Saturday, January 13, 2018

Translation: Seibu Lions rookies move into the dorms for camp


The Saitama Seibu Lions rookie camp started earlier this month and all eight draft picks (including two ikusei) moved into the dorms near Seibu II. These rookies can also see Lions players participating in voluntary self training/practice in passing.

Each Lions rookie was filmed and photographed on moving to the dorms with thoughts on the team and their goal towards the future. They are also shown what kind of special item they brought with them in their luggage.  

Everyone except Sho Ito is still a student in either high school or college and they will all graduate in the spring. However, they are given an exemption to partake in training en route to being a professional baseball player. 

With some translation help and putting photos together, here's what we were able to find

First round pick Hiromasa Saito: 

Saito brought berry and peach jam from home.
On entering the dormitory: 

"I believe that I can devote my time to baseball here very much. In these well-equipped circumstances, I hope I have a plenty of training and practices." 

On how to stand out in voluntary training for rookies: 

"Well, I want to win to win over the coaches, not to be behind somebody on the depth chart. I want to take a step forward." 

Saito also wrote "Human power" on a card.  

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Second round pick OF Manaya Nishikawa: 

Nishikawa brought extra bedding. He also had a notable towel he brought with him to Koshien for all three years he was in it, making it easier to sleep.  
On entering the dormitory:

"I have heard it is too old, but I am completely okay here. It's well ordered."

On advice from OF Aito Takeda, who went to the same high school as Nishikawa and they were teammates in 2015: 

"I have got some advice on hitting through training with him." 

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Third round pick P Sho Ito:

Ito brought Lotte candy, including gum and chocolate. He's originally from Chiba prefecture.
On entering the dormitory: 

"I feel my heart beating, but I have been getting motivated as a professional baseball player. When I was shaking hands with Shogo Akiyama and Shota Nakata, I felt they had overwhelming presence. I also want to have such a presence in the future." 

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Fourth round pick P Kaima Taira:

Taira brought something from Gold's Gym. 
On entering the dormitory: 

"I am excited that I have got a chance to play in this well-equipped facility."  

Goal in the voluntary training for rookies: 

"Firstly, I want to get over the training to strengthen my physical skills to avoid injuries. I also want to pitch a lot in the farm system.Thank you for your support." 

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Fifth round pick P Kaito Yoza:

Yoza had no item, but had an MLB baseball as inspiration since Kazuhisa Makita is now a major leaguer.
On moving into the dorms: 

"MetLife Dome is very close here I think this facility is so good that I can feel the presence from the dome.  

On strengths besides submarine pitching: 

"Nothing, but I have got here with my pitching, I want to show it (to coaches or fans)." 

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Tsunashima brought a glove and bat that he had since elementary school, one of the first equipment items he had since playing baseball. 
On entering the dormitory: 

"This is the first time to have left my hometown in Niigata. It's been filled with a lot of fun." 

On shaking hands with Sosuke Genda and Hideto Asamura 

"I have watched them on TV, and I was very nervous." 

Goal in rookie camp: 

"I want to take a step forward, even only a little more than other rookies." 

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First ikusei pick: OF Wataru Takagi: 

Takagi had a watch. 
On entering the dormitory:

"Some players already live here. With them, I want to try to win the rooster spot." 

Goal: 

"‘Taking steady steps to lead you to a winner’ is a motto what I had through my high school days."  

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Second ikusei pick: C Masato Saito:

Saito brought his computer for his graduation thesis. He also had a baseball and poster signed by middle school students he was tutoring as well as some magazines. 
On entering the dormitory: 

"I'm feeling some anxiety because I left my hometown (in Hokkaido) first. I have to do everything on my own. From looking at the dormitory and practice facility, I am very happy to be here because there were not so good facilities both in our high school and university. I'm Very satisfied with even only a roofed facility. I don’t know how I can survive here, but I want to try my best." 

M. Saito attended a Division II college in Hokkaido. 

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Special Thanks to @Yoshi_Tanaka for translation help. 

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Friday, January 12, 2018

One year later: Progress report on the 2016 Lions draft class


After Norio Tanabe's era was finished, Hatsuhiko Tsuji stepped in as manager and the front office would have Hisanobu "Nabe-Q" Watanabe earn more power in the front office. Nabe-Q even had more say on the Tsuji hiring when they were looking for a fresh face.

Here's the early update on the first class in the Tsuji era:

Once again, this class is too early to write anything in stone, it's all penciled in. 

First round: P Tatsuya Imai (Sakushin Gakuin, Tochigi)

The Lions did not go for the hyped up Seigi Tanaka and all six B-class teams took a different player as a way of punishing those who did. There was no opposition for Imai's rights.

Imai's first season of professional baseball was cut short due to injury, where he suffered a shoulder problem in spring training camp. He saw a handful of ichi-gun games in relief and participated in the Fresh All-Star game (equivalent of futures all-star game) last summer. The Lions shut him down early before he could make his ichi-gun debut. Personally, we still had Imai as the best high school pitcher available. Grade: B

Hindsight: Taisuke Yamaoka has paid early dividends for Orix. Haruhiro Hamaguchi is a starter for the Baystars. 

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Second round: P Shunta Nakatsuka (Hakuoh University, Tochigi) 

Nakatsuka was sick in the first month of the season and saw most of the year in ni-gun. As with any young hard-throwing pitcher, Nakatsuka struggled with control with several walks. His ichi-gun debut came in September where the Lions looked to close out a blowout win. After retiring his first two batters faced, he threw 12 consecutive balls which led to the bases being loaded.

He also received a workload in Australia with the Melbourne Aces and again struggled with control out of the bullpen. In Australia, he was known as "The Big Man" due to his size. Nakatsuka is still young and has plenty of upside, but control needs to get better in order to make progress. Grade: B

Hindsight: Yuta Kuroki is a back end reliever for Orix. Yota Kyoda won the Central League rookie of the year award for the Chunichi Dragons. Tomohito Sakai and Taiki Ono have earned starts with the Marines and Tigers, respectively. Kazunari Ishii has been a regular fielder for the Fighters. 

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Third round: IF Sosuke Genda (Toyota Motors, Aichi)

The Lions took a shakaijin in the third round and he played every single inning at the ichi-gun level for 2017. Genda became the fourth player in NPB history to accomplish this feat and he won the 2017 Pacfic League rookie of the award. From his defense at shortstop and speed on the base paths, Genda helped propel the Lions to a second place finish. His future looks bright. Grade: A

Hindsight: None for now

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Fourth round: OF Shohei Suzuki (Shizuoka HS, Shizuoka) 

The Lions took a HS outfielder to be the heir to the current crop on the team. Suzuki made good progress in ni-gun and the Lions like what they're seeing him, hoping he can develop into a potential leadoff hitter. Suzuki said his personal goal would be to have a season hitting .300 and 30 stolen bases in the future.

He received frequent playing time in ni-gun by hitting .280/.364/.332 with 15 stolen bases. While it's unlikely he'll do anything in 2018, he looks good in the long run. Grade: B+

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Fifth round: P Katsunori Hirai (Honda Suzuka, Mie)

Hirai was one of the oldest players taken in the class as he was a shakaijin playing in Mie prefecture. He cracked the ichi-gun level in May and didn't have to look back, earning innings in medium leverage. Last year, he looked like a perfect candidate to be a righty specialist after Tatsuya Oishi missed most of the season with injury. He isn't flashy, but was solid for a rookie. Grade B-

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Sixth round: P Ichiro Tamura (Rikkyo University, Tokyo)

The Lions took only their second Tokyo Big6 player on the roster in Tamura and he struggled for most of the year. He was called up to the ichi-gun early on for mop up duty, but was lit up by several opposing hitters who had some tape measure home runs. \He's a very raw pick who still needs to develop. Grade: D

Hindsight: Rakuten took Yuhei Takanashi in this round. 

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Overall: 

It's too early to say what this class is on anyone, even for Genda as he was the league's best rookie. One hit wonders happen all the time, as Tomoya Yagi has shown. If everything goes right, Genda and Imai will be starting players while Nakatsuka can be a hard throwing reliever out of the bullpen. Hirai can take some innings in middle relief, Tamura develops into a better middle reliever and Shohei Suzuki's bat makes progress for the long term. All six players on this list still have potential to do something.

Thanks again for reading along to this draft series. Not sure when we'll review draft classes again. It could be two years or even one year from now on what to do next. Time will tell, but the classes from 2008-2011 are all but written in stone.
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Other years:

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Translation: Makita embraces new challenge with Padres, says farewell to Lions


Kazuhisa Makita signed a contract with the San Diego Padres earlier this week. He will make $3.8 million for two years and the Saitama Seibu Lions received $500,000 as a posting fee.

After taking a physical and signing his deal, Makita flew back to Japan and held a press conference on Wednesday in a formal farewell.

Here is what he said:

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Opening Statement: 

"I am here to report to you all that I have reached an agreement to have a contract with the San Diego Padres. I had expected to take a long time to have a contract, but I am relieved that I could close a deal without any problems."

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On the San Diego Padres: 

"Unfortunately, the Padres are not an exceptionally strong team now, but there are a lot of young talents there, so it's rewarding to play with them."

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 On pitching strengths:

"As I played in Japan, submarine pitchers like me are rare in the league. I want to make full use of my advantage."

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About the decision to play in MLB:

"The biggest opportunity was when I played in World Baseball Classic. It was there when I picked up confidence to play in MLB."

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On why he chose the Padres:

"There are many things that I’m not aware of, so it means alot to me to be able to get support. I thought the Padres offered a good environment. It was a better system to play in without any pressure or concerns."

(Takashi Saito is in the front office and Hideo Nomo works as an adviser for the Padres).

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On facing any specific batter in MLB: 

"Kenta Maeda would be nice. He belted a home run in his MLB debut at Petco Park. I have to make sure it doesn't happen again."

(Kenta Maeda was in the opposite league from Makita and didn't see each other much in NPB. They were teammates on Samurai Japan in the 2013 WBC and various exhibitions).

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Final message for Lions fans:

"I want to say thank you very much to teammates, staff, and fans. Without their support, I could not have played here for seven years.

"In my seven years here for the Seibu Lions, we could not win a pennant, but I have an impression that I have played for a team as nice as the Lions. As I will play in MLB next season. I cannot say, 'please push the team', but I want some support from the Lions fans as I will do my best there. Thank you for your support in the last seven years to me. I wish we won a pennant."

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About goals for the 2018 season:

"First of all, I have a good training regime to play without any injuries for the team the whole season. I will probably be in the bullpen and I want to play about 70 games."

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Special thanks to @Yoshi_Tanaka for the translation help. 

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Monday, January 8, 2018

Process of elimination: Who had a legit shot at Ohtani?


The Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes came and went with the Los Angeles Angels being the winners. However, his "free agency" was one of the most unique situations in MLB history where being the highest bidder financially meant nothing.

A recent conversation I had as well as thinking about it the entire offseason gave me an idea worth exploring.

While the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers, Seattle Mariners, San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers were also finalists, I figured there would be a fun exercise of eliminating teams based on reports we saw and hearing what Ohtani wanted.

What was the best way to do this? Remove what Ohtani doesn't want. Over time, we started learning what his preferences were and so on.

In this exercise, I'll go step by step and eliminate teams one by one. Some teams will be "eliminated" twice if they fit that category and are italicized if they were previously taken out. Without further ado, here we go:

Round 1: Avoid the Spotlight

Eliminated: New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets

New York Yankees General manager Brian Cashman was the first GM to make an announcement that the Yankees were out, so I figured this would be fitting to start here. Ohtani didn't want to play for a huge market team, as indicated by Dylan Hernandez. Being in the spotlight means every move will either be praised or ridiculed.

Did he want to risk himself by ending up hitting .200 after two months and everyone calling for his head? Of course not. The teams listed above would've been a dangerous market to be in due to national coverage and pressure among the media/fans. You could argue the Toronto Blue Jays go in the spotlight with being Canada's only team, but we'll let it slide here since a few other sports teams in that market get more attention.

Other teams were also considered here, but they play a "little brother" role to another team in the same market, keeping them out of the spotlight.

5 down, 25 to go

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Round 2: Avoid the National League, where the designated hitter does not exist

Eliminated: All National League teams (Dodgers, Cubs, Phillies, Mets) + San Francsico Giants, Colorado Rockies, San Diego Padres, Atlanta Braves, Arizona Diamondbacks, St. Louis Cardinals, Miami Marlins, Washington Nationals, Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds

Ohtani likes to hit and this was an easy call even before he was officially posted. For those who didn't see, he would pitch once a week, have the two days before and after off, then hit for three games as a designated hitter with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters.

Being in the National League hurts half of the league as the American League has the upperhand. The Colorado Rockies would've been intriguing given it's hitter-friendly atmosphere, but no national league team can play his bat frequently unless he was an outfielder, which is something he didn't do in NPB since 2014. It's doable, but ill-advised and he'd only come in as a pinch hitter besides the days he'd start.

17 down, 13 to go

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Round 3: Avoid all Spring Training Grapefruit League (Florida) teams 

Eliminated: (Marlins, Mets, Phillies, Pirates, Cardinals, Nationals) + Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers, Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins, Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays

When putting the pieces together, Ohtani's seven finalists in free agency were all teams who use Arizona in Spring Training. Prior to his posting, Ohtani had only been to two States in the USA: Arizona to train with the Fighters and Hawaii for the pennant trip in 2016 (and maybe even more trips).

It's possible that Ohtani liked working in the San Diego Padres facility in Peoria and enjoyed the training there. Either way, not having a Grapefruit League team as a finalist draws a round.

23 down, 7 to go 

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Round 4: Avoid a team that has a history of an established Japanese player

Eliminated: (Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox) + Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers

It's clear Ohtani didn't want to be compared to his fellow countrymen. People will always make a comparison as it's human nature, but playing on the same team that Ichiro Suzuki or Yu Darvish went to makes it even easier to look at the past. This is arguably the most demoralizing criteria for the American League teams listed knowing they have history,

I went with teams who had an established player or firm history with 4-5 significant years. Some teams have had guys in spurts or short term like the White Sox and Tadahito Iguchi, but no one has had a large Japanese history like the five teams mentioned above in my book.

25 down, 5 to go

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While the five teams remaining don't agree with the seven official finalists, the Kansas City Royals, Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Angels, Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians would be our unofficial contenders for the Ohtani sweepstakes.

This is our hypothetical look at each team available and trying to find info on their pitch: 

Cleveland Indians: 

The Indians nearly won the 2016 World Series and let Carlos Santana walk. Their rotation was already stacked, which wouldn't give a desperate need for Ohtani's services. Their lineup would've only needed a few DH at bats, but Cleveland is already a contender and could be patient with Ohtani if they buried him in the farm.

Financially, they didn't have the highest bid, but it's unclear what the team's pitch was to the two-way player.  Reports indicated they wanted him, but were limited with resources. Cleveland also had the lowest international pool money among all teams.

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Chicago White Sox:

The White Sox recently traded off their assets in Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, but have built up a top farm system as a result. Their sell should've been their hitter-friendly ballpark and it's porch making it easy to hit home runs.

General Manager Rick Hahn was quoted with quoting other famous quotes and felt it was a long shot to land Ohtani. Chicago may be a large market, but the Southsiders are still under the Cubs shadow. Like the Indians, they had doubt of landing him. Financially, Chicago was in the bottom tier of pool money.

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Kansas City Royals: 

The Kansas City Royals entered the offseason with three core players from their 2015 World Series Championship team becoming free agents. Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas are still free agents today at the time of this writing.

General Manager Dayton Moore did not feel the Royals were in the hunt to begin with. Kansas City's area is not as diverse and compared to other markets, would be obscure. The Royals front office viewed Ohtani as wishful thinking and were likely focused on wanting to retain some of their free agents.

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Los Angeles Angels:

The Los Angeles Angels had the west coast on their side which could've been viewed as an advantage. Their biggest selling point? Having an MVP in Mike Trout. For a team that has been stuck in mediocrity, Trout has been the only reason the team gets national headlines, with only one postseason since he has been in Orange County.

General Manager Billy Eppler arguably gave the best presentation of the field with a more attractive offer than the rest. Entering the offseason, the Angels had one of the lowest international pool money funds available, but made a trade with the Minnesota Twins when the latter found out their were eliminated.

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Oakland Athletics:

Like the Angels, Oakland A's selling point was certainly not their stadium. They focused on history, location and manager Bob Melvin.

Oakland spent most of their international pool money a year ago and were mostly cash-strapped, but still had more funds than the Angels prior to that trade.

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Verdict: 

This was the statement released by Ohtani's agent Nez Balelo of CAA.
“This morning, after a thorough, detailed process, Shohei Ohtani has decided to sign with the Los Angeles Angels. Shohei is humbled and flattered by all the time and effort that so many teams put into their presentations and sincerely thanks them for their professionalism. In the end, he felt a strong connection with the Angels and believes they can best help him reach his goals in Major League Baseball.
“I want to thank the clubs and everyone else for respecting our intent to make this very important process as private as possible. We were resolved to having a fair, methodical process. Teams clearly put in a lot of work, and we are grateful for that. The past few weeks also further demonstrated Shohei’s incredible thoughtfulness, attention to detail and determination to make an informed decision. He read every page of every presentation and listened to every word in each meeting, and he was so impressed that it was not an easy choice.
While there has been much speculation about what would drive Shohei’s decision, what mattered to him most wasn’t market size, time zone or league, but that he felt a true bond with the Angels. He sees this as the best environment to develop and reach the next level and attain his career goals. More than ever, I believe this is not only a special talent but a man of special character, and like everyone else I’m excited to see him in Major League Baseball.”
Ohtani turned down three of the top four teams in international pool money right away (Pirates, Yankees, Twins). Money didn't factor into his decision, but did it affect how other teams approached him? Quite possibly.

It's as if being ranked near the bottom gave a few teams low confidence. This isn't true for all teams as the finalist Dodgers had the same funds as the White Sox, Athletics and Royals.

While the agent said the league didn't matter, having a DH vs no DH plays a huge role in being able to develop Ohtani and getting him at-bats without forcing him in the field. Based on the reports, Eppler's presentation killed it and won Ohtani over to draw that "connection". The most interesting thing is how there is "no promises" as the report indicates.

Mike Scioscia has been a stubborn manager and is known for managing like it's 2002. Can he be innovative? His press conference at the winter meetings hinted how the Angels wanted a pitcher. While there is no guarantee, the Angels will need to be patient with him and can't just ignore his hitting abilities. Even with the presentation, Eppler himself was stunned and fell in celebration.

Brian Cashman of the Yankees and Jon Daniels of the Rangers likely had the most crazy sounding offers on the table, but Ohtani shunned them for different reasons.

We can speculate the West Coast preference and eliminate even more in the field, but the finalists indicate that wasn't an issue since the A's were gone and the Rangers still existed at one point. The Angels fit the bill of being in the Cactus League, American League, having no significant NPB history and being out of the spotlight as second fiddle to the Dodgers in their market.

In the end, Mike Trout's presence could've eliminated all 29 other teams right away, but it makes you wonder how hard the others even tried to go for him. Did they just do a small presentation as a formality to say they're participating? Who put in the work for him? Everyone knew who he was, but did they even try or have any confidence?

That's a question we'll never know, as only the Cincinnati Reds made their pitch public.

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Saturday, January 6, 2018

Padres reach agreement with Makita to help their bullpen


The San Diego Padres reached an agreement with Kazuhisa Makita on Saturday morning (Early Sunday in Japan time). Makita will make an estimated $4 million over two years, according to Jon Heyman

Makita's salary will more than double the ¥100 million (less than $1 million) he made with the Saitama Seibu Lions in 2017. When contract negotiations came after 2016, he turned down a multi year offer from the Lions to take a one year deal, making himself a potential domestic free agent and having leverage to exercise his FA option if the Lions chose to not post him. 

In the past, Makita said it was his dream to play in the major leagues and now he will get the opportunity for a small wage in MLB terms. The Lions will receive a small posting fee as compensation from the Padres, which will likely be less than $1 million. 

The Padres already re-signed Craig Stammen and hope Makita can add more depth to their bullpen unit. They already have Brad Hand as a closer, though if Makita impresses the coaches, they could do a shuffle.

At age 33, he lacks the upside that any young pitcher has, but the Padres hope he can deliver as a stop gap in the short term. Makita can look no further than the front office for inspiration, as his fellow countryman Takashi Saito was "washed up" at age 36 when he signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

His career was revived in 2007 and he continued pitching in MLB until 2012. His playing career ended in NPB in 2015, but he earned a championship ring in 2013 when playing with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. Today, Saito works in the Padres front office and should be ideal goal for any pitcher who comes to MLB in their 30s.

Makita becomes the first Japanese Lions player to come stateside since Hiroyuki Nakajima in 2013. However, Nakajima failed to play a major league game after a poor spring training and became buried in the Oakland Athletics AAA and AA farm teams through 2014.

Wade LeBlanc was the last Lions pitcher to play in the states after a dismal 2015 and knows San Diego very well. Let's hope they kept in touch he can show Makita the ins and outs of the city.

From a Lions standpoint, it's understandable that they lost their top middle reliever and that fans will be frustrated Makita will no longer be with the team. However, take this signing as a good thing in the long run, as everyone who loves the Lions can be Padres fans when he dons their uniform.

Having NPB players come to MLB and finding success brings credibility to the league. While we won't say NPB is more talented, we want the game to be understood from more than just a North American bubble. The 2017 World Baseball Classic was all but a success, even if Japan didn't win the tournament. Team USA gave credit to the team where it was due as Tomoyuki Sugano and Kodai Senga put on a show in Dodger Stadium.

When a major league team wants you, that means you're good in their eyes and strengthens the morale of the team. From an MLB standpoint, the Lions are only known for Daisuke Matsuzaka and the baggage of a $51 million posting fee that came with it. While Kazuo Matsui contributed, there hasn't been anyone that got more attention than Dice-K which has drawn reduced posting fees and leverage for major league teams.

While the Padres are not our favorite MLB team, we're thrilled he'll get an opportunity in San Diego and the pressure won't be heavy. No one will ridicule the Padres if Makita doesn't pan out since it will cost only $4 million plus the posting fee. San Diego isn't New York and the team can be patient if they need to.

Most importantly for Makita, he'll get to reach his dream of playing in the majors. That alone is the story no one can take away from him.

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Friday, January 5, 2018

Report: Kazuhisa Makita and Padres in final negotiations through posting system


Kazuhisa Makita was the afterthought among pitchers going through the posting system behind Shohei Ohtani, but it appears he will find a destination. The San Diego Padres have reportedly become the team for Makita on Friday afternoon (Saturday morning in Japan time). This report mentioned several teams were interested, included the Texas Rangers.

With Makita going through the posting system, the Padres will be the team he will talk with and come to an agreement. The Lions will also receive a paltry posting fee as compensation.

Makita, 33, was a shakaijin drafted by the Saitama Seibu Lions in 2010 and has served as a pitcher in several roles. Most recently, he was the setup man in 2017 by taking the 8th inning. He recorded a 2.30 ERA in 62.2 innings of work with a 3-3 record. Makita has also started games from 2012-2015 and was the utility swingman reliever for multiple innings in 2016, where he had a 1.60 ERA in 78.2 innings.

The most unique feature of Makita's pitching is that he is a true submariner. By bringing him out of the bullpen, his underhand throwing can be a change of pace from anyone throwing over the top. With Samurai Japan, he was a specialist out of the bullpen and closed games for the national team in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.

San Diego has been a great getaway vacation for many and it's a place for anyone to enjoy. The Padres also have several Japanese connections on their staff. Manager Andy Green played for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters in 2007 while Takashi Saito and Hideo Nomo work in the front office.

Makita made about $1 million last season with the Lions and will likely make more than this in 2018. The Padres can use him as a middle reliever or even closer if they wish. Both sides will need to come to an agreement by 5:00 p.m. ET on January 10, which is the deadline and the end of the 30-day window for Makita's posting.

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Thursday, January 4, 2018

Two years later: Progress report on the 2015 Lions draft class


The Saitama Seibu Lions drafted their largest class in franchise history since they took 10 players in 1972. Who are they and what have they done since being taken in 2015?

Note: These grades are only penciled in and are more of a progress report. This entire class is too early to evaluate from everywhere and the league. 

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First round: P Shinsaburo Tawata (Fuji University, Iwate)

By taking a pitcher out of Fuji University, it was the third straight year the Lions took someone out of this school following Hotaka Yamakawa and Shuta Tonosaki. Tawata was taken without opposition even though they made an announcement the day before.

Coming off a shoulder injury, Tawata had an awful ichi-gun debut in Sapporo for 2016. However, a strong second half was promising where he pitched a shutout against the same Fighters team and in the same building. A slow start to 2017 saw Tawata pitch with another injury as it made his pitches flat. He had another strong second half including another shutout.

The Lions hope he can pitch more than 100 ichi-gun innings next year and that he can stay healthy. Management has to be happy with his slider and how he is able to miss bats through two years, but he has yet to put it together for a full season. Grade: B+ 

Hindsight: The Orix Buffaloes took Masataka Yoshida, Baystars selected Shota Imanaga 

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Second round: P Seiji Kawagoe (Hokkai Gakuen University, Hokkaido) 

Kawagoe was a two-way player in college and was drafted as a pitcher, despite having potential in the OF too. Unfortunately some injuries have derailed his short career and he hasn't been effective in ni-gun, where he had a 12.46 ERA in 10 games.  Grade: F

Hindsight: The Fighters selected P Takayuki Kato with this pick. Ryota Sekiya was drafted by the Marines.

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Third round: P Shogo Noda, (Seino Unyu, Gifu) 

The Lions went with a shakaijin in the third round and Noda has worked his way up to the ichi-gun early. In his first year, he started to get meaningful innings when the season ended and had low leverage outings in 2017. He had medium leverage innings for parts of 2017, but he's known as a nibbler and could still be a lefty specialist if everything goes right. Grade: B-

Hindsight: The Eagles took Eigoro Mogi. 

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Fourth round: OF Aito Takeda (Hanasaki Tokuharu HS, Saitama) 

The Lions took a HS outfielder from their own backyard in Takeda (formerly Otaki) as he was part of a Summer Koshien team that had a decent run. Takeda earned a few games at the ichi-gun level and was hit by pitch in his first career plate appearance. Despite not registering a hit, the Lions have to like his progression through ni-gun as he could be a future starting outfielder.  Grade: B

Hindsight: The Baystars took C Yasutaka Tobashira with this pick. 

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Fifth round: P Tadasuke Minamikawa (JR Shikoku, Kagawa)

A shakaijin from Shikoku was taken in this round by the Lions, but Minamikawa has done little at the ichi-gun level. He saw a few appearances in low leverage, but hasn't been given a meaningful inning. In 40 ni-gun games last year, he registered a 4.25 ERA in 48.2 innings of work.  He could still be a middle reliever and will be 26 next year.  Grade: C

Hindsight: The Hiroshima Carp selected Ryoma Nishikawa in this round. Koyo Aoyagi was drafted by the Hanshin Tigers. 

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Sixth round: P Keisuke Honda (Tohoku Gakuin University, Miyagi)

Honda is only the second-best known Keisuke Honda in Japan behind the midfielder of the same name. He has mostly been a starter in ni-gun and has remained productive, but has had issues finding time at the ichi-gun level. Honda was given a few spot starts, but has had better success internationally away from Japan.

He was part of the 2016 U23 Baseball World Cup in Mexico, where Samurai Japan won. Honda also dominated the Australian Baseball League in that same year in the five starts he was given. There's still hope he can amount to something, but it's likely others have passed him on the depth chart. Grade: C

Hindsight: None for now. 

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Seventh round: IF Nien Ting Wu (Daichi Kogyo University, Kagoshima)

Wu is originally from Taiwan, but moved to Japan at a young age due to his father being a player in the shakaijin leagues. He attended high school in Okayama prefecture.

With the Lions 2016 season being all but over, Wu started games at SS at the end of 2016 and had quite a few at bats. His time diminished in 2017 due to the emergence of Sosuke Genda, but he is a depth utility infielder and the team is having him play in the outfield so he can remain versatile. Grade: B-

Hindsight: None for now

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Eighth round: P Tsubasa Kokuba (Daichi Kogyo University, Kagoshima) 

Kokuba was a teammate of Wu's and an Okinawa native. He saw a short time at the ichi-gun at the end of 2016, but failed to play a game at the top level in 2017. In ni-gun, he had a 3.80 ERA in 19 games. Time could be running out if others emerge in front of him. Grade: D

Hindsight: None for now

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Ninth round: P Koki Fujita (Hirosaki Kogyo HS, Aomori)

Fujita was the only HS pitcher selected in this class and he spent the 2016 season recovering from an injury. He got his feet wet out of the bullpen for three ni-gun games in 2017, but he is a long term project. Grade: None

Hindsight: Orix took P Ken Akama in this round

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Tenth round: P Naoaki Matsumoto (Kagawa Olive Guyners, Kagawa)

The Lions took a flyer on a pitcher from the Shikoku Island League as Matsumoto turned 25 a month after he was drafted. While having a great underdog story of playing in a hospital league and helping elders to playing well in the Indy League and being drafted, He has done little at the ichi-gun.

He received a call up in late 2016 for a brief appearance in Fukuoka. As a reliever in ni-gun, he threw 50 innings in 34 games with a 6.84 ERA. Time could be running out on Matsumoto as he is 27 years old.  Grade; D-

Hindsight: None for now

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Overall:

This class could be average at best if only a few players work their way to the ichi-gun. Tawata and Noda are the only two players to receive significant playing time through two years. The jury will be out on anyone who was a shakaijin, college, or indy league player and if they don't play with the ichi-gun, they'll be viewed as roster filler or possibly expendable.

Other years:

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2016

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