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.
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.
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