Monday, December 30, 2019

Report: Akiyama reaches three year agreement with Reds

Shogo Akiyama reached an agreement with the Cincinnati Reds to a three-year contract on Monday afternoon, as first reported by Nikkan Sports. The financial terms are not official, but expected to be worth more than $15 million for three years.

Several previous reports had Akiyama linked to the Chicago Cubs, Arizona Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres as candidates.

Akiyama, who turns 32 in April, was a leadoff hitter for the Saitama Seibu Lions and broke a single-season hits record in 2015 with 216, passing Matt Murton, who passed a previous record from Ichiro Suzuki.

He was the leadoff hitter for majority of the last five seasons and recently began hitting home runs. In 2019, Akiyama batted .303/.392/.471 with 20 home runs.

Akiyama will fill a need at centerfield for the Reds as Nick Senzel is coming off shoulder surgery. Last fall, Akiyama was hit by a pitch during the Premier 12 and is rehabbing his own injury. 

With Akiyama joining the Reds pending a physical, he will be the first Japanese-born player in franchise history as they are the only MLB team without one. 


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Friday, December 27, 2019

One year later: Progress report on the 2018 Seibu Lions draft class


The 2018 Saitama Seibu Lions draft class is only one year into professional baseball, but it doesn't hurt to look at how things are going. For now, this is just a short term review.


Reminder that none of these grades are in stone as it's only been two years. 

First round: P Wataru Matsumoto (Nittai University, Tokyo)

The Lions were the only team to take a college player in opening part of the first round for the draft. All 11 other teams had opposition to their picks while the Lions scooped one of the top pitchers available for the short term. After a month in ni-gun, Matsumoto already made some flashes at the ichi-gun with a 7-4 record in 85.1 innings while having a 4.54 ERA. 

While there are a share of wild pitches, he has shown solid command through year one. The Lions think he can be the team's ace.  Grade: B+ 

Hindsight: The Tigers took Koji Chikamoto, Hawks took Hiroshi Kaino, several high school prospects still have intrigue and upside, but the Lions took a safe path here. 


Second round: P Yutaro Watanabe (Urawa Gakuin HS, Saitama)

Watanabe only saw two games in ni-gun where the sample size in relief isn't big enough to discuss. He was viewed as a fallback first round option had the Lions lost on Matsumoto's rights. Plenty of time to grow ahead with the team hoping he takes a step forward.  Grade: None 

Hindsight: None (Lions were drafting at the end of this round)


Third round: IF Kakeru Yamanobe (Mitsubishi Motors Okazaki, Aichi)

Yamanobe was hoping to continue the trend of a position player being taken in the third round in an even-numbered year as compared to his senpai (Hideto Asamura, Shogo Akiyama, Yuji Kaneko, Shuta Tonosaki, Sosuke Genda). This shakaijin failed to make an early impact in his first professional year with only one base hit in nine games. 

On a positive note, he did well in ni-gun with 29 stolen bases in 87 games as a regular. He saw time at 3B and 2B, but could also go at SS if necessary. The Lions believe his bat still needs work, but he had several scouting comparisons to Genda with defense and speed. His window to make an impact is shorter than the rest, but he'll get a pass in year one. Grade: C


Fourth round: P Kaito Awatsu (Higashi Nihon Kokusai, Fukushima)

Awatsu was a college pitcher who was inspired to pitch in a similar manner to Tetsuya Shiozaki, who is currently working in the Lions front office. He was a regular reliever in ni-gun with a 4.56 ERA in 32 games. Awatsu made his ichi-gun debut in a game I attended against the Yomiuri Giants in garbage time, allowing two runs in two innings. It was his only career ichi-gun action up to this point. He'll be hoping for a better 2020. Grade: C


Fifth Round: C Shoya Makino (Yugakkankoto HS, Ishikawa)

Makino got his feet wet in ni-gun and stayed there, recording a low slashline in 47 games. It's possible the Lions see him as a future catcher after Tomoya Mori or even a backup.  Grade: None


Sixth Round: P Ryosuke Moriwaki (Sega Sammy, Tokyo)

Moriwaki saw ichi-gun time in the first half of the 2019 as a reliever, but he couldn't hold his position as a 7th inning setup man. In an up and down year, he is most remembered for starting a bean war with the Orix Buffaloes as he hit a few batters. This includes a bases-loaded HBP which drew an Orix coach to make contact with him. Grade: C


Seventh round: IF Ryusei Sato (Fuji University, Iwate)

Sato was the only rookie to make the Opening Day roster and was at the ichi-gun for most of the season. He spent his first year on the bench, playing mostly 3B as a defensive replacement, but excelled when given the chance. Sato even had a few timely hits in his young career. If he can be the heir to Takeya Nakamura on the infield, the Lions may have picked up a steal.  Grade: B

Ikusei 1: P Aoi Tono (Nikkei University, Fukuoka)

Tono saw eight ni-gun games recording a 7.85 ERA in 28.2 innings of work. He lived up to the billing of an ikusei pick early on. This is still a work in progress. Grade: C


Ikusei 2: P Jiyu Okubo (Hokkai HS, Hokkaido)

Okubo was picked for his size and possible upside regarding a high school pitcher. He played in only two ni-gun games and recorded only five innings. He's still a raw prospect in the short term. Grade: None 


Ikusei 3: C Daichi Nakaguma (Tokuyama University, Yamaguchi)

Nakaguma was a surprise ikusei pick as the Lions took three players in this round of the draft. In an injury riddled 2019, he only appeared in 12 ni-gun games where then-coach Takanori Hoshi needed to be registered as an ikusei for emergency catching depth. Nakaguma still has time to grow. Grade: None


Obviously this class is too early to call in any direction, but the first year impact of Sato and Matsumoto can't be ignored. If three starters or ichi-gun regulars can be found in this group, it's a successful class. Grade: None

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Monday, December 23, 2019

Lions announce signing of Reed Garrett

The Saitama Seibu Lions announced on Tuesday that they added another foreign pitcher in Reed Garrett. He is the third foreign signing by the Lions for this offseason.

Garrett, 26, was a Rule 5 draft pick of the Detroit Tigers in the winter of 2018. He made the opening day roster and made his MLB debut on March 29. With the Tigers, he recorded an 8.22 ERA in 13 games while mostly taking mop up duties.

The Tigers would send him back to the Texas Rangers on May 20 per Rule 5 draft rules and he spent the rest of 2019 with the Nashville Sounds (AAA). In 34 games with Nashville, he recorded a 1-3 record with a 4.91 ERA in 40.1 innings of work. 

Scouting reports say that Garrett is a hard thrower who lacks command. He can also throw a slider, split-fingered fastball and changeup. He had promise in AAA which led to his Rule 5 selection, but it all went South in 2019 when he was on the MLB roster.

With Cory Spangenberg and Sean Nolin already signed, Garrett becomes another relief option for the Lions with hopes to find someone to take 7th or 8th inning duties.

His best case scenario is if he is paired with Katsunori Hirai as a setup option to take the workload off the other pitchers. He can top out at 97 mph (156 kph), but his control issues were clear once he faced major league hitters and couldn't keep his spot.


Numbers assigned: 

Lots of Seibu Lions jerseys numbers were assigned or changed with the rookies and foreign imports arriving.  Here are the updates:

Hotaka Yamakawa: 33 to 3

Tetsu Miyagawa: 15

Shota Hayama: 20

Hiroki Inoue: 41

Ryuya Ogawa: 44 to 29

Kaito Yoza: 44

Koki Matsuoka: 47

Shunta Nakatsuka: 22 to 50

Towa Uema: 64

Makoto Aiuchi: 41 to 66

Toshihiro Idei: 120

Masatoshi Okada: 37 to 2

Sena Yuge: 37

Masato Saito: 78

Ryota Kawano: 56

Yuji Kaneko: 8 to 7

Daisuke Togawa: 71 to 65

Junichiro Kishi: 68

Sean Nolin: 49

Cory Spangenberg: 22

Reed Garrett: 33


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Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Tsutsugo enters a great situation in Tampa Bay

This week, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo signed with the Tampa Bay Rays to a 2-year, $12 million deal with a posting fee of $2.4 going back to the Yokohama DeNA Baystars.

While there is plenty of skepticism and question marks on whether his game translates to MLB, the former Yokohama High School star has the best chance to succeed in Florida.

As reported by Jim Allen, Joel Wolfe, Tsutsugo's agent, said Tsutsugo was not seeking the highest bidder among the teams since being posted. Recently, he was working out in Los Angeles, which included a facility at UCLA and another owned by Nolan Arenado.

Tampa's selling point was aggressive among the bunch when team representatives met him in Southern California after the winter meetings in San Diego.
"We’re really excited,'' Rays GM Erik Neander said. "We have closely followed Yoshi over the last several years in anticipation of a moment like this being in his future. His immense on-field talent, the impact he’s made, the results, the offensive production in a league as increasingly talented as the NPB (as the Japan league is known), is something that initially caught our attention and led to our pursuit of Yoshi.
"But what ultimately led to this agreement and the commitment that we’ve made is what we learned about Yoshi the person. And Yoshi is someone that by all accounts loves baseball, has an exceptional work ethic, he’s a natural leader. We’ve seen that. And he’s a wonderful teammate to players of all types of backgrounds. As much as we’re about winning here, and that’s the goal, our culture is really important to us. What Yoshi will bring to our group only strengthens the values in our clubhouse that are most important.
"And certainly we’re hopeful and confident he’s going to help us to win a few games as well.''
The Rays have been a revolutionary franchise, forced to reinvent their ways and adjust to the times having a low budget. In 2019, they had the smallest opening day payroll, but won a one-game wild card series against the Oakland Athletics and forced the eventually American League champion Houston Astros to the five-game limit in the American League Divisional Series.

What makes them attractive is how the group can be creative when it comes to utilizing Tsutsugo. In the past, I compared the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters to the Kansas City Royals. However, the Fighters are more like the Rays since 2018.

Managed by Kevin Cash, the Rays have played matchups, gone advanced in sabremetrics and started the conversation on openers in 2018. Tsutsugo impressed a handful of teams in his workout and even with his ability to play 3B if they don't like his range in the OF.

It doesn't hurt that Tsutsugo signed with an American League team, giving him the fallback option to be a DH and not be in the field for every game. Cash's micromanaging of Tsutsugo will give him the best situation to succeed in the majors. The Rays organization is built on flexibility and depth as shown by their pitching staff.

Tsutsugo's biggest question mark will be whether he can adjust to hitting MLB fastballs on a regular basis. There's indication he does well against changeups and off-speed pitches, but will need to improve on anything faster than 95 mph.

Other scouts thought his athleticism would be a problem in the field which could have been a drawback for National League teams. However, he lost weight in the last two years and appears to be in solid shape.

Position players from Japan are rare with no market as only 14 players have come to MLB and appeared in at least one game before Tsutsugo. It would be 15 if Shohei Ohtani's bat as DH counts. Among those with a lengthy amount of succeed, the numbers are fewer with Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui being the only stars while Norichika Aoki, So Taguchi, Tadhito Iguchi and Kazuo Matsui have spent a handful of years.

With the media making easy comparisons to any other countrymen that have come over, the Rays don't have much NPB history as Akinori Iwamura spent three seasons with them (2007-2009) with brief stints by H. Matsui (2012) and Hideo Nomo (2005) who were at the end of their careers. In his presser with mostly stateside branched Japanese reporters, Tsutsugo was smart enough to avoid or not discuss anything regarding the past and can write his own story with the Rays without any extra pressure of his predecessors.

For Tampa, this is a low risk signing while still acquiring a player who can help them with power hitting. They'll make sure they can work out anything they see in him being useful for next two years as they contend for another postseason berth and possible run.

Tsutsugo said all the right things without predicting what he'll do. It's time for him to get to work and showcase his hitting abilities. Good luck, Tsutsugo. You got a whole country rooting for you now and quite a few will be wearing Rays jerseys across the Pacific ocean.


Baystars sendoff video


Rays video


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Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Two years later: Progress report on the 2017 Seibu Lions draft class


Coming off their first A-class season in four years, the Saitama Seibu Lions entered the draft with different expectations this time around. There was a hyped up Kotaro Kiyomiya that would draw a big crowd, but the Lions took a different path. Here's how things have looked after two seasons for the 2017 draft class:

Reminder that none of these grades are in stone as it's only been two years. 

First round: P Hiromasa Saito (Meiji University, Tokyo)

The Lions tried going for shakaijin pitcher Daiki Tajima, but lost the drawing to the Orix Buffaloes. Saito ended up being their fallback option. There was an emphasis for a left handed pitcher as Saito likely wasn't the best talent available after the first round opening. So far, he has disappointed through two years. After getting his feet wet in 2018 as a long relief swingman, his ichi-gun time diminished with a scheduled split start to take three innings and a few bullpen appearances.

In ni-gun, his numbers out of the bullpen are also mediocre and he's most remembered for having a strong outing with the Melbourne Aces in the winter of 2018. There is still time, but it's not looking good for now. Grade: D

Hindsight: The Baystars took Katsuki Azuma, Swallows got Munetaka Murakami unopposed. 


Second round: IF/OF Manaya Nishikawa (Hanasaki Tokuharu HS, Saitama)

Nishikawa was part of a Koshien championship team in 2017 and was even teammates with his senpai Aito Takeda at one point. So far, he has stayed in ni-gun as a regular infielder, though he can play OF too. His most recent slashline in the farm was .242/.294/.313 with 25 RBI and 10 SB in 103 games. It's still too early to say anything one way or another.  Grade: None

Hindsight: Softbank Hawks took Rei Takahashi 


Third round: P Sho Ito (Tokushima Indigo Socks, Tokushima)

Ito was taken as a 19-year old having only spent one year in Indy ball. After a promising first year, which included a spot start victory, he only saw mop up duties in 2019 while not faring as well for six games. He started several games in ni-gun with a 3.78 ERA in 66.2 innings of work. He could develop into a starter, but it will take time. Good thing for Ito is there's still plenty of it. Grade: None


Fourth round: P Kaima Taira (Yaeyama Shoko HS, Okinawa)

Taira spent the entire 2018 season in ni-gun, but earned his first call up in thee second half of 2019. He's the hardest throwing the pitcher the Lions have and while he was inconsistent, there was plenty of promise for him to take high leverage innings. He pitched in 26 ichi-gun games, which is impressive for a 19-year old. Unfortunately some wild pitches hurt him in the postseason, but his future could be bright if the Lions find a setup man or even closer with his abilities. Grade: B


Fifth Round: P Kaito Yoza (Gifu Keizai University, Gifu)

Yoza is a submarine pitcher thought to be the heir to Kazuhisa Makita, who was outgoing that offseason. His career has started out slow, recovering from an injury and surgery in 2018 where he spent 2019 under an ikusei contract. Yoza's long road to coming back finally came late in 2019 with two ni-gun appearances. The Lions liked what they saw and promoted him back to the 70-man roster after the season. Time will tell,  but these setbacks weren't helpful in the short term. Grade: None


Sixth Round: IF Ryusei Tsunashima (Itoigakawa Hakurei HS, Niigata)

Tsunashima was taken as a long term project for 3B and anywhere else on the infield. So far, his bat hasn't been able to adjust in ni-gun with a slashline of .217/.272/.283 in 68 games. As a high schooler, he still has time to grow and develop and with the current infield, there is no rush to bring him up. Grade: None


Ikusei 1: OF Wataru Takagi (Shinsokan HS, Fukuoka)

Takagi was a two-way player coming off a shoulder injury, but the Lions saw him as a position player. He earned a quick promotion to the 70-man roster after a decent ni-gun season in 2018. In 83 ni-gun games, he had a slashline of .256/.302/.453 with 12 HRs. He made his ichi-gun debut in June of 2019 with one late at-bat for his only appearance. The Lions could have found some depth in the OF since Takagi has recovered from his injury pretty well. Grade: B


Ikusei 2: C Masato Saito (Hokkaido Kyoiku University, Hokkaido)

M. Saito has been a farm catcher for most of his time with the Lions. He earned a surprise promotion to the 70-man roster in the middle of the 2019 season when the depth became thin. M. Saito had a brief callup as an emergency third catcher, but never appeared in a game. His bat likely won't amount to anything as he is hitting well-below the Mendoza line, but an ikusei promotion is impressive. Grade: C



This 2020 season is a make or break for H. Saito, but there is plenty of promise for the long term picks. Not a lot to grade yet as there is still a lot of wait and see. For now, it's all about potential, but there needs to be results.  Grade: C


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Saturday, December 7, 2019

Three years later: Progress report on the Seibu Lions 2016 Draft Class


The Saitama Seibu Lions had several pitching options to take in this draft, but there was a huge difference of opinion in the first round. Through three seasons, a few players have already made some impact while others continue to develop. 

Here is a progress report on this class: 


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 went for him. 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. A suspension delayed his ichi-gun debut in 2018, but he made progress and continued to stay at the top level before being overwhelmed in the postseason. He put in a larger workload for 2019 while still developing, but remained inconsistent as a whole.

The Lions hope he can be an ace, as he still has upside, but might project more as a front end starter.  Grade: B

Hindsight: Taisuke Yamaoka has paid early dividends for Orix. Haruhiro Hamaguchi is a starter for the Baystars. Dragons took Yuya Yanagi in a coin flip draw. 


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 having 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. He saw two ichi-gun games in 2018 with no success and the same control problems continued to linger. Nakatsuka failed to earn a call up in 2019 as his ceiling is caving in and future looking bleak.  Grade: F

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. Seishu Hatake has contributed for the Giants. 


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. He avoided any sophomore slump in 2018 and became a Best IX SS for both the 2018 and 2019 seasons. There's no question his defense and speed remain valuable for the Lions.  Grade: A

Hindsight: None for now


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

The Lions took a HS outfielder as a future prospect. 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. He earned his first ichi-gun action in 2019 as a reserve outfielder and even saw a handful of starts in right field.

Suzuki is far from a finished product, but the Lions believe he can be a regular in the outfield for the future. So far, he is progressing. Grade: B-

Hindsight: Orix took Yoshinobu Yamamoto. The Marines took Seiya Dohi. Dragons took Shotaro Kasahara. 


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 of 2017 and never had to look back, earning innings in medium leverage. For 2018. he was part of a up and down bullpen where he was prone to giving up home runs.

In 2019, he earned the setup man role and thrived under Kazuyoshi Ono. However, his arm was shot by the end of the year by overplaying him in every role from leading by 1 run to tie games or even trailing by a few runs. By appearing in 81 games, it was a new Pacific League record. Despite the poor September and postseason, the Lions found a back end reliever who can take on the high leverage situations. Grade A-


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

Tamura has mostly taken mop up innings and isn't able to stay at the ichi-gun when called up. His carer high in games played was 12 in 2017 and he's known for giving up easy home runs. Time could be running out if others contniue to leap him on the depth chart. Grade: D-

Hindsight: Rakuten took Yuhei Takanashi in this round. 



The jury is still out on Imai and he becomes, but a starting SS to helped immediately and a reliever who is on pace to continue staying at the ichi-gun already makes this a good class. If Imai pans out into anything, it's a home run. Let's hope there is no decline for Hirai like it did for Tomomi Takahashi. It's also possible Shohei Suzuki could develop into something, but time will tell.  Grade: B+ 


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Friday, December 6, 2019

Seibu Lions sign Spangenberg, Nolin and Morikoshi while Mejia returns

The Saitama Seibu Lions announced on Friday they made four signings, including two foreigners. Cory Spangenberg and Sean Nolin will be two newcomers with MLB experience joining the Lions in 2020 while Yuto Morikoshi arrives after being a Hanshin Tigers player for the last five seasons.

It was also announced that Ernesto Mejia will return to the Lions for a seventh season as both sides reached an agreement.

Spangenberg, who will be 29 in March, has six years in the Majors on his resume with 2019 being with the Milwaukee Brewers organization. He only played 32 games last year while hitting .232/.277/.358 in a part time role. In AAA, he thrived hitting .309/.378/.498 while also having 28 stolen bases.

He was originally a first round draft pick by the San Diego Padres in 2011 and had there of his five seasons with the team appearing in at least 100 games. His best year came in 2013, where he hit .271/.333/.399 in 108 games. Spangenberg was teammates with former Lions pitcher Kazuhisa Makita in 2018.

While he can play in the outfield, he saw a lot of time at 3B and 2B in San Diego. Spangenberg will make about $800,000 (¥86.4 million) for 2020.

Seibu Lions GM Hisanobu "Nabe-Q" Watanabe earlier hinted that the Lions wanted a position player who can play in both the outfield and infield. He even called Spangenberg a "Major League Shuta Tonosaki" as he played in the OF, SS, 2B and 3B throughout his career.

With this versatility similar to Tonosaki, the Lions will have flexibility to put both players wherever they please. If a young outfielder or infielder can establish himself, Spangenberg and Tonosaki can go elsewhere in the field from 2B, 3B or the OF. It's also possible to have Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura as a DH while a regular 3B is starting everyday. On paper, the possibilities are endless while Spangenberg himself will not be judged by home runs, but rather stolen bases, hitting for average and getting on base.

Nolin, who turns 20 later this month, is remembered for being a highly touted pitching prospect in the Toronto Blue Jays organization and was part of a trade return for Josh Donaldson in 2014. Six prior to that, former Hanshin Tiger Matt Murton was part of a trade package that included Donaldson.

Injuries have hurt Nolin's career as he never stayed healthy and he most recently had Tommy John surgery to miss the 2017 season. His last year of MLB action was 2015, where he saw 29.1 IP with the Oakland Athletics with a 1-2 record and 5.28 ERA. Nolin has mostly bounced around the minors leagues and independent leagues while spending time with the Colorado Rockies, Seattle Mariners and Chicago White Sox organizations.

In 2019, he saw three short stints which included starting with the White Sox and having a productive middle with the independent league Long Island Ducks. With Long Island, he went 6-0 with a 1.10 ERA in eight games. His contract was purchased by the Seattle Mariners to end the year in AAA Tacoma, recording a 6-4 record and a 4.88 ERA in 79.1 innings.

With some overlapping involved, Nolin was teammates with current Seibu Lions pitcher Zach Neal at the AAA level (Nashville Sounds) in 2015. Both pitchers were at the MLB level in different years.

Nabe-Q said he is not a power pitcher saying how his velocity is around 90-93 mph, but can mix things up with curveballs, sliders and changeups to keep batters off balance. Nolin will make about $600,000 (¥64.8 million) for 2020. Nolin has been a starter for most of his career, but the Lions need help in both the rotation and bullpen. It's likely he'll get a shot as a starter first.

Morikoshi, 31, spent the last five seasons with the Hanshin Tigers, but only played 54 ichi-gun games in that span. He was originally drafted by the Chunichi Dragons in 2010, but only played 40 ichi-gun games for them from 2013-2014 before he was cut by the team. The Tigers picked him up after impressing in a tryout, but his career has always been in ni-gun or on the bench.

With Sosuke Genda being injured briefly at SS last season, the Lions depth at the position became weakened. Morikoshi will likely serve as a defensive replacement for the SS and 2B positions near the end of a game. Manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji was also a coach for the Dragons (2011-2014) during the early years of Morikoshi's career.

Mejia, 34, has been part of the Lions for the last six years, but spent the last two as a bench player and pinch hitter. Last year, he played 75 games with only six home runs. However, the team offered him a contract in 2020 for a much lower salary than last year and Mejia accepted it. With Hotaka Yamakawa coming off another Best IX season, Mejia won't be starting as a regular anytime soon.


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Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Four years later: Grading the Seibu Lions 2015 draft class

The Saitama Seibu Lions came off a poor second half of the season in 2015, which included a franchise-record 13-game losing streak in the midst of a cold stretch. There was one obvious flaw that the team knew and this draft had several players.

Here is what happened wit a reaction:

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.

Tawata had two slow starts to his career in 2016 and 2017, but a good second half made it all promising. He had a great 2018 as the wins leader, but regressed in 2019 while being the opening day starter. One thing that has been clear of Tawata: his strikeout rate fell even though his 2018 season had wins. Spending majority of 2019 in ni-gun wasn't encouraging, but there is still hope. It's unlikely he'll be an ace, though he can still be a front end starter if he regains his condition. Otherwise, his career is just a short term flash in the pan.   Grade: B-

Hindsight: The Orix Buffaloes took Masataka Yoshida and the Baystars selected Shota Imanaga unopposed. 


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. Injuries derailed his career early on and his jersey number reassignment showed he regressed. He is now an outfielder trying to salvage his career as a position player like Rick Ankiel.  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 took a workload of medium leverage innings in 2018, but couldn't stay at the ichi-gun for long in 2019. His ERA has hovered around 3.50 while he can still serve as a lefty specialist, but he can't be a regular in the bullpen for a full season. Grade: C

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 "Aito" Takeda (formerly Otaki) as he was part of a Summer Koshien team that had a decent run. Aito earned a few games at the ichi-gun level and was hit by pitch in his first career plate appearance in 2017. 

He saw almost no time in 2018, but was mostly on the bench in 2019 as a defensive replacement or emergency outfielder. He even had a walkoff error hit, but his bat wasn't good enough to be a starter. He will be 23 next season and with a void in the outfield, he has an opportunity to take a starting role, but if he doesn't, time could be running out on his chances. Grade: C-

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 didlittle at the ichi-gun level. From 2016-2019, he had a total of 14 ichi-gun appearances which were all in low leverage. His only appearance in 2019 featured three walks and no recorded outs with two wild pitches. The inherited runners eventually scored, leaving him with an infinity ERA for the 2019 season. He fell out of favor among the Lions pitchers and was part of the seryokugai at the end of the season. Grade: F

Hindsight: The Hiroshima Carp selected Ryoma Nishikawa in this round. Koyo Aoyagi was drafted by the Hanshin Tigers. Ryota Ishibashi was taken by the Eagles. Toshiki Abe was drafted by the Dragons. 


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 was mostly a ni-gun starter from 2016-2018 while being productive, but couldn't crack much time at the ichi-gun minus some spot starts and relief appearances. 

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. He finally became a regular starting pitcher in 2019, recording a 6-6 record with a 4.63 ERA in 91.1 IP and 16 starts. He even started a postseason game. While inconsistent, getting a back end starter in this round is decent value. He should still contribute for 2020 and beyond.  Grade: B-

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 and his father's connection to the Lions was being a teammate of now GM Hisanobu "Nabe-Q" Watanabe.

With the Lions 2016 season being all but over, Wu started games at SS at the end of of the year and had quite a few at bats. His time diminished in 2017 due to the emergence of Sosuke Genda. He saw no ichi-gun games in 2019 with Ryusei Sato leaping him on the depth chart. While in ni-gun, the Lions have used him all over the infield and outfield as a utility player, but others are blocking him from being at the top level. With Wu turning 27 next year, he doesn't have upside and is on the outside for 2020. Grade: D

Hindsight: Kohei Suzuki was taken by Orix.


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 ichi-gun level from 2017-2018. However, he earned a late callup in 2019 where he initially saw mop up duty innings. Eventually, he took medium leverage situations if necessary and earned a win out of the bullpen. In 15 games, he finished with a 3.68 ERA in 14.2 innings. He'll have an opportunity to prove his worth next year, as it is a make or break season on his career.  Grade: C

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 and his workload continued at the farm level to 2018 and 2019.  In 27 ni-gu games, Fujita recorded a 1-1 record with a 5.87 ERA as a reliever for 23 innings. He will turn 22 this month and hopes to continue developing as a project, but time is slowly diminishing if he wants to make an impact. Grade: Incomplete

Hindsight: Orix took P Ken Akama in this round, though he is currently on the Baystars. 


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 being the last player drafted  and playing in a hospital league while helping elders to playing well in the Indy League, he did done little at the ichi-gun.

He received a call up in late 2016 for some brief appearances in Fukuoka. Matsumoto had 24 innings of mop up duty in 24 games back in 2018, but recorded a 6.75 ERA. He had another four ichi-gun games in 2019, but it didn't amount to much. Like Minamikawa, the Lions cut him after the season as part of the senryokugai. It was a great story, but he couldn't overcome all the odds. Grade: D-

Hindsight: None 



This class is rather average with only two starters and a part-time reliever. They're going to need to hope Aito pans out, because there is a lack of stars in this group as Tawata regressed. If Kokuba can be a bullpen regular, it wouldn't be a bad salvage. Grade: C


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2020 Seibu Lions Salary list


With the offseason ongoing, the Saitama Seibu Lions held their annual Thanks Festa in an irregular location of their Seibuen Yuenichi amusement park. With that concluded and over with,  it is time for salary negotiations. 

This is where we find out who proved their worth and who gets a pay decrease/increase after reviewing their performance in the 2019 NPB season. Keep in mind, these are all salary estimates and reports from the media. No one truly knows what someone makes outside of the person who writes the checks and the player himself. 

We will update this list as more reported salaries come in. This will be an ongoing piece to bookmark.

^ - Raise

|v| - Paycut

= - Same wages

* = Ikusei player

R = Coming off their first game or season at the ichi-gun. 

Ichi-gun stats will be shown if possible. If a player didn't make it to the ichi-gun in 2019, his ni-gun stats will be shown instead. 

For a position player, we will show batting average / OBP / SLG with other stats that may stand out. 



Katsunori Hirai: ¥100 million ^ by ¥65 million, (5-4), 3.50 ERA in 81 games

Tetsuya Utsumi: ¥75 million [v] by ¥25 million, (0-2), 9.54 ERA in 7 ni-gun games

Daiki Enokida: ¥48 million [v] by ¥7 million, (4-3), 6.52 ERA in 13 games

Shota Takekuma: ¥48 million [v] by ¥15.5 million, (1-1), 6.14 ERA in 10 games

Kona Takahashi: ¥40 million ^ by ¥21.5 million, (10-6), 4.51 ERA in 21 games

Tatsuya Imai: ¥35 million ^ by ¥17 million, (7-9), 4.32 ERA in 23 games

Ryuya Ogawa: ¥33 million ^ by ¥16 million, (4-1), 2.58 ERA in 55 games

Shogo Noda: ¥27 million [v] by ¥3 million, (2-0), 4.39 ERA in 23 games

Yasuo Sano: ¥23 million, ^ by ¥10 million, (2-2), 4.39 ERA in 44 games

Wataru Matsumoto (R): ¥21 million ^ by ¥6 million, (7-4), 4.54 ERA in 16 games

Keisuke Honda: ¥16 million ^ by ¥9.5 million, (6-6), 4.63 ERA in 16 games

Ryosuke Moriwaki (R): ¥13 million ^ by ¥3 million, (2-1), 4.94 ERA in 29 games

Kaima Taira (R): ¥12 million ^ by ¥6 million, (2-1), 3.38 ERA in 26 games

Kaito Awatsu (R): ¥10 million = , (0-0), 9.00 ERA in 1 game

Sho Ito: ¥7.7 million [v] by ¥1 million, (0-0), 6.00 ERA in 6 games

Yutaro Watanabe: ¥6.5 million = , (0-0), 14.73 ERA in 2 ni-gun games

Makoto Aiuchi: ¥5.9 million [v] by ¥500K, (0-1), 11.57 ERA in 2 games

Kaito Yoza*: ¥4.7 million [v] by ¥2.3 million, (0-1), 5.06 ERA in 2 ni-gun games

Yoza earned a promotion from ikusei after the 2019 season. 

Zach Neal: ¥200 million ^ by ¥128.5 million, (12-1), 2.87 ERA in 17 games

Neal signed a two-year, ¥400 million deal through 2021. 

Daisuke Matsuzaka: ¥30 million [v] by ¥55 million, (0-1), 16.88 ERA in 2 games with Chunichi

Tatsushi Masuda: ¥190 million ^ by ¥90 million, (4-1), 1.81 ERA, 30 SV in 65 games

Masuda is slated to be a domestic free agent after 2020

Hiromasa Saito: ¥14 million [v] by ¥2 million, (0-0), 6.75 ERA in 9 games

Tsubasa Kokuba: ¥7.9 million ^ by ¥2.5 million, (1-0), 3.68 ERA in 15 games

Shunta Nakatsuka: ¥7.1 million [v] by ¥2.2 million, (0-3), 2.45 ERA in 34 ni-gun games

Koki Fujita: ¥5 million =, (1-1), 5.87 ERA in 27 ni-gun games

Ichiro Tamura: ¥7 million =, (0-0), 6.14 ERA in six games



Masatoshi Okada: ¥30 million ^ by ¥1.3 million, .262/.375/.393 in 36 games

Shoya Makino: ¥6 million = , .163/.189/.207 in 44 ni-gun games

Hitoto Komazuki (R): ¥6 million ^ by ¥1.3 million, .143/.143/.143 in 7 games

Masato Saito*: ¥5 million ^ by ¥300K, .156/.239/.211 in 80 ni-gun games

Saito earned a promotion to the 70-man roster in the middle of the season and even spent a short time as an emergency catcher on the ichi-gun. 



Takeya Nakamura: ¥350 million ^ by ¥90.3 million, .286/.359/.528, 30 HR, 123 RBI, Best IX, in 135 games

Sosuke Genda: ¥140 million ^ by ¥60 million, .274/.324/.350, 41 RBI, 30 SB, Best IX, in 135 games

Kyohei Nagae: ¥9.9 million [v] by ¥500K, .095/.240/.143, 1 RBI, 1 SB in 27 games

Ryusei Sato (R): ¥8.4 million ^ by ¥2.4 million, .220/.258/.440, 2 HR, 7 RBI in 52 games

Daichi Mizuguchi: ¥7.7 million = , .000/.091/.000, 2 SB in 20 games

Manaya Nishikawa: ¥7 million = , .242/.294/.313, 10 SB, 3 HR, 25 RBI in 103 ni-gun games

Haruka Yamada: ¥6.2 million [v] by ¥300K, .167/.231/.167 in 4 games

Nien Ting Wu: ¥5.6 million [v] by ¥900K, .254/.350/.330, 28 RBI in 90 ni-gun games

Ryusei Tsunashima: ¥5 million = , .218/.272/.283 in 68 ni-gun games

Ernesto Mejia: ¥50 million [v] by ¥450 million, .211/.286/.422, 6 HR in 75 games

Mejia's contract is not yet official. 

Yuji Kaneko: ¥120 million ^ by ¥63 million, .251/.324/.292, 3 HR, 41 SB in 133 games

Kaneko signed a four-year, ¥480 million contract through 2023. It could increase depending on incentives. 

Tomoya Mori: ¥200 million ^ by ¥120 million, .329/.413/.547, 23 HR, 105 RBI, Best IX, Pacific League MVP in 135 games

Hotaka Yamakawa: ¥210 million ^ by ¥100 million, .256/.372/.540, 43 HR, 120 RBI, Best IX in 143 games

Shuta Tonosaki: ¥140 million ^ by ¥70 million, .274/.353/.493, 26 HR, 90 RBI in 143 games

Kakeru Yamanobe: ¥12 million, .071/.278/.143, 0 HR, 1 SB in 9 games



Fumikazu Kimura: ¥45 million ^ by ¥21.4 million, .220/.270/.343, 10 HR, 38 RBI, 16 SB in 130 games

Masato Kumashiro: ¥12 million ^ by ¥2 million, .267/.313/.333, 2 SB in 33 games

"Aito" Takeda: ¥8.4 million ^ by ¥2.2 million, .151/.196/.170, 3 RBI in 42 games

Shohei Suzuki (R): ¥6.6 million ^ by ¥1 million, .154/.185/.154, 1 SB, 1 RBI in 16 games

Seiji Kawagoe: ¥6.6 million [v] by ¥1.2 million, .214/.255/.338, 8 HR, 6 SB, 34 RBI in 93 ni-gun games

Daisuke Togawa (R): ¥6.3 million ^ by ¥1.3 million, .174/.240/.348, 1 HR, 1 RBI in 10 ichi-gun games

Takumi Kuriyama: ¥150 million ^ by ¥13 million, .252/.333/.355, 7 HR, 54 RBI in 123 games

Wataru Takagi (R): ¥5.2 million ^ by ¥200K, .000/.000/.000 in 1 game



P Tomomi Takahashi: ¥10 million, [v] by ¥10 million, No games recorded at ichi-gun or ni-gun

P Jiyu Okubo*: ¥2.8 million = , (0-0), 7.20 ERA in 2 ni-gun games

P Aoi Tono: ¥3.5 million =, (2-3), 7.85 ERA in 8 ni-gun games

C Daichi Nakaguma: ¥3.5 million =, .143/.143/.179 in 12 ni-gun games

Rookie contracts:

D1: P Tetsu Miyagawa: ¥16 million, ¥100 million signing bonus + ¥50 million in possible incentives

D2: P Shota Hayama: ¥13 million, ¥70 million signing bonus

D3: P Koki Matsuoka: ¥7.5 million, ¥45 million signing bonus

D4: IF Ryota Kawano: ¥6.5 million, ¥40 million signing bonus

D5: C Sena Tsuge: ¥10 million, ¥30 million signing bonus

D6: P Hiroki Inoue: ¥6 million, ¥25 million signing bonus

D7: P Towa Ueema: ¥5 million, ¥10 million signing bonus

D8: IF / OF Junichiro Kishi: ¥5 million, ¥10 million signing bonus

Ikusei: P Toshihiro Idei: ¥4 million, ¥3 million signing bonus


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