Call it Japan's March Madness, but Spring (Haru) Koshien is more of an invitational without the value being as low as the NIT. It's not the worst competition to be part of, but most schools are selected by a committee with few automatic bids unlike how the Summer Koshien has every school earn their way.
Spring Koshien was where Shohei Otani and Shintaro Fujinami dueled each other in the first round, where the media has attempted to make it a rivalry every since. It's also where ESPN made Rakuten Eagles pitcher Tomohiro Anraku famous while he was in high school.
A total of 32 teams are selected for this event as it starts before the NPB season. Here is the list of schools included that have a Saitama Seibu Lions connection.
Note: I've only included players, no coaches.
Sakushin Gakuin (Tochigi): P Tatsuya Imai
Imai was the 2016 Summer Koshien champion and his team will participate in this year's Spring edition. Sakushin Gakuin has become a recent powerhouse since 2006, dominating Tochigi prefecture. It's likely that Imai knows majority of this team. He was the Lions 1st round draft pick last fall. Sakushin Gakuin is playing in their first Haru Koshien in five years.
Maebashi Ikuei (Gunma): P Kona Takahashi
Kona Takahashi became a legend when winning as a Junior in the 2013 Summer Koshien tournament. He was drafted in 2014 by the Lions in the first round and has already had two shutouts in his young career. Takahashi turned 20 earlier this month and like Imai, is expected to be a future ace of the team where the the long term will hinge on both pitchers.
Maebashi is making their second appearance at Haru Koshien and its their first in six years.
Shizuoka (Shizuoka): OF Shohei Suzuki
Suzuki was drafted in the fourth round of the 2016 NPB Draft straight out of Shizuoka High School. The Lions think he can be a future leadoff hitter in the long term. In the rookie introduction, Suzuki said he hopes to hit .300 and have 35 stolen bases at the ichi-gun level in the future. Like Imai, Suzuki presumably knows majority of this team since he just graduated.
Osaka Toin (Osaka): 2B Hideto Asamura, C Tomoya Mori, 3B Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura, C Masatoshi Okada
The Lions main trio of Okawari-kun, Mori and Asamura are well-documented for their time at Osaka Toin. Asamura and Mori both won Summer Koshien titles in 2008 and 2012, respectively. Osaka Toin is a main powerhouse in Japan and they will usually get into this tournament by name recognition.
Of this group, Okada was the only one of the four to not be drafted straight out of high school. Okada was teammates with Asamura at one point, but went to an Industrial League team before being drafted in 2013 by the Lions in the same class as Mori.
Fukuokadai Ohori (Fukuoka): P Tatsuya Oishi
Oishi is more remembered for his baseball career at the University level in the Tokyo Big6 League at Waseda University, but he attended this school in Fukuoka while in high school. With the Lions, he was drafted in the first round of 2010 and was considered the most sought out player in his class.
At the NPB level, he battled an injury and hasn't lived up to the hype, but in 2016, he had a more expanded role as a right specialist out of the bullpen. He will have exceptions for the Lions in 2017 as a reliever. Fukuokadai Ohori is appearing in this tournament for the first time in 26 years.
Hotoku Gakuen (Hyogo): P Ichiro Tamura
Tamura was drafted by the Lions in the 6th round of the 2016 NPB Draft. Like Oishi, he went to a University in the Tokyo Big6, but went to high school elsewhere. Hotoku Gakuen is located directly in Nishinomiya, Hyogo, which is the city that Koshien stadium is in. Logically, this school can't be that far away compared to say, a school in Sapporo. Hotoku Gakuen is making their first Haru Koshien appearance in three years.
The first game will begin on Sunday, March 19 (Saturday evening on March 18 in Pacific Time).
Here is the full field as written by our friend Edwin Dizon. First round analysis can be read here. You can follow him here @Eigokokoyakyu for more information on each school.
If anything, have fun, this tournament is still in the historic Koshien Stadium, meaning the Hanshin Tigers have to play a handful of games away from their traditional home for this event.
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