Monday, October 17, 2016
2016 NPB Draft: Top pitching prospects the Lions could go for
It's mid-October and that means it's draft season. Here are my breakdowns of the top pitching prospects that you should pay attention to in this upcoming draft. One explanation for my grading system is that it's a system on a 20-80 scale with 20 being the lowest and 80 being the highest, it's a common scout's way of grading someone's talent.
I'll preface this by saying that I can only grade what these prospects' skills are right now, I'm not the one to project anything, but I sometimes do it anyway, so don't hold me to it (but I'll be doing it to myself, so go right ahead). A video of each pitcher is attached to his name for reference.
Seigi Tanaka (College)
The 6-1, 194 lb right-hander out of Soka University is the most hyped pitcher going into this draft and when you watch tape on him, you can certainly see why. He reportedly tops out with the fastball at 156 km/h, but I have no visual evidence of that taking place. What I have seen though is that he can hit as high as 153 while hovering around 150 and most importantly, he's able to spot his fastball wherever he wants to.
He burst onto the scene last year playing for the collegiate Samurai Japan team and impressing in the Universiade Tournament, while also impressing against NPB ni-gun players here. What separates Tanaka from the rest of class is that he has two plus pitches as opposed to only having one which is the case for just about everyone else. His slider continually produces weak contact and whiffs where he throws it often as the put-away pitch.
His curveball is his weakest pitch and as a result, he'll only throw it once in awhile just to show it. At times it can be an acceptable pitch and over time it can definitely develop into an above average pitch since it has some 12-6 drop, but it needs consistency. When it came to his control, Tanaka threw very few errant pitches and it seems to hardly be a concern going into his pro career. One possible concern going into his pro career is possibly his durability since he's not a physically imposing presence like Yu Darvish or Shohei Otani. This question will automatically come up, but I think even if he had a built frame it would be a concern because that goes the same for any young pitcher. Overall, Tanaka will be atop just about every NPB team's draft board and will likely be selected through a drawing.
Tatsuya Imai (High School)
The 2016 Summer Koshien champions (Sakushin Gakuin) saw their ace join the conversation among the NPB Draft discussion and is now a likely first round pick. Before the tournament, he was not circled by the Lions as one of the names to consider, but that quickly changed when his team leaned on Imai hard and he responded by pitching tremendously and put himself into a long list of Koshien heroes with Yuki Saito, Masahiro Tanaka, and Kona Takahashi.
Imai was there to start every game, unlike other high school pitchers in this post who saw their coaches attempt to protect their aces, but likely cost themselves a chance of advancing. So with all that known, there are definite concerns about stress on the arm with Imai and with his size being a slender 5-11, 159 lbs. There's going to have to be hope that a professional training regimen can allow him to starve off the injury concerns.
Stuff-wise, Imai has a repertoire that is better than any high school pitcher in this class. While most high schoolers with high-upside velocities rely on their big number ones, Imai shows great maturity by mixing up his pitches that are quite unconventional and vary in different speeds. When rested, Imai flashed the gun at Koshien at 151 with a touch of glove side movement on his fastball. He would only rarely reach back and hit 150 on the gun, but when he did, hitters were baffled with his difference in velocity, which is a credit to his pitch mix. His forkball looks more like a slider at times, but it was the secondary pitch that he would go to most often when he needed the hitters to see another pitch. Whether or not this pitch will play up against professional hitters remains to be seen as most of the time that pitch resided in the 130s, which could possibly be too slow and may see hitters lay off of it, but professional refinement and training regiments may mitigate this.
His slider looks more like a curveball just thrown harder as it has more break than a slider usually has, but not enough break to have a 12-6 and it resides at around 120 km/h which is usually too slow to be a slider. It's not a great pitch and I can see professional coaches tweaking it or flat out eliminating it, but its speed differential is what made it a good pitch for him in Koshien. The curveball is one that he rarely throws and is a show-me pitch at this point in time.
Where Imai runs into trouble is when he starts missing with his fastball. When that happens, hitters are able to sit on it since his other pitches aren't trusted enough to throw when behind in the count. He would often throw away to left-handed hitters and the ones that were trying to go the other way would often find success. Other concerns about him lie with whether or not he can maintain his velocity as a starter, given the state of his slender stature. Whether or not this is proven over time will decide whether his career lies in a rotation or in the bullpen as a closer/middle reliever.
An interesting note is that he works exclusively out of the stretch, which will likely be changed as a professional. Like any high school pitcher, Imai will need plenty of time to develop and plenty of coaching to reach his max potential.
Shoma Fujihira (High School)
For Yokohama High School, Fujihira was one of the reasons why they were one of the pre-tournament favorites and watching their team, you could certainly see why with how great their offense was in the Kanagawa prefecture Summer Tournament. Instead, Yokohama would get the unfortunate draw of having to face another pre-tournament favorite in Riseisha and they were promptly sent home in their second game at Koshien.
Yokohama's coaching staff seemed to want to protect Fujihira by making him start one game and then pitch in relief in the next, so there are hopefully are less questions about Fujihira being overworked in high school. Fujihira also has a solid frame at 6-1, 183 lbs and just from the eye test, he appears physically bigger than Imai. Where Fujihira falls behind in this class is with his consistency and a lack of a developed pitching repertoire. He would throw his fastball the majority of the time and then go to the slider when he needed to show another look and that pitch would show inconsistent results. There's some credit that needs to be given for being willing to throw his slider and it looks like it could be a plus pitch at some point, but during the tournament he would hang some and give up a few hits.
His curveball is one of those pitches he'll throw once in awhile and isn't there yet to be thrown more often. I think there will be plenty of scouts that will be interested in Fujihira because of his frame and the belief will be that if they can change his mechanics that maybe he'll be able to improve over time but there's definitely a long way to go in his development.
One thing I did notice about Fujihira is that he would throw in the high 140s in the early part of his starts but then later in the game his velocity would go down to the low 140s and high 130s. That's a little bit of a concern, but I'd imagine that's something that probably can be fixed with a professional training regimen. I expect another NPB team with a more set rotation on the ichi-gun roster to take Fujihira and let him get his seasoning in ni-gun before maybe working him in the bullpen later on in the year.
Naruki Terashima (High School)
Another big prospect comes from this year's Koshien tournament features the ace from Riseisha, Naruki Terashima. Unlike the previous guys in this post, Terashima's a lefty so whichever teams believe they need a left-handed pitcher, they will likely look at him first and foremost.
Terashima doesn't have the have the high upside velocity that other guys in this class possess, but it helps that he's a lefty and can therefore, get away with less velocity. He also has great placement on his fastball and likes to live around the corners and spot the fastball. Watching action from two different appearances he made, it's clear that he seems to pick whichever secondary pitch he has a feel for in that start and go with it. Usually, it's his changeup that does just that and it proves to be a pitch that can be quite nasty.
His curveball is one that can be another good pitch for him in the future just as long as he stays consistent, he has that 12"6" drop that really is quite impressive. If the Lions want a left-hander, this will likely be the guy they go with.
Taisuke Yamaoka (Industrial League)
The smallest pitching target in this draft comes from the industrial league where Yamaoka pitches for Tokyo Gas. At 5'7", 145 lbs, he doesn't look all that impressive when he's just warming up, but that quickly changes when he's missing plenty of bats with his steady diet of breaking balls.
Yamaoka probably averages two offspeed pitches per at bat, which is quite a change from the rest of this class that for the most part rely on their overpowering stuff. Instead, Yamaoka tries to make his fastball seem even faster than it really is by throwing so many off-speed pitches. It's quite impressive that at his height, he's able to reach the high 140s with his fastball and with an above average changeup, there's certainly plenty of potential for Yamaoka to become a contributor in the NPB.
I have many doubts about whether or not he can become a frontline starter since he hangs too many breaking balls when he simply can't afford to do so. With that said, Yamaoka has the best control out of all the prospects in this post.
Chihaya Sasaki (College)
As my fondness for Sasaki has gone up, so has his draft stock and as you can see from my grades, he's got pretty good stuff across the board. Sasaki stands at 5-11, 183 lbs and throws from a three quarter arm slot, a la Max Scherzer and Ken Togame. For that reason, it's quite hard for me to pick up some of the pitches he throws. If that's the case for someone with the ability to rewind tape, just imagine how hard it is for an opposing hitter to try and pick up the baseball when he's on the mound.
Against American college hitters, he seemed to be quite tactical in the way he attacks hitters by sticking with one secondary pitch for the first time he sees a hitter, while Sasaki attacks him with another secondary pitch the second time through, which is the mark of real maturity. His changeup has some amazing run which easily brings up Scherzer comparisons. This begs the question whether or not a three quarter arm slot helps create a solid changeup.
His slider isn't as consistent as his changeup. but at times it's just as nasty and at times its even nastier which is a good sign for the future. He also has a shuuto which he likes to throw to the outside corner against left-handed hitters. We'll see if the Lions decide to pull the trigger on Sasaki in the first round.
1. Seigi Tanaka
2. Chihaya Sasaki
3. Tatsuya Imai
4. Taisuke Yamaoka
5. Naruki Terashima
6. Shoma Fujihira
There are plenty of other names that you need to keep an eye out for like Koya Takahashi, Yuya Yanagi (not on the Lions radar, but you get the point), Yuto Furuya, or Haruhiko Hamaguchi, but I feel like the guys listed above are the ones that you need to pay attention to the most.
My recommendation to Haruhiko Suzuki, Hisanobu "Nabe-Q" Watanabe and the Lions front office is to take your chances and go after Seigi Tanaka. Chances are it will be a big lottery since he's the only pitcher in this class that has the potential to become an ace.
Hopefully, the teams with better records will shy away from the lottery and take the opportunity to take a non-lottery player. If they lose out, there's plenty of solid options that the Lions could end up with, it all depends on what their preferences are with their needs. With the way the draft seems to be shaping up, Yamaoka might be the one who makes the most sense for an alternate, but anything cam happen. I don't expect the Lions to take any position players with their first round pick. but you never know how the draft can go.
Where do the Lions go from here?
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