Thursday, March 2, 2017

Spring Training is Out

Well, it's just a little over a  month since my last post and not quite a month since the Dragons started their Spring training sessions in Okinawa. We're out of camp now and there have been a lot of good things coming out of it. I'm always optimistic around this time of the year without really any good cause, but the murmurings out of camps are positive. We're into the "Open League" (オープン戦) games with the Dragons recently taking a win and a loss against the Fighters, but let's just have a quick run over what's happened in camp.

The Good

You can't go past Alex Guerrero when talking about the good things coming out of Dragons camp. The man has been on fire in practice games launching dongs and hitting plenty of RBIs. Mori has slotted him in the order at number 3 in most of the games he's played in fielding at either 2nd base, 3rd, LF or DH. The fact he's been at 3 for all the games and not someone like Hirata is a bit of a big statement for me. It looks to me like any success for the Dragons this year will be heavily hinged on what the Cuban slugger can do in the most important slot in the line-up. With Guerrero, Viciedo and Hirata in clean-up, there are plenty more homeruns in this team than there has been in the last couple of years. The only point of concern, pointed out by Chunichi OB, Tatsuhiko Kimata in a radio interview is that Guerrero seems to only be getting hits with balls low on the outside. Has apparently failed to register a hit from inside course deliveries.

Running rule over the rookies in camp another big, but pleasant surprise is the emergence of Yota Kyoda. The number two pick at the draft has been starting a lot of practice games and will provide very good competition for middle infield spots. He hasn't been slugging dingers out of the park, but his batting has been tidy so far and his defence is supposedly quite tidy. Very good range, very good glove. We'll see what happens to him. The other big surprise is the emergence of Hayato Mizowaki another slap-hitter fighting for a spot in the middle. He's much in the same mold as Kyoda being a nippy runner with a half decent bat and a good glove. He impressed a lot during the Asian Winter series in Taiwan late last year, and it looks as though that form is set to carry over. Certainly a outside contender, but he'll surely get some time on the field this year.

Running the rule over the pitching and Shota Suzuki has been used extensively and has looked promising in his outings so far. He was used most recently against the Baystars where he threw down 3 innings for one earned run and 2 hits. Not too bad. Previously against the Hanwha Eagles, Suzuki was in rare form taking three batters down in a row with Ks to mark an impressive performance. Suzuki will surely see a lot more time in the first team this year and he along with Ryosuke Nomura have a lot to prove in 2017.

Other good news of players on the come back trail Takuya Asao has had two shut out outings in relief for the second team. Asao's return to the first team bullpen would be a major plus for the team that already looks pretty stacked with Rondon, Araujo, Okada and Tajima taking up spots. The 2011 Central League MVP will be doing his best to make his comeback as soon as possible.

The Results

Here are the results and information regarding the practice games played so far. Unfortunately I mentioned in my last post that the Dragons would be using their ustream account but unfortunately all streaming has been done through their official Facebook page. The games often do not coincide with the airing times on Facebook, so you may have to search for a JSports (or Gaora, etc) stream if you want to catch any more games this pre-season.

I'll just list the first team games. We could get into farm results, but there isn't a whole lot of information available.

Chunichi Dragons 18 - 1 Hanwha Eagles
SP:Suzuki 2IP 0ER 3SO                  Endo 4-4, Hirata 6-3
                                                    HR: Guerrero x 2 (1st, 4th), Abe (4th),
                                                    Endo (6th), Ishioka (7th)

Needless to say that Dragons steamrolled their Korean foes with 5 homeruns being registered on the way to a monster win. Guerrero started with a solo homer in the 1st and the runs kept piling on. Hanwha's only run of the game came late on against Takuya Mitsuma. Endo went 4-4 including 2 RBIs and a homer while Hirata went 6-3 including 1 RBI.

Chunichi Dragons 5 - 0 Kia Tigers
SP: Matayoshi 2IP 0ER 2SO          Endo 4-2, Hirata 5-2

Matayoshi's first start in pre-season was a winning one as the Dragons strolled through a fairly easy 5-0 win against Kia. Kinoshita drove in the opening runs while Hirata and co finished up the Tigers pitching. Yanagi threw down 2 in relief with 3 strikeouts to state his credentials.

Chunichi Dragons 3 - 2 DeNA Baystars
SP: Suzuki 3IP 0ER 2SO              Hirata 3-2, Guerrero 3-2

The first match against NPB opposition got off to a good start as Guerrero and Hirata both drove in a run each in the 1st inning to get things started. DeNA would claw one back in the second off an error before the Dragons extended their lead in the 4th through Hirata once more. The Baystars would get one in the 6th off Nomura to keep things interesting but a combination of Fuku, Mitsuma and Sato closed out a win.

Chunichi Dragons 4 - 1 Rakuten Eagles
SP: Ono 2IP 0ER 2SO                     Guerrero 2-2, Imae 2-2
WP: Oguma 2IP 1ER 2SO              HR: Guerrero (3-run, 3rd inning)

Dragons struck in the first inning through Guerrero as he scored Oshima. The Eagles would strike back in the 3rd through Imae, but a 3-run dinger off Chia Hao Sung to Guerrero sealed what would become a 4-1 win to the Dragons. Wakamatsu, Yanagi, Okada and Tajima appeared in relief to run down the innings.

Chunichi Dragons 8 - 2 Nexen Heroes
SP: Yoshimi 2IP 0ER

Unfortunately I can't find detailed info here, but the Dragons took to the game with aplomb. Furumoto opened things with a sac fly while Kinoshita, Donoue, Shuhei and Yusuke Matsui all chipped in with RBIs. Hitoki Iwase took one inning in relief giving up a run while Yamai and Valdes kept things scoreless. Jordan Norberto took the final innings and gave up a single run but closed out an 8-2 victory. (Apologies, I didn't find extensive batting stats for this one)

Chunichi Dragons 4 - 1 Hiroshima Carp
SP: Matayoshi 4IP 1ER 2SO               Endo 2-4
WP: Oguma 3IP 0ER 2SO                

Hiroshima took an early lead in the third inning, but Oguma, Fukutani and Suzuki kept the side scoreless while Endo, Kinoshita and Takahashi knocked in 4 for the Dragons.
(I couldn't find an appropriate highlights package, sorry)

Chunichi Dragons 0 - 2 Nippon Ham Fighters
SP: Suzuki 5IP 2ER 2SO                         Kamezawa 2-2
WB: Takanashi 3IP 0ER 4SO

Rookie of the year, Hirotoshi Takanashi pitched 3 scoreless innings following Takayuki Kato's scoreless 3 against the Dragons to dry up confidence after Keisuke Moriyama's 2RBI double in the 4th. Oshima, Donoue and Ishioka were the only batters to take the veneer off Takanashi and Kato's performance. Yudai Ono and Shunta Wakamatsu both had a run-out against the Fighters with Ono completing just the one inning while Wakamatsu took charge of the 7th and 8th.

Chunichi Dragons 5-1 Nippon Ham Fighters
SP: Yanagi 1IP 1ER                             Guerrero 3-4, Viciedo 2-4, Kinoshita 2-4
                                                         HR: Guerrero (1st inning)

It was the Alex Guerrero show once more as the Cuban took a liking to an inside course pitch from an rare poor showing from Kohei Arihara, launching the 2015 rookie of the year into the left stands to notch a 3 run homerun. Kinoshita would knock in another to end the first inning 4-0 to the good. The Fighters would immediately peg one back in the bottom of the 1st against a nervous looking Yanagi as Laird drilled home Nakashima. Takuya Mitsuma pitched well following Yanagi showing off his shuuto to good effect while Salomon Rondon broke a Chunichi speed record clocking 159km/h beating the previous efforts of Tsuyoshi Yoda, Takuya Asao and Koji Fukutani who have all been clocked at 157km/h. Guerrero would knock in the final RBI of the game in the 7th while Kasahara and Tajima closed out.

The team started off with a bang and it was made very clear that NPB teams are significantly better than their KBO opponents. The positives from the results however is that the Dragons downed  NPB teams in 4 out of 5 of their outings which of course a good sign moving forward. My main concern however is the over-reliance on Alex Guerrero who for example drove in all 4 runs against the Eagles and has otherwise just been knocking in all the runs.This is what the cynic in me says, that we might struggle to fire if he doesn't. Last year's line-up failures are still very fresh in my memory and while Guerrero is going to be a massive boon for the team, I really do wonder how well the guys around him can support him when he has predictable lapses in form. Good positive is that the team hasn't let go over more than a couple of runs so, so defensively looking alright but it is still early days.

A great start to the year so far with plenty to be excited about! I will be going back to Japan in March for business and while I won't unfortunately be able to get to any Dragons games, I'm in Osaka around the right time for the Hanshin v Buffaloes Open League game at the Kyocera Dome. Should be fun.

Until next time, Doraho!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Spring Training Camp members announced

Spring training members have been announced for the hard slug in the Okinawan sun. The Dragons, like every year, have split up the roster into two groups with one representing the "1st team" and the other representing the "2nd" team. These two groups never end up reflecting what the roster looks like on opening day, but it does give you a bit of an idea of who the coaches want to look at.

The second team, although mostly for the younger players, does also help rehabilitate more senior members of the team where they may join first team training during the off-season anyway.

Well, let's get straight down to it. Here is the roster for the team going to Kitatani where first team training will take place.

Pitchers: Shinji Tajima, Hitoki Iwase, Yu Sato, Katsuki Matayoshi, Yuya Yanagi, Shota Suzuki, Kazuki Yoshimi, Ryosuke Nomura, Toshiya Okada, Yudai Ono, Koji Fukutani, Taisuke Maruyama, Daisuke Yamai, Hiroto Fuku, Takuya Mitsuma, Raul Valdes, Shotaro Kasahara, Elvis Araujo, Shunta Wakamatsu, Ryosuke Oguma, Junki Ito, Jorge Rondon, Jordan Norberto

Catchers: Takuya Kinoshita, Masato Matsui, Takuma Kato, Shota Sugiyama

Infielders: Shuhei Takahashi, Toshiki Abe, Masahiko Morino, Issei Endo, Ryota Ishioka, Alex Guerrero, Hayato Mizowaki, Yota Kyoda, Kyohei Kamezawa, Naomichi Donoue

Outfielders: Atsushi Fujii, Ryosuke Hirata, Yohei Oshima, Takeru Furumoto, Dayan Viciedo, Hiroki Kondo

Hayato Mizowaki a chance?
No huge surprises here. Mori previously mentioned that he wanted all the university grads from the 2016 draft class to be with the first team. Only minor eyebrow raisers would be Mizowaki and Ishioka who played very well in the Taiwanese winter league. Ishioka can play across the infield while Mizowaki mainly stays in the middle areas. Both are quick, athletic slap hitters who, one would hope, could show off their credentials to replace Masahiro Araki in the long term at 2nd base. Also worth noting is that Viciedo is still registered as an outfielder, no need to worry about that. There has been talk that Viciedo could play left-field to allow for Morino or Fukuda to come in at first, but he'll likely primarily be a first-baseman. Issei Endo as well is no guarantee in the infield, as he is apparently in the midst of being trained to work in the outfield.

So, you can probably already have a good guess what the second team at Yomitani is going to look at, but let's go through it anyway.

Pitchers: Shinnosuke Ogasawara, Yuta Muto, Takuma Achira, Daisuke Sobue, Takuya Asao, Takeshi Kaneko, Kento Fujishima, Ryuya Ogawa, Tomoya Yagi, Junki Kishimoto, Yusuke Kinoshita (D), Tomohiro Hamada (D), Tatsuro Hamada (D), Masashi Yamamoto (D), Shu Yoshida (D), Mikihiro Nishihama (D)

Catchers: Iori Katsura, Shingo Takeyama, Ryuichiro Akada, Masaru Fujiyoshi (D)

Infielders; Masahiro Araki, Shun Ishikawa, Masami Ishigaki, Taiki Mitsumata, Nobumasa Fukuda, Tetsuya Tani, Tatsuro Iwasaki (D)

Outfielders: Shota, Tomonaga, Masataka Iryo, Kei Nomoto, Yusuke Matsui, Takahito Kudo, Kazuyuki Akasaka, Masaru Watanabe (D)

*Players listed with (D) are on a development contract and are ineligible for the first team roster.

Only real surprises here are maybe Fukuda, Araki and Ogawa. Ogasawara is on the mend following his nagekomi induced elbow injury and I can only assume that Araki has been thrown in the second team for guidance and at the expense of some newer guys that the first team staff want to have a good look at while Fukuda is apparently recovering from an injury. Ogawa I think too has had his spot taken by Kasahara in the first team, but that doesn't mean that he won't feature again this season. He was one of our best relievers last year mostly as a LOOGY.

Training starts on the 1st of February where training sessions will be interrupted by some practice games here and there with other teams that come to Okinawa to train. The KBO often has the majority of it's teams in the vicinity, so we have a few friendlies lined up against Korean opponents like we did last year. Last year, some of the games were broadcast on the team's UStream account along with some training sessions, but I haven't seen anything scheduled just yet. Keep an eye on my twitter for news in that regard or just check the channel periodically.

As for the games here's a very bare bones schedule (all times are JST):

Feb 1st: Camp Starts
Feb 12th: Practice match vs Hanwha Eagles from 1pm at Kitatani Ballpark (1-gun)
Feb 15th: Practice match vs Kia Tigers from 1pm at Kitatani Ballpark (1-gun)
Feb 16th: Practice match v DeNA Baystars from 1pm at Ginowan Public Ballpark (2-gun)
Feb 17th: Practice match vs DeNA Baystars from 1pm at Peace Forest Ballpark (2-gun)
Feb 18th: Practice match vs DeNA Baystars from 1pm at Kitatani Ballpark (1-gun)
Feb 19th: Practice match vs Rakuten Eagles from 1pm at Kitatani Ballpark (1-gun)
Feb 21st: Practive match vs Hanwha Eagles from 1pm at Peace Forest Ballpark (2-gun)
Feb 22nd: Practice match vs LG Twins from 1pm at Peace Forest Ballpark (2-gun)
Feb 23rd: Practice match vs Nexen Heroes from 12:30pm at Kitatani Ballpark (1-gun)
Feb 24th: Practice match vs Nexen Heroes from 1pm at Peace Forest Ballpark (2-gun)
Feb 25th: Open Match vs Hiroshima Carp from 12:30pm at Kitatani Ballpark (1-gun)
Feb 26th: Open Match vs Hanshin Tigers from 1pm at Kitatani Ballpark (1-gun)
Feb 27th: Camp Ends

I'll end this post on an interesting note I saw regarding how Mori was seeing the team shape up and who he was in his thinking for his regulars in the 2017 season. I did up this depth chart a month or so ago, but it looks as though our Mori has some slightly different ideas. Here's what I proposed:
Now, this is a little bit more detailed than it needs to be and I have updated it a little bit after some discussion with some other fans, but essentially this is how I see us in 2017. However I caught a news segment with the very candid Mori, who apparently just tells the media everything, which contradicts my thinking a little bit.

Firstly, the pitching, this is what was presented by Mori on a thingy..segment. Most interesting parts for me is the inclusions of Ito, Nomura and Suzuki as starters this year. Mori half joked on the program that he was going to trade Ito if he didn't shape up and apparently Mori had included the Nagoya born hurler in a proposed trade deal in this off-season. While the trade didn't go ahead, Ito has a chance to prove himself this year. He's been with the Dragons an awful long time now and if he's not becoming a regular this year, he'll probably never do it. Nomura and Suzuki have done fairly well in off-season training and in the Chinese Winter league. Both are former #1 picks and I guess there is a bit of pressure to use them both as well. 
Other point of interest here for me is that Tajima and Iwase are the only two pitchers currently in contention for the closing role. I don't personally agree with either choice unless Iwase can reach some semblance of his former self. Tajima could well grow into the role and most closers do start off in relief but it does irk me that someone like Rondon who throws fire and has experience as a closer in AAA isn't being considered for the role at this stage.
Finally, just an interesting part, but those in green are players being considered for relief and starting roles. Nothing terribly surprising there.

Here is what was proposed for the batting line-up. Most interesting take away for me was that Mori asserted that while 3B was Takahashi's to lose, he would be just as happy sticking in Guerrero at third if he didn't think the youngster was up to scratch. Probably a good thing for Takahashi given he didn't really have any competition for his spot last year. Hopefully this spurs him on even more. 
Issei Endo is firming for a spot in the outfield following his transition from short, and Mori also let fly that it would be feasible to put Viciedo out in left-field given the right circumstances. The Dragons have some fairly good options at first base so we might see that position rotate a little bit through the season depending on who's hot. I've even heard rumours that we might see Guerrero at 2nd base in more "attacking" line-ups. Would certainly be fun to see Viciedo, Guerrero, Fukuda, Hirata and Takahashi in the same team, but I'd be afraid of giving up 10 errors a game.Well, I doubt it would really be that bad, but I can't imagine putting Guerrero at 2nd base given his atrocious record when fielding. 

Well that's how we're shaping up going into February. Let the excitement begin. As I mentioned previously, keep an eye on my Twitter and the Dragons UStream account for any movement on broadcasting of training games. They may not be offering it this year, but fingers crossed. Had a lot of fun watching Viciedo hit dingers against KBO teams last year.

Until next time!

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 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