Monday, December 11, 2017

2018 Off-season acquisitions: Guerrero gone; Zoilo Almonte, Steven Moya, Shota Ono in.

The Dragons have shed the roster along with most of their foreign players ahead of the 2018 season. Araujo, Rondon and Valdes were turfed early due to poor performance or optimistic contract expectations, while it has recently been revealed that Alex Guerrero will no be returning to the club after taking Central League homerun champions honours in 2017. Somewhat surprisingly as well, Jordan Norberto appears once again to have been released. The Dominican lefty was released from the club in 2016 only to be re-signed after few better options were found. This seems an unlikely course of action this time around as the Swallows are hovering to capture the former A's man.

That leaves only Dayan Viciedo whom was underwhelming in his second season aside from some hot streaks. He had his issues with injury and spent a month away from the team finalizing his US citizenship where he took a leave of absence. The club seems to like him however and I would be surprised if he weren't retained possibly at a slightly decreased rate than his initial signing of a two year $3.5M deal.

That brings us to speculation over who Mori and the scouting crew have found over in the US, DR and Cuba over the last month or so and who they've turned up in the FA market.

Through foreign recruiting three names have come up in the media. Former Baltimore Orioles slugger and 2013 American League homerun king, Pedro Alvarez is one but negotiations appear to have broken down.
Former Yankee Almonte with Aichi native, Ichiro Suzuki.

The second name mentioned from the get-go was Zoilo Almonte, a Dominican switch-hitting outfielder who previously played for the New York Yankees in the MLB. Almonte has recently come off a year playing in the Mexican Baseball League with Sultanes de Monterrey. Almonte appears to be able to hit for average and power and has a very appealing stat line in Mexico. He was previously well lauded within the Yankees organisation but fell on hard times and bounced around the minors in Atlanta before heading to Mexico. Almonte has the ability to hit for power and average who looks like a significant upgrade on Fujii but maybe not quite as good an acquisition as Alex Guerrero. The 28 year-old hit 35 homers in two seasons for Monterrey at an average of .321 and a .897OPS. Almonte actually looks like a very handy little acquisition. I had a quick chat with former Dragons 1st baseman, Matt Clark about Almonte whom he has come up against in Mexico and it was his belief that Almonte should do pretty well in Japan. I certainly hope so and I'm quietly optimistic he will add plenty of danger to the line-up.

Almonte has 5 HR's in 141ABs for Aguilas in the Dominican Winter League this year at a passable .262 average with a .755OPS. 
Moya was a top prospect with the Detroit Tigers in 2014
Steven Moya is a Puerto Rican outfielder from the Detroit Tigers organisation. As recently as 2014 he won the Tigers minor leaguer of the year award but somehow it's all fallen apart in recent years. Moya is said to moving to the Dragons on a one year contract. The former Tigers starlet stands at a staggering 2 meters tall which would make him one of top 3 tallest players in NPB alongside Fighters closer Chris Martin and Baystars starter Phil Klein. Moya's profile seems to be one of a frustrated power hitter who seems to strike out a lot. His stats in MLB with the Tigers aren't the worst with a .250 average 5HR and 11RBIs in 422 PAs but his 2017 season in AAA and later AA sealed his fate as a failed prospect in Detroit. He has been playing in the Dominican Winter League in the off-season which is where Mori and his team likely ran into him.  He hasn't been all that good in Winter League play either as he's currently averaging .203 with .619OPS with Toros del Este.

Moya is an outfielder, which if we add Almonte to the mix means we have a fairly busy looking set of positions. Almonte seems like a lock for left, while Moya, a right-fielder by trade, is likely to compete with Ryosuke Hirata for a shot. I don't know what the contract numbers are, but I can't imagine Moya will be on a lot. All murmurs surrounding Hirata is that he is working to get back to fighting fitness for next year. If fit, Hirata is certainly a lock for right-field given his defensive capabilities and high average with RISP. If Moya is on around $500-700k it represents a low-risk investment for if and when Hirata doesn't work out this year and it also offers insurance for injuries. It also however spells a vote of no confidence in the abilities of Yusuke Matsui, Atsushi Fujii, Hiroki Kondo, Masataka Iryo and others who were called up and did reasonably in those positions in the tail end of last season. As it stands however, I'll be surprised if Moya can turn it around even in the 2-gun.

Both Almonte and Moya have now been confirmed by various sources as having signed with the club and there is apparently an expectation on the Chunichi side that they both report with the rest of the Japanese staff on the starting day of Spring training. Foreign signings in the past have been given leeway on this point, but the Dragons want to get them and work with them as soon as possible.

No other names have been mentioned so far but Dragons representative are attending the Winter Meeting in Florida looking specifically for starting pitchers. The team is looking for two arms that can slot into the rotation. There is also a strong likelihood that development contracted Raidel Martinez will be added to the first team roster giving us a total of 3 international arms. The team is also on the look out for one more bat, but the rumours so far have been a catcher on a development contract from either the DR or Cuba.
Shota Ono will take the catcher's mask in Nagoya.

That brings us to one of the longer ongoing sagas of the off-season, the signing of Nippon Ham Fighters catcher, Shota Ono. Ever since the end of the season there have been murmurs of the team looking for a new catcher. I mentioned this in my post about the future of the Dragons early in November. As of the 11th of December however, Ono will officially sign-on as a Dragon after accepting a 3 year $2.5M deal. This works out to around $833,000 a year..ish which will make him the third highest earning fielder after Yohei Oshima and Ryosuke Hirata.

Ono's capture comes after the Dragons failed to find a regular catcher this year. Sugiyama, Matsui, Kinoshita and Takeyama all had significant spells in the first team this year and none of them really had it all. Matsui got the closest to being called the default starting catcher, but it was simply a continuing story of who will take over the dish full-time in the post-Tanishige era. After feeling unsatisfied with in-house options, the Dragons looked on the open market and found Shota Ono, a native of Ogaki in neighbouring Gifu prefecture open to a move closer to home.

If you look at Ono's 2017 slash line, as a batter he hasn't really done much better than Masato Matsui this year. Behind the plate, his ability to catch runners decreased as well but the hope will be that given his guidance, the younger group of pitchers at the Dragons might have the confidence to grow more and more. Ono helped mentor the MLB bound Shohei Otani, 2015 ROTY Kohei Arihara, 2016 ROTY Hirotoshi Takanashi, Takayuki Kato and a host of other pitchers to make in the professional baseball. One can't deny the prodigious talent of Otani, but Ono has surely left a mark on many of those named above which is what the Dragons are banking on. Also, as a recent Japan Series winner, I guess the hope would be that Ono can help bring in a winning mentality to the team.

The interesting caveat is not that the Dragons gain Ono, which is of course all well and good, but it's who the team stands to lose. With FA transactions in the NPB, the team who signs the FA player must then return compensation to the club that has lost that player. The Dragons can protect up to 28 players on the roster from being taken as compensation. This opens up an interesting conversation over who the Fighters would be interested in versus who the Dragons are willing to give up.
I've seen a couple of theories so far, but I'd like to take some time here to discuss who we can and should leave unprotected with reasons for the more eyebrow raising selections.


Pitchers
Shinnosuke OgasawaraShinji Tajima Hitoki Iwase
Yu SatoKatsuki MatayoshiYuya Yanagi
Shota SuzukiKazuki YoshimiToshiya Okada
Yudai OnoKoji FukutaniTaisuke Maruyama
Daisuke YamaiTakuma AchiraDaisuke Sobue
Takuya AsaoTakuya MitsumaShotaro Kasahara
Kento FujishimaRyuya OgawaKeisuke Tanimoto
Shunta WakamatsuRyosuke OgumaJunki Ito

I'm playing the percentages a little bit here, but also throwing caution to the wind with others. What the Fighters want is pitching after losing Otani to the MLB and Hirotoshi Masui to the Buffaloes. First of all, there's no need to protect veterans as the Fighters won't want them. Yoshimi, Asao, Yamai and Iwase should be safe. Wakamatsu and Fukutani are the two that are enticing pieces that the Fighters might be interested in. My reason for including them is that whatever we're doing, it's clearly not working. Wakamatsu is still a one-trick pony and he's not particularly well liked in Nagoya. However, if he can develop a couple of more dangerous breaking balls, he's a good looking-starter. At present thought he has a fastball that can't take strikes and a change-up that is being sat on by batters all over the NPB. Fukutani I would leave unprotected because Hiroshi Suzuki is coming in, a very similar type of pitcher and because we have quite a few right-arm relievers that are doing the job. I've also protected anyone under 21 and anyone drafted last year. Tanimoto I leave out simply because I doubt the Fighters would take him back so soon after letting him leave.


Catchers
Takuya KinoshitaMasato MatsuiTakuma Kato
Iori KatsuraShota SugiyamaShingo Takeyama

I am not a fan of Matsui and given his closeness in age to Ono, it makes little sense to keep him. Kinoshita and Sugiyama have the highest ceilings out of this group and are still young enough to challenge Ono for the position in the future. Kato and Katsura have fallen down the pecking order and should be left unprotected. The Fighters aren't likely to take a catcher as they seem to have a few.


Infielders
Masahiro ArakiShuhei TakahashiToshiki Abe
Shun IshikawaIssei EndoMasami Ishigaki
Ryota IshiokaTaiki MitsumataHayato Mizowaki
Yota KyodaKyohei KamezawaNobumasa Fukuda
Naomichi DonoueTetsuya Tani

I was very tempted to leave Donoue out before I realised it would leave us with no immediate cover at short so he stays for his glove and as the club's only real utility infielder. Araki stays unprotected as like the veteran pitchers he's very unlikely to be poached while the other unprotected players would no significant loss. Ishigaki and Mizowaki could be the future of the infield so they stay and Kamezawa just had his best season in Dragons colours and is a clubhouse leader so he definitely stays. The others speak for themselves.

Outfielders
Shota TomonagaAtsushi FujiiRyosuke Hirata
Yohei OshimaMasataka IryoKei Nomoto
Yusuke MatsuiTakahito KudoHiroki Kondo

Outfielder decisions are a little easier. Hirata and Oshima are arguably two of the clubs best hitters while Matsui had a great hot streak at the end of this year. Fujii had a great year too but he's 37 and an unlikely choice. Kondo is the only one I was a little worried about, but I don't think he's done enough to be an appealing piece.

Largely, I think the Fighters will look to take a pitcher in compensation or some cash. Leaving Wakamatsu and Fukutani unprotected should focus the Fighters pursuit of some of our other talent. Personally, I don't think the team is missing out if we put those two out to dry. I really like Fukutani and would love for him to stay but something tells me he'd thrive at the Fighters so I'd be okay with him leaving if he goes on to bigger and better things.

Overall, is there enough here to get excited about? Kind of. I think Almonte and Ono will big big deciding factors on how our season goes this year. Ono's ability to lead the pitchers is going to be important and his acquisition will also remove any doubts over who will be wearing the mask the majority of the season. Someone with considerable experience catching is going to be a positive I feel for this team and will aid the development of the likes of Suzuki, Yanagi, Ogasawara, Kasahara and co.

We're still on the lookout for pitchers at the Winter Meetings, but we'll see what comes back. I'm not going to hold my breath and in a way I'm okay with the team the way it is.

Monday, November 13, 2017

2018 Contract Negotiations: Money, money, money



It's hit the time for contract updates in the off season as the current roster is assessed on this year's performances while the 2017 draftees get signed up.

This should give us a bit of an idea as to how much we have on the wage bill. The Dragons were 12th in overall wage in 2017 and with the retirement of Masahiko Morino and Daisuke Yamai's contract running out, there will no doubt be little change to the Dragons rankings in 2018. Just losing those two adds an extra $2,000,000 a year to play with. With few outstanding performers last year, there shouldn't be any massive movers upwards but I'd expect Kyoda, Fukuda, Ogasawara, Suzuki and Kasahara to all get notable increases.

Losing Akasaka and Nomura, former #1 picks, also frees up about $200k.

As this is ongoing, I will be updating this table each day as more information comes to hand. I have included the draftees that have not yet been signed to a contract on this list as well as those that have as we know they'll be getting something eventually. Hopefully by the end of the month we'll have a better picture of what the overall wage bill is and how we'll look in 2018.

For the sake of simplicity and to make it easier to understand I've gone with a straight 100 yen = $1 approach. Please also note that an asterisk denotes farm appearances as that player has not played with the first team. Also note that 未 refers to undecided.

Update: Now that the numbers have been finalised I'll be doing a more in depth analysis in a follow-up post. Dayan Viciedo and Jordan Norberto appear to still be up in the air with the latter apparently having been released.

In a short summary, big increases were given to Tajima and Matayoshi whom have proven to be the elite relievers in the team. Big decreases were given to Yamai whose $1.2M per/year deal ended in 2017 and to Keisuke Tanimoto who still probably signed for more that his worth. In terms of hitters, Kyoda and Oshima were given the biggest increases on the back of significant 2017 stats while the catchers Sugiyama and Katsura took hits to their cheque books.


PitcherAgeRoleWageUp/DownGWLSVERA
Shinji Tajima27CP$1,100,000.00 $280k6325342.87
Katsuki Mataysohi27RP$880,000.00 $380k508302.13
Keisuke Tanimoto32RP$850,000.00 $150k180106.00
Yudai Ono29SP$800,000.00 $64k247804.02
Hitoki Iwase43RP$750,000.00 $250k503624.79
Kazuki Yoshimi33SP$750,000.00 $50k143705.23
Daisuke Yamai39SP$720,000.00 $480k22001.50
Toshiya Okada25RP$310,000.00 $90k90205.14
Daisuke Sobue30RP$290,000.00 $10k352212.57
Koji Fukutani26RP$280,000.00 $70k251105.74
Shunta Wakamatsu22SP$250,000.00 $50k71405.55
Shinnosuke Ogasawara20SP$210,000.00 $30k225804.84
Junki Ito26RP$170,000.00 $95k390203.88
Hiroshi Suzuki20CP$150,000.00 #1 Pro Draft Pick
Yuya Yanagi23SP$145,000.00 $5k111404.47
Ryuya Ogawa26RP$120,000.00 $10k180002.19
Ryosuke Oguma27SP$120,000.00 $20k40309.53
Shota Suzuki22SP$120,000.00 $75k155504.17
Takuya Mitsuma25RP$120,000.00 $76k352104.06
Shotaro Kasahara22SP$120,000.00 $40k181303.14
Yu Sato24RP$110,000.00 $10k132005.40
Hiroto Fuku25RP$100,000.00 $30k50007.94
Tatsuro Hamada23SP$85,000.00 $12.5k-----
Takuma Achira24SP$80,000.00 -40104.85
Taisuke Maruyama22RP$75,000.00 $3k80008.25
Sho Ishikawa18SP$70,000.00 #2 Pro Draft Pick
Tatsuya Shimizu18RP$60,000.00 #4 Pro Draft Pick
Tomohiro Hamada25RP$56,300.00 -6*0000.00
Takumi Yamamoto17SP$55,000.00 #6 Pro Draft Pick
Kento Fujishima19SP$54,000.00 -5*0106.75
Masashi Yamamoto23RP$45,000.00 ------
Yusuke Kinoshita24SP$30,000.00 -22*---6.14
Shu Yoshida21SP$30,000.00 -3*0002.45
Mikihiro Nishihama24P$30,000.00 ------
Akito Okura23P$30,000.00 #1 2017 Development Pick
Kento Mark Ishida22P$30,000.00 #2 2017 Development Pick


BatterAgeRoleWageUp/DownGamesBAHRRBISB
Yohei Oshima32OF$1,800,000.00 $300k1190.31332923
Ryosuke Hirata29OF$1,200,000.00 -660.2446294
Shota Ono30C$833,000.00FA Signing
Masahiro Araki39IF$700,000.00 $4k850.249085
Atsushi Fujii36OF$550,000.00 $150k1280.2656425
Yota Kyoda23IF$400,000.00 $280k1410.26443623
Nobumasa Fukuda29IF$360,000.00 $135k950.27118490
Naomichi Donoue29IF$300,000.00 $30k910.205180
Kyohei Kamezawa29IF$260,000.00 $80k980.2872136
Takahito Kudo36OF$210,000.00 $20k820.235003
Masato Matsui30C$200,000.00 $65k870.2212170
Shota Sugiyama26C$200,000.00 $58k390.091000
Shuhei Takahashi23IF$165,000.00 $25k410.2332100
Yusuke Matsui30OF$160,000.00 $43k560.2774180
Shingo Takeyama33C$150,000.00 $30k500.227170
Tetsuya Tani32IF$130,000.00 $17.5k530.2172110
Takuya Kinoshita26C$120,000.00 $20k510.192040
Issei Endo28IF/OF$120,000.00 -500.2252112
Iori Katsura26C$113,000.00 $30k-----
Toshiki Abe27IF$100,000.00 -210.268021
Kei Nomoto33IF/OF$98,000.00 $32k150.200000
Masataka Iryo28OF$90,000.00 $10k220.219030
Hiroki Kondo24OF$81,000.00 $15k140.207110
Shota Tomonaga26OF$70,000.00 $5k50.250020
Ryota Ishioka25IF$70,000.00 $5k20.000000
Taiki Mitsumata25IF$70,000.00 $5k80.000000
Hayato Mizowaki23IF$65,000.00 $10k120.071110
Shun Ishikawa27IF$65,000.00 -90.353110
Wataru Takamatsu18IF$60,000.00 #3 Pro Draft Pick
Takuma Kato25C$55,000.00 -10.000000
Kosuke Ito18OF$55,000.00 #5 Pro Draft Pick
Masumi Ishigaki19IF$54,000.00 -10.000000
Masaru Watanabe24OF$30,000.00 -*670.2283163

Players Released/Retired
Rondon, Guerrero and Araujo all cut loose.


PitcherAgeRoleWageUp/DownGWLSVERA
Elvis Araujo26RP--$800,000.0061006.48
Jorge Rondon29RP--$500,000.0040005.79
Raul Valdes39SP--$400,000.00236903.76
Jordan Norberto31RP--$300,000.00186402.30
Tomoya Yagi31SP--$150,000.00111404.47
Ryosuke Nomura24SP--$84,800.0060109.75
Takeshi Kaneko24RP--$60,000.00*394213.59
Junki Kishimoto21RP--$40,000.00*120003.75


BatterAgeRoleWageUp/DownGamesBAHRRBISB
Alex Guerrero31OF--$1,500,000.001300.27935861
Masahiko Morino39IF--$840,000.00220.244010
Kazuyuki Akasaka28OF--$100,000.00*500.2234120
Takeru Furumoto27OF--$46,000.00*240.146130
Ryuichiro Akada29C--$44,000.00*490.2171110
Tatsuro Iwasaki33IF--$40,000.0010.000000

Data correct as of 14th December 2017

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Future of the Chunichi Dragons : This year, next year and beyond

Now that the draft has finished and the post-season clean-out has all but happened let's have a look at the coming and goings and what the future is going to look like for the Dragons going forward. I'll be approaching this in 2 or 3 parts.

I've been crunching the numbers based mostly on age and position and have tried to see what the farm is looking like and what the team may look like in 5 years or so. As you might guess, there's still a fair bit that needs to be addressed but the old guard that featured so prominently in the 2014-15 season has been all but cleaned out with only Araki, Yamai and Iwase remaining of the veterans that took part in the 2007 Japan Series win.

There's still some ways to go with recruitment but to get the ball rolling, let's have a look at the in's and outs following the 2017 Draft and second round of senryokugai notices.


As you can see here, there's been a fairly big clean-out. For those that haven't been keeping tabs on my twitter or on the news, there's probably a few surprising names on this list. The biggest surprise in the first round of senryokgai notices was probably Ryosuke Nomura who was drafted #1 in 2014. It's rare for #1 picks to get turfed so early in their career but there hasn't been any signs of improvement from Nomura in recent years. Nomura was however not the only former #1 to go out the door as Kazuyuki Akasaka joined him on the scrap pile. Akasaka was originally drafted as a pitcher but injuries forced him to change to the outfield. He never quite converted and was hence rendered dispensable. Other names on this list are really no surprise if you consider their age and the kinds of numbers they've put up on the farm.
Yagi, Iwasaki, Nomura. Gone.

The second round of notices released after the draft contained two names that were perhaps a little surprising to see. Junki Kishimoto was only upgraded to a first team contract earlier this year after being with the team on a development contract for a few years but with 3 new pitchers coming in and limited opportunities available on the farm, it was deemed time for he and Kaneko to pack their bags. Kaneko was another 2014 pick that also hasn't really worked out the way anyone was hoping.

As for other releases, Valdes, Rondon and Araujo have all be confirmed to have not been offered new contracts for next year. Valdes can perhaps consider himself a little hard done by considering the amount of good work he put in particularly in the first half that earned him an All-Star call-up. Unfortunately, his age and reported demands for a 2-year deal saw him out the door. Rondon and Araujo however never looked like getting offered new deals. Araujo reportedly was not very well liked and Rondon had major control issues.

That brings us to the home run king, Alex Guerrero. The Dragons want to keep him and have been chasing him but Guerrero and his agent Scott Boras have been holding out for more money which the Dragons just can't seem to provide. By all accounts, Guerrero says Nagoya is his first choice, but if other teams offer more money, he's leaving. Mori is reportedly going to meet with Guerrero this off-season in the US to have a final set of negotiations but it appears as though the former Dodgers slugger will be heading off to "greener" pastures. Softbank Hawks seem like the most likely suitors in Japan with the Yomiuri Giants also mentioned, but a return to the MLB is not off the cards either. For all intents and purpose however, let's say he's gone.

The only retiree this year was Masahiko Morino who just couldn't find his bat this year. On the farm in 2016 he was averaging over .300 showing that he could offer something and did find some opportunities in the first team. This year he platooned DH with Guerrero in inter-league but that was about the entirety of his involvement as he struggled to hit either in the big leagues on on the farm. We will however keep seeing the Doala look-a-like on the farm however as he's been officially unveiled as the second team hitting coach.

All in all, we have 14 players out on their bums. Now let's have a look at who has come in so far and who we might be looking at.

Apart from the draft, the rest is speculative based on rumours and news that I've seen. 

4 right-handed pitchers were drafted this year to fill out the farm and the first team bullpen. Hiroshi Suzuki was of course the top pick who should slot right in, while the rest are very much ones for the future. 

For stop-gaps, the Dragons are rumoured to be after Yuya Kubo (Baystars), Hisashi Takeda (Fighters) and Eishi Soyohi (Carp) who have all recently been senryokugai's themselves. The thought I guess would be to add some experience to the bullpen or provide another option at third in Soyogi's case. I personally don't think we need them and they are no more than rumours so I haven't included them in my total incoming this time around. The big thing however is the chase for a catcher. Senior management have been very under-awed by the current group of catchers. Sugiyama completely fell out of favour this year despite being the team's OBP leader in 2016 while Katsura was consumed by injury and Kinoshita generally just got a run as the third catcher. I highlighted these 3 last year as an enviable trio, but Mori and his crew don't seem to be high on any of them. Masato Matsui and Shingo Takeyama saw a lot time behind the plate this year, but neither really scream long term option nor are they particularly outstanding themselves. 

Two names that have come up are Kyle Higashioka, a 4th generation Japanese-American in the Yankees organisation and Shota Ono, the Fighters first team catcher who looks to be electing for free agency this year. 
Ono or Higashioka on their way to Nagoya?
Higashioka would be the first foreign catcher the Dragons have had since David Nilsson in 2000. Yui Tomori seems to think that Higashioka has the kind of power to get 20 homers in the NPB and thinks that he'll be better behind the plate than current options. The major issue with hiring Higashioka will be the language barrier. According to reports, Higashioka has a rudimentary handle on Japanese and Spanish which he has picked up to help Masahiro Tanaka at the Yankees as well as the club's many Latin players however having a rudimentary knowledge of the language and being able to use it every day with pitchers, young pitchers at that, is going to be a challenge. The other issue is if Higashioka even wants to leave as he seems to be third in line to the Yankees mask behind Garry Sanchez and Austin Romine.

Shota Ono to me is the better option if Mori is fixated on bringing in a catcher. He will cost money but he won't cost a foreign player spot and he's a local boy having grown up in Ogaki in Gifu Prefecture. He's 30 so ideally has a few good years left in him but hasn't put up superb batting numbers in any sense. He has successfully guided the Fighters to a Japan Series win and has experience guiding younger pitchers like Kohei Arihara, Hirotoshi Takanashi, Shohei Otani and Takayuki Kato so he could be a good option to help the younger pitching staff out.

The only other possibilities that have been suggested are that Mori is looking for an MLB level pitcher to be the team's ace next year along with another starter. Cuba and the Dominican Republic are the most likely places where they'll find these guys given the team's and Mori's connections. However with Akinori Otsuka and Yui Tomori working over in the US, you never know what they might turn up.
It seems however that there aren't any plans to replace Alex Guerrero at this stage.

If we go after all the above players suggested, we would likely only have one roster spot for wiggle room which would likely be given to a developmental player either at the beginning or half-way through the season.

Let's now look at a projected roster for 2018 that I've put together that ignores possible new acquisitions and focuses on what we have now.  Viciedo hasn't resigned yet, but is likely to stay as with Jordan Norberto.


This give you a general look at what we'll probably look like next season. There will be injuries and fluctuations in form of course. I see only Suzuki as the draft member that can make the most immediate impact. Relying on Fujii for another year in left-field is going to be dangerous, but Yusuke Matsui showed at the end of this season that he can be a useful addition to the line-up. Kyohei Kamezawa put up very impressive numbers this year and will likely have the lions share of games and second. Araki will likely be appearing less and less while Shuhei Takahashi is a chance to play second as well if his bat is hot. Let's now have a look at what would likely be the back-ups for each position to get an idea of what depth we have.

I've omitted pitchers for this one as we have a bit of depth there, but if you look at the back-up option for each position, things start getting very thin and old. The only player here that is under 28 is Shuhei. It's a little worrying when there's no one younger realistically knocking on the door for these positions. Sugiyama, Kinoshita, Katsura and even Kato are still a look in for the mask which would add some needed youth to that position but there's not a whole lot here to be excited about. Hiroki Kondo is a name that could be thrown in here, but out of he and Endo battling at centre-field at the end of the season it was Endo that eventually got the nod. I'm quite concerned with our outfield depth and perhaps at the 2018 draft we might see some focus on college age outfielders to bolster that area. Kosuke Ito and Hiroki Kondo are really the only two names under 25 that are in the team. Masaru Watanabe is one other who might be offered a spot on the roster following his stint as a development player.

In terms of the immediate future, I don't think there's anything here to get one excited for 2018. The homerun production of Guerrero will largely be propped up by Fukuda and Viciedo next year as well as, hopefully, Ryosuke Hirata. I feel that there is enough about the pitching to see us have a decent year, plus if we are able to add the arms we're after we'll be in a good position but I still think a playoff spot is a little far away unless we see a massive up-tick in production from the likes of Hirata. 

Looking Forward

This team as it is, is going to be riddled with holes without significant reinforcement over the next few drafts. Outfield really needs to be addressed as does the corner infield positions. Catcher is also another area that the Dragons senior staff are really looking to strengthen and if you look at the kind of staff we have at the moment, unless someone clicks pretty soon, we're going to have issues down the track. 

To get a better idea of where the farm and where the team is at I've put together a couple of charts.

This is of the 2017 roster as of around when Tanimoto joined the team. You can see there there's a lot of players in that 26-30 range that should be reaching the peaks of their powers. Most of our outfielders are in that age group, but only Hirata is a relatively permanent first-team player. Others like Iryo and Tomonaga haven't really ever looked like usurping anyone. The biggest problem I can see is that we lack younger outfielders. High school talent is always a bit tricky but in the last 3-4 years or so, the Dragons really haven't looked at high schoolers. Ogasawara, Ishigaki and Fujishima were the only U-21 players on the roster in 2017 which is a bit disappointing. 

The image of the retirement village is slowly seeping away as there were only 6 over-36 y/o players on the roster with only half seeing regular game time (Iwase, Araki and Fujii). What we can however see here is a team that is going to be in major trouble in the mid to long-term. 

After the 2017 draft, senryokugai notices and retirements however we have a slightly healthier looking team age-wise. 

The team is getting a bit younger here with Morino retiring and players like Yagi given the flick. We can also see a decrease in the 26-30 range with a marked upswing in the 18-21 range with all 6 draftees being in that age range. The only major issue that really remains here is that we don't see a lot of outfielders or catchers under the age of 26. In the next 2 or 3 drafts the Dragons are going to have to go after college level outfielders as there's no one to really take over. The catcher position will also need to be reinforced if players like Takuma Kato, Shota Sugiyama and Iori Katsura can't step up to the plate. 

Now that we have a bit of an idea of where the Dragons are and where they're going, I'd like to propose a bit of an imagining of what the team might look like as challengers in 2023 with a much younger line-up.

It's always hard to predict what a team is going to look like in 5 years, but this is what I'm proposing. I've done a little bit of projecting, a little bit of theorizing and have come up with the kind of team that the Dragons should at least aim for using information based on up and coming players at university and high school now that will be useful down the track should we end up drafting them. 


For the time being, ignore the relievers. These could quite easily change over time and players like Sato and Maruyama may not get anywhere near being that reliable, but I'm going to say that they will be. I've also taken a lot of creative license with future draftees that may or may not be realistic. These are indicated in bold purple. 

Outfield
First of all, the outfield. Kosuke Ito is a 2017 draftee and looks to be the only real heir apparent for the spot in centre-field after Oshima trends downward. He's still got a long way to go to fulfill that promise, but he seems like the type that could make it. I've gone with Masami Ishigaki in left-field because there's been a lot of talk about him being played in outfield. He wants to play short, and their might be a future for him in the infield, but I feel that given his speed and mobility, he'd be well suited to an outfield role. 
There is currently no one with the team that could fill Ryosuke Hirata's boots long-term. Yusuke Matsui and Atsushi Fujii are the wrong side of 30 and Masataka Iryo won't be much younger than Hirata when 2023 comes around. I've gone with current Tokai Uni Sagami High School slugger, Shota Morita. He'll be starting his 3rd and final year of high school next year and has slugged 37 homers in his high school career thus far. He'll be eligible in the 2018 draft should he choose to make himself available. Chunichi scouts are already looking at him and Morita's drafting would continue a long history of Sagami HS players coming to Nagoya. 

Infield
I'm banking on Shuhei Takahashi to come good under Morino's tutelage and secure his spot at third base. I'm also suggesting that Wataru Takamatsu's development will go well and his athleticism at short-stop will eventually see Yota Kyoda moved to second base. At first-base I've gone with another possible future draft pick Kota Marumo who is currently with Senshu University. Marumo is in his first year so he won't be available to be drafted until 2020. Still a long way to go for him, but he's shown power at high school and is a big lad standing at 184cm tall and 95kg. He has good bat speed which has been clocked at 149km/h (92.5mp/h) which could be promising going forward. There's every chance this hole at first get filled by a foreign slugger, but for the sake of argument, I'm going with an all Japanese roster. 

Catcher
This was an interesting one to consider. I've decided here that none of Chunichi's catchers are going to work out. There is however an interesting local option that could be the man to turn to when he's available and that's Chubu Gakuin University's Kazuma Kubo. He has a reputation for a power bat and a strong arm and has the added bonus of going to a university in the Chunichi catchment. In high school at the 2015 Wakayama prefectural tournament Kubo had a .417 average over 3 games which included a 2-run homer as well as 6 RBIs. He seems to have a lot about him and would be available at the 2019 draft. 

Pitching

There is always room for strengthening, but the starting rotation I have picked is essentially what we already have plus one. Shinnosuke Ogasawara and Yuya Yanagi have the potential to be a domineering top 2 while I expect Sho Ishikawa to develop to be the number 3. Rounding out the rotation is Shotaro Kasahara, Shota Suzuki and another guy I'm really high on, Ryoji Kuribayashi.

 As you can probably already tell, Kurabayashi has already played for the university level Japanese national team and he's also playing at Meijo University which is, among others, outfield Hiroki Kondo's alma mater. Kuribayashi is also an Aichi native which only increases his value. He's a right hander that throws 153km/h (95 m/ph) and had a K/9 ratio of 10.02 this Fall. He also became the first Aichi League pitcher since 2004 to mark a no-hitter taking 9Ks and giving up 5 walks against Chukyo University. While his walk-rate is a bit high, Kuribayashi will surely be a top 2 pick at the 2018 draft. Once again, Chunichi scouts are already well on top him with head scout Muneo Tanaka commenting that he was a little disappointed that Kuribayashi couldn't beat batter with his fast-ball when gunned down the middle of the zone but was otherwise impressed by his breaking balls and velocity.

Relief is something I haven't thought a lot about, but my thoughts are that Tatsuya Shimizu will be there abouts and I've otherwise smattered through a few talents that won't be too old by the time 2023 comes about to fill-out the bench a bit. I expect Hiroshi Suzuki to be the full-time closer by then. 

Conclusion
This was a fun little exercise for me, but what should be taken away is that there is a lot that needs to be filled in before this team looks like a force to be reckoned with. Foreign players will likely fill holes as Japanese players develop to fill them but I think you can understand that from the future selections I've made there's a few areas that need to be addressed: outfield, first base and catcher. There is really no one here coming up that is filling anyone with confidence. I also believe there's room for at least one more starter in Ryuji Kuribayashi but as long as the starters stay relatively consistent, the rotation should be pretty imposing for years to come. 

For some concluding remarks, in the short-term, we're still not looking very good. I forsee another season of missing out on the play-offs while we wait for younger talent to come good and the older guys to burn out. The next two years are going to be a big test for those guys who are entering the 26-30 age mark. If they can't start putting some pressure on the incumbents with any consistency, they will find themselves out of a job very quickly to younger players coming through the system.

There are still major question marks over whether or not this team has the structure and the staff to develop the kind of talent that is required for the modern game, but we can only hope. Let's see what the future brings. Doraho-!


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Staff Update: Meet the new crew for 2018

There has already been a lot of murmurs about which coaching staff are leaving and who are staying on, but it appears that the dust has settled and next years coaching staff has been decided upon. The names that might pique your interest would be messers Morino, Araki and Iwase who will all have roles in the back room in 2018. Araki and Iwase will be coaching on a part-time basis as they will still be playing, but Morino has been officially instated as the 2-gun batting coach.

1-Gun open for Asakura?
Let's take a look at what the staff looks like now.

1-Gun
Shigekazu Mori (62) - Manager
Masahiro Doi (73) - Batting Coach
Toshio Haru (47) - Batting Coach
Kenta Asakura (36) - Pitching Coach
Shinichi Kondo (49) - Pitching Coach
Fujio Tamura (58) - Battery Coach
Hiroshi Moriwaki (57) - Infield and base-running coach
Hiroshi Narahara (49) - Infield and base-running coach
Kiyoyuki Nagashima (55) - Outfield and base-running coach
Kousei Katsuzaki (52) - Conditioning Coach
Takemi Miyamae (48) - Conditioning Coach

Kojiro Miyako in his first stint.
2-Gun
Michihiro Ogasawara (44) - Manager
Akio Ishii (62) - Batting Coach
Masahiko Morino (39) - Batting Coach
Takashi Ogasawara (40) - Pitching Coach
Kojiro Miyako (58) - Pitching Coach
Shinji Iwata (30) - Pitching Coach
Hitoki Iwase (42) - Pitching Coach (PT)
Masatoshi Ogawa (38) - Battery Coach
Kazuo Hayakawa (57) - Outfield Coach
Hiroyuki Watanabe (47) - Infield and base-running coach
Masahiro Araki (40) - Infield and base-running coach (PT)
Hidenori (41) - Outfield and base-running coach
Kosuke Matsuoka (74) - Development Coach
Hiroshi Tsukamoto (42) - Conditioning Coach


To be honest, I'm guessing where a few of these guys will fit in. Kenta Asakura might well end up with the top team, but it's possible that Iwase will be the third pitching coach with the top team if he's going to be spending most of his time there, same goes for Araki where we may see someone like Narahara drop to 2-gun. Unfortunately we won't clearly know exactly for a little while. I'm saying at the moment that Asakura gets the nod for the first team pitching coach role while Ishii will take charge of the younger pitchers.

Outgoing coaches include Yui Tomori [1-gun pitching] (now with international scouting), Hideji Kato [2-gun batting], Hideki Takayanagi [2-gun batting], Ikki Shimamura [2-gun batting] (now with Baystars) and Ikuo Takayama [2-gun pitching].

A lot of the batting coaches in 2-gun have been completely cleaned out. A big reason for this was the absolutely abysmal performances of batters on the farm this year with many barely hitting .250 AVG. Akio Ishii comes back into the fold after previously being a coach with the team in Morimichi Takagi and Senichi Hoshino's backroom in the 1990's. He was the chief scout for the Kanto region for the Dragons before moving into his current role.

Yujiro Miyako was drafted first round by the Dragons in 1976 and he pitched with the team for 12 years. He has previously had a coaching position in 2003 under Hisashi Yamada/Kosuke Sasaki but was employed as a scorer following that year and later became the team's chief scorer in 2007. This seems nothing more than a low cost, in-house option as I'm not sure what the team hopes to achieve by bringing in someone so removed from coaching and playing experience.

Kawakami does expert analysis for
local broadcasters. 
The other biggest surprise is the employment of Shinji Iwata who retired as a Dragon last year. Known for his no-spin fork-ball as a player, Iwata represents a slightly puzzling choice. He did not have a glittering career as a player and most of the team would have played with him in the last couple of years. I have read that higher profile names are avoiding coaching positions with the Dragons in fear of being brought into in house squabbles which is why we haven't seen the likes of Kenshin Kawakami, Kazuyoshi Tatsunami, Kazuhiro Wada or others of that ilk that could provide very valuable experience to younger players coming through. The story also goes that many that would want to work with the team are declining until a new owner comes in because of fears of a clean-out under new management despite what they may have left behind. Bungo Shirai is known for being a bit stuck in his ways and at age 88 there probably isn't that much longer to wait and their are already murmurs at Chunichi Shimbun as to who will take over from Shirai when he eventually steps down.

There is very little to be really excited about here. Pitching coaches in 2-gun however are going to have a lot of responsibility with the high school arms coming in. Sho Ishikawa and Takumi Yamamoto are going to need some very clever guidance and I'm very skeptical that Iwata is the one that is going to provide. Someone like Kawakami would be ideal. If you hear him speak about pitching mechanics you'd understand how valuable his teaching could be to the young guns with the Dragons but this is a dream unlikely to come true at least not for a little while.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

NPB Draft 2017: Get to know your new Dragons


The 2017 NPB Draft kicked off with a bevy of talent on the board to be snapped up by awaiting pro-teams. Topping the bill was Waseda Jikyo High School's record breaking slugger, Kotaro Kiyomiya. While Chunichi was hot in pursuit of Kiyomiya, in the last two weeks leading up to the draft, interest appeared to cool off and the Chunichi heads decided upon a more attainable option. Having settled on 5 names for their first pick, the Dragons announced they would be selecting Koshien hero, Koryo High School's Shosei Nakamura. The hard-hitting catcher was looked at as the long-term successor to the catcher's role in Nagoya and would help put minds at ease about who would put on the mask in future. Nakamura's hometown team, the Hiroshima Carp also announced their intention to go after the youngster as their first pick. 

On draft day, 7 clubs went in for Kiyomiya where he was eventually won by the Nippon Ham Fighters and it was only the Dragons and the Carp after Nakamura in the end. Mori's hand proved not to be magic as he failed to pull the right card but the Dragons fall-back option, Yamaha's RHP, Hiroshi Suzuki, ended up being an uncontested pick.

The Dragons ended up drafting 6 in the professional draft including 5 high schoolers, staying in line with the strategy of picking up younger players this year. 4 pitchers and 2 outfielders were the spoils from what looks like a fairly good draft class on first glance. To finish things off, the Dragons picked up two more pitchers in the development draft, one college and one independent league. 

Time is likely to be a big factor on how this class will be judged as they are all so young. Even Suzuki is only 21. If nothing else however, there is a lot here to be excited about. Another pitcher heavy draft, but given that their are weaknesses in the bullpen and among the starters, it's not a surprise the powers that be have made this a priority going forward. High school arms will be coming ripe around the time we see the likes of Yoshimi and Ono really take a dive so the timing isn't awful.

Let us now look at our newest acquisitions and learn a bit more about them and why they were selected. 

1. Hiroshi Suzuki  (Yamaha Motors)
Right-handed pitcher
Name: 鈴木 博志
Birthdate: 22nd March 1997
Birthplace: Kakegawa, Shizuoka
Height: 181cm (5'9")
Weight: 95kg (209lb)
High School: Iwata Higashi High (Shizuoka)
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Max Velocity: 157km/h (97 mp/h)
Pitches: Four-seam fastball, forkball, slider, cutter, change-up, curve

Hiroshi Suzuki was mentioned as the front runner for the Dragons before all sorts of claims were made about Kiyomiya and Nakamura. The right-hander has shown impressive velocity in the industrial leagues with Yamaha Motors whom he joined directly after graduating from Iwata Higashi High School. 
In high school Suzuki topped out at around 145 km/h and attracted scouts with his throwing motion. A number of injuries hampered his development as a teenager but he was still expected to send in his intention to turn pro at the 2014 draft alongside teammate and eventual Softbank Hawks recruit, Seiya Saito. Suzuki however decided to skip the draft and directly entered the industrial league with Yamaha. 

After entering Yamaha, Suzuki hit the weights and put on 10 kilograms to his 181cm frame and in his second year was able to boost his maximum velocity to 152k/h in a practice game. Through his Yamaha career, Suzuki was used both in a starting role and a relief role and in Summer 2017 in the Inner-City Baseball Tournament, Suzuki clocked 156km/h on the gun in Game 2 against Honda. In the All-Japan Championships as a starter, Suzuki also marked a 1-hit complete game shut-out against Eiwa. 

Suzuki was later selected for the industrial league based Japanese national team in the BFA Asia Championships where he threw a total 13.1 innings with 15 strikeouts and a 0.68 ERA. 

Suzuki's velocity sits at 147km/h and tops out at 157km/h. He also possesses a lethal forkball that has been clocked at 140km/h. This year he was apparently only pitching at 70 to 80% power so there is a very big possibility that he could eventually hit 160 km/h given some more training. According to scout reports, Suzuki's pitching form throws batters off. He is also said to throw "heavy pitches" which can be interpreted as being just hard to hit. This is likely due to the amount of spin he gets on his fastball.


Due to injuries in the past there's no doubt that Suzuki needs to be used as a reliever or as a closer. The only major concern surrounding him as there is with anyone that throws this hard is his control.

In the wake of his selection, Suzuki set himself the lofty goal of 40 saves in his first season and is hoping to hit the 160km/h mark. He is said to be very happy to be able to play for a club that has so many fans in his home town. Suzuki also said that he wants to give the Nagoya Dome a reason to be called a "Pitcher Heaven" again. 

He sounds a lot like Koji Fukutani in a lot of ways. A hard throwing reliever with control issues, but unlike Fukutani I hope Suzuki has the right mentality to be thrown into those high pressure situations. Should he pan out, we have another set-up man and a future closer that could very well slot straight into the bullpen. Therre are however some hopes that if he can instill some strength in his frame he may be a starter. I'd say that he will be on the roster for opening day in 2018 should he be healthy.

My hope for Suzuki is to see him become our full-time closer with Shinji Tajima moving back into the set-upper role. This of course will depend on what way managements wants to go with him as the appeal of a ready to go right hander to throw in the rotation might see him prepped for longer dashes of innings.

2. Sho Ishikawa (Seirantaito High School)
Right-handed pitcher
Name: 石川 翔
Birthdate: 14th December 1999
Birthplace: Itabashi Ward, Tokyo
Height: 179cm (5'8")
Weight: 82kg (180lb)
Bats: Left
Throws: Right
Max Velocity: 151km/h (93 mp/h)
Pitches: Four-seam fastball,  slider, cutter, change-up, curve

Sho Ishikawa was regarded by many as the best high school pitcher at the draft. He was originally a back-up plan for Chunichi should their first-pick not go as planned. Somehow, the Dragons pulled of a small coup by taking the talented righty in the second round of the draft after 3 teams skipped over him in the second round before he was taken. Personally, I'm over the moon that he'll be wearing Dragons colours next year.

Born in Tokyo to a Japanese father and Filipino mother, Ishikawa became a bench member of the Serantaito High School baseball club in his second year. Employed as either a centre-fielder or as a pitcher, Ishikawa helped lead his school to runner-up honours in the Spring Tochigi Prefectural tournament. At the following Kanto Tournament he was able to hit a personal best 146km/h in the second game against Maebashi Ikuei High School. In the Summer Prefectural Tournament, Ishikawa helped his team once again to the semi-final where he pitched an 11K shutout and went 4-3 with 3RBIs against Utsunomiya High School. In the off season with more training Ishikawa was able to push his velocity up to 148km/h. In the following Summer tournament, Seirantaito would once again push into the finals but Ishikawa would give up 4 earned runs in the final. Over 4 games in the tournament, he pitched a total of 21.1 innings for 29Ks. He was also able to show his peak velocity of 151km/h in the quarter finals.


Scout reports are glowing of Sho's potential. He is said to possess a pitch low and outside that simply cannot be hit. He has a dangerous cutter and a vertically spinning slider that takes a fair share of strikeouts. He's also said to have a personality that hates to lose making him a valuable asset for a professional club. He has had  a fair share of injuries to his ankles, shoulder, you name it, but if he can work on building his core strength he'll be a front of the rotation starter in 3-4 years.

Ishikawa proclaimed in the wake of his selection that he wants to become Japanese baseball's best pitcher. He also expressed a fondness for former Giants pitcher Suguru Egawa whom he mentioned he could watch hours of footage of and not get bored. In other comments he also mentioned that he would not lose out to Kotaro Kiyomiya.

A fantastic acquisition that has astuteness written all over it. Ishikawa is certainly one for the future that contains a lot of potential. It may be a few years before we see him regularly run out for the first team but we'll likely see him get the odd start or bullpen appearance in 2018.

3. Wataru Takamatsu (Takikawa Daini High School)
Short-stop/Outfielder
Name: 高松 渡
Birthdate: 2nd July 1999
Birthplace: Kakogawa, Hyogo
Height: 176cm (5'7")
Weight: 63kg (138lb)
Bats: Left
Throws: Right
Base-running: 50m in 5.9 seconds, home to first in 3.8 seconds

Known as the "Takikawa Ichiro," Takamatsu has an eye for a hit and has legs that he knows how to use. Takamatsu has been clocked at running home to first in 3.5 seconds according to his coach and head Dragons scout Muneo Tanaka has claimed that there has been no one that fast in pro-ball in recent years.

Most likely the fastest player in the 2017 draft class, the Dragons have nabbed themselves an interesting piece.

Takamatsu started as a bench player in fall of his first year wearing the number 7. The following summer during qualifiers, he played 3 our of 4 games hitting 4 in 9 plate appearances where he played mostly short-stop and right field.

In his third and final year in the Hyogo Summer Tournament, he batted at 3 fielding at short-stop, leading his team to the best four where he hit .333 with one stolen base.

It is said that Takamatsu could be a first team pinch-runner in his first year. Along with his speed he also has a strong arm that could be deployed in the outfield. Short-term, he will be a defensive specialist and pinch-runner, not unlike the role that Takahito Kudo currently plays, but as his batting develops he could definitely be in the running (pardon the pun) for stolen base champion in the future. He's the type of player we would see in the 1/2 slot in the batting line-up once his hitting tools develop.

On his selection Takamatsu said "I was relieved to be picked. I had goosebumps thinking that I needed to do my best going into the professional world. I'm very happy to be rated so highly by the Dragons." He also expressed that he would like to become a fast contact batter like Yota Kyoda preferably at short-stop.

I think we definitely will see the speedster a fair bit in 2018. I can see him mostly used in the outfield as defensive strengthening at short can usually be handled by Donoue. Like most batting prospects, expect to see Takamatsu starting to see more regular first team time when he hits his early 20s should he develop the way the Dragons hope.

4. Tatsuya Shimizu (Hanasakitokuharu High School)
Right-handed pitcher
Name: 清水 達也
Birthdate: 3rd November 1999
Birthplace: Fukaya, Saitama
Height: 182cm (5'9")
Weight: 83kg (180lb)
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Max Velocity: 150km/h (93 mp/h)
Pitches: Four-seam fastball,  slider, forkball, curve

Another right-hander with high velocity potential, Tatsuya Shimizu helped his school to a win in the Koshien finals this year mostly as a reliever. He was the only pitcher at Koshien this year to clock 150km/h on the gun and showed good control of his fastball despite his change-ups not always working in the desired fashion. An interesting pick but certainly one that spells with it an interesting possible potential.

Shimizu is another who immediately found space on the bench in Summer of his first year. In his second year he didn't find many opportunities to pitch but by was able to make his Summer Koshien debut in his second year where he threw 1.1 inning for one strikeout when his team was 5 runs behind. In summer of his 3rd year he threw 18 innings to help his team win the Saitama prefectural tournament once more and advance to Koshien. He appeared in all 6 games pitching 21 innings to help close out games and in game 3 of the tournament showed his peak 150km/h velocity. After leading his team to victory he was selected for representation with the U-18 national team and played in 5 out of 9 games taking 9 strikeouts in 5 innings.


In post draft comments, Shimzu expressed hopes of being able to play in the first team for over 10 years as his main goal and said he was happy pitching in whatever role that the Dragons had for him. He also mentioned that he hopes to become like DeNA Baystars closer, Yasuaki Yamasaki.

As previously mentioned, Shimizu has issues with getting his off-speed and breaking pitches working properly but still has plenty of very attractive attributes. As it looks, he may work out to be another stopper in the bullpen. Increased velocity through his development could also see another flame throwing arm that can bolster what is already looking like a dangerous future pitching line-up.

5. Kosuke Ito (Chukyo University High School)
Outfielder
Name: 伊藤 康祐
Birthdate: 2rd February 2000
Birthplace: Gamagori, Aichi
Height: 173cm (5'6")
Weight: 76kg (167lb)
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Base-running: 50m in 5.8 seconds

The second outfielder of the draft class, Ito comes in at number 5 as a local pick much like Kento Fujishima last year. He's a centre-fielder and lead-off man much like Yohei Oshima but is also known to play second base when asked. Unlike Takamatsu, Ito has a more developed hitting tool and has had Koshien experience this summer where in his first and only game he went 6-3 with a homerun and 2RBIs.
Ito missed out on debuting at Koshien in his first year after he was left out of the final 18 players but in Autumn he found his change playing at first base and in his first appearance in the Aichi Prefectural tournament, Ito hit two RBIs. In his second year he started in left field but after being appointed captain, was placed at second-base and at the top of the order. In his final year he found his position at centre-field and hit .407 through summer that year helping his team to Aichi prefectural victory and a place in the summer Koshien.

After showing off his wares at Koshien, he was called up to the U-18 Japanese team alongside Kotaro Kiyomiya and new team-mate Tatsuya Shimizu where he played at centre in all 9 games.

Ito has speed and a good hitting tool which as mentioned before, is a little reminiscent of Yohei Oshima. Ito might well be the heir apparent to Oshima, another Aichi native if all things go well down the track.

This seems like a good backyard pick-up which will get the locals excited. We'll just have to wait and see what he can do. At least now we'll have a couple more players on the farm that can play center-field.

6. Takumi Yamamoto (Nishinomiya Municipal High School)
Right-handed pitcher
Name: 山本 拓実
Birthdate: 31st January 2000
Birthplace: Takarazuka, Hyogo
Height: 167cm (5'4")
Weight: 70kg (154lb)
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Max Velocity: 148km/h (91 mp/h)
Pitches: Four-seam fastball,  slider, cutter, curve, change

The diminutive Takumi Yamamoto ends the full roster draftees and he's certainly an interesting looking player. Despite being quite short in height, this hasn't stopped him from clocking up close to 150km/h on the gun. He has a variety of off-speed pitches.

Yamamoto first made a name for himself in Spring of his 3rd years in the Hyogo prefectural tournament's quarter finals where he held Spring Senbatsu participants Hotoku Gakuen to two run in a complete game. He also showed his mettle against perennial giants Osaka Toin High School where pitched very well in a practice game. In the first game in the summer tournament, Yamamoto clocked his personal best of 148 km/h and in the 4th game of the same tournament he took 15Ks in a complete game performance.

In terms of mechanics, Yamamoto doesn't have much of a wind-up but has a very soft throw. He throws his off-speed stuff at a slightly changed arm position. It's a pitching form that uses his entire body and he he said to get the same kind of spin on his four-seam as a certain Daisuke Matsuzaka. Yamamoto also appears to have very good control.

Post draft, a very happy Yamamoto proclaimed that he wanted to become Japanese champion, throw 160 km/h and become a role model for all smaller players.

Yamamoto becomes the first player from his school to be drafted since 1975.

When you get this far down the draft list it gets hard to say who's going to be good. I'm generally an optimist though and I think there's certainly something about this kid. He seems very mature for his age and should be a bit of a battler. He won't come in with any kind of primadonna attitude given his lower draft rank so he might surprise. I think we'll see him groomed as a starter given his stuff. Look forward to see what he can do on the farm next year.

Development Draft
1. Akito Okura (Tokushima Indigo Socks)
Right-handed Pitcher
Name: 大藏 彰人
Birthdate: 15th May 1994
Birthplace: Toyokawa, Aichi
Height: 191cm (6'2")
Weight: 88kg (194lb)
High School: Ogaki West (Gifu)
University: Aichi Gakuin University (Aichi)
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Max Velocity: 146km/h (90.7 mp/h)
Pitches: Four-seam fastball,  slider, curve, two-seam

Some more local flavour to the draft as another Aichi native, Akito Okura was brought on board as first development draft pick. The Dragons often dip into the independent leagues and Okura looks like an interesting albeit not jaw-dropping choice. His ability with a higher releases point than most pitchers Chunchi has is an interesting selling point but his velocity is nothing to be staggered about.

At university, Okura was no lout as he topped the ERA standings in Spring of his second year and was selected in the Aichi University League Best 9. In his third year he came second in ERA but managed to capture an MVP award for his troubles posting a 2-2 record with 49.1 IP 29SO and 9ER and 1.64ERA. His MVP season was followed by a case of the ips as he lost all semblance of form in the fall tournament. He however bounced back in the fall of his final year sharing time between starting and relief having two starts with over 10K.

Following university, Okura entered the independent leagues with the Tokushima Indigo Sox where he played in 10 games ending with a 3-3 record with 48SO and a 3.00 ERA.

Hard to say what will happen with Okura, but he looks interested in any case. Could be a relief option should he get that far.

2. Kento Mark Ishida (Ryukoku University)
Right-handed pitcher
Name: 石田 健人 マルク
Birthdate: 18th July 1995
Birthplace: Nagoya, Aichi
Height: 184cm (6'0")
Weight: 83kg (182lb)
High School: Toho High School (Aichi)
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Max Velocity: 147km/h (91 mp/h)
Pitches: Four-seam fastball, slider, forkball

Kento or Mark Ishida is a half-Belgian pitcher who came through one of Aichi's most successful high schools, Toho High School. He is however rated higher now than when he was at school however worries remain about his control

In Autumn of his second year at high school he was given the ace number and held Toyokawa High School to a 7 inning shut out in the final of the Aichi tournament. Rated at 140km/h Ishida was earmarked by scouts at the time as someone to keep an eye on. In his third year he was knocked out after 6.2 innings in the Tokai tournament in Game 2 to end his high school career inconspicuously.

He went on to Ryukoku University, one of the Big6 in the Kansai region where he pitched mostly in relief. While he pitched out a fair share of walks, he also threw down plenty of strikes taking a S/9 average of 8.13. In his university career he played a total of 16 games going 1-3 with 44IP and a 5.11 ERA.

This is a lottery ticket pick and it's low risk. He really doesn't appear to have much about him apart from the potential to hit upward of 150km/h with a bit of training. Either way, this is a developmental contract and the kid is local so why not.