Sunday, December 17, 2017

Eight years later: Grading the Seibu Lions 2009 draft class

The Seibu Lions rebranded their uniforms when 2009 began, ending the an era where the team hoped to move on from the controversial Yoshiaki Tsutsumi. Their Kimba logo still existed, but not to the level it used to. One phenom was highly touted and how did the Lions do for this class?

First round: P Yusei Kikuchi (Hanamaki Higashi HS, Iwate)

Kikuchi nearly signed with an MLB team out of high school and had just as much hype as Shohei Otani did. However, he elected to be drafted and not sign despite Derek Holland trying to recruit him. Hisanobu "Nabe-Q" Watanabe had the first draw of the ticket in a six-team bid for Kikuchi's rights and had the winning card.

Despite taking the well-known lefty, Kikuchi struggled with injuries and couldn't put it together for some time. In 2013, he showed that promise until he played through an injury and didn't tell anyone about it. The 2015 season started in ni-gun and it all looked lost, but Kikuchi showed promise in 2016 despite going down with an injury again. For 2017, he put in a season as the team's ace, finally living up to the billing that he was expected to have out of high school and was a candidate for the Sawamura Award. The weight of the world was finally off his shoulders. Grade: A

Hindsight: Several notable players were taken out of high school in the opening reveal. The Baystars took Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, the Hawks took Kenta Imamiya while the Carp selected Takeru Imamura. Imamiya and Tsutsugo have had longer impact for hteir respective teams than Kikuchi. Hisayoshi Chono was also taken by the Giants, though he was bent on only playing for the Kyojin and no one else. 


Second round: IF Satoru Misawa (Daiichi Kogyo University, Kagoshima) 

Misawa saw only six ichi-gun games for his career which came in 2013 and 2014 combined. He had one career base hit in 12 at bats. At age 26, he was cut by the team after the 2014 season.  Grade: F

Hindsight: Tomohisa Otani of the Chiba Lotte Marines was taken in this round. He has been a decent middle reliever. 


Third round: P Toshihiro Iwao (Beppu University, Oita) 

Iwao couldn't crack the ichi-gun until 2013 despite appearing twice in 2010. Even then, Iwao couldn't stay up long enough as he lacked control and location out of the bullpen. Iwao was decent in mop up duty for 2014 to buy another year and he received more medium leverage in 2015, but was a hit or miss with strikeouts, walks or gappers. Iwao was cut after the 2017 season and currently serves as a batting practice pitcher. Grade: D

Hindsight: Not much value in this round, though Shota Omine of the Marines received a lot of playing time in 2017. 


Fourth round: OF Mitsugu Ishikawa (Toho HS, Aichi)

Ishikawa played only 26 games at the ichi-gun level from 2012-2014. He had a notable RBI in 2013 against the Orix Buffaloes, but hit a combined .119/.178/.119 in three years. Ishikawa was cut after the 2015 season.  Grade: F

Hindsight: OF Ikuhiro Kiyota was drafted in this round by the Marines. The Hanshin Tigers ended up taking P Takumi Akiyama, who is the best player of this round as he has served as a solid starter.. 


Fifth round: P Kenta Matsushita (Waseda University, Tokyo)

Kenta Matsushita only made it to the ichi-gun in 2013 for nine games. He went 0-1 with a 3.48 ERA in 10.1 innings of work and recorded a save. He was cut by the team after the 2015 season, but remains with the Lions today. Better known as "MatsuKen", he serves as an equipment manager. Grade: F

Hindsight: OF Yohei Oshima and P Hirotoshi Masui were taken by the Dragons and Fighters, respectively in this round. "Shunsuke" Fujikawa was also taken by the Hanshin Tigers and has been a late bloomer. 


Sixth round: P Yosuke Okamoto (Yamaha, Shizuoka)

Okamoto was the only Shakaijin of the class and has the second most amount of ichi-gun experience in this class. In 2013, Okamoto became a soft starter and reliever where he even threw a shutout in the postseason of that year. As a spot starter and a guy who can eat innings, the Lions found value in the 6th round in comparison to everyone else.

For 2017, he became the team's 6th starter and would average 5-6 innings allowing at most four runs, which was enough for the Lions offense. He was nearly done after a poor showing in 2016, but Okamoto has had a longer career in NPB than four of the five others in this draft class. Something has to be said for this. Grade: C+

Hindsight: Fumihito Haraguchi was drafted by the Tigers in this round, but he was also demoted to ikusei until his promotion in 2016. Okamoto has been the best player of this round as a whole. 



This class lacks depth and only two pitchers ended up being relevant. A spot starter and what is now an ace. You're not supposed to hit on all draft picks, but with four players combining for a handful of games, it leaves a lot to be desired. With Kikuchi becoming an ace as a "late bloomer", it's a decent enough salvage from this class being a complete failure.

Prior to 2017. Kikuchi would've been a disappointment to only be a No. 2 or No. 3 pitchers when expected to be an ace. However, as long as he gets there no matter the age, that's what matters. It's a positive class despite a few teams finding gems in the later rounds. Grade: B- 

Hindsight: Comparing to the rest of the league, only Chiba found multiple contributors while other teams found one decent or great player at most. Having Kikuchi evens it all out. 


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  1. Takumi Akiyama was never good as a middle reliever, and in fact has only appeared in relief 7 times out of the 58 games he has played as a pro! (And his only good season, outside of a decent second half in his rookie year, was 2017.)

    1. Fixed. I think I was looking at the wrong paragraph when typing that line. Thanks!