Saturday, March 12, 2016

Tanabe Ends Mori's Catching Experiment

The Lions' hitting prodigy will no longer be spending time behind the plate. 
After lots of experimentation, the Lions ended all the dreams of those who watched the 2013 Summer Koshien for the 2016 season. It was in that tournament that a teenage Tomoya Mori inserted himself into the national spotlight as Osaka Toin's catcher. Catching teenage superstar, Shintaro Fujinami, many remembered the two-way potential of Mori and expected him to make the leap to more time behind the plate in his age 20 season.

Instead, Lions manager Norio Tanabe prioritized the experience and stellar defensive reputation of Ginjiro "Gin-chan" Sumitani over the opportunity to mold Mori into the full-time catcher. There's no doubt that the Lions are a team that has the personnel that should look to win now and this move is one that speaks to that line of thought.

Mori has already proven that his power is something that needs to be in the lineup every day. Especially, after posting 17 home runs in his age 19 season, but moving him to a role behind the plate could take a toll on his offensive numbers while at the same time being forced to deal with a downgrade in defensive value.

Moving Mori away from the backstop is the right move for the reasons stated above. Power is at a premium and when it comes to the development of a young hitter, there's no need to over-complicate things by giving Mori a massive amount of workload when it's his bat that makes him so special as a player.

This story isn't much of a groundbreaker as it means more for the rest of the squad now that Mori fits with only a few positions. With the earlier reports that the Lions were looking to move Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura to DH to keep him healthy, the questions remain. How many games will Okawari-kun play at DH and 3B? In addition to, how many games will Mori play at DH, RF, and even 1B?

Regarding body type, Mori could profile as an RF, especially with his strong arm not to mention that he's not like other former catchers who are big and bulky. His rather compact profile of 5'6", 176 pounds (170 cm, 80 kg) allows for one to imagine him developing a good deal of range. It's clear that Okawari-kun needs to play a lot more games at DH, but flexibility is never a bad thing and allowing Mori to DH and Nakamura to play third here and there makes Tanabe's job a bit more interesting.

Best case scenario is that Mori holds his own in RF and nails down a position that has been a revolving door for the Lions. What might be the wildcard in all of this is the fact that Shogo Akiyama's range in CF is above average, which would help make Mori's task in RF a lot less daunting.

Worst case scenario is that Mori struggles to make the routine plays in RF, creating a crisis in confidence for the 20-year-old. In addition to poor fielding, Mori's bat may continue to struggle to the pitchers finding more ways to get him out. These issues would force Tanabe to use Nakamura at third a lot more than previously planned and that may turn out just fine, but with Okawari-kun's history of injuries, the worst could be a death blow to this Lions squad in 2016. 

The question of where Mori should play is a situation that we will be looking at quite closely when the season rolls around. Overall, I applaud Tanabe's decision to put more value in Mori's power, while also valuing the fielding prowess of Gin-chan.


Other note: 

-Mori was diagnosed with a bruise after being hit by a pitch in an exhibition game on March 12.  


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