The Saitama Seibu Lions will be depending on several players to be part of their rotation for 2017. This was a unit that struggled due to a lack of depth and others wearing down as the season ended.
There were signs of mediocrity, but also building blocks towards the long term. Here is how the starting pitchers shape up for 2017:
Yusei Kikuchi: With the loss of Takayuki Kishi, Kikuchi becomes the team's best starting pitcher and the weight of the world will be on his shoulders. He came off a decent 2016 season after being criticized and not living up the hype in the past. Kikuchi still has MLB aspirations for his career and it will be up to how he does in the next two seasons to see if he proves his worth.
Shinsaburo Tawata: Tawata had a slow start recovering from a shoulder injury in 2016, but he settled in after the All-Star break which made him one of the more fun to watch pitchers last season. Does he have a sophomore slump or can he build off last season's second half?
Brian Wolfe: In what what a short audition with the ichi-gun as a mid-season pickup, Wolfe would pass and earn a contract for 2017. He wasn't flashy by any means, but is capable of being a No. 3 starter to eat up innings and be a decent role player. One upside is that he doesn't have the mileage on his arm for a pitcher of his age (36).
Kona Takahashi: The 2013 Koshien Champion has shown flashes as to why the Lions took him with their first round pick in 2014. Last year was his first full season having an ichi-gun work load and he had mixed results, struggling in the second half. He will be 20 this year and there is still plenty of time to grow.
The Remaining Favorites:
Ken Togame: It was a poor 2016 for Togame, but his track record shows that he can't have two consecutive seasons being good or bad. The trend would mean this could be a rebound year, but can he keep his location in check?
Ryoma Nogami: The Lions tampered with him by having Nogami as a reliever in the middle of the year and it backfired. He wasn't a bad starter for the back end of the rotation, but the FIP metrics didn't help his cause. Nogami can eat up innings if necessary, which can't hurt.
Frank Garces: Garces played in MLB with the San Diego Padres. He is a side arm lefty pitcher with an outside shot at competing for a rotation spot.
Alexis Candelario: Candelario was a starter for the baseball leagues in Venezuela, Italy, Mexico, Dominican Republic and an Independent League while stateside. Compared to the field, he has an uphill battle at earning starts.
Yasuo Sano: Sano had a few decent games as a reliever and he enters his third year with the team. He has an outside shot to compete for the No. 6 role.
Chun-Lin Kuo: After showing promise in 2015, Kuo regressed in 2016 and fell to the bullpen. He won't be training with the team in camp as he prepares for the World Baseball Classic. Could this be his last chance?
Makoto Aiuchi: Aiuchi was a high school pick and earned two spot starts to end the year. He served a suspension in 2015 and could be adequate in a pinch.
Isamu Sato: Sato earned multiple starts in 2016 after a strong showing in ni-gun. He would eventually be overwhelmed and the Lions would bury him after only seven games total.
Keisuke Honda: Honda would earn a spot start to end 2016. After a strong showing at the U23 World Cup in Mexico as well as the ABL in Australia, he upped his stock and might have made a good impression on the Lions coaching staff for his production.
Tatsuya Imai: Imai, the team's first-round draft pick from October, will get his feet wet in 2017 with a handful of ichi-gun starts. He will have to get used to a professional workload in NPB, something he has not experienced up to this point.
Koki Fujita: Fujita was a 9th round draft pick in 2015.
Yusuke Tamamura: Tamamura was a fourth round draft pick in 2014 out of high school. He has been a starter in ni-gun.
It's likely that Kikuchi, Tawata, Wolfe, Takahashi, Nogami and Togame will be the Opening Day rotation barring no injuries. Garces could compete for a starting role, but will likely be a reliever.
Outside of Wolfe, the Lions starting rotation is relatively young with Tawata and Takahashi both being thrust in there. The rotation will make or break this team in 2017 with both players needing to grow up quickly if they want to contend. Not many will take Togame and Nogami seriously, but they aren't the worst pitchers in the world.
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