Saturday, October 17, 2015

2015 NPB Draft: Which path do the Lions take?

The NPB Draft happens during the time of the Japan Series on Thursday, October 22. While the offseason began for 10 out of the 12 teams, the first transactions regarding players (not counting some contracts terminated) is through the draft.

For the MLB fans who aren't familiar, the first round of the draft is a free for all where everyone reveals the player they want in a public reveal at the same time. All 12 teams will announce their pick and if anyone has a matching name, they will do an old fashion lottery with a simple paper out of the hat (or in this case box) drawing.

Here is a famous clip from 1989 where a former Dodgers pitcher was coveted by eight different teams. It's currently tied for the record of the most teams wanting a single player.

Players are revealed by their name, position, then high school, university or independent/industrial league they came from. If your team was the only one to select a specific player in the opening reveal, that team ends up getting "their man" without opposition. As you can see from the Nomo video, four teams took players that no one else selected. 

If you lose the lottery to a player and redraft until everyone has a first round pick. They can do multiple lotteries in the draft in the event a team's second choice is also contested. Last year, the Hanshin Tigers ended up with their third choice of the first round.

Here is a clip of the Lions landing Yusei Kikuchi from the 2009 NPB Draft. Then-manager Hisanobu Watanabe pulled his name out of the box after having the first selection, making the odds even tougher. 

 More recently, this is how the 2014 NPB Draft played out. The Lions were able to select Kona Takahashi with only two players drawing a lottery.

From the second round and on, the draft order is like a traditional one where the worst team of one league goes first, then it reverses to the worst of the opposite league then flops back to the second worst of the original etc.

In this case, the draft order after the first round was decided by the head-to-head interleague play record, where the Pacific League won convincingly. Rather than the worst team going first in the next round, it's a snake draft so the best team will go back-to-back by selecting first in the third round.

Last year's order looked like this:

Here is how the draft order will look in the second round, while the odd rounds will be this list in reverse:

1. Rakuten Golden Eagles (Pacific League, 6th place)
2. Yokohama DeNA Baystars (Central League, 6th place)
3. Orix Buffaloes (PL, 5th)
4. Chunichi Dragons (CL, 5th)
5. Saitama Seibu Lions (PL, 4th)
6. Hiroshima Toyo Carp (CL, 4th)
7. Chiba Lotte Marines (PL, 3rd)
8. Hanshin Tigers (CL, 3rd)
9. Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters (PL, 2nd)
10. Yomiuri Giants (CL, 2nd)
11. Fukuoka Softbank Hawks (PL, 1st)
12. Tokyo Yakult Swallows (CL, 1st)

Teams can draft nearly as many players as they want, until round 10. However, teams will signal they are "done" after any given round to stop taking players. Some will stock up on youth, while other will leave space for other free agents.

The Lions' track record shows they will draft no more than six players in a given year. In 2013, they had a rare exception when taking seven.

After the draft concludes, the ikusei draft begins. We briefly explained about how ikusei works, where these players don't count against the 70-man roster and are essentially an NPB equivalent of an NFL "practice squad" for American terms.

Teams can take as many as they want and an example is how the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks stash several personnel on their Ikusei roster. While Ikusei has been around since 2005, the Lions have not participated in this until 2011, where they've taken at least one player in each year since.

Players who are eligible are either high school graduates, University graduates (no, you can't leave college early like the NFL or NBA), or they came from an industrial league or independent league.

While we won't pretend to be experts on knowing prospects, we do know a handful of players who could garner interest from the Lions. We'll look at each position group and based on needs and the current status of the team. Videos are linked to the names of players shown if possible. Thanks again to Dani (@the_hereford) for helping with players.

Teams in NPB have been stocking up on pitchers and it wouldn't be surprising if the Lions took this route. The rotation is uncertain for 2016 with several guys spending time in the bullpen and rotation at the end of last year. 

If the Lions wanted immediate help, they could easily take a university, independent or industrial league pitcher to go in the bullpen or rotation. Their track record shows they aren't scared of drafting an older player and they've taken several industrial/independent league players including Ken Togame, Kazuhisa Makita, Ryoma Nogami, Tatsushi Masuda, Tomoni Takahashi and Yosuke Okamoto.  Last year, they took Kona Takahashi with their first round selection unopposed. Expect at least one older pitcher selected within the first three rounds due to help needed.  

Junpei Takahashi is considered a hot name, but he is a high school pitcher drawing interest from several teams. I think the Lions will go outside the box rather than risk themselves in the sweepstakes.  

Shota Imanaga is a University pitcher who could be a candidate for the Lions. Another name floating around is University pitcher Kenta Uehara.

Ryota Sekiya is an industrial league pitcher who also has been rumored as a mid round pick. Lastly, the Lions could go for University pitcher Shinzaburo Tawata.  

The Lions took Masatoshi Okada and Tomoya Mori in the same draft of 2013. While Ginjiro Sumitani is the current catcher, they can take a late round player if they want to move on from some older players buried in ni-gun. Otherwise, there isn't an immediate need for catcher. 

The Lions have plenty of defensive shortstops, but not one who can hit necessarily. There's speed in last year's rookie Shuta Tonosaki and it would be logical to develop him. They have utility infielders in Ryota Wakiya and Naoto Watanabe who will be pending free agents and a reserve could be a mid-round pick. 

I don't see an infielder being taken with the first round pick unless he can hit. Yuji Onizaki, Yuji Kaneko and Tonosaki did fine as a rotation at SS while Kyohei Nagae was the defensive replacement for the late innings. 

One candidate is Koji Oshiro, who comes from a university. It appears he's a hitting shortstop with blazing speed.  

This is where things can get interesting. Right field was the flex position of the Lions all season with 11 different players starting at least one game in RF. Shogo Akiyama is still there while Takumi Kuriyama won't get any younger. Shun Takayama would work as a first-round candidate being a university outfielder. Seigo Yada could be a fourth round pick of the Lions showing some interest. 

Lastly, Aito Otaki is a name emerging for the Lions, a local high school outfielder who participated in summer Koshien. He went to high school in Saitama prefecture. Mori spent time last year as the spell right fielder, but his range is not good enough to be there everyday in the field.



If the Lions draft the best player on their board regardless of position, then all bets are off and we have no idea which route they can go. However, based on needs the logical choice is pitcher or outfielder with the first round selection.

Personally, I believe the Lions will go the path of gunning for a pitcher with that position being more valuable in the league. They need all the help they can get for the rotation and with the possibility of Kikuchi going to the bullpen next year, there's too much uncertainty for either unit.

History shows they can draft immediate help as Togame, Masuda, Makita and Nogami were taken as early picks out of an industrial or indpendent league. Both Togame and Masuda were first round picks in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

If there is some no doubt talent at outfielder who the Lions feel can contribute right away, they could aim for Takayama, but we're not sure who is the more popular guy that every team wants.

I don't see them going for the flashy pitcher that every team covets. The last time they did this was in 2012 wanting Nao Higashihama while they previously landed Tatsuya Oishi and Kikuchi. The former is a bust who remains mostly in ni-gun and the latter can still be great, but the team feels he could be built for the pen instead of rotation.

I project the Lions will take three pitchers, an infielder and two outfielders in the NPB Draft while also adding one ikusei for 2015. The pitcher taken in the first round I feel can be outside the box where they could avoid a lottery like last year with Kona Takahashi.

Either way, the draft is the beginning of a new offseason where changes will be in store. It begins at 17:00 JT on October 22, good luck and have fun watching it. 


Follow us on Twitter @Graveyardball


  1. I feel so bad for you guys having never seen Tatsuya Ohishi when he was in college, because he was the man. Absolutely THE MAN. I hate Waseda and I was a huge fan of his. I don't know what the hell Seibu's done to him, but he was clearly the best prospect in that draft easily.

    1. He got 3 games in mop up relief but was never heard from again in the ichi-gun. I figured they can make him a pen guy at least over some others. What made him so dominant at University?

  2. You've never seen his college numbers, have you?

    The 10-4, 1.63 isn't even the relevant part, it's the 155 innings pitched, 46 walks, 217 strikeouts. He was a machine as a reliever. The only times I ever saw anything bad happen to him was when he started.

    Oh and the .289 batting average -- he pinch-hit sometimes and I even remember him starting a Soukeisen game as a shortstop. (I wrote some entries about this called "Ohishi Theater" at the time, as a joke on the Japanese newspapers.

    Typical Ohishi during college was, see, he always came in as the closer behind Golden Boy Yuki Saitoh. Saitoh would pitch 6-7 innings and Ohishi would finish out the game. That's part of how Saitoh had such a good WLPCT during college. So anyway, the pinnacle Ohishi games that I remember were both in 2009. Check these out:

    May 4. Saitoh pitches 7 innings against Rikkio, leaves the game tied 2-2. Ohishi comes in in relief and pitches SEVEN MORE INNINGS giving up 0 runs, allows exactly 2 baserunners, strikes out 8, Waseda wins the game 3-2 in the top of the 14th.

    Oct 12, also bizarrely against Rikkio. Saitoh gets knocked out after giving up 4 runs in 4 innings so Ohishi comes in to finish out the last 5 innings. Which he does, allowing only 3 runners and striking out 11. Oh, and he also goes 2-for-2 at the plate while he's at it.

    Like I seriously would have considered him easily the best all-around athlete on that damn Waseda team that year, and remember that Saitoh and Fukui also went in the first round of the draft.

    He also has perfectly good numbers in ichi-gun in 2012 and 2013, and he injured his right shoulder in 2014, so that's why he didn't appear much. Did you not notice that either?

    1. We saw injury reports, but they left him in the doghouse in ni-gun even when healthy. I thought he could've gone in there of say, Kazuki Miyata or Yosuke Okamoto in the pen. We understand he had fine production. Sad to hear it isn't working out.

    2. You asked me about his university days. I'm trying to give you context on why he was a great first round pick. Do you not acknowledge that?

      Looking at the way NPB teams manage a bullpen by thinking about it the way MLB teams do it isn't going to get you anywhere.

      BTW, draft is at 17:00 not 18:00.

    3. Thanks again. When I was asking for context.. was more referring to his fastball/slider/sinker etc.. or velocity. Can always assume stats are fine. Thanks for explaining his dominance as a pen guy. We've changed the time as well, so thanks again.

  3. Oh. He used to regularly hit 155+ on the Jingu speed guns but that was during an era where scouts never trusted the Jingu speed guns anyway so I'd guess he was more like a regular 150-151. Mishima also regularly got 155's as a freshman and never did again once they adjusted.