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Sunday, October 30, 2022

Yoshinori Ueda appointed 2-gun hitting coach

 I will be editing and uploading my draft review either tonight or tomorrow. My apologies for the delay. 

In the meantime some Dragons news, the team have signed a second 2-gun hitting-coach for the first time since the Shigekazu Mori regime. The only disappointment perhaps is that it is yet another retread. Yoshinori Ueda, who was part of the Dragons staff between 2009-2015 has been installed as a former left-handed hitting player to coach our hitters along. 

Ueda has a long career in coaching. After he left the Dragons in 2015 he joined Alex Ramirez's staff at the Yokohama DeNA Baystars. After Daisuke Miura cleaned house, Ueda moved on to the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters for two years before arriving back in Nagoya. Looks good on paper right? An experienced coach with connection and exposure to other teams? I would have thought so. But hang on, what was his position in these teams again? Base-running and outfield defence coach. Oh. Despite hitting being the biggest issue for the Dragons in recent years, they are bringing in a coach who has zero experience actually coaching players how to hit. Now, this is not to say that he doesn't have some nous when it comes to coaching hitters, but, so far, he has no experience doing so. 

Ueda's hiring reeks of more incestuous in-house hiring. While Ueda comes from another team, he still has the Dragons connection as a player and former coach. The Dragons love doing this but it severely limits the pool of ideas and reinforces the power structures in place. If you're used to the Dragons way, you're less likely to question it. A guy like Norihiro Nakamura was a bit of a mercenary and has always been a free thinker, so I'd like to take him away from this conversation, but by and large, particularly for the farm team, the Dragons like to hire from within. Kazuhiro Wada's hiring is just another example in a long line of coaching decisions made for seemingly sentimental reasons. I don't think Wada will be a bad coach per se, but I disagree with the logic of the search conditions. 

Out of the current staff members, it is only Shuji Nishiyama, Atsushi Kataoka and Yutaka Nakamura who had no previous Dragons affiliation before joining the team. In a similar vein to drafting local talents, there seems to be a very insular culture at the Dragons. The 2022 draft disproved this somewhat as, for the first time in a very long time, the Dragons did not draft anyone in their immediate catchment area. However, the staff recruiting policy seems to remain the same. The first box that apparently needs to be ticked is "Played for Dragons". I don't know if this is done as a way to maintain some form of uniformity in the ranks or if it's to ensure some kind of loyalty in spite of poor decision making. We'll possibly never no. The Dragons are of course not the only team to hire their own, but I feel it is done to such an extreme degree in with Chunichi that the team seem to be afraid of outside influence. Ironically, the longer this goes on the worse it is going to get. The connections coaches and players have will be limited to players and coaches that have always been with the Dragons. The fact the team don't chase after free agents from other teams only further impacts this. Add in the fact that the team rarely go after polished international signings as well and the influence of outside ideas really is waning. 

Awano was a big part of changing pitcher management.
Awano was a big part of revolutionising Dragons' pitcher management.

I understand that managers will often look to old classmates from university and the like as well to bring in new faces. Yoda did this with Hideyuki Awano. Awano brought with him former Hankyu team-mate Motoyuki Akahori and together the trio created one of the most formidable pitching staffs in Japan. The same could not be said for Takayuki Murakami however as he seemed to fail to make an impact on the team's hitting. Unfortunately, beyond this, many of the others of Yoda's staff were made up of former Dragons. 

We must therefore respect Hiromitsu Ochiai's personnel selections. Ochiai went out of his way to hire coaches who had nothing to do with the Dragons. Ochiai was responsible for bringing in Shigekazu Mori and Hatsuhiko Suji from the Lions. Of the 2006 staff, Shinji Hata was brought in out of the blue after a failed coaching stint at the Marines. Seiji Kobayashi was picked up out of the blue. Hideki Takayanagi was brought in from the Hawks via the Marines. Shinji Hara  had been coaching in Taiwan before being brought into the Dragons fold. Naoyuki Kazuoka, now still coaching with Orix, was a Tigers coach before his tenure. While there are plenty of coaches who previously had either playing or coaching experience with the Dragons before Ochiai appointed them, it is clear that Ochiai was a man with connections that wasn't afraid to go beyond the Dragons pool. 

Perhaps it is too much to ask of a manager like Tatsunami who spent his entire career at the Dragons. You would perhaps think that the connections he made during his professional career as a representative of his team, frequent all-star and Meikyuikai member would have yielded slightly better appointments. This is not to mention the various ex-baseball people he would have met in the close to 15 years he had as an analyst. 

This turned into a rant very quickly, however I think Ueda's appointment once again falls within the realms of imagination and is overall a disappointing choice. Given the issues that the Dragons have in developing hitters, it is suicidally irresponsible to not address this with a stronger move. While this would have been a first-team appointment, Takuro Ishii, one of the highest regarded hitting coaches in NPB was available last year. He joined Daisuke Miura's backroom at the Baystars. Surely however, this is the kind of appointment that needs to be considered if the team are to get back on the right track. Maybe luck or connection wasn't their with Ishii, but surely there are a bevy of other candidates. 

The appointment of Ueda is yet further evidence of a team lacking ambition and leadership. If the rumour is true that certain former players are avoiding coaching for the Dragons because they see it as a sinking ship, then I can't see how the ship is going to righted. In saying all this, I don't know how Ueda will perform as a hitting coach. He could be ready to take on the challenge and be excellent at his job. Who knows; we will have to wait and see. As usual however, I will maintain my skepticism.

Monday, October 17, 2022

DragonSoulCast #4: 2022 NPB Draft Preview & Predictions

 Hi all, after recording, re-recording and then sitting on it for a few days, I finally have my draft preview ready. You can listen via the embedded link here or through Spotify. I am not sure what's happening with iTunes at the moment. 

Through this podcast I go through 12 of the brightest talent available at the draft that I predict will be selected in the opening two rounds. It's very hard to predict exactly how the dominoes will fall as through the lottery and team need, selections may pivot wildly. I think here, the 12 guys I have selected will all disappear in the top 2 rounds. 

After this, I take a deep dive into the Dragons roster construction and make some predictions on who they might go after based on team need. I identify 5 particularly important areas that need to be addressed in the off-season and preferably at the draft. I then go into roughly what I think the Dragons will end up. All this has been based on my research into who the Dragons have shown interest in and where those players might end up falling to them. 

I'd also like to mention that the Carp have since announced one of their picks which I would have included otherwise so I apologise to any Carp fans out there who may be listening that were interested to hear about their man. I have otherwise included all other publicized picks in the top 12. 

I'll do a write-up on how accurate my predictions were once the draft has finished. 

The broadcast of the draft will start at 5:00pm JST on the 20th of October. The Sportsbull app has been streaming the draft the last few years. It will otherwise be broadcast via TBS (first round only), Paravi and SkyA.

Addtional Notes 19/10/2022

I thought it would be worth listing who has publicized their first round picks. I've also tried to find any news of what types of players teams will be targeting in the first round and made a quick table.

SwallowsKojiro YoshimuraRHP Toshiba
CarpYuta SaitoRHPTomakomai Chuo HS
GiantsShogo AsanoOFTakamatsu Commercial HS
DragonsReia NakachiRHPOkinawa University
BuffaloesRyuhei SotaniLHPHakuoh University
HawksIkhine ItuaSSHomore HS
LionsTakuya HirumaOFWaseda University
EaglesKosei ShojiRHPRikkyo University
FightersKota YazawaLHP/OFNippon Sports Science Uni

Friday, October 14, 2022

Team departures and a new arrival

 Hi all, I should have my draft preview podcast ready very soon. Will be editing a little bit now. I recorded it yesterday and unfortunately it's already a little out of date (curse you Carpies!). 

In the meantime some interesting developments have taken place with regards to the team. Firstly, Ariel Martinez has left the team and is now a free agent. He performed well this year hitting a .276/.350/.435 slash with 8 homeruns in 82 games this year. It seems...strange to jettison a player that actually did quite well but perhaps there were some things in the background. It sounds like firstly, Martinez reluctantly left the catching position this year to make some kind of team contribution. His inability to play as a catcher may have been a deciding factor. The team may also have not thought his relative contribution worthy of the possible price-tag. With news that Tatsunami is going on a scouting mission the the Dominican Republic Winter League, it sounds like they're looking for someone a bit cheaper and with more upside. 

On the staff side of things, there has also been a bit of a shake-up. There was news earlier that Toshio Haru, long serving batting coach, would be leaving the team. He has now left the team alongside other long-standing coaches, Takashi Ogasawara and Hidenori Kuramoto. Ogasawara has been busy developing arms on the farm since 2013 and has a fairly decent track record. Hidenori has been up and down between the first and second team as an outfield coach since 2013 as well. Haru I can understand leaving given the hitting issues, but I don't understand jettisoning two perfectly good coaches in Ogasawara and Hidenori. The former I thought was quite good at his job and this now leaves two relatively inexperinced pitching coaches in Daisuke Yamai and Takuya Asao. Hidenori was given a role on the farm this year as a development coach, but I think that was merely the precursor for him leaving the team when his contract finished. There may have been compatibility issues with Atsushi Kataoka that led to the change, but this is pure speculation. What will this mean for the farm team? Since Asao was hired, the team have had 3 pitching coaches on the farm. Maybe cutting one is making room for another hitting coach perhaps? We'll have to wait and see. 

With all the outs, we have had an in. Former MVP, Kazuhiro Wada has joined the Tatsunami backroom as first team hitting coach. He was reportedly sent an invite when it was announced Haru was leaving. Wada was a great hitter in his day but has not had any coaching experience. His post-retirement days have been mostly spent as a colour commentator. Wada and Tatsunami spent two years together with the Dragons in 2008 and 2009. 

That was just a small update on some key moves the Dragons are making. I will be interesting to see what further shake-ups may occur post-draft and if there will be further additions to the coaching staff. 

Friday, October 7, 2022

Phoenix League Team Announced

 The team for the annual Phoenix League in Miyazaki prefecture has been announced. The following players will be playing in the roughly 3 week long fall tournament. The Phoenix League is usually for younger players to get more experience and the roster is often an expanded farm team of sorts but mostly for prospects or older players that need to tune-up.

PitchersPosition Players
Akira NeoTaisei Miya
Yuki HashimotoYuya Gunji
Hiroto TakahashiKota Ishibashi
Hiroto MoriShuhei Takahashi
Yuichiro OkanoMasami Ishigaki
Akiyoshi KatsunoRyuku Tsuchida
Hiroshi SuzukiMao Hoshino
Takumi YamamotoKosuke Ukai
Ryushin TakeuchiYuma Fukumoto
Yuta MatsukihiraHironori Miyoshi
Hiroaki MatsudaKenta Bright
Sho IshikawaKosuke Ito
Shota FukushimaYuki Okabayashi

I think we'll see Yuya Gunji being tested to find his position. He has been playing outfield by news says he will also play some first base in the Phoenix League. Kenta Bright gets to have a good hit-out after missing most of the season with injury while Kosuke Ukai similarly will be looking to make-up for lost at-bats. Overall, a lot of exciting young talents to watch, I'd personally like to see them line-up like this:

1. RF Hironori Miyoshi
2. CF Yuki Okabayashi
3. LF Kenta Bright
4. DH Kosuke Ukai
5. 3B Shuhei Takahashi
6. 1B Yuya Gunji
7. C  Kota Ishibashi
8. 2B Masami Ishigaki
9. SS Ryuku Tsuchida 

Given the DH is in play, there'll be plenty of opportunities for all the hitters to get some ABs. I hope they test Bright in CF as well and I'd like to see Masami Ishigaki really have a good fall league. I think we'll also see Fukumoto play some first-base as well as getting some reps in the outfield. Here's hoping for an injury-free, productive Phoenix League.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

DragonSoulCast #3 - 2022 is dead, long live 2022

 Hi guys,

I'm sticking with Podcasts for now. I have actually set-up an RSS feed (still playing with this) for future podcasts. As I mention in the episode, I don't have a schedule or anything so I just upload when I can.

Today I talk about the end of the season, staff shuffles, who the Dragons might be saying farewell to and what they might want to target at the draft. 

I will have an episode as well to preview the draft but that will go-up likely next week. Draft is slated for the 20th of October.

DragonSoulCast #3 - 2022 is dead, long live 2022

4th October 2022 - 5:00pm update

The Dragons have gone heavy on the cuts and have laid off the following:

Ryosuke Hirata, Ayatsugu Yamashita, Yu Sato, Masaru Watanabe, Marc Ishida, Yoan Tavarez, Luke Wakamatsu, Kaname Takino, Yuta Omine and Tatsuro Hamada. 

They have cleared 8 spots on the top-team roster in one foul swoop. The names listed are not one's I'm surprised about but perhaps Kaname Takino can consider himself a little unlucky. Tatsuro Hamada's career has been hanging on by the good wishes of the club. He's had injury after injury and the man once uttered in the same breath as Shohei Otani and Shintaro Fujinami will be leaving the team. Yamashita leaving is also slightly surprising given the lack of options at first-base on the farm, but this may well change. Looks as though at least the team are keen on bringing back Ariel Martinez, we'll have to see how his contract plays out.