Monday, January 29, 2018

Seibu Lions 2018 Spring Camp Outlook: Infield

The Saitama Seibu Lions appear to be set on the infield for years to come with the emergence of Sosuke Genda. However, third base becomes a question mark in the long run and first base has some competition.


Hideto Asamura: The team's captain is betting himself to have a big year hoping he'll be able to cash in on it next offseason. He was just shy of 100 RBIs in 2017, but was solid continuing a strong form from 2016.

Sosuke Genda: It's pretty safe to say that Genda has locked up the shortstop position for a long time. He played every inning in 2017, which was only the fourth time in NPB history that a rookie did this. Defense and range is amazing, but he personally wants to cut down on his errors. His speed alone makes opponents force a throw.

Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura: Okawari-kun took a big paycut to stay with the team for 2018 and didn't leave for free agency. His role diminished by falling to batting 7th in the lineup by season's end. He's still an effective power hitter, but can he still play 3B and provide solid defense on the corner of the infield? The DH decision in 2016 mostly backfired. He also bucked his own trend playing at least 100 games for four consecutive years for the first time in his career. He previously failed to reach 100 games for three straight seasons prior to 2013.

Hotaka Yamakawa: The Okinawan has been a preseason star the last two years, but failed to do well in April once the season begins. His trend has been an early deactivation, followed up with a strong second half in the last two years. Can he change it? He will compete with Ernesto Mejia for the starting 1B spot and has the upperhand entering camp.

Ernesto Mejia: Mejia is the highest paid player on the team at an estimated $5 million for both this season and next year. Unfortunately, he hasn't found a role after the emergence of Yamakawa, mostly serving as a pinch hitter. The Lions even deactivated him for a few weeks in August as they couldn't find a place to put him. He lacks versatility to go anywhere else in the field and knows he needs to step it up if he wants playing time in 2018. Mejia was not happy with his 2017 season.

Shuta Tonosaki is listed as an infielder, but we will save him for the OF piece. He comes in on the infield as a defensive replacemenet at 3B or 2B on occasion. 



Kyohei Nagae: Nagae is a defensive specialist who serves as a late inning replacement. He's arguably the best defensive infielder on the Lions.

Daichi Mizuguchi: Mizuguchi was a former ikusei pick who earned some playing time in the last two years with the ichi-gun. He's mostly a pinch runner, but can be a late replacement in a pinch.

Haruka Yamada: Manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji invited Yamada to come to ichi-gun camp this time around. Last year, he earned a call up for the first time, but didn't play in the week he was up. The Lions like what they saw on the farm from Yamada and this could be his chance to emerge among the backups. If everything goes right, they can slot him at 3B.

Nien Ting Wu: Wu saw time in 2016 with the Lions season all but over, but didn't see much ichi-gun action in 2017 with the team winning. He's been practicing all over the field including OF to improve his versatility as a reserve. His best hope is to be a utility player for the Lions to plug him anywhere on the infield or outfield.


The Farm: 

Kazuki Kaneko: Kaneko was a 4th round high school pick in 2013. He will turn 23 in May and has not impressed with his bat in ni-gun. His time could be winding down if improvements aren't made with his .205 average from last year.

Manaya Nishikawa: The Lions second-round draft pick from last fall is listed as an infielder, though he can also play outfield. He's very athletic and the Lions hope to see plenty of hitting production as he will get lots of action in ni-gun.

Ryusei Tsunashima: The Lions sixth round pick out of high school from Niigata prefecture will also get plenty of reps in ni-gun. He can play 3B or SS, but the Lions were also impressed with his bat for a defensive player.



There is only competition at 1B, but everywhere else is locked up. With Naoto Watanabe released, the Lions will get younger with one depth infielder taking over. Tonosaki's versatility could be taking someone else's spot, but the door opens for Yamada to earn playing time if he can impress as a reserve.

It's likely that the Lions will carry seven players from this page as a whole with Tonosaki being the eighth. It will be a matter if they value defense (Nagae), speed (Mizuguchi) or versatility (Wu) over time. In the long run, the competition and projects are there with Tsunashima and Nishikawa to take over when Okawari-kun is done.


Other positions: 






Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Seibu Lions 2018 Spring Camp Outlook: Catcher

All players will report to spring training camp on February 1. Some will go to Miyazaki prefecture for the ichi-gun while others are in Kochi prefecture for the ni-gun camp. That list can be seen here.

With baseball about to resume again, we will look at each position and write a statement or something about each player.

The catcher position is all but setup for 2018, but the long run has its share of uncertainty. Ginjiro Sumitani will likely have year by year contracts in the future as he is 30. The real question is how often do the others play behind him?


Ginjiro Sumitani: Sumitani returns and is also the president of the NPB player's association, as Motohiro Shima stepped down recently. He had a rare season where his bat was respectable, but he is mostly known for his defense. Gin-chan remains the top defensive catcher overall.

Masatoshi Okada: Okada cracked the lineup for 68 games and started a good portion of them at catcher, depending on who was pitching. His defense is slightly below Gin-chan's, but solid enough as a spell reserve. He's also the top pinch-hit candidate if the Lions want to bunt.

Tomoya Mori: Entering the era of Hatsuhiko Tsuji, it was uncertain what the Lions had in store for Mori in the long run. After playing in the outfield and DH, the team made it clear that he is a catcher and he saw quite a few games behind home plate in 2017. Depending on the opponent, he could be catching, but his bat remains valuable if they want him in the lineup. In the long term, the Lions hope he can be an everyday catcher as he saw time in the offseason with the Melbourne Aces.



Shota Nakata: Nakata is probably the emergency catcher if one of the top three get hurt. He would be next in line.

Komei Fujisawa: A former ikusei pick, Fujisawa mostly works with the farm pitchers down in ni-gun. He has yet to play an ichi-gun game in his career.

Hitoto Komazuki: Komazuki is a converted outfielder who remains as a project at catcher. At one point, the injuries in ni-gun piled up and he was forced into the OF for a handful of games at the farm level. Very minimal expectations long term.



Masato Saito: Saito was a Division II catcher in college and the Lions took a flyer on him during the ikusei draft. Like any ikusei, his goal will be to earn a promotion to the 70-man roster.



The catcher position is all but set. Competition is very minimal with the reserves trading games a the ni-gun level and the ichi-gun having their role. It's all about what Mori does for the future and long term as he hopes to continue developing both his bat and defense.


Other positions:







Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Thursday, January 25, 2018

NPB Posting system: With Ohtani gone, who's next?

Shohei Ohtani had arguably the most hype of any player from NPB to come across the Pacific Ocean to MLB. The question remains on who else is good enough to go? 

We'll help answer this question and place different categories on each player. The answers remain more complex given the situation, contract and team.

Some play for a team that doesn't post its players and they must reach nine years of service time to be an international free agent. Others are still very young and it would be foolish for the NPB to post him when there are several years of control left.

Here is how we see it:

Wait and see: 

This group has potential, but not everyone has blossomed to be MLB ready yet. 

IF Tetsuto Yamada (Yakult Swallows): Yamada is an athlete who's been in the 30-30 club while also hitting .300 in back-to-back seasons, but had an awful 2017 year despite being healthy. Some say he was hit by a pitch at the end of 2016 and hasn't recovered, but 2018 could decide if he's good enough. Yamada will be 26 in 2018. 

P Shintaro Fujinami (Hanshin Tigers): Fujinami had a lot of hype out of high school and was often a "rival" of Ohtani because of them facing each other in a Spring Koshien tournament game. However, they played in opposite leagues and it was just something for the media to write about. After showing good promise through 2015, Fujinami has hit a brick wall in 2016 and spent most of 2017 at the farm level due to his lack of control. He turns 24 in April, right now, Tigers fans would be happy if he's a mid-rotation starter. MLB scouts cannot like his control issues if they remain.

P Tomohiro Anraku (Rakuten Eagles): Anraku is remembered for being featured on ESPN through his Spring Koshien performance as a HS junior. However, the hype died down due to injury in the 2014 NPB Draft as only two teams attempted to take him. The Eagles are figuring out what to do with him, but he's still 21 and has plenty of time on his side compared to Fujinami.

P Yuki Nishi (Orix Buffaloes): Nishi has been the workhorse for the Buffaloes behind Chihiro Kaneko and is the heir ace. At 27, he doesn't have the same upside, but could be a rotation starter for an MLB team if he wanted to go. He has also thrown a no-hitter in the past. When 2018 concludes, he will reach domestic free agency and would be an international free agent after 2020. 

P Shota Imanaga (Yokohama DeNA Baystars): Imanaga was a first round pick and has already made an instant impact for his team. At 24, he's only two years into the league and if he continues his form, he could be a rotation starter in MLB. Scouts got to see him in action at the Asia Professional Baseball Championship last November. The Baystars would have no reason to post him now, nor in the next three years as he has plenty of control remaining. He's still an intriguing option in the long run.

C Kensuke Kondo (Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters): Kondo is a good hit for average player, but cannot find a position in the field, where the Fighters have used him in the OF. Last year, he was on a roll, but an injury sidelined him for most of the season. He's only 24 and can still tear it up. Personally, I like his upside as a hitter better than his teammate Haruki Nishikawa, who's more of an athlete.

P Kazuki Yabuta (Hiroshima Carp): Yabuta has the looks of a one year wonder right now, but he has come off a strong 2017 season where he worked out of the bullpen and later the rotation. It was a pleasant surprise for Carp fans last season when he carried a good load. He will turn 26 in 2018 and probably not have the same upside if he were to leave as the Carp have plenty of years of control left.

P Takahiro Norimoto (Rakuten Eagles): Norimoto is talented enough to go with his strikeout abilities. The problem is, does he want to go? We haven't heard any statements from him one way or another to say it's guaranteed. He currently has four years of control remaining until he reaches international free agency. Age would also be against him when posting compared to others as he's currently 27.


Talented, but won't be posted: 

These players play for a team that has no track record of posting players. They must reach international free agency (nine years of service time) in order to leave like Tadahito Iguchi, Tsuyoshi Wada, Munenori Kawasaki or Hideki Matsui once did.

P Kodai Senga (Softbank Hawks): You might remember this name from the 2017 World Baseball Classic as he came out of the bullpen in relief. For the Hawks, he's an ace and has been one of the best underdog stories in NPB. For a player who was once an ikusei (similar to NFL practice squad), he worked his way up the ladder to the top of the Hawks rotation. Senga has said he wants to play in MLB someday, but the Hawks gave him the silent treatment on posting. He turns 25 later this month and is eligible for international free agency in about 5-6 years. By age 30, he can still contribute, but not in his peak seasons with the upside that he has now. 

OF Yuki Yanagita (Softbank Hawks): Yanagita would be good enough to make an impact if he were to leave now. Like Yamada, he has been in the 30-30 club and has hit .300 in the same season. However, he's not eligible for international free agency until after 2020 and he'll be 32 by then. The interest won't be the same as he'd likely be past his prime three seasons from now.

P Tomoyuki Sugano (Yomiuri Giants): Sugano started the 2017 WBC Semi-final against team USA and showed he can hang with major leaguers. He could make an impact if he left now, but he's not eligible for international free agency until after 2021 at the earliest. Sugano would be 32 by the time he plays his first MLB game potentially in 2022. There's a good chance he would take the opportunity to come stateside by then, but can't leave via the posting system.

P Kazuto Taguchi (Yomiuri Giants): Taguchi has already been a quality starter for the Giants at an early age at 22, which is helping his chances down the road. He won't be eligible for international free agency until 6-7 years from now, but at least he'd be in his late 20s as opposed to early 30s. The larger problem? He might prefer being the rockstar on the Giants as he is not thinking about it. His teammate Hayato Sakamoto did not have interest once he reached international free agency, but it doesn't prevent scouts from liking him.


All but guaranteed: 

P Yusei Kikuchi (Saitama Seibu Lions): The Lions openly said if Kikuchi gets 10 wins in 2017 and 2018, they would post him. He reached not only 10 wins in 2017, but had a breakout season as the team's ace when the team lost it's previous ace. Coming out of high school, he was hyped up as a rare lefty prior to Shohei Ohtani, but things didn't look the same once he got to the pros and the injury bug hit.

MLB fans should be rooting for Kikuchi if they want to see another prospect come over. He'll be 27 this year and could be a solid No. 3 in the rotation with some upside of being a No. 2 at best. He won't have the hype he had in high school, but Kikuchi should be on pace to be posted as long as he has a similar season from 2017. We here at Graveyard Baseball can track all his movements and quirks for 2018 and we'd love for you to join us in this journey ahead. 


I considered all players and came up with this list in the end. Is there anyone we missed? Feel free to disagree and leave a comment.


Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Monday, January 22, 2018

Former Lions player and coach Shinsaku Katahira dies at age 68

Former Seibu Lions player and Shinsaku Katahira passed away at 9:58 a.m. on Monday morning after losing his battle to pancreatic cancer. He was 68 years old.

Katahira spent majority of his playing career with the Nankai Hawks from 1972-1981. He was traded with Masahiro Kuroda to the Lions for Yoshinori Yamamura and Rutsuo Yamashita prior to the 1982 season and saw some glory.

After only experiencing one Pacific League Pennant in 1973 with the Hawks, he experienced won the first Lions pennant in the Seibu era in 1982 and went on to win their first of several Japan Series titles in the 1980s, where Katahira was the starting 1B. After defeating the Dragons in six games in 1982, the Lions repeated in 1983, defeating the Yomiuri Giants in seven games.

Katahira hit .306 in 1985, but his best season came in 1986, where he hit .292/.332/.522 with 17 home runs. The Lions won the Japan Series that season against the Hiroshima Carp in eight games, which was his final year in Tokorozawa.

His playing career ended with the Yokohama Taiyo Whale (present day Baystars) from 1987-1989. Katahira served with the Lions as an ichi-gun batting coach (1990-1993), ni-gun batting coach (1994) and even ni-gun manager (1995-1997, 2008-2009).

After NPB, he served as a baseball commentator and coached a women's professional baseball team. For a member of the Golden Era and even coach for the back end of it, may he R.I.P.


Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Seibu Lions announce 2018 Spring training camp rosters

A farmer in Miyazaki prefecture decorated the area with Seibu Lions gear welcoming the team in 2017. 
The Saitama Seibu Lions announced their Spring Training camp rosters for both the ichi-gun and ni-gun on Monday, January 22. Shunta Nakatsuka, Shohei Suzuki and Haruka Yamada are among the notables fresh faces in ichi-gun camp.

"[Suzuki and Yamada] made great efforts in the farm last year and also showed something good at the fall camp," Seibu Lions Manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji said.

Among the recent draft picks, both Hiromasa Saito and Sho Ito will also be at the ichi-gun camp. This will give Tsuji a first look at both players.

Ichi-gun camp will take place from February 1-19 in Nango, Miyazaki. The ni-gun camp will be from February 1-23 in Kochi prefecture.

Here is the full camp lists for both groups:

Ichi-gun camp (Miyazaki) 

Pitchers (21): Neil Wagner, Tatsushi Masuda, Tatsuya Oishi, Yusei Kikuchi, Kona Takahashi, Shinsaburo Tawata, Hiromasa Saito, Hayato Takagi, Ken Togame, Shunta Nakatsuka, Shogo Noda, Katsunori Hirai, Hirotaka Koishi, Yosuke Okamoto, Sho Ito, Tomomi Takahashi, Keisuke Honda, Fabio Castillo, Shota Takekuma, Brian Wolfe, Tsubasa Kokuba

Catchers (4): Tomoya Mori, Ginjiro Sumitani, Masatoshi Okada, Shota Nakata

Infielders (8): Hideo Asamura, Shuta Tonosaki, Sosuke Genda, Kyohei Nagae, Hotaka Yamakawa, Haruka Yamada, Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura, Ernesto Mejia

Outfielders (6): Takumi Kuriyama, Kazuo Matsui, Yuji Kaneko, Fumikazu Kimura, Shohei Suzuki, Shogo Akiyama


Ni-gun camp (Kochi)

Pitchers (15): Tatsuya Imai, Seiji Kawagoe, Ryohei Fujiwara, Yasuo Sano, Yusuke Tamamura, Makoto Aiuchi, Takuya Toyoda, Kentaro Fukukura, Tadasuke Minamikawa, Kaima Taira, Naoaki Matsumoto, Koki Fujita, Chun-Lin Kuo, Kaito Yoza

Catchers (3): Hitoto Komazuki, Komei Fujisawa, Masato Saito*

Infielders (5): Daichi Mizuguchi, Nien Ting Wu, Manaya Nishikawa, Kazuki Kaneko, Ryusei Tsunashima

Outfielders (6): Aito Takeda, Masato Kumashiro, Shogo Saito, Daisuke Togawa, Ryo Sakata, Wataru Takagi*

*indicates ikusei

Bold indicates newcomer

Interesting that both Kokuba and Honda made the ichi-gun camp as well for two pitchers who have yet to prove their worth. The Lions currently have 66 players on their 70-man roster and will presumably leave two spots open to potentially promote either or both of their ikusei players in M. Saito and W. Takagi.

The Lions will have a kickoff event to introduce the 2018 team publicly on Friday, January 26.


Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Thursday, January 18, 2018

NPB 101: Schedule and calendar for a year

Nippon Professional Baseball has it's schedules and quirks among some of the many things in the league. However, not everyone is aware of all that goes on, including yours truly.

In a guide to understanding NPB more, here is the ideal calendar for a season:


-Training camp begins. All teams have a ni-gun facility which is separate and a distance away from the ichi-gun team. Some teams train in Okinawa, while other are in Miyazaki prefecture. The Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters have spent a portion of their ichi-gun camp in Arizona since 2016.

-Practice games commence. Unlike an exhibition, teams can substitute players to come back in and out as the games are not under officials rules.



-Preseason (Open-sen) begins. Exhibitions will go only nine innings with no extras, but are otherwise played under official rules.

-The first 28-man roster announcement comes, everyone else is in the farm.

-Spring Koshien, known as the invitational and lesser of the two high school Koshien events take place. Only 32 schools participate with a few special underdogs given an invite known as 21st Century Schools. It was in Spring Koshien when Shohei Ohtani lost to Shintaro Fujinami in a duel.
It's a good way to scout a few potential draft picks and a better alternative for those craving meaningful do or die baseball. As a result, the Hanshin Tigers start their home season in Kyocera Dome.

-Opening Day takes place, the last Friday of the month.



-First time through the order completed. All teams see the other five teams in the same league first, then go through this again having played in all traditional home stadiums.



-Second time through the order completed.

-Golden Week, a national holiday in Japan. With majority of the country taking the week off, games will take place in the day time. Golden Week can overlap in late April.



-Interleague play takes place for 18 games, three weeks. Sometimes interleague play will start in the final week of May. There is also a makeup week scheduled after the initial three weeks for any games that were rained out. Interleague games are not made up in September/October.



-NPB All-Star games. There are usually two All-Star games and sometimes a third. The 2018 edition will be in Kyocera Dome and in Kumamoto prefecture.

-Trade deadline is on July 31. This is also the deadline for teams to sign any foreign imports if there is room.



-Summer Koshien begins. This is the most iconic baseball-related event in Japan, given it's longer history (though some college rivalries have lasted longer). All 47 prefectures have at least one school involved with Tokyo and Hokkaido getting two in, representing different regions.

This is a gauntlet and it's like March Madness in Japan. Once again, plenty of talent to scout and someone could up his stock for the draft by the time it's all over. Masahiro Tanaka and Yuki Saito became legends here.

-Crazy schedule, including more games on Monday than usual. Sundays are usually day games in Japan, but there could be more night games everywhere.



-Irregular schedule structured to add in makeup games from the season. There are fewer three-game series against a team and there are likely stand alone games in place. The pennant is likely decided in this month for both leagues.



-Regular season ends. Several makeup games could continue to take place depending on how many were rained out during the season.

-Phoenix League in Miyazaki takes place where players will get extra work. If a team makes the postseason, the Phoenix League team will be made up of farm players. Ichi-gun players will get more work if they come up short.

-First and final stages of the Climax Series and Japan Series commences and concludes.

-NPB Draft takes place prior to the Japan Series. Players who will not be retained are usually announced before and after the draft, known as Senryokugai.

-Lots of "captain obvious" quotes come from teams regarding pending free agents on how important or good a potential outgoing player is.



-Fall camp begins. Several teams will practice together at their spring training facility or elsewhere for a separate camp.

-Foreign signings commence. Some signings come as early as November.

-Contract negotiations for the following season begin. A player will sit down with the team and come to a salary agreement for the next year.

-Thanks Festa, the NPB equivalent of fan fest takes place after the season. Teams who win the pennant and Japan Series also have their parades, including those that didn't win the latter.

-Free agency begins. Players who have a domestic (7 years) or international (9 years) FA option can exercise it this month and put themselves on the open market. Based on his salary from the season, he will be either a type A, B or C free agent.

-Some teams will send players abroad into a league in the offseason. The Saitama Seibu Lions have been partnered with the Melbourne Aces since 2011. Others like the Yokohama DeNA Baystars have sent players to Mexico and the Dominican Republic.



-MLB Winter meetings in Florida take place. Plenty of representatives from NPB will attend this.

-Contract negotiations should be completed with all salaries reported for the next year.

-Players are likely posted this month if a team elects to do so. They are given a 30-day window from the day of their posting to come to an agreement with a team.

-Majority of foreign signings are announced, domestic free agents likely find their destination. Teams who have compensation FA rights could make their decision on what to do in December.

-Slogans and mottos are often said at the end of the calendar year for the following season. Sometimes they come as late as January or February.



-Rookie camp begins for all draft picks last October. They'll typically go through drills and normal exercises to remain in shape. Those taken out of college and high school are still technically students, as they graduate in the spring.

These rookies will move into a dorm or a team facility whether it's an 18-year high schooler or a 25-year old shakaijin. The biggest "news" during this time is finding out a significant item the rookie brought with him when moving in.

-Battle Stadium, a Japanese TV special will air. Players from each team will participate in indoor games as this is fan service. This isn't just reserves or a farm player, even stars like Takahiro Norimoto and Tetsuto Yamada will be part of this. Interviews take place between the games.

Here's a look at the 2015 edition:


The NPB season has its cycles, but hopefully this calendar can give you an idea how a year goes. If there's anything significant we missed, please let us know.


Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Graveyard Baseball Podcast: Episode 22, discussing the Lions and Shohei Ohtani

In an extra long two-part episode, Christian and Wes return checking in with all the developments that took place from October to the end of 2017.


In the first half of the episode, Christian and Wes discuss the end of the 2017 season and how the NPB Draft went. Download link available here.

Part I:

00:00 Intro / Reflection on the 2017 season, Playoff loss to Rakuten

12:45 NPB Draft

26:14 NPB in MLB (Masahiro Tanaka, Kenta Maeda, Yu Darvish, Yuliesky Gurriel)

37:27 Japan Series thoughts and overtime extras on the Melbourne Aces and Asia Professional Baseball Championship

(After Japan Series, miscellaneous stuff preview already happened, this episode was recorded in early November) 


In Part II, Christian and Wes go over the early offseason news with free agency, Kazuhisa Makita's value, Shohei Ohtani and more! Download link here.

Part II:

00:00 Intro, Personal life updates

4:15 Ryoma Nogami's free agency reaction, Compensation pickup of Hayato Takagi

13:58 Kazuhisa Makita's departure and value

21:15 Lions coaching staff changes

25:10 Renovation projects for MetLife Dome and other Lions facilities

28:13 Notable Lions salaries for 2018

36:26 Import signings Neil Wagner and Fabio Castillo

40:25 All things Shohei Ohtani

55:42 Asia Professional Baseball Championship recap

59:13 Recapping Kona Takahashi, Shunta Nakatsuka and Tomoya Mori with the Melbourne Aces

1:03:35 Closing

Christian was at a conference inside a large hotel as plenty of background noise was drawn. This was recorded before Christmas.  


Special thanks to @MistamaxG for providing the image. 


Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Translation: Seibu Lions rookies move into the dorms for camp

The Saitama Seibu Lions rookie camp started earlier this month and all eight draft picks (including two ikusei) moved into the dorms near Seibu II. These rookies can also see Lions players participating in voluntary self training/practice in passing.

Each Lions rookie was filmed and photographed on moving to the dorms with thoughts on the team and their goal towards the future. They are also shown what kind of special item they brought with them in their luggage.  

Everyone except Sho Ito is still a student in either high school or college and they will all graduate in the spring. However, they are given an exemption to partake in training en route to being a professional baseball player. 

With some translation help and putting photos together, here's what we were able to find

First round pick Hiromasa Saito: 

Saito brought berry and peach jam from home.
On entering the dormitory: 

"I believe that I can devote my time to baseball here very much. In these well-equipped circumstances, I hope I have a plenty of training and practices." 

On how to stand out in voluntary training for rookies: 

"Well, I want to win to win over the coaches, not to be behind somebody on the depth chart. I want to take a step forward." 

Saito also wrote "Human power" on a card.  


Second round pick OF Manaya Nishikawa: 

Nishikawa brought extra bedding. He also had a notable towel he brought with him to Koshien for all three years he was in it, making it easier to sleep.  
On entering the dormitory:

"I have heard it is too old, but I am completely okay here. It's well ordered."

On advice from OF Aito Takeda, who went to the same high school as Nishikawa and they were teammates in 2015: 

"I have got some advice on hitting through training with him." 

Third round pick P Sho Ito:

Ito brought Lotte candy, including gum and chocolate. He's originally from Chiba prefecture.
On entering the dormitory: 

"I feel my heart beating, but I have been getting motivated as a professional baseball player. When I was shaking hands with Shogo Akiyama and Shota Nakata, I felt they had overwhelming presence. I also want to have such a presence in the future." 


Fourth round pick P Kaima Taira:

Taira brought something from Gold's Gym. 
On entering the dormitory: 

"I am excited that I have got a chance to play in this well-equipped facility."  

Goal in the voluntary training for rookies: 

"Firstly, I want to get over the training to strengthen my physical skills to avoid injuries. I also want to pitch a lot in the farm system.Thank you for your support." 


Fifth round pick P Kaito Yoza:

Yoza had no item, but had an MLB baseball as inspiration since Kazuhisa Makita is now a major leaguer.
On moving into the dorms: 

"MetLife Dome is very close here I think this facility is so good that I can feel the presence from the dome.  

On strengths besides submarine pitching: 

"Nothing, but I have got here with my pitching, I want to show it (to coaches or fans)." 


Tsunashima brought a glove and bat that he had since elementary school, one of the first equipment items he had since playing baseball. 
On entering the dormitory: 

"This is the first time to have left my hometown in Niigata. It's been filled with a lot of fun." 

On shaking hands with Sosuke Genda and Hideto Asamura 

"I have watched them on TV, and I was very nervous." 

Goal in rookie camp: 

"I want to take a step forward, even only a little more than other rookies." 


First ikusei pick: OF Wataru Takagi: 

Takagi had a watch. 
On entering the dormitory:

"Some players already live here. With them, I want to try to win the rooster spot." 


"‘Taking steady steps to lead you to a winner’ is a motto what I had through my high school days."  


Second ikusei pick: C Masato Saito:

Saito brought his computer for his graduation thesis. He also had a baseball and poster signed by middle school students he was tutoring as well as some magazines. 
On entering the dormitory: 

"I'm feeling some anxiety because I left my hometown (in Hokkaido) first. I have to do everything on my own. From looking at the dormitory and practice facility, I am very happy to be here because there were not so good facilities both in our high school and university. I'm Very satisfied with even only a roofed facility. I don’t know how I can survive here, but I want to try my best." 

M. Saito attended a Division II college in Hokkaido. 


Special Thanks to @Yoshi_Tanaka for translation help. 


Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Friday, January 12, 2018

One year later: Progress report on the 2016 Lions draft class

After Norio Tanabe's era was finished, Hatsuhiko Tsuji stepped in as manager and the front office would have Hisanobu "Nabe-Q" Watanabe earn more power in the front office. Nabe-Q even had more say on the Tsuji hiring when they were looking for a fresh face.

Here's the early update on the first class in the Tsuji era:

Once again, this class is too early to write anything in stone, it's all penciled in. 

First round: P Tatsuya Imai (Sakushin Gakuin, Tochigi)

The Lions did not go for the hyped up Seigi Tanaka and all six B-class teams took a different player as a way of punishing those who did. There was no opposition for Imai's rights.

Imai's first season of professional baseball was cut short due to injury, where he suffered a shoulder problem in spring training camp. He saw a handful of ichi-gun games in relief and participated in the Fresh All-Star game (equivalent of futures all-star game) last summer. The Lions shut him down early before he could make his ichi-gun debut. Personally, we still had Imai as the best high school pitcher available. Grade: B

Hindsight: Taisuke Yamaoka has paid early dividends for Orix. Haruhiro Hamaguchi is a starter for the Baystars. 


Second round: P Shunta Nakatsuka (Hakuoh University, Tochigi) 

Nakatsuka was sick in the first month of the season and saw most of the year in ni-gun. As with any young hard-throwing pitcher, Nakatsuka struggled with control with several walks. His ichi-gun debut came in September where the Lions looked to close out a blowout win. After retiring his first two batters faced, he threw 12 consecutive balls which led to the bases being loaded.

He also received a workload in Australia with the Melbourne Aces and again struggled with control out of the bullpen. In Australia, he was known as "The Big Man" due to his size. Nakatsuka is still young and has plenty of upside, but control needs to get better in order to make progress. Grade: B

Hindsight: Yuta Kuroki is a back end reliever for Orix. Yota Kyoda won the Central League rookie of the year award for the Chunichi Dragons. Tomohito Sakai and Taiki Ono have earned starts with the Marines and Tigers, respectively. Kazunari Ishii has been a regular fielder for the Fighters. 


Third round: IF Sosuke Genda (Toyota Motors, Aichi)

The Lions took a shakaijin in the third round and he played every single inning at the ichi-gun level for 2017. Genda became the fourth player in NPB history to accomplish this feat and he won the 2017 Pacfic League rookie of the award. From his defense at shortstop and speed on the base paths, Genda helped propel the Lions to a second place finish. His future looks bright. Grade: A

Hindsight: None for now


Fourth round: OF Shohei Suzuki (Shizuoka HS, Shizuoka) 

The Lions took a HS outfielder to be the heir to the current crop on the team. Suzuki made good progress in ni-gun and the Lions like what they're seeing him, hoping he can develop into a potential leadoff hitter. Suzuki said his personal goal would be to have a season hitting .300 and 30 stolen bases in the future.

He received frequent playing time in ni-gun by hitting .280/.364/.332 with 15 stolen bases. While it's unlikely he'll do anything in 2018, he looks good in the long run. Grade: B+


Fifth round: P Katsunori Hirai (Honda Suzuka, Mie)

Hirai was one of the oldest players taken in the class as he was a shakaijin playing in Mie prefecture. He cracked the ichi-gun level in May and didn't have to look back, earning innings in medium leverage. Last year, he looked like a perfect candidate to be a righty specialist after Tatsuya Oishi missed most of the season with injury. He isn't flashy, but was solid for a rookie. Grade B-


Sixth round: P Ichiro Tamura (Rikkyo University, Tokyo)

The Lions took only their second Tokyo Big6 player on the roster in Tamura and he struggled for most of the year. He was called up to the ichi-gun early on for mop up duty, but was lit up by several opposing hitters who had some tape measure home runs. \He's a very raw pick who still needs to develop. Grade: D

Hindsight: Rakuten took Yuhei Takanashi in this round. 



It's too early to say what this class is on anyone, even for Genda as he was the league's best rookie. One hit wonders happen all the time, as Tomoya Yagi has shown. If everything goes right, Genda and Imai will be starting players while Nakatsuka can be a hard throwing reliever out of the bullpen. Hirai can take some innings in middle relief, Tamura develops into a better middle reliever and Shohei Suzuki's bat makes progress for the long term. All six players on this list still have potential to do something.

Thanks again for reading along to this draft series. Not sure when we'll review draft classes again. It could be two years or even one year from now on what to do next. Time will tell, but the classes from 2008-2011 are all but written in stone.

Other years:










Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Translation: Makita embraces new challenge with Padres, says farewell to Lions

Kazuhisa Makita signed a contract with the San Diego Padres earlier this week. He will make $3.8 million for two years and the Saitama Seibu Lions received $500,000 as a posting fee.

After taking a physical and signing his deal, Makita flew back to Japan and held a press conference on Wednesday in a formal farewell.

Here is what he said:


Opening Statement: 

"I am here to report to you all that I have reached an agreement to have a contract with the San Diego Padres. I had expected to take a long time to have a contract, but I am relieved that I could close a deal without any problems."


On the San Diego Padres: 

"Unfortunately, the Padres are not an exceptionally strong team now, but there are a lot of young talents there, so it's rewarding to play with them."


 On pitching strengths:

"As I played in Japan, submarine pitchers like me are rare in the league. I want to make full use of my advantage."


About the decision to play in MLB:

"The biggest opportunity was when I played in World Baseball Classic. It was there when I picked up confidence to play in MLB."


On why he chose the Padres:

"There are many things that I’m not aware of, so it means alot to me to be able to get support. I thought the Padres offered a good environment. It was a better system to play in without any pressure or concerns."

(Takashi Saito is in the front office and Hideo Nomo works as an adviser for the Padres).


On facing any specific batter in MLB: 

"Kenta Maeda would be nice. He belted a home run in his MLB debut at Petco Park. I have to make sure it doesn't happen again."

(Kenta Maeda was in the opposite league from Makita and didn't see each other much in NPB. They were teammates on Samurai Japan in the 2013 WBC and various exhibitions).


Final message for Lions fans:

"I want to say thank you very much to teammates, staff, and fans. Without their support, I could not have played here for seven years.

"In my seven years here for the Seibu Lions, we could not win a pennant, but I have an impression that I have played for a team as nice as the Lions. As I will play in MLB next season. I cannot say, 'please push the team', but I want some support from the Lions fans as I will do my best there. Thank you for your support in the last seven years to me. I wish we won a pennant."


About goals for the 2018 season:

"First of all, I have a good training regime to play without any injuries for the team the whole season. I will probably be in the bullpen and I want to play about 70 games."


Special thanks to @Yoshi_Tanaka for the translation help. 


Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Monday, January 8, 2018

Process of elimination: Who had a legit shot at Ohtani?

The Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes came and went with the Los Angeles Angels being the winners. However, his "free agency" was one of the most unique situations in MLB history where being the highest bidder financially meant nothing.

A recent conversation I had as well as thinking about it the entire offseason gave me an idea worth exploring.

While the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers, Seattle Mariners, San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers were also finalists, I figured there would be a fun exercise of eliminating teams based on reports we saw and hearing what Ohtani wanted.

What was the best way to do this? Remove what Ohtani doesn't want. Over time, we started learning what his preferences were and so on.

In this exercise, I'll go step by step and eliminate teams one by one. Some teams will be "eliminated" twice if they fit that category and are italicized if they were previously taken out. Without further ado, here we go:

Round 1: Avoid the Spotlight

Eliminated: New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets

New York Yankees General manager Brian Cashman was the first GM to make an announcement that the Yankees were out, so I figured this would be fitting to start here. Ohtani didn't want to play for a huge market team, as indicated by Dylan Hernandez. Being in the spotlight means every move will either be praised or ridiculed.

Did he want to risk himself by ending up hitting .200 after two months and everyone calling for his head? Of course not. The teams listed above would've been a dangerous market to be in due to national coverage and pressure among the media/fans. You could argue the Toronto Blue Jays go in the spotlight with being Canada's only team, but we'll let it slide here since a few other sports teams in that market get more attention.

Other teams were also considered here, but they play a "little brother" role to another team in the same market, keeping them out of the spotlight.

5 down, 25 to go


Round 2: Avoid the National League, where the designated hitter does not exist

Eliminated: All National League teams (Dodgers, Cubs, Phillies, Mets) + San Francsico Giants, Colorado Rockies, San Diego Padres, Atlanta Braves, Arizona Diamondbacks, St. Louis Cardinals, Miami Marlins, Washington Nationals, Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds

Ohtani likes to hit and this was an easy call even before he was officially posted. For those who didn't see, he would pitch once a week, have the two days before and after off, then hit for three games as a designated hitter with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters.

Being in the National League hurts half of the league as the American League has the upperhand. The Colorado Rockies would've been intriguing given it's hitter-friendly atmosphere, but no national league team can play his bat frequently unless he was an outfielder, which is something he didn't do in NPB since 2014. It's doable, but ill-advised and he'd only come in as a pinch hitter besides the days he'd start.

17 down, 13 to go


Round 3: Avoid all Spring Training Grapefruit League (Florida) teams 

Eliminated: (Marlins, Mets, Phillies, Pirates, Cardinals, Nationals) + Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers, Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins, Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays

When putting the pieces together, Ohtani's seven finalists in free agency were all teams who use Arizona in Spring Training. Prior to his posting, Ohtani had only been to two States in the USA: Arizona to train with the Fighters and Hawaii for the pennant trip in 2016 (and maybe even more trips).

It's possible that Ohtani liked working in the San Diego Padres facility in Peoria and enjoyed the training there. Either way, not having a Grapefruit League team as a finalist draws a round.

23 down, 7 to go 


Round 4: Avoid a team that has a history of an established Japanese player

Eliminated: (Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox) + Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers

It's clear Ohtani didn't want to be compared to his fellow countrymen. People will always make a comparison as it's human nature, but playing on the same team that Ichiro Suzuki or Yu Darvish went to makes it even easier to look at the past. This is arguably the most demoralizing criteria for the American League teams listed knowing they have history,

I went with teams who had an established player or firm history with 4-5 significant years. Some teams have had guys in spurts or short term like the White Sox and Tadahito Iguchi, but no one has had a large Japanese history like the five teams mentioned above in my book.

25 down, 5 to go


While the five teams remaining don't agree with the seven official finalists, the Kansas City Royals, Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Angels, Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians would be our unofficial contenders for the Ohtani sweepstakes.

This is our hypothetical look at each team available and trying to find info on their pitch: 

Cleveland Indians: 

The Indians nearly won the 2016 World Series and let Carlos Santana walk. Their rotation was already stacked, which wouldn't give a desperate need for Ohtani's services. Their lineup would've only needed a few DH at bats, but Cleveland is already a contender and could be patient with Ohtani if they buried him in the farm.

Financially, they didn't have the highest bid, but it's unclear what the team's pitch was to the two-way player.  Reports indicated they wanted him, but were limited with resources. Cleveland also had the lowest international pool money among all teams.


Chicago White Sox:

The White Sox recently traded off their assets in Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, but have built up a top farm system as a result. Their sell should've been their hitter-friendly ballpark and it's porch making it easy to hit home runs.

General Manager Rick Hahn was quoted with quoting other famous quotes and felt it was a long shot to land Ohtani. Chicago may be a large market, but the Southsiders are still under the Cubs shadow. Like the Indians, they had doubt of landing him. Financially, Chicago was in the bottom tier of pool money.


Kansas City Royals: 

The Kansas City Royals entered the offseason with three core players from their 2015 World Series Championship team becoming free agents. Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas are still free agents today at the time of this writing.

General Manager Dayton Moore did not feel the Royals were in the hunt to begin with. Kansas City's area is not as diverse and compared to other markets, would be obscure. The Royals front office viewed Ohtani as wishful thinking and were likely focused on wanting to retain some of their free agents.


Los Angeles Angels:

The Los Angeles Angels had the west coast on their side which could've been viewed as an advantage. Their biggest selling point? Having an MVP in Mike Trout. For a team that has been stuck in mediocrity, Trout has been the only reason the team gets national headlines, with only one postseason since he has been in Orange County.

General Manager Billy Eppler arguably gave the best presentation of the field with a more attractive offer than the rest. Entering the offseason, the Angels had one of the lowest international pool money funds available, but made a trade with the Minnesota Twins when the latter found out their were eliminated.


Oakland Athletics:

Like the Angels, Oakland A's selling point was certainly not their stadium. They focused on history, location and manager Bob Melvin.

Oakland spent most of their international pool money a year ago and were mostly cash-strapped, but still had more funds than the Angels prior to that trade.



This was the statement released by Ohtani's agent Nez Balelo of CAA.
“This morning, after a thorough, detailed process, Shohei Ohtani has decided to sign with the Los Angeles Angels. Shohei is humbled and flattered by all the time and effort that so many teams put into their presentations and sincerely thanks them for their professionalism. In the end, he felt a strong connection with the Angels and believes they can best help him reach his goals in Major League Baseball.
“I want to thank the clubs and everyone else for respecting our intent to make this very important process as private as possible. We were resolved to having a fair, methodical process. Teams clearly put in a lot of work, and we are grateful for that. The past few weeks also further demonstrated Shohei’s incredible thoughtfulness, attention to detail and determination to make an informed decision. He read every page of every presentation and listened to every word in each meeting, and he was so impressed that it was not an easy choice.
While there has been much speculation about what would drive Shohei’s decision, what mattered to him most wasn’t market size, time zone or league, but that he felt a true bond with the Angels. He sees this as the best environment to develop and reach the next level and attain his career goals. More than ever, I believe this is not only a special talent but a man of special character, and like everyone else I’m excited to see him in Major League Baseball.”
Ohtani turned down three of the top four teams in international pool money right away (Pirates, Yankees, Twins). Money didn't factor into his decision, but did it affect how other teams approached him? Quite possibly.

It's as if being ranked near the bottom gave a few teams low confidence. This isn't true for all teams as the finalist Dodgers had the same funds as the White Sox, Athletics and Royals.

While the agent said the league didn't matter, having a DH vs no DH plays a huge role in being able to develop Ohtani and getting him at-bats without forcing him in the field. Based on the reports, Eppler's presentation killed it and won Ohtani over to draw that "connection". The most interesting thing is how there is "no promises" as the report indicates.

Mike Scioscia has been a stubborn manager and is known for managing like it's 2002. Can he be innovative? His press conference at the winter meetings hinted how the Angels wanted a pitcher. While there is no guarantee, the Angels will need to be patient with him and can't just ignore his hitting abilities. Even with the presentation, Eppler himself was stunned and fell in celebration.

Brian Cashman of the Yankees and Jon Daniels of the Rangers likely had the most crazy sounding offers on the table, but Ohtani shunned them for different reasons.

We can speculate the West Coast preference and eliminate even more in the field, but the finalists indicate that wasn't an issue since the A's were gone and the Rangers still existed at one point. The Angels fit the bill of being in the Cactus League, American League, having no significant NPB history and being out of the spotlight as second fiddle to the Dodgers in their market.

In the end, Mike Trout's presence could've eliminated all 29 other teams right away, but it makes you wonder how hard the others even tried to go for him. Did they just do a small presentation as a formality to say they're participating? Who put in the work for him? Everyone knew who he was, but did they even try or have any confidence?

That's a question we'll never know, as only the Cincinnati Reds made their pitch public.


Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall 

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Padres reach agreement with Makita to help their bullpen

The San Diego Padres reached an agreement with Kazuhisa Makita on Saturday morning (Early Sunday in Japan time). Makita will make an estimated $4 million over two years, according to Jon Heyman

Makita's salary will more than double the ¥100 million (less than $1 million) he made with the Saitama Seibu Lions in 2017. When contract negotiations came after 2016, he turned down a multi year offer from the Lions to take a one year deal, making himself a potential domestic free agent and having leverage to exercise his FA option if the Lions chose to not post him. 

In the past, Makita said it was his dream to play in the major leagues and now he will get the opportunity for a small wage in MLB terms. The Lions will receive a small posting fee as compensation from the Padres, which will likely be less than $1 million. 

The Padres already re-signed Craig Stammen and hope Makita can add more depth to their bullpen unit. They already have Brad Hand as a closer, though if Makita impresses the coaches, they could do a shuffle.

At age 33, he lacks the upside that any young pitcher has, but the Padres hope he can deliver as a stop gap in the short term. Makita can look no further than the front office for inspiration, as his fellow countryman Takashi Saito was "washed up" at age 36 when he signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

His career was revived in 2007 and he continued pitching in MLB until 2012. His playing career ended in NPB in 2015, but he earned a championship ring in 2013 when playing with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. Today, Saito works in the Padres front office and should be ideal goal for any pitcher who comes to MLB in their 30s.

Makita becomes the first Japanese Lions player to come stateside since Hiroyuki Nakajima in 2013. However, Nakajima failed to play a major league game after a poor spring training and became buried in the Oakland Athletics AAA and AA farm teams through 2014.

Wade LeBlanc was the last Lions pitcher to play in the states after a dismal 2015 and knows San Diego very well. Let's hope they kept in touch he can show Makita the ins and outs of the city.

From a Lions standpoint, it's understandable that they lost their top middle reliever and that fans will be frustrated Makita will no longer be with the team. However, take this signing as a good thing in the long run, as everyone who loves the Lions can be Padres fans when he dons their uniform.

Having NPB players come to MLB and finding success brings credibility to the league. While we won't say NPB is more talented, we want the game to be understood from more than just a North American bubble. The 2017 World Baseball Classic was all but a success, even if Japan didn't win the tournament. Team USA gave credit to the team where it was due as Tomoyuki Sugano and Kodai Senga put on a show in Dodger Stadium.

When a major league team wants you, that means you're good in their eyes and strengthens the morale of the team. From an MLB standpoint, the Lions are only known for Daisuke Matsuzaka and the baggage of a $51 million posting fee that came with it. While Kazuo Matsui contributed, there hasn't been anyone that got more attention than Dice-K which has drawn reduced posting fees and leverage for major league teams.

While the Padres are not our favorite MLB team, we're thrilled he'll get an opportunity in San Diego and the pressure won't be heavy. No one will ridicule the Padres if Makita doesn't pan out since it will cost only $4 million plus the posting fee. San Diego isn't New York and the team can be patient if they need to.

Most importantly for Makita, he'll get to reach his dream of playing in the majors. That alone is the story no one can take away from him.


Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Friday, January 5, 2018

Report: Kazuhisa Makita and Padres in final negotiations through posting system

Kazuhisa Makita was the afterthought among pitchers going through the posting system behind Shohei Ohtani, but it appears he will find a destination. The San Diego Padres have reportedly become the team for Makita on Friday afternoon (Saturday morning in Japan time). This report mentioned several teams were interested, included the Texas Rangers.

With Makita going through the posting system, the Padres will be the team he will talk with and come to an agreement. The Lions will also receive a paltry posting fee as compensation.

Makita, 33, was a shakaijin drafted by the Saitama Seibu Lions in 2010 and has served as a pitcher in several roles. Most recently, he was the setup man in 2017 by taking the 8th inning. He recorded a 2.30 ERA in 62.2 innings of work with a 3-3 record. Makita has also started games from 2012-2015 and was the utility swingman reliever for multiple innings in 2016, where he had a 1.60 ERA in 78.2 innings.

The most unique feature of Makita's pitching is that he is a true submariner. By bringing him out of the bullpen, his underhand throwing can be a change of pace from anyone throwing over the top. With Samurai Japan, he was a specialist out of the bullpen and closed games for the national team in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.

San Diego has been a great getaway vacation for many and it's a place for anyone to enjoy. The Padres also have several Japanese connections on their staff. Manager Andy Green played for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters in 2007 while Takashi Saito and Hideo Nomo work in the front office.

Makita made about $1 million last season with the Lions and will likely make more than this in 2018. The Padres can use him as a middle reliever or even closer if they wish. Both sides will need to come to an agreement by 5:00 p.m. ET on January 10, which is the deadline and the end of the 30-day window for Makita's posting.


Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Two years later: Progress report on the 2015 Lions draft class

The Saitama Seibu Lions drafted their largest class in franchise history since they took 10 players in 1972. Who are they and what have they done since being taken in 2015?

Note: These grades are only penciled in and are more of a progress report. This entire class is too early to evaluate from everywhere and the league. 


First round: P Shinsaburo Tawata (Fuji University, Iwate)

By taking a pitcher out of Fuji University, it was the third straight year the Lions took someone out of this school following Hotaka Yamakawa and Shuta Tonosaki. Tawata was taken without opposition even though they made an announcement the day before.

Coming off a shoulder injury, Tawata had an awful ichi-gun debut in Sapporo for 2016. However, a strong second half was promising where he pitched a shutout against the same Fighters team and in the same building. A slow start to 2017 saw Tawata pitch with another injury as it made his pitches flat. He had another strong second half including another shutout.

The Lions hope he can pitch more than 100 ichi-gun innings next year and that he can stay healthy. Management has to be happy with his slider and how he is able to miss bats through two years, but he has yet to put it together for a full season. Grade: B+ 

Hindsight: The Orix Buffaloes took Masataka Yoshida, Baystars selected Shota Imanaga 


Second round: P Seiji Kawagoe (Hokkai Gakuen University, Hokkaido) 

Kawagoe was a two-way player in college and was drafted as a pitcher, despite having potential in the OF too. Unfortunately some injuries have derailed his short career and he hasn't been effective in ni-gun, where he had a 12.46 ERA in 10 games.  Grade: F

Hindsight: The Fighters selected P Takayuki Kato with this pick. Ryota Sekiya was drafted by the Marines.


Third round: P Shogo Noda, (Seino Unyu, Gifu) 

The Lions went with a shakaijin in the third round and Noda has worked his way up to the ichi-gun early. In his first year, he started to get meaningful innings when the season ended and had low leverage outings in 2017. He had medium leverage innings for parts of 2017, but he's known as a nibbler and could still be a lefty specialist if everything goes right. Grade: B-

Hindsight: The Eagles took Eigoro Mogi. 


Fourth round: OF Aito Takeda (Hanasaki Tokuharu HS, Saitama) 

The Lions took a HS outfielder from their own backyard in Takeda (formerly Otaki) as he was part of a Summer Koshien team that had a decent run. Takeda earned a few games at the ichi-gun level and was hit by pitch in his first career plate appearance. Despite not registering a hit, the Lions have to like his progression through ni-gun as he could be a future starting outfielder.  Grade: B

Hindsight: The Baystars took C Yasutaka Tobashira with this pick. 


Fifth round: P Tadasuke Minamikawa (JR Shikoku, Kagawa)

A shakaijin from Shikoku was taken in this round by the Lions, but Minamikawa has done little at the ichi-gun level. He saw a few appearances in low leverage, but hasn't been given a meaningful inning. In 40 ni-gun games last year, he registered a 4.25 ERA in 48.2 innings of work.  He could still be a middle reliever and will be 26 next year.  Grade: C

Hindsight: The Hiroshima Carp selected Ryoma Nishikawa in this round. Koyo Aoyagi was drafted by the Hanshin Tigers. 


Sixth round: P Keisuke Honda (Tohoku Gakuin University, Miyagi)

Honda is only the second-best known Keisuke Honda in Japan behind the midfielder of the same name. He has mostly been a starter in ni-gun and has remained productive, but has had issues finding time at the ichi-gun level. Honda was given a few spot starts, but has had better success internationally away from Japan.

He was part of the 2016 U23 Baseball World Cup in Mexico, where Samurai Japan won. Honda also dominated the Australian Baseball League in that same year in the five starts he was given. There's still hope he can amount to something, but it's likely others have passed him on the depth chart. Grade: C

Hindsight: None for now. 


Seventh round: IF Nien Ting Wu (Daichi Kogyo University, Kagoshima)

Wu is originally from Taiwan, but moved to Japan at a young age due to his father being a player in the shakaijin leagues. He attended high school in Okayama prefecture.

With the Lions 2016 season being all but over, Wu started games at SS at the end of 2016 and had quite a few at bats. His time diminished in 2017 due to the emergence of Sosuke Genda, but he is a depth utility infielder and the team is having him play in the outfield so he can remain versatile. Grade: B-

Hindsight: None for now


Eighth round: P Tsubasa Kokuba (Daichi Kogyo University, Kagoshima) 

Kokuba was a teammate of Wu's and an Okinawa native. He saw a short time at the ichi-gun at the end of 2016, but failed to play a game at the top level in 2017. In ni-gun, he had a 3.80 ERA in 19 games. Time could be running out if others emerge in front of him. Grade: D

Hindsight: None for now


Ninth round: P Koki Fujita (Hirosaki Kogyo HS, Aomori)

Fujita was the only HS pitcher selected in this class and he spent the 2016 season recovering from an injury. He got his feet wet out of the bullpen for three ni-gun games in 2017, but he is a long term project. Grade: None

Hindsight: Orix took P Ken Akama in this round


Tenth round: P Naoaki Matsumoto (Kagawa Olive Guyners, Kagawa)

The Lions took a flyer on a pitcher from the Shikoku Island League as Matsumoto turned 25 a month after he was drafted. While having a great underdog story of playing in a hospital league and helping elders to playing well in the Indy League and being drafted, He has done little at the ichi-gun.

He received a call up in late 2016 for a brief appearance in Fukuoka. As a reliever in ni-gun, he threw 50 innings in 34 games with a 6.84 ERA. Time could be running out on Matsumoto as he is 27 years old.  Grade; D-

Hindsight: None for now



This class could be average at best if only a few players work their way to the ichi-gun. Tawata and Noda are the only two players to receive significant playing time through two years. The jury will be out on anyone who was a shakaijin, college, or indy league player and if they don't play with the ichi-gun, they'll be viewed as roster filler or possibly expendable.

Other years:










Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Three years later: Progress report on the 2014 draft class

The Saitama Seibu Lions were coming off a poor 2014 season with one of their lowest finishes in a decade. They had higher priority in the draft for once when it came to the second round and then some. How did this class shape up?

Note: These grades are not written in stone and are more of a progress report. This entire class is too early to evaluate from everywhere and the league. 

First round: P Kona Takahashi (Maebashi Ikuei HS, Gunma)

Kona Takahashi won the 2013 Koshien tournament as a junior and was taken by the Lions without opposition in the first round. A big difference of opinion ended up favoring the Lions to land his rights.

In only three years since being drafted, Takahashi alerady has two shutouts and three complete games and he isn't even 21 yet. He has struggled with control where it showed in 2016, but the he was able to pickup a workload of innings. Last year, he was injured for majority of the season and got work with the Melbourne Aces in the winter where he struggled. However, there has been good progress for a high school pitcher. Grade: B

Hindsight: The Baystars won the rights to Yasuaki Yamasaki as a second choice, where they had a 50-50 chance of landing him against the Hanshin Tigers. 


Second round: P Yasuo Sano (Heisei Kokusai Univesrsity, Saitama)

Sano was given a spot start in 2015 and had some time in the bullpen for 2016, where he earned a win. His role expanded in 2017 as he became the sixth starter and the Lions were tight, giving him strictly four to five innings at most. He showed good progress as the starter and earned plenty of run support, but a knee injury in June ended his season. If he can fully recover from that knee injury, things look bright for a possible left handed starter the Lions are waiting for. Grade: B- 

Hindsight: The Hanshin Tigers drafted Tsuyoshi Ishizaki in this round and the Giants found Chiaki Tone as both have been relievers for their teams. 


Third round: IF Shuta Tonosaki (Fuji University, Iwate)

Tonosaki started off as a pinch runner and defensive replacement as he earned ichi-gun playing time by the end of 2015. His role diminished under Norio Tanabe in 2016, but he spent the entire 2017 at the ichi-gun level. Hatsuhiko Tsuji initially had him as a defensive replacement, but some poor hitting in the outfield made Tonosaki start in left field and later right field, a position he held for the rest of the year.

The Lions ended up finding an everyday outfielder with speed, where he can easily be a threat on the base paths. His trajectory is looking better than it was under Tanabe. Grade: B+

Hindsight: The Giants drafted Hayato Takagi, Fighters took Daiki Asama, Baystars took Toshihiko Kuramoto. 


Fourth round: P Yusuke Tamamura (Tsuruga Kehi HS, Fukui)

Tamamura graduated high school a year before and likely dropped out of Asia University, but it didn't prevent the Lions from taking him as a 19 year old. He's become a regular starter at the ni-gun level, but he came off a poor 2017 with a 8.39 ERA in 39.2 innings of work. Tamamura will be 23 next year and he will need to make significant strides if he wants to find his way to the ichi-gun. Grade: D

Hindsight: None for now


Fifth round: IF Haruka Yamada (Saga Kogyo HS, Saga)

Yamada was called up briefly to the ichi-gun as an emergency infielder in 2017 for a week. However, he didn't play a game and has been a regular ni-gun starter. With the current voids, he will have to work his way to the ichi-gun as a third baseman or possibly second baseman. In 106 ni-gun games, he hit .245/.293/.346. He will be 22 next season. Grade: C

Hindsight: None for now


Ikusei: OF Daisuke Togawa (Hokkai HS, Hokkaido)

Togawa earned a promotion to the 70-man roster one year after being drafted when the 2015 season ended. After hitting below the Mendoza Line in ni-gun for 2016, Togawa had a slashline of .271/.370/.426 in 52 games at teh farm level. He will be 22 next year and has more upside than a few reserve outfielders who were recently cut. Grade: C

Hindsight: None for now



The Lions found an everyday starter in Tonosaki assuming he stays healthy and hits his own weight. In the long term, the future of this team will hinge on Kona Takahashi to be the ace. They're hoping Takahashi can develop while Sano can be a starter or reliever. Getting two starting players and a contributor in this class would be excellent if it all goes right. Grade: B

Hindsight: This class is still too early to review with plenty of high school players taken around the league. In two years, the jury could be out.  

Other years:










Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall