Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Three Lions rookies to participate in A-camp


The Saitama Seibu Lions training camp begins on February 1, where all positions and coach will report on the same day. There are two camps to take place, with A-camp being for mostly ichi-gun players and B-camp for ni-gun. 

Here are the full lists for both camps:

* Indicates rookie

# Indicates new import

A-Camp (Nichinan, Miyazaki): February 1-19

Rest days will be on 2/5, 2/10 and 2/15. 

Pitchers (21): Tatsuya Imai, Kona Takahashi, Tatsushi Masuda, Tetsu Miyagawa*, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Wataru Matsumoto, Hiromasa Saito, Shota Hayama*, Katsunori Hirai, Kaito Awatsu, Ryosuke Moriwaki, Ryuya Ogawa, Reed Garrett#, Sho Ito, Kaito Yoza, Keisuke Honda, Sean Nolin#, Zach Neal, Tsubasa Kokuba, Makoto Aiuchi, Kaima Taira

Infielders (7): Hotaka Yamakawa, Kakeru Yamanobe, Shuta Tonosaki, Sosuke Genda, Ryusei Sato, Yuto Morikoshi, Ernesto Mejia

Outfielders (7): Takumi Kuriyama, Yuji Kaneko, Fumikazu Kimura, Cory Spangenberg#, Shohei Suzuki, "Aito" Takeda, Seii Kawagoe

Catchers: (4): Tomoya Mori, Hitoto Komazuki, Masato Saito, Sena Tsuge*

When ichi-gun camp ends on 2/19, all players will be sent to B-camp to conclude spring training.

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B-Camp (Haruno, Kochi): February 1 - March 8

Rest days will be 2/5, 2/10, 2/15, 2/20, 2/25, 3/1, 3/6

The team will occupy a Tennis facility from  2/21-2/23

Pitchers (17): Ken Togame, Yutaro Watanabe, Shogo Noda, Tetsuya Utsumi, Daiki Enokida, Yasuo Sano, Ichiro Tamura, Hiroki Inoue*, Koki Matsuoka*, Shota Takekuma, Shunta Nakatsuka, Towa Uema*, Koki Fujita, Toshihiro Idei*, Tomomi Takahashi, Aoi Tono, Jiyu Okubo

Catchers (3): Shoya Makino, Masatoshi Okada, Daichi Nakaguma

Infielders (8): Daichi Mizuguchi, Kyohei Nagae, Nien Ting Wu, Manaya Nishikawa, Haruka Yamada, Ryota Kawano*, Takeya Nakamura, Ryusei Tsunashima

Outfielders (4): Masato Kumashiro, Daisuke Togawa, Junichiro Kishi*, Wataru Takagi

Utsumi and Nakamura are both rehabbing injuries. 

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Most of these lists are chalk, but there are a few surprises that are worth mentioning besides the rookies. A few B-camp players listed (Togame and Okada) likely don't need an evaluation and it gives Hatsuhiko Tsuji as well as the rest of the ichi-gun staff a closer look at a few individuals. Here's the few that stand out:

Kawagoe: A converted pitcher, this could be his last chance at relevance given he has yet to play an ichi-gun game. This is his second year at being an outfielder.

Tsuge: This decision among the rookies is more interesting given he was a shakaijin when drafted. You have to wonder if he can shoot up the depth chart in a short span given this opportunity. He could bump out Komazuki if he can hit. 

Morikoshi: The recent domestic free agent signing from the Hanshin Tigers will be reunited with Tsuji, who was once his coach with the Chunichi Dragons. An A-camp emphasis tells that they have a plan for him, likely on the bench. Don't be surprised if he's a defensive substitute in late game situations.

Yoza: Coming off an injury and rehabbing, Yoza couldn't participate in a single game for his rookie year of 2018. He was under an ikusei contract for the entire 2019 season and made his first appearance in ni-gun late in the year. A submarine pitcher, Yoza is the most unique of the bunch and could try to find a bullpen role if he impresses the staff.

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Monday, January 20, 2020

NPB Stadium Review: Nagoya Dome


 Believe it or not, my first trip to Japan was partially centered around visiting Nagoya of all places given the Saitama Seibu Lions don't go there every season. As a result, I got to view Nagoya Dome for three games as part of an interleague road trip.

Here is my review of the second NPB ballpark I've seen:


History: 

The Chunichi Dragons have been around since 1936 and majority of their history taking place at Nagoya Stadium, which was outdoors. It wasn't until 1997 when Nagoya Dome opened up and has been home home the Dragons ever since.

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Pros and Cons: 



Pro: The scoreboard is detailed 

Nagoya Dome expanded their scoreboard to make a longer stream across the outfield. If you're seated behind home plate, you can find all the statistics on a player for both the pitcher and hitter. Best yet, the Dragons Oendan lyrics are also listed on the right side for anyone to sing along to.  

Con: The walkways are narrow

In the games I attended, it was well-below capacity leaving plenty of room for people traffic. A sold out game could lead to long concession lines or an inability to take a lap around. 

Pro: An exhibit of memorabilia exists on the top floor 

A Dragons museum is free to walk into once you have a game ticket. While explanations are in Japanese, it doesn't hurt to see things from the 1954 and 2007 Japan Series besides other great moments in team history.  

Con: The players are farther from the action

The high OF walls in Nagoya Dome make the ballpark a notorious pitcher's park traditionally. For the fans, this view is elevated and somewhat of a distance from what's happening. The nets also extend from foul pole to foul pole and while it doesn't obstruct the view, it can feel non-traditional to what a stateside fan is used to. 

Pro: Food is not price-gouging

Nagoya Dome has specialties from the Tokai region where majority of food available is under ¥900. A few snacks and other dessert items are as low as ¥300. Getting food at a reasonable price is fair compared to the usual markup you'd see in North America.  


Con: The surroundings are mostly dull

The Nagoya Dome entrance is an elevated platform where the cars and other things are beneath it. A few restaurants are there besides vending machines, but there's nothing to see minus a mascot presentation stage. Its location is in a suburb of Nagoya and there is a mall if you leave the platform, but nothing in the vicinity is exciting compared to other parks.

Pro/Con: Drink holders are placed in a seat area that prevent spilling, but it's short

The cup holder is below the seat and behind your calves locked in, so there's a small chance you'd ended up kicking it or moving the drink on accident. However, this is not a good situation if you're a taller person trying to bend down to get your drink. It's an advantage for the vertically challenged and the chances of a mess are slimmer, but depending on your height, you might complain.

Con: Leg space from the seating is minimal

The seats in the upper deck are tight packed if you end up purchasing a ticket there. This doesn't help anyone who is 6-foot tall. The lower bowl has more room, but it could be a squeeze depending on who you are.

Pro: The foul pole goes all the way to the roof

With a tall foul pole, there's no disputing if there is a foul or fair ball when determining a home run. While the roof itself is different, the foul pole going that high is likely the most unique piece of construction I've seen among ballparks.

Con: The seats are numbered individually rather than by row

Finding your seat might be a hassle because each one is numbered for every section. You'll find the gate to go to, but you may not know exactly what row you're sitting in when a triple digit number is shown on your ticket. Guest service people nearby should help no problem, let alone you can follow the signs, but it is an inconvenience for a few moments looking for your assigned seat than a normal row/seat layout.

Pro/Con: Tourism is mostly gone

Like in MetLife Dome, Nagoya doesn't draw much tourism compared to other cities, even domestically. By going to a Dragons game, you're getting an authentic experience with locals, but the services in English may not be available. If you like convenience, it may not be good for you. However, being surrounded by locals is always a plus in my book and the Dragons experience showed it.

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Food/Drink:


Selection is very solid and has plenty of Nagoya ties from chicken wings to something miso-katsu related. There's good emphasis on regional food if you make the lap around and as said before, it's not price gouging. While the full meals might be pricey, the basic snacks show here are all reasonable. In one case, I got two dorayaki cakes for ¥300.

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Fan Atmosphere: 

The Dragons fanbase in the three-games I was at felt very apathetic given how the team was doing. Crowd was half empty compared to stadium capacity, but those who stayed made the usual noise. Their Oendan songs have a traditional sound to it while also having a few updates, but it's not over the top.

Unfortunately this is a sign things in Japan can be fair weather to winning like anywhere else. Depending on some opponents, the visitors can make their presence known, especially when Chunichi isn't doing so well.

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Access:


Fans have multiple paths they can take by train to Nagoya Dome. The circular Meijo Line on the Nagoya Municipal Subway is the most direct path which takes you through a decorated Nagoya Dome-mae Yada Station. It may be a rush if you're with others, but stopping by to see a lot of posters including a picture of every player is a nice touch. It's a 8-10 minute walk with a roof over your head until you reach the elevated platform towards the dome. 


There are plenty of decorations for the team as you can see here. Even Moeyo Dragons is playing as you walk outside in the vicinity of the dome. If you have a JR Rail pass, you can take the Chuo Main line to Ozone Station and walk in the streets for a short walk until you reach the stairs to go up. Another option is by bus using the Yutorito Line which can take you to both Ozone and Nagoya Dome-Mae Yada Station.  

Extras:


An AEON Mall is not far from Nagoya Dome and is a stone's throw away. However, Nagoya is an area of Japan with minimal tourism as said before. This is a city with plenty of food ad culture outside of the Dome surroundings worth seeing.

It's worth going out of your way to Otobashi Station to the old Nagoya Stadium, given that's where Mr. Baseball was filmed and it serves today as a farm stadium/training facility for the team. Nagoya Castle is the main tourist attraction to see and the crowds won't be huge. Sakae would be the best area for night life after the an evening game. To those who really want to go out of the way, Ichiro Suzuki's hometown of Toyoyama and high school of Akiodai Meiden are in the area.

From Tebasaki, Tenmusu, Miso Nokomi Udon, Nagoya Chicken, Red Miso, Ogura Toast, Kishimen, Hitsumabushi and specifically Miso Katsu, it's worth exploring for the food in Nagoya and with minimal crowds, there is no intimidating atmosphere compared to Tokyo.

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Overall: B

Despite being indoors and baseball being designed for the outdoors, Nagoya Dome is a solid venue and the access to the area isn't one-sided. It's clean, simple and well-organized with a staff making it easy to get around, even if there could be a language barrier. As a venue, the Dome is impressive for events and I'm sure even better for concerts as it doesn't look like something built in the 90s.

Nagoya is not the place for normal tourism both internationally and domestically, but it can be a hidden gem if you're into doing things outside the box. The people who hosted me were in utter shock that myself, coming as a stateside foreigner to Nagoya to watch baseball and be a tourist.

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Thursday, January 9, 2020

NPB to MLB: A full list of Japanese-born players in the Major Leagues


The Cincinnati Reds signed Shogo Akiyama to a three-year, $21 million contract on Monday. As a result, Akiyama will be the first Japanese-born player in franchise history as they were the only team in MLB without one.

Nikkan Sports put a full list of every Japanese-born player to appear in MLB for each team. One strict rule is only including MLB (ichi-gun) on their resume, as no minor leaguers (ni-gun) are included. For reference sake, I've translated the whole thing just to see where players have gone.

Keep in mind, some players will be listed more than once as they appeared for several MLB teams. As a bonus, I highlighted the most productive player for that MLB team, factoring only his stats with that respective club.

# - Player had no NPB experience

American League:

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Boston Red Sox (7): 

Daisuke Matsuzaka (2007-2012), Takashi Saito (2009), Hideki Okajima (2007-2011), Tomokazu Ohka (1999-2001), Hideo Nomo (2001), Koji Uehara (2013-2016), Junichi Tazawa (2009-2016)#
,
Uehara in four seasons: (14-13), 226 IP, 2.19 ERA, 192 ERA+, 79 SV, 2013 ALCS MVP, 2014 All-Star, Lowest WHIP in 2013 (.565), 230 games, Won World Series (2013), 7.4 WAR

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New York Yankees (7): 

Hideki Irabu (1997-1999), Hideki Matsui (2003-2009), Ichiro Suzuki (2012-2014), Kei Igawa (2007-2008), Hiroki Kuroda (2012-2014), Ryota Igarashi (2012), Masahiro Tanaka (2014-Present)

Matsui in seven seasons: .292/.370/.482 in 916 games. 123 OPS+, 2003-2004 All-star, 2009 World Series MVP, 20.4 WAR

Tanaka could pass Matsui with more time. 

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Toronto Blue Jays (5): 

Tomokazu Ohka (2007), Ryota Igarashi (2012), Nori Aoki (2017), Munenori Kawasaki (2013-2015), Shun Yamaguchi (2020-present)

Kawasaki in three seasons: .242/.326/.301 in 201 games, 77 OPS+, 2.2 WAR

Baltimore Orioles (1): 

Koji Uehara (2009-2011)

Uehara in three seasons: (4-7), 3.03 ERA, 157.2 IP, 13 SV, 144 ERA+, 4.6 WAR

Tampa Bay [Devil] Rays: 

Hideo Nomo (2005), Hideki Matsui (2012), Akinori Iwamura (2007-2009), Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (2020-present)**

**Expected to play

Iwamura in three seasons: .281/.354/.393 in 344 games. 98 OPS+, 6.6 WAR

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Detroit Tigers (2): 

Masao Kida (1999-2000), Hideo Nomo (2000)

Nomo in one season: (8-12), 4.74 ERA, 99 ERA+ in 32 games, 190 IP, 2.6 WAR

Chicago White Sox (3):

Tadahito Iguchi (2005-2007), Shingo Takatsu (2004-2005), Kosuke Fukudome (2012)

Iguchi in three seasons: .273/.346/.419, 97 OPS+ in 363 games, 5.3 WAR. Won World Series (2005)

Minnesota Twins (1):

Tsuyoshi Nishioka (2011-2012)

Nishioka in two seasons: .215/.267/.236, 41 OPS+  in 71 games, -2.3 WAR. 

Cleveland Indians (6):

Tomokazu Ohka (2009), Kazuhito Tadano (2004-2005)#, Kosuke Fukudome (2011), Masahide Kobayashi (2008-2009), Toru Murata (2015)

Tadano in two seasons: (1-1), 4.47 ERA, 98 ERA+ in 54.1 IP, 15 games, 0.2 WAR. 

Kansas City Royals (4):

Hideo Nomo (2008), Mac Suzuki (1999-2001, 2002)#, Yasuhiko Yabuta (2008-2009), Nori Aoki (2014)

Suzuki in four seasons: (12-20), 4.96 ERA, 101 ERA+ in 333.2 IP, 76 games, 2.5 WAR

Seattle Mariners (10):

Mac Suzuki (1996, 1998-1999)#, Shigetoshi Hasegawa (2002-2005), Masao Kida (2004-2005), Kazuhiro Sasaki (2000-2003), Ichiro Suzuki (2001-2012, 2018-2019), Kenji Johjima (2006-2009), Nori Aoki (2016), Munenori Kawasaki (2012), Hisashi Iwakuma (2012-2017), Yusei Kikuchi (2019-Present)

Ichiro in 14 seasons: .321/.365/.416, 113 OPS+ in 1,861 games, 3,089 career hits, 2001 AL MVP, 2001 Rookie of the Year, 2001-2010 Gold Glove, Silver Slugger (2001, 2007, 2009), Batting champion (2001, 2004), Most hits in a single season (262 in 2004), Stolen Base champion (56 in 2001), 56.3 WAR

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Oakland Athletics (4):

Hideki Matsui (2011), Keiichi Yabu (2005), Akinori Iwamura (2010), Hideki Okajima (2013)

Matsui in one season: .251/.321/.375, 93 OPS+, 0.5 WAR in 141 games

Los Angeles Angels (5): 

Shigetoshi Hasegawa (1997-2001), Hideki Matsui (2010), Junichi Tazawa (2018)#, Hisanori Takahashi (2011-2012), Shohei Ohtani (2018-Present)

Hasegawa in five seasons: (30-27), 3.85 ERA, 124 ERA+ in 442.1 IP, 287 games, 6.7 WAR

Ohtani will likely pass this distinction once he has more years in MLB. 

Texas Rangers (7): 

Yu Darvish (2012-2017), Hideki Irabu (2002), Akinori Otsuka (2006-2007), Kazuo Fukumori (2008), Koji Uehara (2011-2012), Yoshinori Tateyama (2011-2012), Kyuji Fujikawa (2015)

Darvish in five seasons: (52-39), 3.42 ERA, 127 ERA+, 782.2 IP, 122 games, 18.3 WAR, 4x All-Star (2012-2014, 2017)

Houston Astros (2):

Kazuo Matsui (2008-2010), Nori Aoki (2017)

Matsui in three seasons: .259/.315/.370, 83 OPS+ in 255 games, 0.9 WAR

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National League

New York Mets (13):

Hideo Nomo (1998), Takashi Kashiwada (1997), Masato Yoshii (1998-1999), Tsuyoshi Shinjo (2001, 2003), Satoru Komiyama (2002), Kazuhisa Ishii (2005), Kazuo Matsui (2004-2006), Shingo Takatsu (2005), Daisuke Matsuzaka (2013-2014), Ken Takahashi (2009), Hisanori Takahashi (2010), Ryota Igarashi (2010-2011), Nori Aoki (2017)

Yoshii in two seasons: (18-16), 4.17 ERA, 104 ERA+, 345.2 IP in 60 games, 4.5 WAR

Philadelphia Phillies (2): 

So Taguchi (2008), Tadahito Iguchi (2007-2008)

Iguchi in two seasons: .303/.358/.441, 103 OPS+ in 49 games, 1.0 WAR, Won World Series ring in 2008, but appeared in no postseason games

Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals (3): 

Hideki Irabu (2000-2001), Masato Yoshii (2001-2002), Tomokazu Ohka (2001-2005)

Ohka in five seasons: (31-34), 3.71 ERA, 118 ERA+ in 585 IP, 101 games, 9.3 WAR

Miami Marlins (2):

Ichiro Suzuki (2015-2017), Junichi Tazawa (2017-2018)#

Ichiro in three seasons: .256/.315/.325, 78 OPS+ in 432 games, 0.3 WAR

Atlanta Braves (2):

Kenshin Kawakami (2009-2010), Takashi Saito (2010)

Kawakami in two seasons: (8-22), 4.32 ERA, 94 ERA+ in 243.2 IP, 50 games, 1.2 WAR

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Chicago Cubs (8):

Kosuke Fukudome (2008-2011), So Taguchi (2009), Yu Darvish (2018-present), Koji Uehara (2017), Hisanori Takahashi (2013), Munenori Kawasaki (2016), Kyuji Fujikawa (2013-2014), Tsuyoshi Wada (2014-2015)

Fukudome in four seasons: .262/.369/.403, 102 OPS+ in 513 games, 5.1 WAR, 2008 All-Star

Pittsburgh Pirates (3):

Masumi Kuwata (2007), Akinori Iwamura (2010), Hisanori Takahashi (2012)

Iwamura in one season: .182/.292/.267, 54 OPS+ in 54 games, -1.6 WAR

St. Louis Cardinals (1):

So Taguchi (2002-2007)

Taguchi in six seasons: .283/.336/.391, 89 OPS+ in 578 games, 2.5 WAR, World Series champion (2006)

Cincinnati Reds (1):

Shogo Akiyama (2020-Present)

Milwaukee Brewers (6): 

Hideo Nomo (1999), Mac Suzuki (2001)#, Tomokazu Ohka (2005-2006), Takahito Nomura (2002), Takashi Saito (2011), Nori Aoki (2012-2013)

Aoki in two seasons: .287/.355/.399, 104 ERA+ in 306 games, 6.1 WAR

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Los Angeles Dodgers (8):

Hideo Nomo (1995-1998, 2002-2004), Masao Kida (2003-2004), Kazuhisa Ishii (2002-2004), Norihiro Nakamura (2005), Takashi Saito (2006-2008), Hiroki Kuroda (2008-2011), Yu Darvish (2017), Kenta Maeda (2016-Present)

Nomo in seven seasons: (81-66), 3.74 ERA, 104 ERA+ in 1,217.2 IP, 191 games, 15.2 WAR, Rookie of the Year (1995), No-hitter (1996), All-star (1995), Strikeout leader (1995)

San Francisco Giants (5):

Masanori Murakami (1964-1965), Tsuyoshi Shinjo (2002), Keiichi Yabu (2008), Nori Aoki (2015), Kensuke Tanaka (2013)

Murakami in two seasons: 3.43 ERA, 106 ERA+, 9 SV in 89.1 IP, 54 games, 1.6 WAR, First Japanese-born player to play in MLB

Colorado Rockies (3):

Mac Suzuki (2001)#, Kazuo Matsui (2006-2007), Masato Yoshii (2000)

Matsui in two seasons: .300/.353/.426, 95 OPS+ in 136 games, 3.9 WAR

San Diego Padres (3):

Akinori Otsuka (2004-2005), Tadahito Iguchi (2008), Kazuhisa Makita (2018)

Otsuka in two seasons: (9-10), 2.57 ERA, 151 ERA+ in 140 IP, 139 games, 3.3 WAR

Arizona Diamondbacks (2): 

Takashi Saito (2012), Yoshihisa Hirano (2018-2019)

Hirano in two seasons: (9-8), 3.47 ERA, 125 ERA+ in 119.1 IP, 137 games, 1.0 WAR

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Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Akiyama enters a crowded situation in Cincinnati


Shogo Akiyama was officially introduced by the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday morning in a press conference. In the interview, Akiyama revealed he liked the challenge of being in a new atmosphere while also being the first Japanese-born player in Reds history.

Dick Williams, president of baseball operations for the Reds, revealed they were the first team to make an offer to Akiyama when he was available. Akiyama himself made the trip to San Diego for the winter meetings to talk with several MLB teams face to face, a common working practice in Japan.

This aggressive offer combined with the opportunity made perfect sense for all parties involved. The Reds do not have an established outfield while having a short term need in centerfield. Akiyama will provide a bridge or stop-gap as a short term solution while the Reds can determine which prospects are worth keeping for the long run.

Currently, the Reds have four touted outfielders with two of them as highly touted who are thought to be part of the long-term plans, but Akiyama could put a dent into someone's path. They already designated Nick Martini for assignment to make room for him on the 40-man roster.

Phillip Ervin, 27, was a first-round draft pick by the Reds (27th overall) in 2013 and made his MLB (ichi-gun) debut in 2017. Nick Senzel, 24, was the second overall draft pick in 2016 and saw his first ichi-gun action last year until a torn labrum ended his season.

Aristides Aquino, 25, was a significant international free agent signing out of the Dominican Republic who showed flashes in 2019 and also made his ichi-gun debut in 2018. Lastly, Jesse Winkler, 26, was a compensatory first round pick (49th overall) in 2012 who has also shown promise but had injuries.

On paper, the addition of Akiyama gives uncertainty on who will play everyday. They can platoon easily with Akiyama having extreme splits against right-handed pitching and he himself said he is fine with any position that the Reds need him.

In his press conference, Akiyama admitted he isn't a power hitter, but focuses on getting on base and hitting for average to help the team, something he did in 2015 where he set a single-season NPB record for hits (216) and nearly reached a record hitting streak in consecutive games. He said his always inspired to be like Ichiro Suzuki.

Nothing will be guaranteed until he steps on the field. as ZiPS projects. Great American Ballpark is hitter-friendly and it's possible he could have more power if the wind goes his way. Defensively, his range will likely decline given his age and how he won't be the same like with the Saitama Seibu Lions.

In a best-case scenario, Akiyama becomes an everyday starting outfielder. On the flip side, he could be a situational hitter if others leap him on the depth chart, but he will be a bridge to the future outfielders who are already on the team.

With the Reds already having the aforementioned distinction of no Japanese-born player in their history, we learned about their full approach when trying to sign Shohei Ohtani in 2017. Even with the underdog odds, their aggressive tactics from back then paid off two years later for Akiyama.

Normally, the Reds are a small market team who has had their share of struggles in a division containing the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs and an upstart Milwaukee Brewers group. They don't sign high-profile free agents, which led to Akiyama's signing being a welcome addition for fans, the front office and the media. They gave his signing a larger play, compared to how the Toronto Blue Jays made a minimal announcement for Shun Yamaguchi.

Earlier this offseason, they signed Wade Miley and Mike Moustakas when they're in a transition on wanting to contend. Last year, they traded prospects in hopes to win in 2019, only to come up short as a fourth place team. Team success could very well hinge on Akiyama's production if it can get them to compete in a tough division.

If anything, the Japanese community in Cincinnati has already welcomed him and there could be a boost in some tourism to south Ohio. Good luck, Shogo.

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Monday, December 30, 2019

Report: Akiyama reaches three year agreement with Reds


Shogo Akiyama reached an agreement with the Cincinnati Reds to a three-year contract on Monday afternoon, as first reported by Nikkan Sports. The financial terms are not official, but expected to be worth more than $15 million for three years.

Several previous reports had Akiyama linked to the Chicago Cubs, Arizona Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres as candidates.

Akiyama, who turns 32 in April, was a leadoff hitter for the Saitama Seibu Lions and broke a single-season hits record in 2015 with 216, passing Matt Murton, who passed a previous record from Ichiro Suzuki.

He was the leadoff hitter for majority of the last five seasons and recently began hitting home runs. In 2019, Akiyama batted .303/.392/.471 with 20 home runs.

Akiyama will fill a need at centerfield for the Reds as Nick Senzel is coming off shoulder surgery. Last fall, Akiyama was hit by a pitch during the Premier 12 and is rehabbing his own injury. 

With Akiyama joining the Reds pending a physical, he will be the first Japanese-born player in franchise history as they are the only MLB team without one. 

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Friday, December 27, 2019

One year later: Progress report on the 2018 Seibu Lions draft class


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The 2018 Saitama Seibu Lions draft class is only one year into professional baseball, but it doesn't hurt to look at how things are going. For now, this is just a short term review.

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Reminder that none of these grades are in stone as it's only been two years. 

First round: P Wataru Matsumoto (Nittai University, Tokyo)

The Lions were the only team to take a college player in opening part of the first round for the draft. All 11 other teams had opposition to their picks while the Lions scooped one of the top pitchers available for the short term. After a month in ni-gun, Matsumoto already made some flashes at the ichi-gun with a 7-4 record in 85.1 innings while having a 4.54 ERA. 

While there are a share of wild pitches, he has shown solid command through year one. The Lions think he can be the team's ace.  Grade: B+ 

Hindsight: The Tigers took Koji Chikamoto, Hawks took Hiroshi Kaino, several high school prospects still have intrigue and upside, but the Lions took a safe path here. 

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Second round: P Yutaro Watanabe (Urawa Gakuin HS, Saitama)

Watanabe only saw two games in ni-gun where the sample size in relief isn't big enough to discuss. He was viewed as a fallback first round option had the Lions lost on Matsumoto's rights. Plenty of time to grow ahead with the team hoping he takes a step forward.  Grade: None 

Hindsight: None (Lions were drafting at the end of this round)

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Third round: IF Kakeru Yamanobe (Mitsubishi Motors Okazaki, Aichi)

Yamanobe was hoping to continue the trend of a position player being taken in the third round in an even-numbered year as compared to his senpai (Hideto Asamura, Shogo Akiyama, Yuji Kaneko, Shuta Tonosaki, Sosuke Genda). This shakaijin failed to make an early impact in his first professional year with only one base hit in nine games. 

On a positive note, he did well in ni-gun with 29 stolen bases in 87 games as a regular. He saw time at 3B and 2B, but could also go at SS if necessary. The Lions believe his bat still needs work, but he had several scouting comparisons to Genda with defense and speed. His window to make an impact is shorter than the rest, but he'll get a pass in year one. Grade: C

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Fourth round: P Kaito Awatsu (Higashi Nihon Kokusai, Fukushima)

Awatsu was a college pitcher who was inspired to pitch in a similar manner to Tetsuya Shiozaki, who is currently working in the Lions front office. He was a regular reliever in ni-gun with a 4.56 ERA in 32 games. Awatsu made his ichi-gun debut in a game I attended against the Yomiuri Giants in garbage time, allowing two runs in two innings. It was his only career ichi-gun action up to this point. He'll be hoping for a better 2020. Grade: C

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Fifth Round: C Shoya Makino (Yugakkankoto HS, Ishikawa)

Makino got his feet wet in ni-gun and stayed there, recording a low slashline in 47 games. It's possible the Lions see him as a future catcher after Tomoya Mori or even a backup.  Grade: None

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Sixth Round: P Ryosuke Moriwaki (Sega Sammy, Tokyo)

Moriwaki saw ichi-gun time in the first half of the 2019 as a reliever, but he couldn't hold his position as a 7th inning setup man. In an up and down year, he is most remembered for starting a bean war with the Orix Buffaloes as he hit a few batters. This includes a bases-loaded HBP which drew an Orix coach to make contact with him. Grade: C

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Seventh round: IF Ryusei Sato (Fuji University, Iwate)

Sato was the only rookie to make the Opening Day roster and was at the ichi-gun for most of the season. He spent his first year on the bench, playing mostly 3B as a defensive replacement, but excelled when given the chance. Sato even had a few timely hits in his young career. If he can be the heir to Takeya Nakamura on the infield, the Lions may have picked up a steal.  Grade: B

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Ikusei 1: P Aoi Tono (Nikkei University, Fukuoka)

Tono saw eight ni-gun games recording a 7.85 ERA in 28.2 innings of work. He lived up to the billing of an ikusei pick early on. This is still a work in progress. Grade: C

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Ikusei 2: P Jiyu Okubo (Hokkai HS, Hokkaido)

Okubo was picked for his size and possible upside regarding a high school pitcher. He played in only two ni-gun games and recorded only five innings. He's still a raw prospect in the short term. Grade: None 

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Ikusei 3: C Daichi Nakaguma (Tokuyama University, Yamaguchi)

Nakaguma was a surprise ikusei pick as the Lions took three players in this round of the draft. In an injury riddled 2019, he only appeared in 12 ni-gun games where then-coach Takanori Hoshi needed to be registered as an ikusei for emergency catching depth. Nakaguma still has time to grow. Grade: None

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Overall:

Obviously this class is too early to call in any direction, but the first year impact of Sato and Matsumoto can't be ignored. If three starters or ichi-gun regulars can be found in this group, it's a successful class. Grade: None

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Twitter poll results:
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Other years:

2010

2011

2012




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Monday, December 23, 2019

Lions announce signing of Reed Garrett


The Saitama Seibu Lions announced on Tuesday that they added another foreign pitcher in Reed Garrett. He is the third foreign signing by the Lions for this offseason.

Garrett, 26, was a Rule 5 draft pick of the Detroit Tigers in the winter of 2018. He made the opening day roster and made his MLB debut on March 29. With the Tigers, he recorded an 8.22 ERA in 13 games while mostly taking mop up duties.

The Tigers would send him back to the Texas Rangers on May 20 per Rule 5 draft rules and he spent the rest of 2019 with the Nashville Sounds (AAA). In 34 games with Nashville, he recorded a 1-3 record with a 4.91 ERA in 40.1 innings of work. 

Scouting reports say that Garrett is a hard thrower who lacks command. He can also throw a slider, split-fingered fastball and changeup. He had promise in AAA which led to his Rule 5 selection, but it all went South in 2019 when he was on the MLB roster.

With Cory Spangenberg and Sean Nolin already signed, Garrett becomes another relief option for the Lions with hopes to find someone to take 7th or 8th inning duties.

His best case scenario is if he is paired with Katsunori Hirai as a setup option to take the workload off the other pitchers. He can top out at 97 mph (156 kph), but his control issues were clear once he faced major league hitters and couldn't keep his spot.

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Numbers assigned: 

Lots of Seibu Lions jerseys numbers were assigned or changed with the rookies and foreign imports arriving.  Here are the updates:

Hotaka Yamakawa: 33 to 3

Tetsu Miyagawa: 15

Shota Hayama: 20

Hiroki Inoue: 41

Ryuya Ogawa: 44 to 29

Kaito Yoza: 44

Koki Matsuoka: 47

Shunta Nakatsuka: 22 to 50

Towa Uema: 64

Makoto Aiuchi: 41 to 66

Toshihiro Idei: 120

Masatoshi Okada: 37 to 2

Sena Yuge: 37

Masato Saito: 78

Ryota Kawano: 56

Yuji Kaneko: 8 to 7

Daisuke Togawa: 71 to 65

Junichiro Kishi: 68

Sean Nolin: 49

Cory Spangenberg: 22

Reed Garrett: 33

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