The Saitama Seibu Lions were coming off a Japan Series in 2008 and the team entered the draft looking to build towards the future. As part of our offseason draft series, we'll take a look at each draft class starting with 2008, which was the first time the Lions were granted a full draft without penalty.
Any draft class takes years to evaluate down the road, but for this group, it's fair to give a letter grade and write it in stone. We'll also add some hindsight notes that might've been interesting.
First Round: P Yuta Nakazaki (Nichinan Gakuen HS, Miyazaki)
Nakazaki was drafted unopposed and had a very unusual side arm release for a left handed pitcher. Despite being a first round pick, he didn't make his ichi-gun debut until 2013, where he gave up a home run to his first career batter faced, which was Yuya Hasegawa of the Softbank Hawks. Two months later, he gave up seven runs in three innings of relief for a single game.
In seven ichi-gun games played in 2013, he had a 9.31 ERA in 9.2 innings of work. He played more games in a single season for the Melbourne Aces in 2012 (9) than any season with the Lions ichi-gun. In 2016, Nakazaki appeared in eight ichi-gun games while in low leverage, recording six innings and a 6.00 ERA. At one point, his ERA was infinity when he didn't record an out to begin the year. The Lions cut him after the 2016 season.
There are likely several first round busts in Seibu Lions history, but Nakazaki has to be near the top. By playing in only 16 ichi-gun games in a span of eight years, it's hard to beat this distinction when there were no signs of injury. Grade: F
Hindsight: The first round picks of this draft have not done much. Giants OF Taishi Ota was traded to the Fighters last offseason and found a role there. Fighters catcher Shota Ono was a regular starter and had good defense, but has lost his favor with the current team through 2017.
Second round: P Ryoma Nogami (Nissan Motors, Kanagawa)
The Lions went with a shakaijin in the second round and found a rotation starter who stayed there from 2012-2017. He initially began his ichi-gun career as a reliever, but the Lions were able to use him in order to eat up innings. His best season came in 2013 where he went 11-7 with a 3.95 ERA.
Last year, he went 11-10 with two complete games and earned his first career shutout with a 3.63 ERA. Nogami reached domestic free agency status at the end of 2017 and eventually signed with the Yomiuri Giants.
Despite spending time in the bullpen on occasion, the Lions found a guy who stayed in the rotation and was a decent No. 3, let alone reaching free agency. Grade: B
Hindsight: Ren Nakata has been a decent middle reliever for the Hiroshima Carp, but Nogami has logged better innings. Another fun note is OF Hisayoshi Chono was drafted in this round by the Chiba Lotte Marines and refused to sign with them because he wasn't taken by the Giants. It was the second time he didn't sign with the team who drafted him.
Third round: IF Hideto Asamura (Osaka Toin HS, Osaka)
Asamura was a star out of Osaka Toin coming off a 2008 Summer Koshien championship and helped win the title game in a 17-0 rout. He made his ichi-gun debut in 2010 and began earning frequent playing in 2011. In his early postseason career, he had a clutch hit in the 2011 Climax Series against the Fighters which tied the game, where the Lions eventually won.
His breakout year was in 2013, where he had a career high 27 HR and 110 RBI while hitting a slashline of .317/.388/.514. After having two seasons of only a good half and playing several positions in 2014, he put it together in 2016 at 2B and was named the team's captain starting in 2017. He already has 1,000 hits.
As the team's captain and a Core-4 player on the Lions, this was a best case scenario pick.
Hindsight: Yuki Nishi was taken in this round by the Orix Buffaloes. Hiroki Uemoto has been a starting infielder for the Hanshin Tigers, but Asamura is younger and more talented. Nishi is arguably the best player from the first three rounds tied with Asamura. Yuhei Nakamura, a starting catcher, was also taken in this round by the Yakult Swallows.
Fourth round: OF Ryo Sakata (Hakodate University, Hokkaido)
Sakata has struggled to find time at the ichi-gun level, where either his performance or an injury has hampered him. Things were looking promising in 2013, but then he dislocated his shoulder and it kept him off the field for the rest of the year and it was re-aggravated in 2014.
He can be a decent slap hitter on occasion and he won the starting RF job in 2016 at the beginning, but his performance faded and the outfield was a revolving door. In 2017, he spent most of the year in ni-gun while tearing it up, but the presence of Shuta Tonosaki and Yuji Kaneko passed Sakata on the depth chart.
Sakata can be a decent pinch hitter and spell outfielder for a short span, but can't be an everyday starter. If anything, he can still contribute to the ichi-gun. Grade: C
Hindsight: There haven't been many contributors in this round. Though there were a few in the 5th round that the Lions might've passed on.
Fifth round: C Tatsuya Takeno (Fukuoka University, Fukuoka)
Takeno was blocked by Ginjiro Sumitani and Tatsuyuki Uemoto from getting everyday ichi-gun playing time. He spent majority of his career in ni-gun and only played in two games each in 2010 and 2012. Takeno was cut by the team after the 2013 season.
Not much can be said when he might've been an insurance draft pick, but he couldn't find room at the ichi-gun level. Grade: F
Hindsight: Speedster Takuya Nakashima was drafted by the Fighters in this round. Tadashi Settsu, remembered as a 2012 Sawamura Award winner for the Hawks, was also taken in the 5th. Arguably the biggest one year wonder, but Settsu did some damage in the earlier parts of his career and stayed in the rotation.
Sixth round: P Kazuki Miyata (Koga Kenko Iryo SG, Shiga)
Miyata was drafted out of a medical school and the Lions thought they could take a flyer on a potential lefty specialist. He saw minimal playing time and was with the Melbourne Aces in 2014. At the ichi-gun in 2014, Miyata saw mop up duty and did well enough to have a 1.84 ERA in 14.2 innings of work.
In 2015, Miyata saw more low leverage and even medium leverage innings with the ichi-gun. Due to a crazy comeback and a bounce that went his way, Miyata earns his first and only career win against the Hanshin Tigers in relief. In 18 games, he recorded a 5.21 ERA in 19 innings of work. In 2016, he suffered an elbow injury which required surgery and it all but ended his career. The Lions cut him after the season.
This was a low risk decision that didn't pan out, but a mop up pitcher taking innings is what can be expected in this round. Grade: D
Hindsight: P Keisuke Tanimoto was drafted in the seventh round by the Fighters. He was a decent middle reliever until he fell out of favor in 2017, where he was traded to the Chunichi Dragons. P Wataru Karashima was taken in the 6th round and has been a starting pitcher for the Rakuten Eagles.
In the Ikusei round, P Yuji Nishino and OF Yoshifumi Okada were taken by the Marines. Nishino has spent time as a closer and is capable of starting. Okada is a decent depth outfielder who isn't built for every day starting. However, Okada made big contributions in the 2010 Japan Series.
This class might not seem like much with only three players remaining and the first round pick being awful, but looking at the rest of the field, it's a win for the Lions. One player ended up being in the starting rotation and the other now the team's captain. Asamura is the best hitter of the class with no doubt and by taking one of the highest talents, it warrants a high grade. Grade: A-
Hindsight: An argument can be made the Hawks won the short term success with Settsu, but the Marines and Lions still have players today contributing. Chiba got a decent salvage out of the ikusei while the Swallows and Fighters found a catcher, but Asamura and Nishi are the only Core-4 players currently in.
We're hoping to grade or at least take a look at each Lions draft class in the offseason from 2009-2016 in a series. Most of this series will likely carry into 2018. Stay tuned!
Other links in the series:
Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall