Monday, January 16, 2017

The start of January Tango: 2017 roster finalised, Spring camp thinking, and whatever else

Hello Sports Fans,

We're back for another exciting edition of whatever on earth I call this series of updates and posts.
I am currently back in Australia but still have my finger firmly on the Chunichi pulse looking for new news and views to give you all. Due to having a bit more time these days I've been able to listen to more Dragons related media on YouTube so I'm possibly more up to date than I have been in a while.

Well, it truly is off season. There's not a whole lot that has gone on as we're not playing games and there's very little training going on, but I'll fill you in on the big one.

First of all, the Dragons have signed up two Venezuelan pitchers to add depth to our options. Former Philly, Elvis Araujo, a 201cm LHP with a 4.23 ERA in the majors has been brought in following his release from the Miami Marlins organisation. He throws a four seamer in the high 140s (94mph) with a slider and a changeup. Apparently also has a sinker. Sound like he does get a fair percentage of flyballs, but hopefully the pitcher paradise that is the Nagoya dome will negate that somewhat. He pitcher 20 innings for the Phillies last year with a 5.60 ERA with 29 strikeouts. I think the Dragons will use Araujo mostly as reliever and possibly a set-up man. Mori has made mention, or maybe it was Tomori, either or, that they would like pitchers that can relieve and start, so we might see Araujo starting games at some point too if all goes well for him and all goes poorly for the rest of the pitching staff.

Here he is taking down Bryce Harper last year.


The other Venezuelan arm we've added is RHP handyman, Jorge Rondon. The journeyman has been everywhere...man. He's played at MLB level with the Cardinals, Rockies, Orioles and  the Pirates. Rondon only pitched 3.2 innings in 2 games in the Majors last year giving up 7 earned runs, but he looks to have good stuff with a 98 mph four seam, 89 mph slider and a 96mph sinker. The more interesting part however that I think the Dragons will be interested in is that he finished off 31 games in AAA last season, notching up 11 saves in the process. While I've heard every which rumour as to how he'll be used, including putting him in as a starter, I think we've found the solution to our closer problem. His ERA was an impressive 2.67 with a so-so WHIP of 1.203 with a slightly worrying FIP of 3.69 in AAA, but hey, Eddie Gaillard looked pretty ordinary in that regard too (I know that's a good 17 years ago though...). Marcos Mateo is about the only pitcher that comes to mind when it comes to current foreign closers outside of Sarfate at the Hawks, and Mateo put up some good numbers in AAA with the Padres before getting on the first team roster and then moving to Hanshin. We'll see how we go but I think he's going to be the best option we'll have to close games. Tajima is our best set-up guy, and Fukutani can't cut it mentally unfortunately.

Here's Rondon's first punchout with the Orioles in 2015.


Finally, as I have also pointed out previously, Jordan Norberto has been re-signed to have another go around in 2017 with the Dragons. As it stands the new foreign legion is Alex Guerrero, Dayan Viciedo, Raul Valdes (Cuba), Jorge Rondon, Elvis Araujo (Venezuela) and Jordan Norberto (Dominican Republic). 6 foreign players seems a bit like overkill to me given we can only ever put 4 on the first team roster at a time, but it might be just a matter of hedging bets. 

In other news, the new draftees are now bunked up in the team dormitories and have started individual training (under the watchful eye of the coaching staff). Kento Fujishima has been given a lot of time in the media due to his likable personality and the fact he's been a Chunichi fan since he was a kid (still is a kid mind you). He brought with him the most of any of the new inductees to help furnish his new room. 

In the meantime, Mori and his coaching team are working out the spring training rosters to be held in Kitatani in Okinawa this March. So far he has mentioned that all the university grads from the 2016 draft class (Yanagi, Kyoda, Kasahara and Maruyama) would be joining the first team along with Hitoki Iwase, Kazuki Yoshimi and Masahiko Morino while experienced campaigners Masahiro Araki  and 2011 MVP, Takuya Asao would be starting with the second team. This usually has little bearing on what the opening day roster looks like, at least at first. Last year Shota Sugiyama started with the second team and ended up on the first day roster and was one of our best performers in 2016. Hard to gauge these things and I think there are a few different reasons for mixing up the teams to start with.

In relation to Yanagi, his big ol' Meiji Uni and Dragons sempai, Senichi Hoshino has told him to get out there and claim the number 20 jersey currently held by Ryosuke Nomura. The coveted number has largely been dealt to staff aces in the Chunichi past with hall of famers Shigeru Sugishita and Hiroshi Gondo wearing the jersey while Hoshino himself bore the pressure the number held for a number of years along with pitching legend Tatsuo Komatsu. With the Dragons #20 there are 6 Sawamura Awards attached to it and it is certainly a highly coveted number that any future would be aces should be aiming for. 

Speaking of the legendary Hoshino, the big man was inducted to the Japanese baseball hall of fame today for his mostly managerial exploits. Hoshino won two Central League titles with the Dragons, one with the Tigers in 2003 and of course led the Rakuten Eagles to their first Pacific League pennant and Japan Series win. 

Meanwhile in Taiwan, Kazuki Yoshimi is training with Marlins hurler and former Chunichi star Wei-Yin Chen. The two guys are absolute bros and I've just felt all warm inside watching them train through news programs. The banter is there and they seem to really just like hanging out together. Yoshimi is finding the MLB level training very taxing with Chen lifting 320kg on a leg press while Yoshimi struggled with 250kg. Certainly a difference between the two but an interesting way to compare workloads and core strengths. Here's a segment I found:


And again with pitchers, Junki Ito has been told by Mori to either make this year his year or face being traded or cut from the team. Ouch. I have a feeling he'll have a decent go this year. We'll just have to wait and see.

More pitching news, but Yudai Ono appears to be the most likely to be the opening day starter making it his second year in a row and the nominated "ace" of the staff. Well, usually in Japanese ball the ace pitcher starts on opening day and I do think Ono is the most effective pitcher we have at the moment and throws the most fire. I am more of a Yoshimi fan myself, but the fact we have both of them means we've got the makings of a good starting rotation.

Lastly, some news no one really cared about; Shuhei Takahashi announced his marriage to an Aichi woman a few years his senior. They have been dating apparently since Shuhei's first or second year in Nagoya, and plan to have their wedding ceremony and reception at the end of the year.

Well, that's about all from me for today. I'll try and keep you in the know the more knowledge I get to hand. Peace.





Thursday, December 22, 2016

November & December Updates: Draftees signed, contracts updated, new foreign addition, new uniforms!

Well, it's time for my monthly (er 2-monthly?) update. I didn't really plan on it being this infrequent but that's just what has happened.

Firstly, bit of personal news, I'll be moving back to Australia in January to start a new job but that won't affect my ability to report on the Dragons. The internet is a powerful thing. Just means I won't be able to go to too many games. Time difference is only an hour, so not to worry, I'll be updating at much the same rate and time as always.

As for the Dragons in November, it has been an exciting month with the front office moving every which way to secure players to contracts and scout out new possible additions.

First of all, contracts for existing players. Lots of ups and downs this year but the biggest movers were of course Hirata and Oshima while Shinji Tajima also got a fairly nice bump on his contract.
The biggest movers going the other way however were Tatsuro Hamada, Tomohiro Hamada and Masashi Yamamoto who got kicked off the first team roster to be moved to trainee contracts. All of them are possibly a little lucky to have that much to hold on to. The Hamadas were both #2 picks in their respective draft years and their fall from grace is a damning statement on their development. To end the summary on a slight happier note however, two trainee players have been upgraded to first team roster status with pitchers Junki Kishimoto and Takuya Mitsuma getting upgraded deals for the 2017 season. The two pitchers have impressed on the farm with Mitsuma in particular turning heads as a closer and starter. A big congratulations to both.

All of our draftees have signed pre-contract deals to confirm them as Dragons for 2017. The front office did there work in reverse order with Yusuke Kinoshita being the first to be approached while Yuya Yanagi, after starring a in Meiji University's win at the Meiji Jingu tournament, was the last of the 7 players selected at the 2016 Draft in October to sign on officially. .

After the large exodus of foreign players from the team, Mori went on a scouting trip to Cuba and the Dominican Republic largely in search of a hitter that could play outfield and infield positions and a closing pitcher. While Mori didn't have much luck finding someone to close out games, he did find his hitter. Former LA Dodger, Alex Guerrero has been signed on a one year $1.2 million deal to fill in a gap at left field and third base. I expect him to be out everyday left-fielder while he fills in for Shuhei at 3rd when needed. I have heard nothing bad bad reviews on his defense, but his bat seems to pack a fair bit of pop which is honestly better than I was expecting. Very impressed with the signing and he should provide more home runs in a team that is honestly fairly barren when it comes to clearing fences. (Only Hirata, Viciedo and Fukuda hit more than 10 homers during 2016)



Otherwise, Dayan Viciedo and Raul Valdes have both signed renewals to play in Nagoya next season.

In other areas of team strengthening, plot string regarding interest in DeNA's right arm starter, Shun Yamaguchi. The former closer put up 11 wins this year for the 'Stars in their first play off run in a donkey's age and decided to take advantage of his free agency rights. The 29 year old is said to have a very good relationship with Takuya Asao and pitching coach Denny Tomori whom he worked with at Yokohama. The Giants also placed interest in Yamaguchi and  reportedly tabled a 3 year ¥600M offer. Not to be beaten however, the Dragons have reportedly slapped in a 5 year ¥1B offer to top their Eastern rivals. This would be just about the most money we've spent on a free agent since Kazuhiro Wada in 2008 (It might well be the only free agent signing we've had since Wada). The President has said he was unhappy with the arms that Chunichi had, so maybe this is a sign of intent by opening up the chequebook. However like many things ins life, this was not meant to be as Yamaguchi signed up with the Giants to join their mini-FA brigade for the 2017 season (Giants have also tied up deals for Masahiko Morifuku and Dai-Kang Yang).

Something that had slipped under the radar is the departure of Jordan Norberto. He was listed as a player given free agency by the Dragons in late November. That officially leaves us the Cuban trio of Viciedo, Valdes and Guerrero for the coming season with the hope of adding a couple new arms in the MLB winter meetings.
Update 27/12/2016: The Dragons have begun negotiations to bring Norberto back to the team. Negotiations have also started with former Marlins and Phillies relieiver, Elvis Araujo.

The story regarding our search for pitching that I've heard from a very knowledgeable user on the NPB subreddit is that Mori and our Cuban scout couldn't find anything they were impressed with in the Dominican Republic or Cuba. Denny Tomori was sent to he winter meetings with a shortlist of players to investigate but so far former Cincinnati Reds reliever Ross Ohlendorf is the only name that has come up through the Japanese media. I have heard that the Dragons want to offer him a starting role but he is not too far up the list in terms of relievers sought after. The Giants are already reportedly in talks with him.

Other big news, well, fairly big anyway is that that Dragons will return to the old blue stylings of the 2004-2011 era. The new uniforms were put on show at the media presentation of the new draftees with each of the rookies the first to put on the new shirt. It isn't exactly the same as the Ochiai era uniforms, but it does carry some similar hallmarks. The logo on the shirt stays the same as with the 2016 uniforms with a bit more blue trim on the sleeves.
Apart from the uniforms, the new squad numbers have been decided for the draftees. Yuya Yanagi was given the coveted 17 which has been previously worn by hall of famer Michio Nishizawa among others while Yota Kyoda chose the 51 not because of Ichiro, but apparently because of wanting to be "godly" like Carp outfielder Seiya Suzuki. Otherwise, Masami Ishigaki recieved the 32 while Shotaro Kasahara recieved the number 47, Kento Fujishima the 54 and Taisuke Maruyama the 28. In other changes, Takuya Mitsuma will wear the 43 next season while Junki Kishimoto wears the 59. And finally, Yusuke Kinoshita was given the 201.  If you want to have a look at what the new team is looking like, I am continually updating this roster box on Wikipedia as we get new players in.
In the Asian Winter League in Taiwan where a number of our boys are playing, the Western League took out the pennant and the title. 2013 1st draft pick, Shota Suzuki in particular seemed to impress as he pitched 5 games going 3-1 with a 2.37 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. Some of his stuff looked absolutely nasty as well. Hopefully we'll be seeing more of him in Spring Training.
Otherwise Hiroki Kondo and Hayato Mizowaki played in the majority of the games with Kondo hitting this nice dinger.
Ryota Ishioka also played well for his time with team while other young Dragons also made positive impacts.

Furthermore, this is getting long because of time I have to cover, but Hiromitsu Ochiai will leave his position as general manager of the team in January after his contract is up. Owner Shirai says there is no bad blood between Ochiai and the team but there appears to be some dissatisfaction with Ochiai in the higher echelons. The team will continue to operate without a general manager as was the way before Ochiai moved into the role. It is a shame to see such a big face of the team leave, but the last 3 years of B-Class results coupled with a lot of draft picks that haven't worked out thus far, it was possibly for the best that Ochiai moved on.

And, for absolutely no reason at all, here is Shinnosuke Ogasawara with his best kamehameha impression.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Ins, Outs and Roundabouts: Staff Appointments, Senryokugai's and the Lash

Well, now that the draft is out of the way it's time for more news.

The team is starting to shape up for next season and there have been a few developments on the playing staff and to the backroom staff.

Backroom shuffle

While there have been no announcements as to who's leaving at the end of the year, there have been some new appointments made by Mori to his new stuff. 

Masahiro Doi

Doi is a 72 year old, 15 time NPB all-star, Seibu Lions legend who has been coaching on and off for the best part of 3 decades. He was brought in as special help toward the end of the 2016 season to help with our batting ills and now he has been given the job full time. He was reportedly recommended by Ochiai to teach the Chunichi batters "the old way" of hitting. It's another Lions connection through Mori but this one kind of make sense given his involvement in the shadows before. Doi has been appointed our new head batting coach.

Doi oversaw the development of Kazhiro Kiyohara (525 career HRs) at the Lions and Takeya Nakamura (330 career HRs) as well among others.  

Hiroshi Moriwaki

This is an interesting appointment. Moriwaki was the manager of the Orix Buffaloes between 2013 and 2015. Since then he's been out of a job, but he's now been appointed the infield and base running coach for the first team. I don't really know what to make of the appointment but he lead the Buffloes to second in the Pacific League in 2014 so he can't be completely terrible. Should be another experienced head to help lead the team.

Fujio Tamura

Tamura is an interesting one as he coached the Dragons as part of Ochiai's staff between 2007 and 2011. Not surprisingly, this is a guy that Mori has worked with closely before. He has been working with the Softbank Hawks as battery coach but has now been appointed to work closely with our catchers. 

Hiroshi Narahara

Another brought back from the depths. Narahara had been working with the Lions until he was released from his contract. Mori asked him to come to the Dragons and he'll be starting his second stint with the team following his last term between 2007-2011. Seeing a pattern here?
He's going to be our infield defensive coach.

Looks like Mori's getting the band back together that was so successful under Ochiai's reign as coach. I guess familiar faces are what he's hoping will get the Dragons back to challenging again.

Foreign Legion Disbanded

Our foreign band has been sent back home for the most part with Ricardo Nanita, Drew Naylor, Anderson Hernandez, Juan Jaime and Leyson Septimo all being told to pack their bags, see you later, thanks for all the fish.
Nanita spent 2 years with the Dragons and really shone at times but at 35 with average defense and a history of injuries, he was never a great option to keep. Drew Naylor is cut after getting injured early in the season and never recovering despite showing signs of being a good pitcher here and there (he was dubbed the "Swallows Killer" due to his good performances against Yakult) while Anderson Hernandez, the longest serving of the 5, just has too much competition for his spot now. Jaime never played in the first team and was perhaps unfortunate to fall victim to a season ending injury in March while Leyson Septimo was perhaps the biggest pretender of the bunch starting one game, doing nothing and being promptly never seen again. 

Dayan Viciedo, Jordan Norberto and Raul Valdes remain as the only foreigners still wanted by the Dragons and it is probably likely all three will stay but that will depend on what Mori finds on his scouting missions. 

Senryokugai'd and you're to blame

Along with the foreign legion, a further 4 Japanese players have been told that their contract won't be renewed. Tomohiro Hamada, Seiya Nakagawa, Tatsuro Hamada and Masashi Yamamoto were all told they weren't worthy of the paper their contract was printed on. Nakagawa leaves after being drafted on a trainee contract last year while the remaining 3 will resign trainee contract in order to get back into first team thinking. Tatsuro Hamada is perhaps the biggest fall from grace having been the 2nd pick for the Dragons at the 2012 draft and lauded as part of the "Big 3" high school pitchers of the year alongside Shohei Otani and Shintaro Fujinami. Tatsu will also be undergoing shoulder surgery in the off-season with a hope to getting his career back on track next year. 

In other news however, Takuya Mitsuma is all but assured of being registered for the first team following his good performances in the farm this year and in the Phoenix League. 

FA Market: We're waaaaiting....

It is official. Hometown hero, Yohei Oshima is staying with the Dragons! After being given a multi-year deal at the third time of asking, the centre-fielder who was second in the league in hits this year has decided home is where the heart is and will be showing his handsome face at the Nagoya dome for the majority of the season once more. This is a great capture for the team as there was clearly no one else that could jump in and fill the void. Hopefully this will spur Oshima on to do even better things with the bat next year. 

Ryosuke Hirata is still undecided and while it was reported that the result of his negotiations would be made public at the same time as Oshima's, it appears that
talks have hit a snag. Another meeting was due on the 2nd of November, but it is unclear as to how well that will go just yet. The FA market is open now so we'll just have to wait and see.

Update: As of the 6th of November, Hirata has confirmed he will be staying with the Dragons after signing a multi-year deal with a significant 70 million yen (roughly $670,000 USD) pay bump. He was apparently convinced to stay after hearing Club Spokesman Nishiyama discuss how they were going to strengthen the team going forward. 

In other news, the Dragons are looking to add more firepower to the bullpen as Mori flies overseas to chase a closer in the Dominican Republic or Cuba. There have however been discussions with the owner that the pitching is "lacking" and we will be looking at options on the FA market. Baystar's starter and talisman Shun Yamaguchi has been a name floated about as well as Takayuki Kishi from the Seibu Lions. Both would command fairly good salaries, but it is said that money would be available for the right signings. I think a more realistic option would be Hawks reliever Masahiko Morifuku who hasn't been pitching as much in the first team lately and is from Toyohashi in Aichi. He'd also provide a senior head in the bullpen which is probably what Mori is after. 

Team News

The fruits of the off season so far has been a cartilage injury to Shinnosuke Ogasawara who nage-komied over 200 pitches in one day. I wonder if they have put 1 and 1 together? It appears that he young pitcher will be out until possibly opening day as he goes under the knife soon. 

Otherwise Mori has taken a group of pitchers down to Okinawa for a fall training session. 

Koji Fukutani and Katsuki Matayoshi may be converted to starting pitchers with the way they're going. They're throwing down bigger loads at the moment supposedly to gain more strength to pitch longer. We'll see what ends up happening. Matayoshi was previously a starter with the Kagawa Olive Guyners before joining the Dragons in 2013 and making his name as a reliever. 

List of pitchers participating:
Yu Sato, Katsuki Matayoshi, Shota Suzuki, Ryosuke Nomura, Koji Fukutani, Takuma Achira, Hiroto Fuku, Ryuya Ogawa, Shunta Wakamatsu, Ryosuke Oguma, Junki Ito, Takuya Mitsuma

The 2016 NPB Draft: What have we been served?

On the 22nd of October one of the most exciting days of the Japanese baseball calendar was held. That's right, the draft. The Draft is an almost romantic experience quite a bit unlike the MLB component. The Japanese draft hosts the hopes and dreams of high school, university and industrial league players a like to make their mark on professional baseball. Unlike the MLB system where one needs to go through all levels of minor league baseball before hitting the big time, teams can go into the draft and usually pick up one or two guys that will play straight away in most cases. Last year all but one of our 7 draftees saw some time in the first team and the only one that didn't played very well in the 2-gun team after coming back from injury.

I think there is a sense of romance about the NPB draft. A fresh behind the ears 18 year old high school kid that just played a big role in putting his high school team in the national spotlight at the Koshien can then be selected to show what he can do playing full time. And if he's good enough, he might well just slot right in.

Anyway, enough of my sentimental drivel, lets get to know the players that Manager Mori, GM Ochiai, Head Scout Tanaka and the other senior heads put together.

The 2016 Draft

As with every year, the first round is the spectacle. Often only the first round will be broadcast on radio and TV with the diehards, like me, struggling to find a feed for the rest of the picks. Last year our first pick off the rank was Jumpei Takahashi but that pick was also shared by the Fighters and Hawks and it was the Hawks that claimed him. We went to battle with Fighters in the second chance saloon for Shinnosuke Ogasawara and it was Motonobu Tanishige who pulled out the winning ticket.

This year, there had been much confusion as to who we would pick. Soka University's Seigi Tanaka was an early favourite but that was replaced my ever persistent rumours about Meiji University's Yuya Yanagi. On the day before the draft Sakushin High School's Tatsuya Imai was the front runner and out of 6 of the major newspapers on the day of the draft, 5 had Chunichi selecting Imai in the draft.


Ah, but things never go that smoothly. Mori, upon hearing that the Lions were going after Imai (through the grapevine I'm sure), decided to lean toward what he thought would be an uncontested pick: Yuya Yanagi. He was however proven wrong as the Yokohama Baystars selected the Meiji Uni starter for their first pick as well. Given the 5 team fight for Seigi Tanaka, the Baystars and Dragons were given the instructions to dance first and it was our man Mori with his best Yakuza impression that secured our first pick, Yuya Yanagi.

Not a far removal from Meiji colours, Yanagi poses with Doara doll.
1. Yuya Yanagi, Meiji University, Starting Pitcher


The man that has gathered so much attention in the media from the Dragons press as the guy we were going after is the guy we ended up getting. Very highly rated, Yanagi captained the Meiji University team to victory in this Fall's Big6 Tokyo League where he went 5-0 in decisions with a 1.64 ERA. Overall in his university career he sits with a 22-8 record and a 1.87 ERA. Very nice reading. 

Meji University and the Dragons have a very strong connection when it comes to the pitching department. Both Senichi Hoshino and Kenshin Kawakami, Sawamura Award winners with the Dragons are former Meiji alumni. Not much to say about either apart from the two being among the best pitchers in their respective eras, but that is a little insight into the kind of pedigree that Yanagi comes with. Not only that but Yanagi actually has a higher strikeout total at Meiji than Kawakami did ranking in the top 10 in team history with over 326 strikeouts. 

Chief Scout Muneo Tanaka is very impressed with his man praising his control and velocity as well as his strength of heart. Feels he is a very clever pitcher that presses when he needs to press and holds off when necessary. He fully believes that Yanagi will be in the starting rotation next year. 

In an interview with Yanagi himself expressing himself as feeling a heavy responsibility as being selected as number one by the team but of course wants to do the best he can to fulfill that expecatation. He feels that the Dragons are a team with great history and tradition and hopes that he can follow in the footsteps of his Meiji university antecedents. 

In terms of what he's got in his locker, I explained this a little in an earlier post but he's got a nice fastball that sits in the mid 140s, a killer curveball, a slider, cutter and a change-up. His curveball is the highest rated of his pitches and has been pointed out in a few different scout reports. 

Yota Kyoda congratulated by his Nihon Uni teammates.
2. Yota Kyoda, Nihon University, Short-stop


Naoki Yoshikawa from Chukyo Gakuin University was supposed to be the Dragons second pick but due to the Giants failing to nab Seigi Tanaka or Chihaya Sasaki, they selected the Gifu born middle infielder as their first pick. With the Chunichi team staff shrugging their collective shoulders, they turned attention to the next best thing, Nihon University's Yota Kyoda.

Kyoda and Yoshikawa were team-mates for the Japanese university team with Kyoda mostly at short-stop while Yoshikawa played second base. Safe to say that he is one of the best middle infielder prospects in his age group at the draft and needless to say I'm happy we snagged him. 

The kid however has a mouth. And I mean this in a nice way. He has big aspirations. Upon being selected by the team he singled out none other than Mr Dragons, Kazuyoshi Tatsunami as the man he wanted to emulate. Having read Tatsunami's book Makenki (Hating to lose) Kyoda was inspired to be like the Dragons legend. Kyoda says he wants to be the guy on the team that people can count on to get a hit. 

Kyoda's biggest weapon is his speed. He can run 50 meters in 5.9 seconds and has very assured defensive skills. We can expect he'll be battling with Naomichi Donoue for a spot in the starting line-up in the near future. Kyoda played with Yanagi in the Japan national university team and apparently got along rather well with him which will hopefully help both settle in. The two apparently even had an encouraging chat following the draft.

He seems like a good lad and could well be the long-term solution to Araki/Kamezawa at second base. For the time being, he's likely to be an option at short stop who can offer a few different dimensions over Donoue. 

Hip, hip hooray for Masami Ishigaki
3. Masami Ishigaki, Sakata South High School, Power Hitter

Like most draft picks beyond number 2, Ishigaki was an unknown to me before the draft, but the youngster certainly has power that excites the scouting team. Most recently an infielder but also has played outfield, Ishigaki has been rated by our head scout as someone with a similar power rating to Nobumasa Fukuda. Not too shabby. 

Ishigaki himself is pretty chuffed and coming out of the frigid north in Yamagata prefecture, he has set himself a map to success that sees him taking out triple three honours in 10 years time. He can hit for power and can run around the bases surprisingly quickly. It's no wonder he idolises Yakult Swallows' double-triple-three man, Tetsuto Yamada. 

He has 37 homeruns in his high school career and hit 3 homers in 4 games in the Yamagata prefectural high school tournament this year. He has a big arm, and can throw over 100 metres and, not unlike Kyoda, can cover ground very quickly cracking 5.9 seconds to run 50 metres. 
He says he wants to play short-stop but I think we'll end up playing him in the outfield. He has the skills to do so and we have a few different options for the middle infield positions at the moment in any case. Either way, this is the first sign of a power bat I've seen us go after in the draft for a long time. It won't address our immediate issues with the line-up but hopefully Ishigaki will be one for the future. 

Shotaro Kasahara is congratulated.
4. Shotaro Kasahara, Niigata University of Health and Welfare, Southpaw Pitcher

Kasahara is someone that the more I think about the less I remember about. He has represented his country and has otherwise put up some fairly good stats at university level. 

Kasahara actually entered university in order to become a physical therapist and took the test like all the other shmos without special consideration of his baseballing talents. He had absolutely no delusions about going pro but worked on his body while playing ball with his university. He was able to gain about 10kg, get his velocity up from around 130km/ph to a much more impressive 147 km/ph.

In this years university league he posted 6-0 in decisions with a 0.72 ERA which lead him to selection as a train on member with the national team. A southpaw, Kasahara adds more depth to our options. 

Head scout rates him as a pitcher that really gets up batters noses and throws in pitches that cramp them up. He's seen as someone that can be either deployed in relief or as a starter. He's been likened to former bullpen master, Akifumi Takahashi now of the Hanshin Tigers. 

Kasahara throws several pitches including a fastball, cutter, slider and curveball. 

It's yet to be seen whether or not Kasahara has the potential to make an impact in 2017, but that's all up to him and how he develops.

The hometown boy, Kento Fujishima is sure to win fans hearts.
5. Kento Fujishima, Toho Senior High, Mentally tough pitcher

Fujishima's story is one of the more heartwarming of this years's draft. He made a name for himself for his displays of passion at the Koshien tournament this year putting everything he had into his pitching. It was not only his pitching that caught the eye however, as he batted cleanup for his team and and one point even hit for the cycle. A mini Otani perhaps, but it was Fujishima's pure desire to do his best to overcome his challenges that won him a lot of fans. 

Fujishima is from Toyohashi. He's a hometown boy. He was a Dragons fan growing up and attended a fair share of games. He can sing the team songs and he was more than delighted to be picked up by the team. Scouts had already mentioned in the lead-up that they saw Fujishima as a #5 pick, and that's where they got him.

He is a guy that wants to win at all costs that shows off a variety of different pitches. He clocks out in the mid-140s but it is said his mental toughness could well bring him some wins and bring smiles to the faces of the Chunichi faithful. Though a canny batter, he is rated by the Dragons staff as a pitcher. He can throw a few different pitches including a knuckle curve ball, a slider a cutter and a splitter. I don't think there are any Dragons pitchers that can throw a knuckle anything and Tajima in the only one I know of with a splitter so if nothing else, he brings with him a bit more "stuff we don't have."

With a bit of training and some experience under his belt, I'm hoping we can see Fujishima push his velocity up and really get into some games. He seems like a great kid and I want nothing more than his pro career to work out for him. 

Taisuke Maruyama read to fight.
6. Taisuke Maruyama, Tokai University, Power Pitcher

I use the term "power pitcher" a bit loosely here, but that is how Maruyama has been described. He would have been a higher pick had it not been for an injury that kept him away from pitching particularly well in the fall, but he is highly rated by scouts and is seen to have a lot of potential.

Like Fujishima, Maruyama is a local having been born in Tokoname in Aichi prefecture and is a sempai of Fujishima's having played for Toho High School before moving to university. He wanted to join the Dragons most of all, and like Fujishima, is very happy to call Nagoya home. 

He impressed scouts apparently with his speed and ability to really push batters in pressure situations. He tops out at 151km/ph but possesses a fairly stock standard variety of offspeed stuff with a curve, fork and slider. 

He is the same age as Tatsuro Hamada who was drafted straight out of high school and is said to be looking forward to seeing the man he used to face up against in the Aichi prefectural tournaments as a youngster. 



Trainee Draft: 1. Yusuke Kinoshita, Tokushima Indigo Socks, Pitcher

Kinoshita was the only development player contracted at the draft this year and he's a guy that apparently the scouts were pretty happy with. He dropped out of Komazawa University and decided to follow his baseball dreams in the independent Shikoku Island League Plus with the Tokushima Indigo Socks.

He has expressed his pleasure at being given the opportunity to turn pro and wants to make it to the first team roster as soon as possible. His main weapon is a 150km/ph fastball launched from his 183cm frame. He says he wants to do battle with his fastball and he might well be an interesting pitcher to watch.

He has seemingly played mostly a relief role in the independent leagues this year with a 3.45 ERA in 28 games and 44 innings pitched. His 34 strikeouts don't look too bad but I'm not quite sure what the fuss is about. We'll see what kind of impact he makes on the farm next year!

Verdict

I think we had a very good draft this year. We got our first choice pitcher who can slot right in and we picked a few position players that I think we're going to need going forward. There's a lot of talent here that excites me and I think that's the wonder of the draft. We'll see how these players go, should they sign contracts, over Spring training and see who might pop up in the starting day roster. I think we have a very good chance of seeing Kyoda and Yanagi there.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Ding-dong the season's dead


143 games, 58 wins, 82 losses.

Well, the Dragons have failed to see October for the 4th year straight as we bow out in our worst position in the league in 19 years. A 4 straight years of "B-Class" (wins under 50%) results is the worst in club history since the 2-league system was introduced. We're going through some dark times and to be honest it doesn't look like it's going to get much better in the near future.

I'm going to take this opportunity to do a bit of a season wrap-up with some broad strokes while I'll take another look at the 2015 draft class in another post in a similar vein to what I did at the all-star break. I'll then give a run down of the most recent news regarding free agencies, the draft and staff movements in my next post.

Right, well, where to begin. At the beginning of the season, I like many others had my expectations relatively low for the Dragons and I predicted them to finish second last. My expectation were raised slightly however in the opening quarter of the season as the Dragons managed to keep pace with the league leaders due to a bit of sparkling form from Shuhei Takahashi, Ricardo Nanita and Dayan Viciedo as well as a bit of luck running into some teams that hadn't sorted their stuff out. As we progressed to the middle of the season there were some hopeful moments where we were still in play-off contention and the optimist in me thought this team in reconstruction might just have enough in the tank to get into the final play-off spot. However after a bit of dip and then the acrimonious sacking of manager Motonobu Tanishige, the team never looked like going anywhere but the bottom two places. The Dragons were somewhat lucky that the Tigers at times made us look good, but in the end we crawled to a very poor end to the season capped off by two extra innings losses to the Giants in Tokyo, one a grand slam given up by probably our best player of  the season, Shinji Tajima and another, final inning goodbye see you later loss tossed up by Daisuke Sobue.

Bullpen

Let's first talk a little about the heroes of this season. Shinji Tajima with his 31 scoreless innings from opening day probably tops the lot. He created a new NPB record for doing so, and equalled a club record set by Akifumi Takahashi (now of the Tigers) for consecutive scoreless innings/games pitched. Tajima probably would have even more impressive stats if he hadn't been called up to become the team's closing pitcher. Despite being brought into the piece fairly late he still earned 17 saves to go along with his 21 hold points. He ends the season with a 3-4 record and a 2.44 ERA. Certainly another great successor to the line of bullpen pitchers the Dragons have produced over the years. He was recognised for his efforts as he collected the "Crown Award" from Chunichi which is a gift of a new model Toyota Crown to the player considered to the best during the season.

Our bullpen pitchers are just about the only thing I can't complain about. Toshiya Okada, Katsuki Matayoshi and Ryuya Ogawa all did magnificently well in my opinion. Ogawa had a bit of a breakout season this year and his 0.947 WHIP really impressed me. Okada has been a mainstay in the bullpen along with Matayoshi and I think we have a lot of depth in this area. Hiroto Fuku and Yu Sato, the rookies this year took part in relief sessions here and there and did their jobs without being spectacular. Also kudos to Daisuke Sobue who started the season as the second team closer and ended up being the late innings reliever in the first team; a 1.087 WHIP rating for him.

Starting Rotation

As for starting pitchers, most have been terribly unlucky with getting wins due to a terrible Kazuki Yoshimi came back into the team after surgery last season and held down his spot in the rotation. He went 6-7 this year but certainly deserved better. There was one game against the Tigers this year that he had to win by himself as he hit the winning RBI in a 1-0 win. He pitched 131 innings this year which is the most work he's done since 2012 which is a good sign going forward. Still only 31, he'll be a mainstay for a few more years to come. A 3.08 ERA is still a little bit high considering his early career stats, but still, the veteran did extremely well this year in difficult circumstances.
offense, but

Jordan Norberto, the first year Dominican, was another bright light in the rotation and his ability to keep opposing batters off foot with his ability to hurry through pitches was very effective particularly in the opening half of the season. As the season progressed however I got a feeling that batters got a better read on him and he started leaking more runs. He ended the season with a 6-6 record and a fairly high ERA of 4.24. His 108 strikeouts for the season was a team high.

Yudai Ono worked his socks off as the season's proclaimed ace this year and on the second game he played when he returned from injury he pitched a very solid shut out which I thought was going to be the start of a rebirth. Not so apparently. In decisions this year Ono was 7-10 and 5th in total strikeouts for the Dragons. He wasn't particularly bad but not particularly outstanding. He was however one of the hardest workers with 3 completed games and over 120 innings pitched.

Raul Valdes the Cuban veteran showed his usefulness and was the second best starter behind Jordan in terms of strikeouts per 9 innings. A 6-7 record is certainly respectable given his age and the ability of the team but he also gave up the most homeruns of the pitchers with 17 of his pitches clearing the fences.

I would last of all like to talk in detail about Ryosuke Oguma who has impressed me a lot. He
went out injured in the first third of the season and it took him a long while to get back but his stats are the best of the starters. He had a 5-2 record in 8 starts, the best winning percentage of any starter aside from Yu Sato who only started and won one game. An ERA of 2.80 also doesn't look too bad when you assess his contribution overall and I would dare say he may well have won 10 games this year had he been fit. In his first start of the year he shut down the Baystars with a 93 ball, 1 hit shutout in Nagoya. He was the only Chunichi to get a shut-out this year apart from Ono. I think we can grow to expect a bit more from the man whose name translates to "little bear."

I could go on forever about our starters, but these are the main guys I felt worthy of mention. I will of course talk about the trials and tribulations of our 2015 #1 draft pick Shinnosuke Ogasawara in another post as his story is a nice one to tell.

Batting

This is where the stories get a bit dark, but the main thing to come out of it was Yohei "Even Year" Oshima who came out to play this year cracking a .298 BA and hitting for the cycle in the process. He finished second in the central league charts for hits behind Ryosuke Kikuchi of the Carp with 174 and 3rd in stolen bases behind Tetsuto Yamada and Kikuchi with 26 (although he was caught stealing 12 times. If my SABR thinking is right, that's a really poor success rate). As our lead-off hitter he really did his job this season after being fairly bang average last year. A bright to slightly dimmed light in a very dark season.

For most improved bat of the season I have it as a two way tie between Shuhei Takahashi and Nobumasa Fukuda, both coincidentally guys that played the majority of the season at 3rd base. Takahashi went ham in his first 20 or so games averaging over .400 with a few homers and all the rest. That of course quietened down a bit but he still was performing well until he broke a bone in his hand to enforce an extended break on the sidelines.  In that time, the Dragons tried all manners of stop-gap solutions at 3rd base with Tetsuya Tani, Naomichi Donoue and Masahiko Morino among others brought in to try and make the position their own. It wasn't however until Fukuda was given the green light that we started seeing more production at that position. Fukuda went on to hit a personal best 10 homeruns this year with a .744 OPS and a .265 average. He finished the season in left field to accommodate the return of Takahashi who showed some of his early season prowess and ended with a .251/.319/.369 slash line.

Both I think had outbreak seasons this year and if Ricardo Nanita isn't retained, we might see Fukuda out the left pocket to add a bit more pop to the line-up if Viciedo and Takahashi remain the incumbents at 1st and 3rd respectively. Masahiko Morino also made a bit of a statement when Viciedo was injured claiming the highest OBP of any of the Dragons batter this season. It might well be a headache for selection next year.

Dayan Viciedo of course is the man that has probably attracted the most attention and his 22 homers helped the Dragons about as much as could be hoped. He hit fairly well for average at .272 and was third in the team for most walks behind Hirata and Oshima. He was also third in hits for team behind Oshima and Naomichi Donoue. Injuries cut short his season, but the Dragons are in talks to keep him on and there's a good chance he could be producing even better next year.

Lastly a couple of mentions for Donoue and Hirata. Donoue became the starting short-stop this year after an injury to Issei Endo and his defense has been nothing short of fantastic. He only hit .257 this year but put wood on ball enough times to tally 116 hits for the season.

Hirata too had a good season when fit going over the fence 14 times in a personal best season. A .248 BA  is pretty disappointing however but he was the most walked player on the team taking the short jog to first base 72 times.

I could go on about others, like Nanita, but I don't want to make this entry any more encylopedic than it has to be.

Catchers

Just a little appendage here about the catchers. We started the season with Iori Katsura and Shota Sugiyama  battling it out to be everyday catcher and I think we finished with Takuya Kinoshita and Sugiyama as the two most likely candidates going forward. Sugiyama started the majority of games this season but Kinoshita showed very good promise with the bat in the limited time he was given. I was expecting at the beginning of the season for there to be a 3 way battle for the catcher's mitt this year and there has been. Sugiyama hit a .260/.340/.357 slash line in probably one of the best batting performances from a Chunichi catcher in some time.

I feel sorry for Katsura in a way who is a very talented catcher in his own right, but he'll be either put to work on the farm or maybe looked at as a trade chip. But who am I kidding, nobody trades anyone in the NPB.


Against the others

We had a terrible record against Hiroshima (7-17)  and Yakult (9-16) this year. No surprise that both teams have two of the best batting line-ups in the league either as most of the time we were well out gunned.

The only team we had a winning record against was the Giants (13-11) which is a welcome surprise. Unsurprisingly perhaps, we got away the most hits against the Giants out of all Central league opponents with 227 hits. ERA as well was the best at 2.91 second to DeNA with 2.99. Given that the Giants finished 2nd this year,  I think this is one of the positives we can take away from the year. At least we were a nuisance for Yomiuri. That is satisfying.


Conclusion

Honestly, it has been a terrible season. With all the back office drama to go with the results it's just awful. I've experienced a very similar thing with the Twins in the MLB this year so needless to say that uh, baseball hasn't been nice to me this year.

The Dragons still really haven't overcome the losses of their veterans but I am confident with the pitching side of things. If we can get in one more quality starter in the draft this year, the rotation will be pretty set for the next 3 or 4 years. We have quite a few young guys that can come in and do things in the bullpen (although Mori wants to bring in foreign help, probably a closer) and there are others that given a bit of luck could develop into really good starting arms in the future.

Our batting however worried me. With Oshima and Hirata looking at the free agent market, we would be dead without them at the current time. There is no one in the Dragons system that can do what these two do and losing them would kill our hopes of winning anything in the near future or getting into A-Rank season territory. There is the potential in this team, even in the bats, to produce some really solid hitting but it hasn't come about yet. I  do however think that we discovered a lot this year about who can do what and I think that is important. Next year production at short-stop will be I think a key point of interest and it will be on Donoue and possibly Endo to get their batting up to a good standard. Left-field will also be another interesting position going forward given Nanita's injuries and age and Fukuda's recent experience there. We'll see what happens.

For the time being. All I can say was, well, at least that's over now.