Saturday, October 28, 2023

2023 NPB Draft: A summary of each Lions pick



The Saitama Seibu Lions drafted a total of 13 players combined in the 2023 NPB Draft and ikusei rounds. 

Their first round had some thrill to it with winning a three-way drawing for the rights to LHP Natsuki Takeuchi. Here is a summary of each pick:


Round 1: LHP Natsuki Takeuchi 武内 夏暉

College: Koku Gakuin (Tokyo)

High School: Yahata Minami (Fukuoka)

Date of Birth: July 21, 2001

Height: 185 cm (6' q")

Weight: 90 kg (198 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Left/Left

Takeuchi is viewed as one of the best players available in this draft. He can hit 153 km/H while throwing a fastball, slider, changeup and curve ball.  

For his college career, he was a star in his junior season and remained a starter. He also participated in the national Japan-America University baseball tournament as a reliever..

The Lions likely had him as the No. 1 ok ayer on their draft board valuing both his velocity and excellence in control. This also shores up the depth for the left-handed rotation to join Chihiro Sumida. If everything goes right, he could be inserted into the starting rotation to begin the 2024 season. 

Trivially as a Fukuoka Prefecture native, his inspiration and game is modeled after Tsuyoshi Wada and he was a fan club member for the Softbank Hawks since elementary school. He's also a fan of the restaurant chain Sukesan Udon.

Team quote: "He is a skillful and clever pitcher with good control and a high level of perfection."


Round 2: RHP Taiga Ueda (上田 大河)

College: Osaka Shogyo (Osaka)

High School: Osaka Shogyo (Osaka)

Date of Birth: November 15, 2001

Height: 182 cm (6' 0")

Weight: 86 kg (190 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Right

Ueda has experience as both a reliever and starter with the ability to top out at 154 km/h. Besides a fastball, he can also throw a cutter, changeup, slider, curve and fork ball. 

He emerged in his senior season with a low ERA of 1.33 and was part of the national championship tournament.

With his power pitching abilities, he could develop into an effective reliever. 

Team Quote: "He is a highly capable, tough and ready-to-play pitcher with a high physical strength."


Round 3: LHP Haruki Sugiyama (杉山 遙希)

High School: Yokohama (Kanagawa)

Date of Birth: September 23, 2005

Height: 181 cm (5' 11")

Weight: 80 kg (176 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Left/Left

Sugiyama has a max velocity of 147 km/H and can throw a fastball, curve, slider and changeup. He was the ace pitcher at Yokohama High School for three seasons and pitched at the Koshien tournament in two of them. Notably, he gave up a losing home run to eventual Kanagawa and national tournament champions Keio High school in his senior season. 

The Lions see a future left-handed pitcher who could be a rotation candidate down the line. He appears to be a control pitcher and should develop in a few years. 

Team Quote: "He is a skilled left-handed pitcher who has a sharp fast ball and is also highly accurate with his breaking balls."


Round 4: RHP Harusei Narita (成田 晴風)

High School: Hirosaki Kogyo (Aomori)

Date of Birth: February 27, 2006

Height: 185 cm (6' 1")

Weight: 86 kg (190 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Right

Narita has a fastball that can top out at 150 km/h with the ability to also throw a slider, Curve, cutter, changeup and fork. His ability to mix up his pitches and versatility likely drew attention of the scouts. He has no Koshien tournament experience and his school only finished as high as the Aomori Prefectural semi-finals. 

His velocity and size should only improve with time as he's only 17 at the time of this writing. In a few years of developing, Narita could be a rotation candidate. 

Trivially, his family farms both tomatoes and asparagus. 

Team quote: "He is a pitcher who can push through with force and throw a variety of breaking balls with high horsepower (velocity)."


Round 5: RHP Taisei Miyazawa (宮澤 太成)

Independent League Team: Tokushima Indigo Socks (Tokushima)

College: Hokkaido (Hokkaido)

High School: Nagano (Nagano)

Date of Birth: April 15, 1999

Height: 185 cm (6' 1")

Weight: 95 kg (209 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Right

Miyazawa has a maximum velocity of 155 km/h and can throw a curve, fastball and fork ball. He only played in the Shikoku Island League for the 2023 season after earning his way on through a tryout. He sat out his senior year in college due to an injury, but strengthened himself after rehab. 

This resulted in a very unconventional path to baseball. While playing independent League baseball in the Shikoku Island league, he was also taking classes to finish his degree at Hokkaido University, a Division II baseball program. He became the first baseball player drafted in university history.  

In one season with the Tokushima Indigo Socks, he threw away a reliever and has only 19.1 innings of work. With the Lions, he could be a relief pitcher if the coaches can fix his command. 

Team Quote: "He is an attractive pitcher with two distinctive forkballs and a powerful fastball."


Round 6: IF Leon Murata (村田 怜音)

College: Kogakkan (Mie)

High School: Ouka (Mie)

Date of Birth: August 4, 2001

Height: 196 cm (6' 5")

Weight: 110 kg (243 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Right

Murata was the cleanup hitter in college and showed he can hit with power. He earned the cleanup hitting position in his freshman season and attracted the attention of scouts at various university tournament games. 

Mostly a first baseman, he provides immediate competition for a position of need with Kento Watanabe. How can he hit against professional is the question. 

Team Quote: "Although he is raw, his power hitting made him attractive. He can be a cleanup hitter in the future."


Round 7: RHP Ryota Itogawa (糸川 亮太)

Industrial League Team: ENEOS (Kanagawa)

College: Rissho (Tokyo)

High School: Kawanoe (Ehime)

Date of Birth: April 30, 1998

Height: 174 cm (5' 9")

Weight: 77 kg (170 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Right

Itogawa can throw as fast as 149 km/h with a fastball, slider, curve, sinker and changeup in his arsenal. He has experience as a starter and reliever. Itogawa's breaking balls are his specialty with the sinker being a main weapon while also having good control. 

Notably, he was teammates with fellow draftee Ryuki Watarai (first round pick of the Yokohama DeNA Baystars) at ENEOS as they won a shakaijin championship together. For the championship game, he was the winning staffing pitcher. He was once on the collegiate Samurai Japan team. 

The Lions really liked his breaking pitches and think he could come in as a reliever. 

Team Quote: "He is a pitcher with an effective sinker. We are looking forward to him being an immediate ichi-gun pitcher."


Ikusei round

Round 1: LHP Joseph Konosuke Sinclair  ジョセフ 孝ノ助 シンクレア

Independent League Team: Tokushima Indigo Socks (Tokushima)

College: Mary (North Dakota), Cochise Junior College (Arizona)

High School: John Oliver (Vancouver, British Columbia)

Date of Birth: June 12, 2001

Height: 193 cm (6' 4")

Weight: 94 kg (207 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Left/Right

Primarily a relief pitcher, he had a dominant 27 innings of work in 2023 with 22 strikeouts. His top speed is 151 km/h where he can throw a two-sean fastball and a slider. 

Sinclair is a half-Canadian Japanese born citizen with a Canadian father. He was also part team Canada during the Little League World Championship. He was born in Saitama Prefecture. 

Team Quote: "He is a pitcher who has an angular fastball and slider that has an advantage due to his height."


Round 2: RHP Asahi Taniguchi

Independent League Team: Tokushima Indigo Socks (Tokushima)

High School: Koryo (Hiroshima)

Date of Birth: April 3, 2004

Height: 185 cm (6' 1")

Weight: 85 kg (187 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Right

Taniguchi was only drafted for potential and age, being 19 at the time of this writing. 

Control was largest problem when he was a pitcher. He is mostly an athlete who needs refining. The Lions see him as a position player instead of pitcher.

One year removed from high school, Taniguchi has very minimal experience in recorded games. 

He appeared in only 3 games with the Indigo Socks as a reliever and had one relief appearance in high school during the Hiroshima prefectural Koshien qualifier tournament. 

Team Quote: "He has great physical traits and plenty of room to grow. There are high hopes for him as a fielder."


Round 3: LHP Masahiro Kawashimo (川下将勲)

High School: Hakodate Yuto (Hokkaido)

Date of Birth: April 3, 2005

Height: 186 cm (6' 1")

Weight: 72 kg (159 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Left/Left

Kawashimo was the ace for his high school and will need to bulk up in order to earn a promotion. He can top out at 142 km/h with a slider, changeup, curve and fastball in his arsenal. 

He has an unusual form when pitching with a high knee lift, but this could be an advantage with time. 

Team Quote: "He has a well-balanced form and is a pitcher who can throw angular fastballs from his tall body."


Round 4: IF Koji Kaneko (金子功児)

Independent League Team: Saitama Musashi Heat Bears (Saitama, BC League)

High School: Komyo Gakuin Sagaminara (Kanagawa)

Date of Birth: September 2, 2003

Height: 185 cm (6' 1")

Weight: 86 kg (190 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Right

Kaneko was the starting shortstop for the Heat Bears out of the BC League with 109 hits in 121 games, four home runs and 43 RBIs for a .242 career batting average. 

He has good defense with a strong arm and can run 50 meters in 6.2 seconds. That being said, he had his share of errors with 29 in his last 65 games. 

If he improves his offense and fielding, it can earn a promotion. 

Team Quote: "He has a good balance between hitting and defense. There is a good sense of awareness."


Round 5: RHP Shota Kise (木瀬 翔太)

High School: Kitasaga (Kyoto)

Date of Birth: April 5, 2005

Height: 185 cm (6' 1")

Weight: 82 kg (181 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Right

Kise attracted scouts during the Kyoto prefectural Koshien qualifiers where he pitched a complete game as the team's ace. He can top out at 146km/h and can take advantage of a good fastball from his height. Kise can also throw a slider, cutter, changeup, and two types of fork balls. 

Impressively, he improved his velocity from 130 km/h to 146 km/h in three years of high school.

Team Quote: "He has a well-balanced physique, good arm motion and has great potential as a pitcher."


Round 6: OF Koichi Okumura (奥村光一)

Independent League Team: Gunma Diamond Pegasus (Gunma)

College: Tokai (Tokyo)

High School: Tokai (Shizuoka)

Date of Birth: December 24, 1999

Height: 177 cm (5' 10")

Weight: 82 kg (181 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Right

Okumura led the BC League with 33 stolen bases in 2023 and had an on-base percentage of .400. He can run 50 meters in 5.9 seconds. 

If his bat develops, he could be a pinch runner or substitute for the late games. That being said, his window is shorter given he will be 25 at the start of 2024. The Lions see him as an athlete they can coach. 

Team Quote: "He is a player with a great overall physical ability and a combination of speed and power."


Quick analysis

The Lions took the best player on their board and stuck with it throughout the draft. Many may question why their below average offense wasn't addressed in this draft with only one position player taken in he main round, but talent appeared to trump anything else.

Long term, the Lions need pitching options when Kona Takahashi and eventually Kaima Taira want to go to MLB someday. They took a decent amount of flyers in the ikusei round with hopes someone can earn a promotion.

On offense, this is a vote of confidence in Kento Watanabe, Gakuto Wakabayashi, Shohei Suzuki and Takuya Hiruma to grow and improve their game. 

Takeuchi doesn't have the highest upside on paper, but his control was valued more than anything velocity related. He should be a mainstay in the rotation. 

It will take time to evaluate this class, but in a good 4-5 years, a decent chunk of it will either be established or flaming out. 


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Thursday, October 26, 2023

Lions land Takeuchi as their first round draft pick



When the 2023 NPB Draft commenced, a form of normalcy returned in a giant conference room at a hotel with all executives gathering once again.

The Saitama Seibu Lions ended up getting LHP Natsuki Takeuchi, their intended target with the first round draft pick. Both the Yakult Swallows and Fukuoka Softbank Hawks tried to go for Takeuchi's rights, but manager Kazuo Matsui had the winning ticket. 

Takeuchi is thought to have some of the best control for a college pitcher and can hit 153 km/h. On paper, he could be in the Lions rotation for the start of 2024. 

Lions 2023 Draft Picks:

1. LHP Natsuki Takeuchi, Koku Gakuen University

2. RHP Taiga Ueda, Osaka Shogo University

3. LHP Haruki Sugiyama, Yokohama High School

4. RHP Harusei Narita, Hirosaki Kogyo High School

5. RHP Taisei Miyazawa, Tokushima Indigo Socks (Shikoku Island League)

6. IF Leon Murata, Kogakkan University 

 7. RHP Ryota Itogawa, ENOS

Ikusei picks

1.  LHP Sinclair Joseph Konosuke, Tokushima Indigo Socks

2. IF Asahi Taniguchi, Tokushima Indigo Socks

3. LHP Masahiro Kawashimo, Hakodate Yuto High School

4. IF Koji Kaneko, Saitama Musashi Heat Bears (BC League)

5. RHP Shota Kise, Kita Saga High School

6. OF Koichi Okumura, Gunma Diamond Pegasus (BC League)

We will have a detailed piece on all draft picks in a future post. 


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Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Lions announce Takeuchi as their 2023 draft nomination



The Saitama Seibu Lions announced their first round draft nomination as LHP Natsuki Takeuchi on Tuesday. 

Takeuchi is a college pitcher out of Koku Gakuin University in Tokyo.

"Out of the many potential candidates, Takeuchi is the most talented this year," General Manager Hisanobu "Nabe-Q" Watanabe said in a statement. "We are thinking of adding a little more depth to our left-handed starting rotation.''

Nabe-Q attributed to his control and high velocity being a big factor as to why they like Takeuchi the most. 

Since 2015, this is the seventh time the Lions have announced their first round draft pick before the draft itself. They only concealed their pick in 2016 and 2018 for Tatsuya Imai and Wataru Matsumoto, respectively.  

Here are the previous first draft pick attempts: 

2015: Shinsaburo Tawata, no opposition

2016: Tatsuya Imai, no opposition

2017: Daiki Tajima, lost to Orix Buffaloes

Took Hiromasa Saito unopposed

2018: Wataru Matsumoto, no opposition 

2019: Roki Sasaki, lost four way drawing to Chiba Lotte Marines

Took Tetsu Miyagawa and won drawing against Yomiuri Giants for his rights 

2020: Takahisa Hayakawa, lost four way drawing to Rakuten Eagles

Took Kento Watanabe unopposed

2021: Chihiro Sumida, won four-way drawing

2022: Takuya Hiruma, no opposition

2023: Natsuki Takeuchi?

Takeuchi has multiple teams linked to him beyond the Lions. It's very likely this pick will be contested by at least one or two other teams. As many as five teams could go for his rights. 

He can throw a fastball, curve, slider and changeup mixing up his style. His maximum velocity is 153 km/H. 


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Monday, October 23, 2023

2023 NPB Draft: Where do the Lions go from here?



The 2023 NPB Draft takes place on Thursday, October 26. While the Japan Series is the biggest distraction for the Hanshin Tigers and Orix Buffaloes, it's time for the rest of the league to look at their future and see who could be part of the plan going forward.

For the Saitama Seibu Lions, they're eyeing about 10 names for their first round nomination. 

Here's a look at each position:



The Lions announced Natsuki Takeuchi as their nomination 

There's been a higher load of pitchers being scouted and looked at by the Lions staff. Based on needs, any bullpen or rotation depth doesn't hurt to have. Factor in Kona Takahashi and Kaima Taira aiming to go to MLB someday and you need to think long term. 

Long term, LHP Yugo Maesa (Osaka Toin High School) could be an intriguing fall back option. Others include RHP Hayato Fuji and RHP Kenichi Murata out of university pitchers.

High school names have two-way players Keita Manabe (Koryo), Seiya Yokoyama (Ueda Nishi) and Issei Konno (Furukawa Gakuen). 

Expect at least four pitchers in this class.



The catcher situation has been rather fragile with Yuto Koga and Sena Tsuge taking the load. They can play defense, but offense is lacking. 

Yuya Shinto (Jobu University) is a candidate the Lions could take. They've also looked at Shuna Hori (Hotoku Gakuen High School) for a long term option.

In the senryokugai list, Masato Saito and Shota Makino were let go. 

Given Sena Tsuge is also coming off surgery on his elbow, they could take another depth option. 



The news was all centered on Rintaro Sasaki (Hanamaki Higashi HS), but it became an announcement he would go to University in the USA to obtain his goal of playing in MLB. 

Dan Kajiyama (Takeda HS) and Yuya Tanoue (Nihon Fujisawa HS) have been scouted. Leon Murata (Kogakkan University) is another candidate. 



The outfield is the biggest short term weakness on the Lions since 2020. Unfortunately, the estimated board doesn't project anyone to be seen. The only player the Lions have looked at is Ibuki Momotani (Ritsumeikan University).  He counts as a kohai for Yuji Kaneko. 

It's likely the Lions trust their picks from within hoping Takuya Hiruma develops while Manaya Nishikawa and Shohei Suzuki can be everyday starters if not Gakuto Wakabayashi. 

Fans would want immediate help and Kyoto Ueda (Meiji University) or Ryuki Watarai (JX-ENEOS) would make a lot of sense for immediate needs.  It appears both players aren't being looked at, unless the team is pulling a 180 and tricking everyone. 

The Lions appear to be fine with this area in the short term, but there haven't been any candidates who look to be there long term.  They're hoping Kenton Watanabe can develop. 



The Lions made a major cutting announcement with a combined 16 players (including two foreign ikusei) being let go. Seven players on the 70 man roster were cut while nine ikusei were designated as senryokugai. 

Logically, they should draft seven players before the ikusei round based on the roster openings. Even if pending free agents like Hotaka Yamakawa and Katsunori Hirai were on the roster, there's a total of 56 domestic players under contract.  They had six foreigners last season which would bump the number to 61, so the roster openings are there for up to nine if they keep the slots open for imports. 

Most reports indicate the Lions are eyeing a pitcher in the first round, but it hasn't been publicly announced at the time of this writing. 

Only the Hiroshima Carp have announced their nomination with Hayato Tsunehiro of Aoyama Gakuin. Everyone else has been silent. 


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Saturday, October 21, 2023

Lions announce 2024 coaching staff



The Saitama Seibu Lions announced their 2024 coaching staff one week after the regular season ended this month. 

Majority of the staff remains the same, with only one leaving. Farm pitching coach Tetsuya Utsumi left the Lions staff to join the Yomiuri Giants and Shinnosuke Abe's team, whom he played majority of his career for. 

New additions to the staff include Daiki Enokida and Tomoshi Aoki at the farm level. 

Enokida, 37, played for the Lions from 2018-2021 and came over through a trade with the Hanshin Tigers. He will serve as a farm pitching coach and be learning under Tatsuya Oishi. 

Aoki, 44, played for the Hiroshima Carp from 1998-2000 and had stints as a player in the independent BC League. Mostly recently he was a coach at Rissho University. 

Otherwise, we've seen two coaches swap places from ichi-gun to ni-gun as listed below.

Here is the full staff: 

Ichi-gun staff

Manager: 77 Kazuo Matsui

Head Coach: 83 Yosuke Hiraishi

Pitching Coach: 81 Kiyoshi Toyoda

Pitching Coach: 93 Hayato Aoki

Battery Coach 82 Kosuke Noda

Hitting Coach: 80 Shigenobu Shima

Hitting Coach: 91 Hisashi Takayama

Infield Defense and Base Running: 76 Masahiro Abe (Moves from ni-gun to ichi-gun)

Outfield Defense and Base Running: 86 Shogo Akada


Ni-gun staff

Manager: 74 Fumiya Nishiguchi

Field General Coach: 79 Tatsuya Oseki

Battery Coach: 96 Shota Nakata

Ikusei Battery Coach, Bullpen Catcher and human resources director:
98 Yuta Arakawa

Hitting Coach: 88 Hiroyuki Oshima

Infield Defense and Base Running Coach: 87 Satoshi Kuroda (moves from ichi-gun)

Outfield Defense and Base Running Coach: 84 Masato Kumashiro

Ikusei Infield Defense and Base Running Coach: 94 Yuji Onizaki

Pitching General Coach: 95 Tatsuya Oishi

Pitching Coach: 90 Shunichiro Osada

Pitching Coach: 85 Daiki Enokida

Ikusei Coach and Human Resources Development Chief: 97 Tomoshi Aoki


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Sunday, October 15, 2023

Rintaro Sasaki's decision is for the best in MLB


Top high school prospect Rintaro Sasaki announced he would not file paperwork to be eligible for the 2023 NPB Draft and instead choose to study abroad in the USA. 

As controversial as this sounds, Sasaki's goal is to reach MLB and this is for the better of getting there.

Position players have often struggled or have had fewer success in MLB compared to pitchers who come across the Pacific Ocean.

For every Ichiro Suzuki, there are more forgettable players like Tsuyoshi Nishioka or Kensuke Tanaka. 

There has always been questions if a position player could succeed if they saw the stateside culture and were integrated into it at a younger age.

Sasaki's father was also his head coach in high school at Hanamaki Higashi. This is the same leader and high school who was in charge of Shohei Ohtani from 2010-2012. 

It's likely he is listening to the advice of his father to truly pursue his goal to be a Major League player. 

In 2012, Ohtani was linked to going stateside, but still filed the paperwork for the draft with the discouragement to not take him. The Fighters took the risk and in a recruiting presentation,  convinced him to sign.

For Sasaki, it will be an adventure, but adapting to a stateside culture can also be beneficial, especially if he has an education from a school like Vanderbilt. Even learning English and being close to fluent in it will go a long way for his career.

The biggest elephant in the room for position players adjusting to MLB is the frequent high velocity, specifically at least 156 km/H (95 mph) or higher fastballs and several power pitchers continue to throw them at will. 

What has held many back from taking this path is the shame and fear that comes with this from Japanese teams. Shakaijin like Junichi Tazawa made it across, but at the price of not being wanted when coming back. Even though the former "Tazawa rule" is gone of sitting out years, teams can still refuse to bring a player in at their discretion.

Tazawa was in the independent BC League and went undrafted as someone who was in his mid-30s despite being eligible.

For Sasaki, it will be good for him to see a high level of competition through college and even the minors. Despite seeing great players in Japan, he wouldn't see major league fastballs as much, which hurt a player like Yoshitomo Tsutsugo or Shogo Akiyama when they came over.

It's a bold move for a teenager who is compared to Prince Fielder, but it is necessary to for Sasaki to put his money where his mouth is and chase his dream as a position player.


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Thursday, October 5, 2023

Lions announce 16 players will not be retained in 2024


As the Saitama Seibu Lions 2023 season ended this week, a dose of reality strikes several players.

The Lions announced a combined 16 players who are senryokugai (戦力外) as designated to not receive a contract offer for next season. 

The following names come from the main 70-man roster:

P Katsuhiko Kumon, P Hiroki Inoue, P Takeru Sasaki, P Ryosuke Moriwaki, P Yaku Cho, C Masato Saito and OF Seigo Nakayama. 

Kumon came in along with Shota Hiranuma in a trade with the  Fighters involving the now-retired Fumikazu Kimura and Ryusei Sato. 

Inoue, Sasaki, Nakayama and Moriwaki were all draft picks. Cho was the free agent compensation selection for the loss of Tomoya Mori while Saito was originally an ikusei draft pick. 

The following nine players as senryokugai were on Ikusei contracts:

P Hiromasa Saito, P Kaito Awatsu, P Sho Ito, P Towa Uema, P Toshihiro Idei, C Shoya Makino, OF Joseph Ken Miyamoto.  

Only Idei and Miyamoto never earned a promotion nor played an ichi-gun game.  Uema and Makino were initially retained as players recovering from injury. 

Saito, Awatsu and Ito were all draft picks demoted into an ikusei role. 

It was also reported in media that OF Romero Cuadrado and P Jasier Herrera would not be retained and were listed separately in the team release.  Both players were ikusei signings by the Lions. 


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