Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Tomoya Mori brings a fresh face to baseball

Tomoya Mori is one of the youngest players on the Saitama Seibu Lions. Not only did he turn 20 earlier this month, but he has become one of the more intriguing players in his short time as a player on the ichi-gun team.

From having his batting music change from Dr. Dre, to a song titled "Yume ga Mori Mori" from Hiroko Moriguchi, which is a song that's older than him, he has a personality before he even steps on the field.

The Lions drafted him in 2013 without opposition, as the consensus crowd liked Daichi Osera and Yuki Matsui over Mori. In 41 games last year, he showed some flashes which included six home runs where he could rake the ball.

Before the 2015 season started, there was questions on whether Mori would be the starting catcher over Ginjiro Sumitani, who is a defensive stalwart behind the plate. Jim Allen of the Kyodo news advocated that Mori needed to be inserted into the lineup and the best solution was having him play as the designated hitter. He made the claim that spending any games at the ni-gun level in the Eastern League is a waste of time and his career.

The Lions all but listened to Allen, having him as the DH primarily this season with Sumitani remaining behind the plate. He was batting sixth for the first half, but has moved up to as high as the No.3 spot and occasionally batting fifth in front of the struggling Ernesto Mejia.

Considered to be undersized at 170 cm and 80 kg, Mori has answered the call with his bat, initially batting around .290 in the first half. His production took a dip to .285, but he has provided occasionally pop with 13 HRs and finds the gap with 28 doubles.

Mori garnered support for the 2015 All Star Series with the most votes among any player. Given the competition for the designated hitter vote, it was an easy call, but it's clear Mori has his own following around the country.

He is remembered for being the battery teammate of Hanshin Tigers pitcher Shintaro Fujinami, as both of them won the Summer Koshien Tournament in 2012. Fujinami of course was one of the more popular players to be drafted the year before in the 2012 draft.

With Mori having his own following and known to make funny swings, occasional base running bloopers, big hits, he could be one of the most exciting hitters to watch in the future. When Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura's time is done and when the Lions move on from Takumi Kuriyama, it could be Mori that becomes the face of the franchise.

In only his first full season, he has already dazzled as an interesting hitter despite being a catcher by trade. He has a big cut in his swing, but his plate discipline has improved as the season goes on. The game could change dramatically in the next five years, but Mori would be on pace to be one of the most consistent players with his bat.

A catcher by trade, it will be interesting if the Lions would ever decide to put him behind the plate in the future. The Lions have played him at the ni-gun level for a handful of games to let him develop as a catcher, but they love his bat so much that they make the effort to play him in the lineup.

Even when there were interleague games involving the designated hitter removed, the Lions countered the idea with him playing in right field, sacrificing defense so his bat was there.

If he tears it up in the next five or six years, he could be an MLB prospect that teams would look for. One thing we do know is, the sky can be the limit for a young catcher who is only 20. If there is any indication he continues to hit well, it will be trouble for the Pacific League for years to come.


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