|Yusei Kikuchi will start on Opening Day|
We explained how top rosters and farm teams work here. Here is some early analysis of each player who made the team for Opening Day.
Yusei Kikuchi: Kikuchi was announced as the Opening Day Starter for March 25 against the Orix Buffaloes. This is also a tactical decision based on the first six games of the schedule. More on this later.
Andy Van Hekken: The Lions paid about $1.7 million for the rights to Van Hekken in purchasing his contract from the KBO's Nexen Heroes as well as his wages for the 2016 season. He should be pegged as the No. 3 or No. 4 starter in the rotation in the beginning.
Ken Togame: After having an All-Star first half of 2015, Togame slipped and gave up his share of home runs in the second half. He could be a decent back end starter, but in the short term, the Lions will need to depend on him most likely for the opening series.
Where is Takayuki Kishi you ask? The Lions will save their rotation and players for the following series against the Softbank Hawks starting on March 29th. They can save money (and service time) by waiting to activate the starters they have in line by putting only three starters on the active roster and adding the rest on the day they're expected to start in Fukuoka.
This would mean we expect Kikuchi, Van Hekken and Togame to take the opening series against the Buffaloes from 3/25-3/27. Ryoma Nogami will also be in the rotation and is pegged to face the Hawks on March 30. The Lions won't need a sixth starter until April 21st, as the schedule indicates three consecutive five-game weeks, not counting the opening three games.
Chun-Lin Kuo: The Taiwanese pitcher is entering his second year playing professional baseball. He was a sixth starter last season and it looks like he could appear out of the pen in middle relief. We like this decision to put him in the bullpen as he would struggle when facing the lineup the second time through the order.
Kazuhisa Makita: Makita is taking on a new role as a reliever. His submarine arm could be handy out of the bullpen as a change of pace. He has experience with the Samurai Japan team as a relief arm.
Tatsushi Masuda: Masuda was the setup man in 2015, could he be the closer after the competition was uncertain?
Yosuke Okamoto: Okamoto was viewed as unreliable in the first half of 2015, but had a better second half of drawing the weak contact and ground balls. He could be handy in middle relief as early as the 6th or 7th innings.
Tomomi Takahashi: Takahashi hard a brutal second half where he lost his closer role last season. He is coming off a foot injury and it's uncertain if he will return to being the closer or not. At minimum, he could take the setup role for the 8th on Opening Day.
Shota Takekuma: Takekuma was decent out of the bullpen as he would mostly come in for the 7th inning. Norio Tanabe would also use him as a lefty specialist, but he's more than just a one out person.
C.C. Lee: The new foreign import from the Cleveland Indians organization, Lee could also become the closer if the Lions see him fit. He should provide better stability on the back end so that Tanabe isn't forced to used Masuda/Takekuma too often.
Ginjiro Sumitani: "Gin-Chan" should be the everyday starter at catcher for his defense. Even though he provides a hole offensively.
Masatoshi Okada: Okada can be a respectable catcher when given a chance. He's a better hitter than Gin-Chan and could see time if there is struggles from the latter.
Tatsuyuki Uemoto: Mostly a longtime reserve catcher, the veteran will be on the roster for opening day. He can hit better for catcher's standards, but not worth having behind the plate everyday. Tanabe could use him as a pinch hit option.
Hideto Asamura: Asamura is hoping to have a full season with a strong bat. He struggled in the second half after showing what he is capable of in the first half. Asamura will be the everyday 2B.
Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura: The Pacific League's home run king is supposed to have reduced time in the field with more of a focus at DH. However, some other developments could mean the DH position will continue to rotate.
Ernesto Mejia: Mejia is back hoping for a season of redemption after having a rough 2015 for two-thirds of the year. He still had 27 home runs, but we hope he can get to 30 at minimum. It's possible he could be playing DH for more games.
Shuta Tonosaki: After playing in 43 games as a rookie last year, the Lions expect big things from him as the starting shortstop. He has speed and is improving on defense, but it's unsure how his bat can be. There's a lot of raw tools which will be a work in progress as the season goes on.
Hotaka Yamakawa: After spending two years in ni-gun, Yamakawa worked his way to the ichi-gun roster for opening day. He could get a significant number of games at 1B if they like his bat. He provides extra power and could be another "Okawari" for the Lions, meaning the team would have two towers playing the corner infield positions.
Daichi Mizuguchi: The big early surprise is Mizuguchi making the roster. He was promoted from the ikusei in the middle of 2015 after a productive season in ni-gun. If everything goes right, he will be the first ikusei player in Lions history to play in an ichi-gun game. Expect the Lions to use him as a pinch runner.
Yuji Onizaki: Onizaki is a hole offensively, but is a defensive whiz. He should be a late inning replacement for defense at the end of a game.
Naoto Watanabe: He's a utility infielder capable of being a spell defender if anyone needs a day off. He isn't the most flashy of the group, but Watanabe can provide a respectable bat if needed. Expect Watanabe to play 3B if Okawari-kun needs a day off or SS for defense.
Takumi Kuriyama: The captain hopes to have a better 2016 as he was benched and even moved down in the order last season. He should be aiming for the .290 mark in batting average.
Shogo Akiyama: Akiyama is coming off a record 2015 season where he won't repeat it most likely, but will he show the same discipline in 2016? He showed no signs of slowing down in the preseason and should continue to be an effective leadoff hitter.
Ryo Sakata: Sakata had a promising 2013 season, but was derailed by injuries which had him sitout the entire 2014 season. After making the opening day roster in 2015, he spent majority of the year in ni-gun after being ineffective with the bat. He won the competition in right field through training camp and preseason, but can he keep it? It would go a long way to providing stability for the bats if he can continue his strong run from preseason and promise from three years ago.
Tomoya Mori: Mori was initially tried out at catcher, but Tanabe ended the experiment and the team is telling him to focus on his bat. He will only appear in right field if they feel he's needed for his hitting abilities. Mori should also see time at DH.
Masato Kumashiro: The "Bear" has mostly been a reserve outfielder, but initially gained playing time a few years ago. Last year, he was demoted to being the 5th and 6th outfielder for the team. He will be playing mostly for defense in the late innings.
Shotaro Tashiro: Tashiro has only seen a handful of games with the ichi-gun in his career. This could also be the same for 2016 unless he finds a solid role. He will mostly be a pinch runner if not defensive replacement for the end of games. If the Lions want to deactivate someone, he would most likely be the option if another outfielder emerges from ni-gun. Right field could still be by committee and the revolving door will create players being activated/deactivated for the season.
The Lions have multiple pinch running options at the start of the year, but expect this roster to change up and down as the season goes on. When the team has an established rotation, we should see more pitchers on the roster.
The major storyline will be how the Lions use the designated hitter position among Mori, Yamakawa, Okawari-kun and even Mejia due to plenty of offensive power. Someone has to sit on the bench at the start of the game and right now, it looks like Mori could be the odd man out.
We hope the team can BEAST through the 2016 season after last year's disappointment. Ganbarre Raionzu.
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