Thursday, October 26, 2017

2017 NPB Draft: A summary of each Lions pick

Graphic provided by the Seibu Lions
The Saitama Seibu Lions drafted a total of six players and two ikusei picks on Thursday night at the 2017 NPB Draft. Initially, the tried to take shakaijin Daiki Tajima out of the industrial leagues, but ended up losing a 50-50 drawing to Junichi Fukura and Hisanobu Watanabe was left with a blank piece of paper.

With the Lions going to plan B, here is what the Lions ended up with which includes a short profile:

P Hiromasa Saito (齊藤大将)

College: Meiji University (Tokyo)

High School: Toin Gakuen (Kanagawa prefecture)

Date of Birth: June 3, 1995

Height: 179 cm (5' 10")

Weight: 74 kg (163 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Left/Left

Saito was a reliever converted to starter out of the Tokyo Big6 college league who tops out at 149 km/h (92 mph). He's a 3/4 arm slot who has an effective slider. He can also throw a curve, changeup, screwball and a cutter.

On paper, the Lions were looking at a left handed pitcher and drafted for need when trying to go for Tajima. After losing out, the Lions would've likely gone with Katsuki Azuma, but the Yokohama DeNA Baystars nabbed him in the first reveal where Saito was probably the third choice. Saito's slider can easily make him a lefty specialist immediately and he could work his way into the back end of the rotation.

When interviewed as he was drafted, Saito was humbled to be an alternate first round pick even though several in the media saw it coming. He compared himself to Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters setup man Naoki Miyanishi.


OF Manaya Nishikawa (西川 愛也) 

High School: Hanasaki Tokuharu (Saitama)

Date of Birth: June 10, 1999

Height: 177 cm (5' 10")

Weight: 75 kg (163 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Left

Nishikawa won the 2017 Summer Koshien title with Hanasaki Tokuharu last August and was the team's starting left fielder. He hit a total of 31 HRs in his HS career and specialized at hitting the gap. He was a No. 3 hitter in the lineup during the latest tournament, but also saw time as a cleanup hitter. in 6 Koshien games from the last tournament, he hit .333 (9 for 27) with two doubles and two triples.

This is the third straight year the Lions have taken a high school outfielder following Aito Takeda (formerly Otaki) and Shohei Suzuki. Nishikawa was teammates with Takeda at Hanasaki Tokuharu in 2015. Besides Nishikawa, other Lions players who've won a Koshien title include Hideto Asamura (2008), Tomoya Mori (2012), Kona Takahashi (2013) and Tatsuya Imai (2016).

Nishikawa is another long term pick for the outfield and a possible heir to Takumi Kuriyama. With the Lions set in the short term, Takeda, Suzuki and Nishikawa will compete for a job in the long run. Nishikawa also has decent speed, where he can run to first base in 4.3 seconds. He's expected to come of surgery in November recovering from an injured pectoral muscle.


P Sho Ito (伊藤翔)

Independent League Team: Tokushima Indigo Socks (Tokushima)

High School: Yokoshiba Keiai (Chiba)

Date of Birth: February 10, 1999

Height: 175 cm (5' 9")

Weight: 72 kg (159 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Right

Ito had one dominant season in the Shikoku Island League before the Lions drafted him as he'll be 19 next year. He's another 3/4 arm slot pitcher who tops at 152 kph (94 mph) with a two-seam fastball, curve, slider and fork ball. In 16 games with the Indigo Socks, he recorded an 8-4 record with 103 IP, 92 hits, 97 K, 22 walks and a 2.18 ERA. He had the second most amount of  wins and strikeouts in the league while having the third best ERA.

As a bonus, Ito has experience playing a handful of NPB third teams (san-gun) from the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks and Yomiuri Giants. From a Lions standpoint, Ito is a long term project who has the raw tools and velocity. If everything goes right, he could be a starting pitcher in four to five years.

Ito has the same name as a soccer player who once appeared in Ligue 2 and Ligue 1 with Grenoble.


P Kaima Taira (平良 海馬)

High School: Yaeyama Shoko (Okinawa)

Date of Birth: November 15, 1999

Height: 173 cm (5' 8")

Weight: 81 kg (179 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Left

Taira can hit as high as 154 kph (96 mph) and adds a slider, curve, cutter, changeup and sinker. In the Koshien qualifiers, Taira came up short and his team lost a game 0-1 where he started. He can bench press 110 kilograms (243 lbs) and run 50 meters in six seconds. Taira was also a cleanup hitter for his high school with the ability to hit the ball as deep as 123 meters (403 ft).

The Lions see plenty of upside with Taira with his strong velocity with the hope he can develop his other pitches, including his changeup. They can mold him in any way they want, though he was the team's ace in high school. His hitting ability can also be a fallback option if he wants to become a position player.

For any Yu-Gi-Oh! fans out there, his first name Kaima 海馬 has the exact same kanji as characters named Seto Kaiba. Of course in this case, Kaiba is the surname in the anime.


P Kaito Yoza (與座 海人) 

College: Gifu Keizai (Gifu)

High School: Okinawa Shogaku (Okinawa)

Date of Birth: September 15, 1995

Height: 173 cm (5' 8")

Weight: 74 kg (163 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Right

Yoza is a submariner who started as a reliever before turning starter at university. His max velocity is 132 kph (82 mph) where he has a slider, curve and sinker. In his combined college career of 51 games, he recorded a 22-15 record in 326 IP, allowing 268 hits, 219 K, 52 walks and a 1.96 ERA. In his senior season, he recorded a 1.17 ERA in the spring and 0.81 ERA in the fall with more than 100 innings pitched. He earned MVP honors in both the fall 2015 and spring 2017 seasons.

It's likely that Yoza will be the heir to Kazuhisa Makita in having one submarine pitcher to develop. Makita is a pending free agent and could leave sooner than later stating his desire to play stateside. With Yoza having experience as a starter, the Lions can go either way on him when he goes through development in ni-gun.

With the addition of Taira and Yoza, the Lions have five Okinawan born players on their roster.


IF Ryusei Tsunashima (綱島 龍生)

High School: Itoigawa Hakurei (Niigata)

Date of Birth: January 21, 2000

Height: 178 cm (5' 10")

Weight: 72 kg (159 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Left

Tsunashima grew up playing all positions, but was most recently a shortstop in high school for Itoigawa Hakurei. Has has no Koshien experience, but carried his team offensively while hitting in the heart of the order. Tsunashima is mostly a light hitting shortstop, but impressed scouts during the Koshien qualifiers.

Tsunashima is the only person from Niigata on the Lions roster. Like any high school pick, he is a long term project who can play anywhere in the field. It's possible he can take over at third base when Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura retires or sees time as a defensive replacement. His fallback options include catcher and outfielder, similar to how Hitoto Komazuki is now a catcher with the team.


Ikusei: OF Wataru Takagi (高木渉) 

High School: Shiritsu Shinsokan (Fukuoka)

Date of Birth: December 6, 1999

Height: 180 cm (5' 11")

Weight: 75 kg (165 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Left

Takagi is a two-way player who can reach 146 kph (91 mph) as a pitcher. However, the Lions took him as an outfielder. He was a cleanup hitter in high school and suffered a shoulder injury which dampened his value as a pitcher. He can run 50 meters in 5 seconds, which was the 9th fastest among players. He bat and pitching were both a problem in the Koshien qualifiers, where he struggled in the 4th game of the Fukuoka prefecture tournament on the mound.

For the Lions, he's an athlete trying to figure out what to do next in his career. The Lions can make him an OF with the hope to develop him in the long run. Takagi shares the exact same name as a famous voice actor in Japan.


Ikusei: C Masato Saito  (齊藤 誠人)

College: Hokkaido Kyoiku Iwamizawa (Hokkaido)

High School: Sapporo Kosei (Hokkaido)

Date of Birth: August 7, 1995

Height: 179 cm (5' 10")

Weight: 168 pounds

Throws/Bats: Right/Left

Saito was a five-time Division II Best IX catcher at Hokkaido Kyoiku Iwamizawa. His pop speed on the throw to second base clocks in a 1.75 seconds and he once hit .425 in a season. In his senior year, he fractured his right hand and could not finish 2017 healthy. When Saito was in high school, he was a cleanup hitter.

This is a simple flyer pick where the Lions acquired cheap depth. Dominating Division II is nice, but the Lions and everyone else will have to wait and see what it translates to at the NPB level. The additions of Takagi and Saito were the most ikusei picks in a single draft by the Lions in franchise history. This was the first time selecting any player in the ikusei draft since 2014.

When reacting to being drafted, as a Hokkaido native, he hopes to be an interesting fan favorite like Tsuyoshi Shinjo was for the Fighters.



The Lions tried to go for the best pitcher available for the now, but came up short. It's clear they wanted to fill their need of a left handed pitcher, but everyone else is a project where majority of this class is full of teenagers. It is interesting that the Lions took two ikusei picks and maybe it was a hint that Yuji Onizaki and other ikusei coaches were added to coaching hierarchy earlier this month.

In 2018, we could see H. Saito as a lefty specialist to complement Shota Takekuma and Shogo Noda. Yoza could also make appearances out of the bullpen if they feel he can take over Makita's spot. None of us will know what the Lions got out of this class and it will take at least seven or eight years to evaluate what the team picked up.


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