Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Five years later: Grading the Lions 2012 draft class

The 2012 NPB Draft had several talented pitchers available, including one that had the intention of going straight to MLB. Here's how the Lions approached it:

First round: P Tatsushi Masuda (NTT West, Osaka) 

The Lions were one of three teams who attempted to go for P Nao Higashihama and lost to the Softbank Hawks. Masuda became the plan B which required another drawing head to head against the Hiroshima Carp, which Nabe-Q would win.

Despite being 24, Masuda was projected as an early pick among the shakaijin available and has been a back end reliever for the Lions. He was a setup man from 2013-2015 and he proved to be reliable. Masuda became the closer in 2016 and it has worked out well. He rarely walks batters and limits home runs, though he allowed a career high of seven in 2017.  Grade: A

Hindsight: Higashihama has been a front end starter for the Hawks after battling injuries. He's become a later bloomer. Shintaro Fujinami was taken by the Hanshin Tigers in a four-team draw. He has shown plenty of promise initially, but taken steps backwards with a lack of control from 2016-2017. 

Shohei Otani was taken unopposed by the Fighters, but all other teams were scared he would not sign with a team that drafted him as he had MLB intentions at the time. P Takahiro Matsunaga was taken by the Marines as a fallback option. After not signing with the Fighters a year before, Tomoyuki Sugano was drafted by the Giants where he spent a year as a grad student without playing. 


Second round: P Makoto Aiuchi (Chiba Kokusai HS, Chiba)

Aiuchi has an interesting backstory of being an orphan and it's unclear what his true ethnicity is. His tenure started ugly when he was caught speeding and driving without a proper license in the December after he was taken, but the Lions still chose to give him a chance. His early troubles are why he wasn't even pictured in the above photo.

He has experience of going to the Melbourne Aces in the winter and has mostly seen time in ni-gun. However, he has failed at the ichi-gun level when being a spot starter and has usually been lit up.

Unfortunately, Aiuchi has also served a suspension in 2014 for being caught smoking and drinking underage at 19 while wearing the team uniform. His training was separate from other ni-gun players as a result. With other pitchers on the roster, he has a major uphill battle. Aiuchi is only 23, but time could be running out and it's possibly better if the Lions make him a reliever. Grade: D-

Hindsight: OF Seiya Suzuki was drafted by the Carp. P Takahiro Norimoto was taken by the Eagles. IF Fumiya Hojo was drafted by the Tigers and despite having an injured 2017, he could be a promising starter for them in the future. P Yasuhiro "Ryan" Ogawa was drafted by the Swallows


Third round: IF Yuji Kaneko (Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto)

Kaneko was taken as an infielder and was mostly platooned from 2013-2015. A switch hitter, Kaneko's speed and slick fielding looked promising for him to be the team's shortstop. However, his defense regressed in 2016 with several throwing errors and Norio Tanabe planted him in right field instead, where his defense doesn't need to be worried about. He was tied for the Pacific League stolen base king in 2016 with 53 and can be a decent slap hitter.

Kaneko began the 2017 injured with shin splits, but Hatsuhiko Tsuji put him in right field once he was healthy and his slap hitting was useful again. In a shortened season, he still had 25 stolen bases and ended the year starting in left field. Grade: B+

Hindsight: C Tatsuhiro Tamura was drafted by the Marines in this round. P Shoichi Ino was taken by the Baystars. 


Fourth round: P Tomomi Takahashi (Seino Unyu, Gifu)

Takahashi looked to be a steal of the draft when he had a dominant 2014 season as the closer while Masuda was the setup man. After having a strong first half to 2015, he regressed and the Lions were stuck with trying to figure out their closer situation since he struggled.

Takahashi underwent Tommy John surgery in 2016 and missed most of the year as well as majority of the 2017 season. The Lions are hoping he can regain his form in 2018 and be a possible setup man. With the dominant 1.5 seasons, there was good value for a fourth round pick, but recent issues have dropped this grade a tad. Grade: B- 

Hindsight: OF Shohei Kato was taken by the Marines. 


Fifth round: P Isamu Sato (Konan HS, Fukushima) 

Sato had a promising 2016 in ni-gun which earned a promotion to the ichi-gun in that year. With multiple starts and other soft appearances out of the bullpen, he went 1-3 with a 5.76 ERA in 25 innings of work.

Unfortunately, Sato was involved in a auto accident in the middle of 2016 and served a team suspension. Things got worse as Sato had a poor 2017 in ni-gun and fell out of favor in comparison to others in the farm system. He was cut by the Lions after 2017 and retired from baseball altogether. Grade: D-

Hindsight: P Kazuyuki Kaneda was taken by the Hanshin Tigers in this round. The Orix Buffaloes selected him as the compensation choice for losing Yoshio Itoi in free agency and Kaneda has been a soft medium leverage reliever.  IF Toshiro Miyazaki was taken by the Baystars in the 6th round and won a Central League batting title in 2017. P Shunta Wakamatsu was a 7th round pick by the Dragons and has been a one-year wonder for a solid 2015 season. 


Ikusei: IF Daichi Mizuguchi (Kagawa Olive Guyners, Kagawa)

The Lions took their second ever ikusei pick in franchise history in Mizuguchi out of the Shikoku Island Independent League. An undersized infielder, Mizuguchi worked his way to a promotion up to the 70-man roster in the middle of the 2015 season for his hitting production in ni-gun.

In 2016, Mizuguchi became the first ikusei to play an ichi-gun game in franchise history and appeared in 20 games. He saw most of the 2017 season at the ichi-gun as a pinch runner and defensive replacement, where he hit .280/.294/.340. Not bad value for an ikusei pick. Grade: B

Hindisght: P Yuya Iida was taken by the Softbank Hawks and he serves as a middle reliever. 



This class was going to look like a home run even with five players and one ikusei had Takahashi continued to be a back end reliever. Instead, it's just a good class with Masuda and Kaneko both being ichi-gun players and Mizuguchi finding his way up. If Takahashi can regain his form from 2014, then it's a slam dunk. The jury is still out on Aiuchi, but things are not looking as good as they once were. Grade: B

Hindsight: The rest of the league found talent with Norimoto, Ogawa, Otani, Higashihama, Fujinami and more. There were better quality players drafted by others, but not many had the quantity the Lions in 2012.  


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