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:
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.
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".
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:
Shuhei Takahashi should be aiming to be a .300+ 20HR type hitter; use the power he showed as a rookie
Dayan Viciedo is an important player but lacks in certain areas (mainly homeruns) that you'd expect in a foreign corner infielder.
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.
Takuya Kinoshita lacks the stamina required to be a full-time first-team catcher and has often been rotated to keep him fresh.
Akira Neo is someone that would be used anywhere on the field if he could hit.
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.
Position Player Coach
PT Batting Coach
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.
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.
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:
Toyohashi Chūō HS
Osaka 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.
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:
Chukyo Uni HS
Gifu Commercial HS
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.
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.
Tsuyoshi Yoda is in the last year of his 3-year contract. Much speculation now has arisen as to who will become the next manager as the assumption is only one good season in the last three is a poor enough result for Yoda to be moved on. In normal circumstances this is probably true, however with parent company Chunichi Shimbun losing money during the pandemic through limited gate receipts and the general downturn in the newspaper business, it is very possible a cheaper option for next season will need to be considered.
Yoda and his backroom team have a lot to answer for after a poor third season in charge. Despite a relatively positive 2nd season in which the team finished 3rd, their highest finishing position in almost a decade, 2021 has been a disaster hallmarked by the team's poor production with the bat. One would think that Yoda is halfway out the door but there have been many positives to his reign. Yoda came onboard with the mission to improve the pitching staff. Under Shigekazu Mori, the pitching was erratic. There was a time where you would expect a reliever to give up a run in any inning. Under Yoda however the pitching has become a core strength. Yudai Ono had a Sawamura Award winning year in 2020 and if it weren't for the ridiculous season Yoshinobu Yamamoto is having for the Orix Buffaloes, Yuya Yanagi would be the front-runner for the award this year. Whatever is happening is working. Unlike Mori's Dragons however, the hitting has been woeful. In the 2018 season, the Dragons looked dangerous with the bat. Dayan Viciedo and Ryosuke Hirata had career-high seasons. The team otherwise just hit well. The same cannot be said for Yoda's Dragons. A mere look at the hitting statistics of our outfielders this year could have you spitting in disgust. Only two regular hitters have an OPS of over .700; Dayan Viciedo and Takuya Kinoshita. Just, awful. It was hoped that the additions of former MLB instructor, Alonzo Powell and former Carp slugger, Kenta Kurihara would help in this regards but so far the reading hasn't been positive.
So with all that in mind, who is there actually available to take over? Perhaps under normal circumstances, more than we know but the main names currently being discussed in the media are perennial contender Kazuyoshi Tatsunami, farm manager Toru Nimura and Yoda himself. Not much to get excited about. Tatsunami has been after the top job ever since Ochiai stepped down. Rumours are that his relationship with former owner Bungo Shirai meant that Tatsunami was frozen out of contention. However, with a new owner it is now said that that doors are ajar for a Tatsunami takeover. The third inheritor of the Mr Dragons moniker has been a vocal member of the media for some time now and even came on as a special instructor last spring to help with the Dragons hitters. Yota Kyoda and Akira Neo is particular were focuses of this instruction. However, what Tatsunami says in the media does not sound like those of a particularly competent manager particularly for the state the team is in. In a way, getting Tatsunami in, finally, and letting him have a go and succeed or fail would at least get the media off the Mr Dragons train finally. I am however not sold on his ability to be a good manager.
Toru Nimura would be, I think, a reluctant recepient of the top job. One positive can be said is that the farm team under his tenure started off very well with the bat. They unfortunately tapered off as time passed, but the promise was there to start with. I quite like what Nimura has said in the past about his players and his approach. He is definitely a manager with a plan for his players and as a farm manager he will know how to get the best out of younger players. However, it does appear that his recommendations to the top team come from very strict criteria on who is ready and who is not. It is possible that Nimura is partially responsible for the lack of youth in the top team as he hasn't judged them to be ready for the task. In a way this can be seen as protecting the players to ensure they work out their trade on the farm. I think for the most part this is probably a good idea, but one then worries if he would actually lead a youth revolution in the team.
I personally think we'll probably see another year of Yoda, probably at a reduced wage, to firstly save some dough, and also just to see what might happen. Most of Yoda's staff's contracts are up this year as well which could see some meaningful chopping and changing. It has been reported that Tsutomu Ito and Yoda have had a falling-out and that would mean at least a new head coach. A new batting and pitching coach on the farm are probably required as well with Ken Kadokura leaving the team midway through the year while Toshio Haru is the only hitting instructor on the farm. Takayuki Murakami, organisational hitting coach, is probably on the way out while there could be further shuffling as well. That gives me some optimism. The hitting philosophy that is trying to be introduced may well take time to stick as well, who knows what another year will bring.
So, I would assume that we'll see another year of Yoda. It's the most cost-effective for the team and I'm keen to see what another year might bring particulary with the team chasing some hitting talent really hard at the draft. It's also worth noting that Yoda was already chosen as the new manager before the 2018 draft where he pulled out Akira Neo's ticket. While the Olympics has delayed the season and any other end-of-season decisions (apart from senryokugai notices apparently), there has been talk that Yoda has sat in on scouting meetings and largely still has a say on team direction. I think this strengthens Yoda's chances of continuing. Somewhat serendipitously, the season running longer into the year than usual may be to Yoda's advantage as much of the preparation for the following season will need to be made now. Why not then give him another year?
With all that said and done however, I still want to do a little thought exercise. This would be for maybe, 2023. I am a big fan of what Hirokazu Ibata says. He speaks very intelligently about the game in a very nuanced way. He's a former all-star, Best 9, golden glove winner and was a key part of the Dragons for almost 15 years. He has great respect among the NPB community and I personally would love to see him get the nod to be Dragons manager at some point. With all that in mind, I spent a little bit of time thinking about what an Ibata led backroom could look like. I've tried to keep to coaches that Ibata has either played with or under throughout his career as well as some links to his alma mater, Asia University.
There should be a few familiar faces here. Kosuke Fukudome, Kenshin Kawakami and Masahiro Araki were all mainstays during the Dragons golden era at the turn of the century. Fukudome is one the Dragons best ever hitters and his influence has been marked this season. I think he'd be a wonderful instructor. Kawakami has a great relationship with Ibata and both of them talk quite often for CBC and on YouTube. Kawakami is another that speaks really intelligently about baseball. Listening to him talk about pitching makes me think he'd be a great mentor for Dragons starters. Araki has shown himself to be a great mentor and coach, so he sticks around. Some more interesting options otherwise. Masahiro Kawai is one of the older staff members here, but the master of bunt was a former farm manager for the Giants and played a key role in luring Ibata to the Giants initially. He has the experience and ties to the Dragons. Ibata played with him at the Dragons and would have interacted with him regularly with the Giants. Akira Eto is similarly one of the elder statesmen of the backroom, but the former Carp slugger has a close connection to Kawai and was part of the backroom at the Giants during Ibata's time there. The other major notable addition here is a sneaky one that wouldn't be appreciated by Tigers fans, Norihiro Akahoshi. Akahoshi is an Asia University alumnus and has a strong affinity for the Aichi region. He seems to be a closet Chunichi fan. While it was hard for me to demote Hidenori, having someone like Akahoshi and Araki working together to teach players how to swipe bases and run the base-paths would be something to see. Lastly, a couple of less noteworthy additions are that of former bullpen master, Akifumi Takahashi as the lefty reliever foil to Kawakami's righty starter coaching. Finally, Fumihiro Suzuki, who currently coaches in Korea was a former catcher for the Dragons drafted in 1998. He has significant experience coaching for the Buffaloes. I think he's be an okay addition as much as I'd like to retain Takeshi Nakamura. Kohei Oda was another option I had thought of.
Overall, this I think is a good mix of coaches from outside the team and from within. Quite a few of them have experience coaching with other teams.
This part got fairly difficult very quickly but I've gone with something that's similar to what the team have had in the past but with some minor changes. Eiji Ochiai was actually someone I'd like to have as first-team pitching coach but I was finding it difficut to get a lefty-starter type to pair with him. So, I've handed him the reigns to the farm team. He's been managing the Samsung Lions farm team in Korea the last couple of years. He's a good character to have around and I think he could be a good manager. This would also allow for a succession should Ibata's tenure not go well. Koichi Sekikawa might be one that's hard to pry away from the Hawks where he's highly valued as a coach, but he and Ibata played together a little bit and his coaching credentials are not to be sneezed at. Kazuki Yoshimi joins the pitching coaching ranks while Eiichi Nakano, currently a bullpen catcher with the team, gets a promotion to bullpen coach for me. He's a former Asia University almunus and played alongside Ibata. Lastly, the only major change is Tadaharu Sakai who was a former Dragons defensive specialist. He's currently a coach with the Rakuten Eagles and would add some experience to the backroom here.
Contracts, family situations and a whole other host of things may well impact the possibilites of these staff members actually coming together. Someone like Eto for example may well not be interested in coming back to coaching. Others like Kawakami and Akahoshi may be happy with their jobs commentating rather than coaching. This was all just based on some fun speculation. I'd be keen to see what others would have in mind for a possible backroom team in the post-Yoda era.
I think we'll see another year of Yoda at least with a reassessment in 2022. If the team can recruit effectively, a couple of good bats could lift the entire line-up. Here's hoping.
The Dragons have announced their first round of senryokugai (release) notices for 2021. They will have another chance to do so following the draft, but this round has seen 6 players being told they're no long required. Among them are 3 outfielders and 2 pitchers.
CF, RF, LF
CF, RF, 1B
This selection of players probably doesn't surprise many. Takeda is perhaps the most surprising of the three to be let go as he's spent the entire season in 1-gun as a defensive specialist. Playing mostly right-field and a bit of first-base, Takeda has been a useful addition defensively. It is odd that the Dragons would let go of a player that has spent the whole season with the top team, but with a significant shuffle required to get new outfielders in, there was no place left for the light hitting Takeda. Masataka Iryo has mosty been a pinch-hitting option, but his statistics are unfortunately underwhelming. If recruitment goes to plan in the off-season with a hard-hitting rookie and a gaijin outfielder getting picked up, then there really isn't room for Iryo who could easily have his role replaced by Kosuke Fukudome or Shohei Kato. Endo perhaps is the least surprising as he had an underwhelming year on the farm and otherwise has failed to impress since his rookie season in 2015.
What does this do for the rest of the team make-up? These three plus the retiring Fujii clears a lot of dead wood. This leaves us with the current outfielders:
CF, LF, RF
RF, LF, CF
CF, LF, RF
This still leaves us with quite a few outfield 'options.' Neo is still listed as an infielder, but I've included him here as he played most of his games in the outfield this year. Apart from it not being pretty reading at the least, I think there are a few players that can fill the roles of Takeda and Iryo next year. Shohei Kato looks the most obvious option for both roles. He has a very good glove and a possibly okay bat. He's at worst, a Takeda and at best, a starting option in outfield. This could not be said for Iryo or Takeda. Fukudome will also hopefully be in a more reserved position next year playing mostly off the bench rather than his rather mammoth contribution this year. As you can see, he has the second most ABs out of any outfielder. Not bad for a 44 year-old but it doesn't say much for the team. Honestly, the team could even choose to trim back from this. Ryosuke Hirata could be living a charmed life and if the team are feeling particularly cut-throat, Masaru Watanabe could alo be in trouble. If the team do well in the draft, I could see them cutting Hirata as a way to save cash as well. Even though Hirata's contract is up, they'll still need to pay him a reasonable amount to stay on. An injury prone 33-year old that has recently been diagnosed with variant angina doesn't seem like a particularly good investment going forward.
I see plenty of cover here for the departures and I don't think the team will be much worse off. That's still 10 players that can play the outfield and even with 3 on the field, that's still 2 that can sit on each bench in 1-gun and 2-gun. If the team bring in a further 3 outfielders in the draft, I could see maybe one more of these 10 being let go.
There's far less to talk about here. Mitsuma is perhaps the most surprising as he had his moments. He always seemed to be on the cusp of something great and didn't quite get there. He has a great fastball, but he just doesn't seem to get it going consistently enough. Unfortunately the former Musashino Heat Bears man will be leaving the team, but he has experessed a desire to continue his career and will attend the tryouts. Taisuke Maruyama was a 6th round pick in 2015 on somewhat of a lottery ticket. His college career had been dogged by injury but the murmurs at the time were that he was a top-2 pick had the injury worries not been there. Unfortunately, the former Toho High School ace failed to really recover from a number of injuries suffered with the Dragons as well. He had been on a development deal. Randy Rosario is a man that simply suffered because of the pandemic. Had he the normal pre-season I'm sure he would have been a great contributor, but unfortunately like Mike Gerber before him, he must bid farewell to the team.
If nothing else, the Dragons have now cleared out the roster quite a bit. Daisuke Yamai and Atsushi Fujii have confirmed their retirements while Mike Gerber has left the team. These players have alread been discluded from the equation while this further 5 (Maruyama's development status means he didn't count) means the team have, I believe, 61 available roster spots. While two of these will definitely be used for foreign players, the team still has 7 spots to play with ahead of the 2021 Draft. Will they actually sign 7 players? Probably not but at least now the option is there. If the team go after their usual 6 players and sign two foreigners, the team will only have 1 spot to play with. There will probaby be another 2-3 players released to make room for mid-season promotions. If they really wanted to save money, jettisoning Hirata, Keisuke Tanimoto and Shota Ono would make a lot of sense. All three are the wrong side of 30 and would be expecting decent money to stay on another year. Hirata and Ono are wrapping up multi-year contracts while Tanimoto earns a veteran's wage. Clearing those three could save close to $1.5m. Will the team be that petty though? I somehow can't see it happening, but you never know.
In conclusion, nothing of any particular value has been lost in this first round of cuts. Outfield needed to be shaken up and shaken it has been. The three pitchers leaving however are not huge losses. The honus is now on the team to recruit well in the draft.