Thursday, October 26, 2017

Mori, Takahashi and Nakatsuka to work down under with the Melbourne Aces

Graphic via the Melbourne Aces
The Saitama Seibu Lions and Melbourne Aces announced their partnership will continue for the 2017-2018 Australian Baseball League season on Friday afternoon. Kona Takahashi, Shunta Nakatsuka and Tomoya Mori will be the three Lions players to play with the Aces.

All three players will be with the team from November 17 until the All-Star break ends on December 26, which will be for half of the season.

Mori, 22, has the most ichi-gun time among the trio having been mostly a designated hitter. At age 19, he already played in 138 regular season games. In 2016, he had trouble finding a position in the field, but his bat proved to be valuable.

Last year, he missed most of the season due to being hit by a pitch and suffering a fracture in an exhibition in March against Cuba's World Baseball Classic team. His career ichi-gun slashline is .294/.371/.469 and has a single-season career high of 17 HRs from 2015.

The Lions hope to give Mori more work at catcher as they eased him in the last two seasons. When the team was already out of contention, he saw regular starts at catcher in 2016. Mori was a part time catcher in 2017 and the Lions are hoping for more development with the Aces. If the Aces want a bat, he is capable of mashing as the designated hitter.

When drafted in the first round of 2013, the Lions shocked everyone by taking a catcher who was viewed as undersized despite his bat. Mori was an accomplished high school catcher where his team won the 2012 Summer Koshien tournament with Hanshin Tigers pitcher Shintaro Fujinami as his battery mate.

Takahashi, 20, was the Lions first round pick in the 2014 NPB Draft. He was an accomplished high school pitcher where he carried his school through the 2013 Summer Koshien tournament and won the whole thing.

For his rookie year, Takahashi got his feet wet in 2015 and threw a shutout as an 18-year-old kid against the Chiba Lotte Marines. He threw another shutout in 2016 as he had a large workload, but struggled with control as the season wore on. Last year, he started with similar ups and downs, but missed most of 2017 due to a shoulder injury. He won his final start returning from his injury on September 24 where he went 6 IP, 5 K, 1 BB, and one earned run allowed.

While Takahashi is only 20, he is viewed as the team's future ace and the long term will depend on him being the next great Lions pitcher.

Nakatsuka, who will be 23 at the end of December, was the team's second round draft pick in 2016. He started the year with sickness and spent majority of 2017 in ni-gun struggling with control.

His ichi-gun debut was in the same game Takahashi started on September 24 where he recorded two quick outs. However, he threw 12 consecutive balls leading to three walks and loading the bases before being taken out. He was credited with two earned runs in the outing.

In 20 ni-gun games, Nakatsuka split time as a starter and reliever recording 58.2 IP, 33 BB, 44 K and a 3.84 ERA. Nakatsuka's fastball can hit 157 KPH (97 mph) on the gun and the Lions saw some upside when drafting him as a long term prospect.

This is arguably the most talented group of Lions to come to the Aces yet. With Takahashi supposed to be a future ace, Mori a premier hitter and Nakatsuka being a premier prospect, the ceiling is high.

Other staff members expected to make the trip to Melbourne include interpreter Shuntaro Kobayashi, trainer Kazuyoshi Ono and the recently retired Tatsuyuki Uemoto. Since being released as a player by the Lions, Uemoto became one of the team's bullpen catchers.

This will be the seventh consecutive year of partnership for the Lions and Aces during the ABL season. Previous players currently on the Lions roster to go down under include Yusei Kikuchi, Fumikazu Kimura (as a pitcher), Hirotaka Koishi, Yasuo Sano, Makoto Aiuchi, Komei Fujisawa, Shota Nakata, Kentaro Fukukura, Ryohei Fujiwara, Shogo Noda, Keisuke Honda and Hitoto Komazuki.

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