaka & Masa Yamamoto) and one MVP (Shigeki Noguchi). Tanishige on the other hand only has Kenshin Kawakami's joint MVP & Sawamura season. Perhaps Tatsunami really saw the value behind Tanishige starting most of the time vs Nakamura's comparatively more sporadic appearances but there is a reason that the former holds the NPB appearance record. He was very special.

The last two points I’d like to combine as I feel they’re related. It’s hard to argue that Viciedo isn’t at least the mid-term option at first base particularly after his future has been sewn up for the next 3 years. Ōshima however is an interesting one. He’s 35 now and slumped a little in 2021 given his very high standards. Defensively he’s been on the decline since 2019. To say he’s a guaranteed starter next year makes sense but it’s also at odds with this solidifying of the centre line going into the future. The centre-line, for those unfamiliar, is catcher, short-stop, second base and centre-field. The current options aren't terrible in this regards with Kinoshita, Kyoda and Oshima all playing big roles over the past two years and being relatively successful while doing it. Kyoda's production could be better but his glove is very valuable. Oshima and Kinoshita however both performed above average offensively and defensively last year. Toshiki Abe's injuries made second-base a bit of a merry-go-round with no clear suitor. I think the Dragons missed a beat not drafting an infielder like Hibiki Yamashiro to provide competition at second. At the moment, Naomichi Donoue, Abe, Hayato Mizowaki and Wataru Takamatsu are the clear options but all have their weak points (mainly they either can't hit or are below average defenders) Anyone else would have to be retrained to play there. Masami Ishigaki is one such candidate, while Yuki Okabayashi is already taking knocks at second in fall camp. Tatsunami has said that Kyoda is no certain thing to start next year and has challenged Akira Neo to compete for a spot at his preferred position. The new manager has said that he'll find a place for Neo in the line-up as long as he starts hitting. 

Overall, all these comments and more have me uneasy. At the same time as Tatsunami coming into the Dragons, former rival, SHINJO has been making waves after being appointed as the new Nippon Ham Fighters manager. The messages are very contrasting from each club. Tatsunami represents a return to the old, the "successful" period of the Dragons that was highlighted by grit, anger, more grit and grim faces. SHINJO's return to the Fighters, whilst not one necessarily made for on-field success, is a fun, unconventional appointment that will really excite fans. While Tatsunami is probably more likely to have on-field success, his comments about the team are just frustrating to hear as the Dragons continue to advance significantly in the way they play baseball. It's perhaps too early to make too many calls, but Tatsunami's tenure has started with him spelling out that he's an old-school hard-ass. Is that really what this club needs? We'll see. Despite the success that may or may not come, the attitude that inspires it is despairing.

Three more years for Viciedo and R-Mart

For something a little different, here's the non-Tatsunami related news.

  • Raidel Martinez and Dayan Viciedo have been renewed with both being locked up for the next 3 seasons. The team splurged on keeping the Cuban duo awarding Viciedo with ¥1.1 billion ($9.6M USD) and Martinez with ¥600 million ($5.3M USD) over the course of their 3-years. This comes as a huge relief for many as Viciedo has been reportedly under the magnifying glass for the Softbank Hawks. Martinez similarly had been linked with a possible move away, but in the end it seemed unlikely either would leave in a hurry. 
  • Ayatsugu Yamashita has been isolated at home for 10 days as he broke government mandated COVID-19 restrictions while playing in the Phoenix League. Yamashita apparently went out for a meal when he wasn't allowed to. 
  • The Phoenix League has wrapped up and the team finished with a 7-7-1 record. Outgoing farm manager, Toru Nimura claimed that a manager with a "focus on winning would have won this league." 
  • Post-season awards for the Central League have now been decided, and Yuya Yanagi has topped the league in ERA (2.20) and strikeouts (168 in 172 IP). It's the third year in a row a Dragons pitcher as topped the ERA standings with Yudai Ono taking those honours in 2019 and 2020. Yanagi also performed well in other categories with a joint top 20 quality starts, 172 IP (1st), 8.79 SO/9 (1st), and .215 average against (1st) among qualified starters. 
  • It is the first time in 10 years that three Dragons starters  passed the innings total to qualify for post-season awards. Yanagi and Ono passed their totals earlier on, and a last day effort from Shinnosuke Ogasawara pushed them over the line. Say what you might about Yoda's tenure, but the pitching has been chef's kiss
  • The Dragons FanFesta "Ryujinsai" event will be held online on the club YouTube for free with limited fans in the stands of Nagoya Stadium. The event will take place on December 4th between 1pm and 3pm JST. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

DragonSoulCast - A season ends, Tatsunami's backroom shaping up (27th October 2021)

Hi all, I've tried to do something a little different today. It's nothing flash, but I've recorded a podcast of sorts. It's roughly 30 minutes of me just talking about different points regarding the end of the season and the way Tatsunami's backroom is shaping up. Let me know what you think:

DragonSoulCast #1 - A season ends, Tatsunami's backroom shaping up (2021/10/27)

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Dragons Den: News around the dome; Tatsunami backroom taking shape, new Cuban incoming


In some exciting news, the Dragons look set to capture 20 y/o Cuban prospect, Guillermo Garcia through the Cuban Government. Garcia is ranked as one of the best hitting prospects (yet to defect) left in the Cuban league. He has exciting power and contact abilities. He will play in the U-23 Cuban national team this month largely in the middle of the order. It looks like he's a first baseman and has otherwise been a DH for his team in Cuba. This could well be a move to look post-Viciedo when the former White Sox man loses his effectiveness in 1-gun. This also gives the team another option at first-base where the team lacks depth. If Garcia shows an ability to hit 2-gun pitching well enough, there will definitely be space for a call-up whenever he's ready. A play-off MVP winner already at such a tender age, there's a lot to look forward to.

News of a move for Garcia comes after the team have also sounded fellow Cuban, Frank Alvarez for a move to Nagoya in 2022. 

Meanwhile, Raidel Martinez looks likely to stay in Japan and probably the Dragons with the team making a 2-year, $2M offer to tie him up until the end of 2023. The Dragons have a number of FA eligible arms including the reinvigorated Katsuki Matayoshi and fellow set-upper, Daisuke Sobue. Dayan Viciedo will also be looking for a new deal as his 3-year mega-contract signed in 2018 is now winding up. Martinez looks to be a top priority. Daisuke Sobue, as good as he has been, could likely be signed for a more reasonable amount than Matayoshi who will likely command a multi-year deal with a yearly salary exceeding $1M per year. Viciedo similarly will be after $1.2-1.5M plus, but it is said his love for the team will likely allow the front-office to lowball Viciedo and still keep him.

Former bullpen aces, Otsuka and Ochiai incoming.

Movement over Kazuyoshi Tatsunami's backroom has been slow with most of the name I've already mentioned having been talked over in the media. Akinori Otsuka is the only other major addition to those rumours with the current international scout looking to make a return to the backroom. Otsuka had a short stint as a visiting coach with the 2-gun team in 2017 before taking off to coach the San Diego Padres AAA team. Otherwise, it looks likely that Atsushi Kataoka will take over as 2-gun farm manager should he give the green light, while Eiji Ochiai is also more or less confirmed. Former Dragons outfielder and Samurai Japan coach, Takayuki Onishi also looks to be on his way in. Hitting coaches remain somewhat up in the air with only Nori Nakamura and Masahiko Morino being talked about currently. There also appears to be no news over a change in battery coach giving further credence to the idea of incumbent Takeshi Nakamura staying put. Nakamura was the first-team catcher throughout most of Tatsunami's career and it would make sense for him to stay in his current role given the success of the Dragons catching team. (UPDATE: 21/10 - Former Carp catcher, Shuji Nishiyama is now the front runner for the 1-gun battery coach job) There have however been some staff that have officially decided to leave the club, head coach Tsutomu Ito and pitching coach Hideyuki Awano. Ito is no loss given reports of his fall out with Yoda, but it's hard to say Awano didn't have an effect on the improved Dragons pitching.  Mitsuo Tateishi, who had been working with position players on the farm and helped with Shuhei Takahashi's breakout last year is also on his way out.While I can't imagine Alonzo Powell staying, no news about his departure is somewhat surprising. Tatsunami played with Powell forming the middle of the Dragons order in the mid-90s and could theoretically at least have some kind of relationship with the 3-time batting champion. It is said that the relationship between Powell and Yoda was key to him coming over to coach for the Dragons, so it will be interesting to see what happens.

There is still roughly another week until Tatsunami is due to announce his backroom but so far it looks like a lot of the current coaching staff will be staying on. 

Hiroto Takahashi had a great outing in the Phoenix League

The Phoenix League has otherwise kicked off in Miyazaki with some Dragons players really showing some promise. 2020 1st Draft pick, Hiroto Takahashi recently pitched 5 inning for 8K. Hironori Miyoshi has been hitting #3 in the order largely showing great "growth" according to farm manager, Toru Nimura. Ayatsugu Yamashita and Kosuke Ito have also been hitting well. Ito in particularly looks to putting his best foot forward to really challenge for those 3 outfield positions. Yuki Okabayashi is currently enjoying a run in the first-team, while Kenta Bright, Kosuke Ukai and Yuma Fukamoto will also be looking to take up a position closest to Vantelin Dome's walls. Doing well now at least pushes for him to be considered in 1-gun camp from day one in Spring training. With Okabayashi and Ito hitting form it would be somewhat ironic for the Dragons to then have a flush of hitting outfielders when this year has seen such a dearth of production in those positions.

In some more news on the renewal of the team, the artificial turf at Vantelin Dome will be replaced by a permanent type of turf rather than the roll-up type that has been in use since the Dome opened in 1997. They say that the permanent type of artificial turf is closer to natural grass making it easier for fielders to make diving catches and sliding without as high a risk of injury. This is the 5th time in the Dome's history that the turf will be replaced, but the first time without the roll-up style. This type of turf, provided by Mizuno has already been laid at Yokohama Stadium and ZoZo Marine Stadium in Chiba.

Manager-elect, Tatsunami has otherwise asked his players to "train as much as time allows" during the fall break period. Needless to say, plenty of players will be doing their normal training in the off-season either individually or in groups with other pros across the country. 

Ishikawa has gotten thicc on the comeback trail.

Furthermore, Takaya Ishikawa has made his long awaited return from injury bulking up to 103kg and significant muscle to his calves in order to emulate Giants slugger, Kazuma Okamoto. Ishikawa hit two homers in batting practice in his long awaited return after 4 months on the sidelines. Rumours regarding Ishikawa under Tatsunami have included a possible shift to left-field. This will most likely depend on the form of Shuhei Takahashi and if the Dragons can secure a foreign bat for the left-corner. Tatsunami also recently talked on the Sunday Dragons show about bringing in a foreign hitter that could play left or right indicating that there's no player particularly in his mind as to who will fill a spot in the outfield. Most I think would assume that right-field was up to Kenta Bright to lose come opening day, but we can't discount a Ryosuke Hirata rebound or another step forward from Yuki Okabayashi. The good thing for Bright however is that left-field is probably and option for him as well whereas Hirata is more rusted-on in right. How the foreign hitter plays out will likely affect how much time Ishikawa sees with the top team in 2022. 

Kodai Umetsu also made a long awaited return as he played his first competitive game in 4 months against Rakuten in the Phoenix League. He gave up 7 hits and 2 runs in 5IP, but Toru Nimura say there "absolutely nothing to worry about". 

Friday, October 15, 2021

Mr Dragons, Kazuyoshi Tatsunami, set for manager role

Dragons manager Tsuyoshi Yoda has made it official he won't be coming back next season after submitting his resignation the day after the 2021 Draft. The front office immediately contacted Hall of Famer, Kazuyoshi Tatsunami to lead the team next year. While nothing official has been done yet, it is only a matter of time before contracts are signed and the Dragons have a new manager. 

Manager Tatsunami has been a project in the making since the Dragons great retired in 2009. After Hiromitsu Ochiai stepped down as manager, calls for Tatsunami to come on board to manage the team echoed through Nagoya. When Motonobu Tanishige was sacked mid-season, the same voices came to the front. It has been somewhat of a saga for Tatsunami as he has been kept out of a managerial role with the team due to his relationship with previous owner, Bungo Shirai. "Finally" is a word that comes to mind. The will he, won't he in the media has been tiring with Tatsunami's name raised every single time the Dragons managerial position comes up in passing. Former Dragons players too have been on the campaign warpath for Tatsunami with hopes he can usher back some of the faithful from the golden era of the Dragons as well as reunite the team with some of it's retired players. 

The writing has been on the wall for Yoda this year. The team's poor hitting performance somewhat highlighted due to a restructure of the hitting coaches in the off-season, has really put a dent in Yoda's legacy. Criticism over failing to use younger players as well has been a feature of his tenure this year. I have been a defender of Yoda since he came to the job. What he has said and what he has done should be commended. He came in with a mission of fixing the Dragons pitching which he has done with aplomb. His appointment of Hideyuki Awano in particular should be applauded. Catcher as a position has also been largely resolved with the emergence of Takuya Kinoshita as the team's #1 behind the dish. We can possibly thank Takeshi Nakamura for that too. We've also seen a new team than the one Shigekazu Mori worked with. The line-up has changed and been tweaked. New players have been given chances. The farm has been a good breeding ground for talent under Toru Nimura's watchful eye, and we haven't seen the same merry-go-round of players bouncing between the teams trying to look for form. There has been a plan that Nimura and Yoda have kept to that has largely worked. Perhaps a more active use of younger players that were riding a good wave of form may have been a better plan and a way to win over fans. Personally, I see the value in giving younger players time to work on the farm and build consistency rather than yo-yo and worry about how effective they were in 1-gun or lose confidence because they saw the difference in quality. 

The biggest loss for me however is not so much Yoda the manager, but Yoda the man. In a recent 'behind the scenes' look at draft day, I was just reminded about how charming and kind Yoda comes across as. I think he would have very much been a father figure to many of his players. The way he speaks is caring of the people around him and it's not the gruff "old man" rhetoric that quite often gets trundled about. A very positive figure. In that regard, he will be sorely missed. The positive thing however for Yoda is that Tatsunami is keen to keep him with the Dragons and is working the front office to create a post for him. This however might come at odds with Yoda's wife who recently mentioned in a blog post that she was looking forward to seeing the return of her husband to the home after 6-years away with the Eagles and Dragons.That will be an interesting conversation. Nonetheless, Yoda could still be valuable to the team. This includes as a pitching coach, which would be somewhat unprecedented, or even as a member of the front office recruitment department. Yoda has connections with a number of clubs over his playing and coaching career which could benefit the Dragons when looking for a trade partner. We will see how that plays out. We might see another token role like the one created for Shigekazu Mori who became a 'senior director' after the team hired Yoda.

The timing of the change is somewhat confusing. Yoda was representing the team at the draft the day before he announced he was stepping down. It is naieve to think that there weren't already talks of Yoda stepping away from the position before then. Even if Tatsunami was being coy about the Dragons having not contacted him in articles leading up to his invitation, there was a plan of succession in the works. The timing of the season has surely played a role. The draft usually takes place between the end of the regular season and the start of the Climax Series but due to the Olympics, the season has slid a month which has complicated matters. Announcing Tatsunami as new manager with a month left to go as it is must be awkward for players and staff as it is and it would have been near impossible to get Tatsunami into the role to watch over the draft while Yoda still took care of the team on the field. In any case, COVID-19 has wrecked the transition a bit. I can't help but feel sorry for Yoda and his staff having to play out the remainder of games with literally nothing but pride left to play for. At least this gives the fans a chance to send off Yoda and thank him for his service. I am certainly thankful. 

So what of Tatsunami? What do we know of the manager-to-be? By some very strange twist of fate, a conversation between Tatsunami and Hirokazu Ibata was uploaded by CBC's Dragons' program, Moedora to YouTube the day the club issued their request to appoint Mr Dragons. Surely, there is no better way to get to know your manager than through one of these hypotheticals. People who have listened to Tatsunami over the years will already have a fairly good idea of what his thoughts are. To summarise however, he's very 'old school'. While I agree with much of what he says, there's a lot that makes me grumble. 

Before a dissect the video, there's a few other comments Tatsunami has made in the media about the team I thought worth mentioning. One, he criticized the players for smiling and having fun when they were losing. God forbid with have players with a positive attitude. Two, Tatsunami has been an advocate for more training over rest. Hmm. 

To go into the points made in the video however, there's some interesting infomration. I'll list up the main points Tatsunami makes here:

  1. Shuhei Takahashi should be aiming to be a .300+ 20HR type hitter; use the power he showed as a rookie
  2. Dayan Viciedo is an important player but lacks in certain areas (mainly homeruns) that you'd expect in a foreign corner infielder.
  3. Kyoda's positioning in defence could be better. He's great at fielding and throwing but he positions himself poorly at times when looking to cut-off the ball - a caveat of this was Ibata mentioning he did only defensive drills until he was about 30 before he could focus on his hitting.
  4. Takuya Kinoshita lacks the stamina required to be a full-time first-team catcher and has often been rotated to keep him fresh.
  5. Akira Neo is someone that would be used anywhere on the field if he could hit. 
  6. Vantelin Dome is a large stadium that is a hindrance to hitting homeruns and the team should aim to hit more doubles.
There is more to add, but I think these are the key points. First of all, the thing that sticks out for me is some fairly old ways of thinking about player stamina how good enough is good enough. Criticism of Kinoshita I feel is unfair. The team have a number of talented catchers and they should be aiming to rotate them rather than relying on one to play 120 games a year. Not everyone can be Motonobu Tanishige. The team have Ariel Martinez, Yuya Gunji and Kota Ishibashi that could all be playing behind the plate at other teams in the league, if anything Kinoshita not having the stamina to play all games is a blessing for a team with so much talent. Ibata's comment in particular about focusing on defensive drills at the expense of hitting was quite alarming as well. Tatsunami's criticism of Kyoda, who is probably on second to the Lions' Sosuke Genda as a defensive short-stop is nothing short of a former player of that position harping about the perfections of the trade. Kyoda's defense is invaluable and as he grows older he will naturally find ways to compensate for his lack of nimbleness in the field. But, it must be said that if Tatsunami puts this value on defense over offense like the manager's he's played under, then it will be no wonder the team doesn't hit well again next year. Finally, the main point that sticks to me is the "hit more doubles, boys" philosophy. This is nothing new. Alonzo Powell at Yoda identified this as the best way to get runs in Nagoya, although I kind of find it a defeatist attitude, and it didn't work for them for whatever reason. Knowing what a team should do and actually making them do it are two very different things. 

One of the more interesting take-aways from this however is the closeness between Tatsunami and Ibata adding to rumours that Ibata may well be on his way to join Tatsunami's backroom. What role would Ibata fit into then? If rumours are true about Tatsunami hiring some older heads (similar age to him anyway) to backroom positions, then a head coach position for Ibata seems unlikely. If he were to be an infield defense coach, then that would displace Masahiro Araki who could find himself back on the farm next year if that's the case. So far, Tatsunami has said he wants to recruit outside the Dragons organisation for coaches but also wants to keep some of the existing staff so as to make the transition easier. So far, former PL Gakuen team-mate, Atsushi Kataoka has been strongly linked while 2007 Japan Series MVP, Norhiro Nakamura has also been earmarked for a role as a hitting coach. Otherwise, it has all but been confirmed that former Dragons bullpen master, Eiji Ochiai will be returning to Japan from his role as farm manager with the Samsung Lions in Korea to take the 1-gun pitching coach job. Speculation will now be rife with who may be considered for other positions but Tatsunami has indicated he should have an idea of who he will be working with after two weeks. As with my previous post on a possible backroom for Hirokazu Ibata, I'll try now and theorize something under Tatsunami.

ManagerKazuyoshi Tatsunami
Head CoachShinya Miyamoto
Position Player CoachHirokazu Ibata
Batting CoachKazuhiro Wada
PT Batting CoachKosuke Fukudome
Pitching CoachEiji Ochiai
""Hideyuki Awano
Battery CoachTakeshi Nakamura
IF Defense/Base-RunningMasahiro Araki
OF Defense/Base-RunningHidenori

For the sake of keeping AraIba together, Tatsunami may well create a separate role for Ibata to work on all aspects of position players' game. Ibata was an effective hitter as a player and not much more can be said for his significant contributions as a defender. Given Ibata working with hitters, maybe then Kosuke Fukudome can be a part-time hitting coach as well. Add in someone like Kazuhiro Wada and you have the makings of a pretty interesting batting coach team. Shinya Miyamoto comes in as a former PL Gakuen buddy of Tatsunami's to head coach while much of the rest of the backroom may well just stay as it is. Takeshi Nakamura and Hideyuki Awano have proven themselves very capable and it will only be a matter of whether or not Tatsunami can convince them to stay on. 

ManagerAtsushi Kataoka
Batting CoachMasahiko Morino
""Nori Nakamura
Pitching CoachKazuki Yoshimi
""Takuya Asao
""Takashi Ogasawara
Battery CoachShingo Takeyama
IF Defense/Base-RunningTadaharu Sakai
OF Defense/Base-RunningTakayuki Onishi

The farm team was a bit trickier to work on but rumours are that Masahiko Morino will be back while Nori Nakamura has most recently been working with high school players so his experience might well be very valuable working with younger players on the farm. I've randomly picked Kazuki Yoshimi to be the third pitching coach in this team while I've added in a couple of different OBs for the defensive/base-running coaching roles in Tadaharu Sakai, whom Tatsunami played with and Takayuki Onishi who not only played for the Dragons but also PL Gakuen. I've put Kataoka as the manager but it could quite easily be someone else. Kataoka's reputation precedes him and he might not be a very popular appointment. 

The coming weeks will tell us what we want to know. If I were the team, I'd want to sort our the staff situation as quickly as possible but given the late end of the season, it's unlikely that there will be a fall camp meaning there's not as much of a hurry to get everyone together just yet. 

On a slightly more random note, Kazuyoshi Tatsunami as the third carrier of the Mr Dragons moniker also continues the tradition of those players managing the team. The first, Michio Nishizawa had a short stint (1965-1967) while the second, Morimichi Takagi managed the team on 3 separate occasions (1986 as caretaker, 1992-1995, 2012-2013). A tradition upkept is....something I guess.

What Tatsunami will bring the Dragons will be seen over the coming months in as we head towards Spring training. I'm skeptical that his seemingly hard-headed ways are going to steer the team in any meaningful direction. His rather older ideas about players resting and what their attitude should be strikes me as a way of thinking the team should be steering away from. If nothing else, he will be a popular appointment. This is a marquee manager signing that could bring with it a number of big names as coaches. Tatsunami finally landing the job will also mean that the ship is finally sailing ending some of the media drama. My hopes are for the best, but I am more skeptical about this appointment than I was about Yoda.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Draft 2021 Results: Chunichi Dragons


The results are in, and the Dragons have selected six new players to join the team in 2021. These include a healthy smattering of three outfielders, a pitcher, an infielder and a catcher. This has been one of the most position player heavy drafts in the Dragons recent history. The Dragons appears to have taken their hitting woes seriously and not only have they drafted five position players but of those five, three of them are college level hitters.

For the second year running, the Dragons selected in the first round unopposed. Yoda is, I guess, 4/4 in terms of the Dragons getting their man. (2018 - Akira Neo, 2019 - Takaya Ishikawa, 2020 - Hiroto Takahashi)

My predictions ended up being pretty off but I snagged Kenta Bright as our top pick and, although I didn't pick him at 2nd, I had Kosuke Ukai on my ledger. Surprisingly, Tomoya Masaki was still on the board when the Dragons second round of picks came up and I must admit I'm slightly confused as to why they didn't go with him over Ukai. I assume defensive worries are the key issue as Ukai has a better arm reportedly, but why not get the top two outfielders available? A question for later perhaps. Otherwise with my other picks; Kyosuke Kuroyanagi had to wait until the 5th round before the Fighters picked him. Kento Nakamura went in the 3rd round to the Carp while Norihiro Nozaki and Hibiki Yamashiro went undrafted. Very difficult to predict indeed but I consider 2/6 a relative success. 

The Dragons drafted in a fairly traditional way, if there is such a thing. Usually the #2 spot has been used for a pitcher in the last few years, but obviously team need here was after a power bat. The #4 spot has been used for a catcher again (Yuya Gunji and Kota Ishibashi were both 4th rounders) while a local boy was taken 5th round (a tradition since time forgot). 

Without further ado, here is the basic information of our draftees:

#1Kenta BrightOFJōbu University
#2Kōsuke UkaiOFKomazawa University
#3Taisei IshimoriLHPHinokuni Salamanders
#4Taisei MiyaCHanasakitokuharu HS
#5Mao HoshinoIFToyohashi Chūō HS
#6Yūma FukumotoOFOsaka Commercial University

Let's now make a few comments about who the team have selected and also comment about what this does for the team roster. 

A native of Tokyo, Bright is one of the most athletic players on the card this year. He has a Ghanaian father and Japanese mother and has played in the Tohto League with Jobu University the last 4 years. Defensively still needs some work, but there is potential in the bat to develop some interesting power. A right-handed hitter, I'd assume the Dragons are hoping he'll be starting in right-field come opening day. He's mostly hit in #4 spot for his university and maybe we might see him bat 6th or so in the line-up for the Dragons. 

Kosuke Ukai is a big boy with a big bat. Aichi-born, the former Chukyo HS slugger has made a name for himself hitting the long ball in Tokyo for Komazawa U. Weighing in at 100kg, he's going to be the heaviest set player on the team. This year he has started hitting homeruns with more alacrity with 6 in 22 games. The main concern however is his plate discipline as he's struck out 25 times in 80 plate appearances. A strong arm means he's probably at home in outfield while a future at first base might be on the horizon as he gets older. Another #4 hitter for his university, he has mostly played in left-field. Ukai I think is a player in the making that will need work before he's ready. I wouldn't expect immediate results but I hope for some development on the farm with some sporadic appearances with the tope team in 2022. 

Taisei Ishimori throws a very fast four-seam. The man from Ishikawa has spent the last season with the Hinokuni Salamanders in the independent Kyushu Asia League. A southpaw, Ishimori tops out at 155km/h which is a good few clicks faster than the best any Dragons lefty can do. A good array of breaking balls makes him an interesting prospect indeed. In his university career, Ishimori struck out 121 batters over 102 innings. In the indy leagues, he has taken 63Ks over 36.1 innings of work. What's more incredible is that his K/BB is only 4.22 and his SO/9 is a whopping 15.61. If his stuff translates to NPB, then the Dragons have a very exciting pitcher on their hands. Another lefty that I would assume would probably stay in the bullpen to help out Fuku and Okada. We'll probably see him very quickly.

Taisei Miya was a surprising pick. I didn't expect the Dragons to take another catcher given the glut of options they currently have. Miya is a graduate of the presitigious baseball program at Hanasakitokuharu High School, the alma mater of future team-mate, Tatsuya Shimizu. Defensively well established, the lefty-bat can hit the gaps and also contribute with a few extra base hits. A pop time of 1.8 seconds puts him ahead of Kota Ishibashi when he started with the Dragons in 2018. He has mostly hit 5th in the line-up for his school with an impressive 1.115 OPS in 15 games over his competitive career. Miya is one for the future for sure. The Dragons already have an impressive line-up of catching talent at Miya only adds to it. On the depth chart he'll be behind Kinoshita, Martinez, Katsura, Gunji and Ishibashi. 

With Atsushi Fujii retiring, it was only logical to add another Toyohashi adjacent to the team. Mao Hoshino, actually from Higashio, is a short-stop. He has good legs, a good arm and a decent hitting tool. In the most recent summer Aichi high school tournament, Hoshino hit .529 with 2 homers over 4 very impressive games. He has 25 homers to his name in his career while hitting from the lead-off position or from in the hole. Hoshino also had 3 other clubs looking at him, including the Fighters so it's perhaps fortunate the Dragons actually picked him up this late. 

Last but not least is Yuma Fukumoto. Yet another Osaka Commercial University grad joins the team. His sempais at the Dragons include, Yuki Hashimoto, Kaname Takino and Iori Katsura. Fukumoto is a hard hitter who claimed the MVP in the 2020 Spring and 2021 Fall league. Playing at DH or right-field, Fukumoto has some power but doesn't have a whole lot of homeruns to show for it. His 2021 Fall League season was the most impressive as hit a clip of .350/.435/.425 inclusing 3 x 2BH and 11 RBIs. A graduate of the Chiben Gakuen High School program, Fukumoto has some good pedigree. If nothing else, his addition is a welcome one to add competition and give a bit more punch to the outfield options.

How does this all then affect the team? 

Outfielders incoming essentially just replace those that were outgoing. Takeda, Endo and Iryo are all just replaced by Bright, Ukai and Fukumoto. Similarly, the team trades an indy-league righty in Takuya Mitsuma for an indy-league, southpaw, fireballer, Taisei Ishimori. The additional infielder and catcher however might mean another couple of players could be on their way out. 

The Dragons rarely keep more than seven catchers on the first team roster and Miya would be the eighth. Similarly, infielders are many and we could see one moved on to accomodate for Hoshino (although there don't appear to be any likely candidates). So, we may still see some shuffling in the next round of senryokugai notices. At catcher, there's a few scenarios. One is that one of Gunji or Ishibashi is going to primarily play the field this year meaning an extra catcher is needed as back-up. The other is that Ayatsugu Yamashita simply hasn't impressed as much as the team were hoping and he could be on the way out. Finally, the other option could be that Shota Ono could be on his way out as well to either be released or retire. In any case, I think we will see another two players leave the team before the end of the year. Overall though, the team has gotten better as a result of the change-over and have certainly powered up over the options that have already been released which is a great step in the right direction.

In my predictions, I had advocated for Hibiki Yamashiro who could play middle infield. However, with Tsuchida being played at second, maybe Hoshino could provide cover in this area. Not as immediate a back-up as I would have hoped, maybe the Dragons are looking to move him away from short-stop. Who knows at this stage. Tsuchida I think is a dynamic short-stop and not playing him there would be a mistake. Hoshino is a lower rated talent though, probably, so he might be shifted himself. It's worth remembering that Masami Ishigaki was billed as a short-stop before he was moved to third-base. 

Adding Fukumoto and Bright gives us options for right-field. Bright will hopefully be an immediate contributor while Fukumoto will likely get a good deal of reps in right-field for the farm team. 

Overall, I'm not quite as hyped for this draft class as I have been in the past. I'm relieved to finally see outfield and power issued addressed. Something I have been crying out for over a number of years. I'm a little underwhelmed by Fukumoto and Miya as I felt something more substantial could have been done and I'm also concerned about taking Ukai so high. Perhaps the Dragons saw competition for Ukai's signature and decided to sweep in, but when Masaki was still on the board with a similar but more complete skillset, I wonder why they didn't go for him. Having Bright and Masaki in one draft would have been quite a coup, but perhaps the team are worried about creating a logjam with Kosuke Ito and Yuki Okabayashi looking to break into the team.

I'll give this draft a B. I'm kinda skeptical about some of the talent but it could all turn out well in the end. Hopefully the team can really develop some hit tools.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Draft 2021 Predictions: Chunichi Dragons

Introducing your 2021 draftees...maybe. I have had some time to read more draft reports and get a better feeling for team needs. The Dragons have not announced a first-round pick like some of the other teams, hoping to keep everyone guessing. From my previous article, I have changed some of my predictions as more information has become available to me and it's here I will make my prediction. 

What the Dragons need is something to bolster the well publicized issue with their poor hitting. The Dragons top the league in ERA but are worst in just about every category that uses a bat. What is needed are power bats, and probably more than one or two. Ideally, this production needs to come from outfielders as this is the main area where the team is struggling. I also suggest that the team probably needs another second base option, someone who's maybe early 20s. Lastly, the team could do with a couple of younger arms, preferably a lefty and a righty. This then leads me to this round of picks:

#1Kenta BrightOFJobu University
#2Kyosuke KuroyanagiRHPChukyo Uni HS
#3Kosuke UkaiOFKomazawa University
#4Hibiki YamashiroIFFuji University
#5Norihiro NozakiLHPGifu Commercial HS
#6Kento NakamuraOFToyota

I have stuck with some names and added in some different ones based on where I figure each player can be taken. This means Ukai drops a couple of places (as he isn't as highly rated as I thought) while I've now added in an infielder to give competition for places. 

First round should be either a pick between Jobu Univerity's Kenta Bright, or Keio University's Tomoya Masaki. Masaki has the bigger profile, but there are worries over his defensive ability. Some comparisons have been made to former Dragons and Eagles slugger, Takeshi Yamasaki. Left-field could be a place for Masaki until Viciedo can no longer occupy first-base. This however still leaves a blackhole in right-field that could be filled by a foreign outfielder but it's probably easier to fill a gap in left with an international signing. Given the team's propensity to value defense, I can see Bright being the top pick. He's more athletic but still has plenty of punch in his bat. My only concern is that the team might see him as attainable in the second round and then go after a highly rated arm in the first round instead, potentially missing out entirely. I hope this doesn't happen. Bright has said he wants to go to Chunichi so he can work with Kosuke Fukudome

In the second round, the Dragons should get an early pick so they'll get a shot at some of the better almost first round talent. This includes local boy, Kyosuke Kuroyanagi. He has been the Chukyo University High School ace and shows good velocity on his fastball. Injury I beleive befell him a little last year, but he was impressive in his outings in 2021. 

Kosuke Ukai is a big man with exciting power.
Ukai drops to #3 on my list. His power is unquestionable but defensive ability and plate discipline are still questions. I'd still draft him as high as I could as the potential of that power makes me salivate. 

Yamashiro would be the Dragon's second Okinawan
on the team after Katsuki Matayoshi.

At #4 I've gone with Fuji University's, Hibiki Yamashiro. Fuji U. is a talent stalking ground for Seibu usually, but on the website I frequent, the Dragons are the only ones to make comment on Yamashiro. An Okinawa native, Yamashiro has very exciting hitting statistics in the Tohoku College Leagues and can play accross the infield as well as in right-field. An heir apparent to Naomichi's utility, Yamashiro looks an exciting prospect. The Dragons have no one settled at second base or right-field; Yamashiro could plug either hole.

Nozaki would be a project to develop

Fifth round is where I think we'll snag a local lefty. Norihiro Nozaki has been solid for Gifu Commercial High School, one of Gifu Prefecture's traditional top 3. Similar profile to Kenshin Kakikoshi who was drafted a few years ago and is now doing quite well on the farm. 

Lastly, and this is possibly my least confident pick is Kento Nakamura another than I had selected in my previous prediction. I'm not sure if we'll be able to snag him so low (maybe Nozaki 6th and Nakamura 5th?) but this would be a good selection to bolster outfield stocks and just give the team more options. Experienced hitter who's apparently good in a pinch, he would definitely make a sound addition to the team.

In other Dragons draft news, despite his future somewhat in the air, manager Tsuyoshi Yoda will be the one pulling out a ticket if the first round goes to a lottery

Anything after the first two slots is going to be hard to predict but I think this is a relatively realistic rundown of what the Dragons could and should take this year given the reports I've read over the past few days.

The 2021 Draft will take place at 17:00 JST. SportsBull App has broadcast the draft the last few years.