The Saitama Seibu Lions came off one of their worst seasons in 5th place for 2014. Norio Tanabe was no longer an interim manager and given a full year. How did this team approach the draft?
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 his first two years, he threw two shutouts and already reached three complete games. He suffered some setbacks in 2017-2018 with poor condition and injury, but rebounded in 2019 with his biggest workload yet of 123.2 IP before being hurt in September.
He was one of only two pitchers with 10 wins last season, but had an ERA above 4.50 where he remained inconsistent. He still has upside as he turns 23 next year, but has hasn't shown he can be the ace the team was hoping for. His ceiling could be as high as a #2 pitcher, while at worst a #4. 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. Kohei Arihara was the consensus best player available, which the Fighters won a four-way drawing for his rights. Kazuma Okamoto was taken without opposition by the Giants. Shogo Nakamura was taken unopposed by the Marines.
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.
After a short ichi-gun season in 2018, he had his biggest workload yet in 2019 with 67.2 IP. The Lions used him as a spot starter, but mostly in middle relief when the team was trailing or tied. He registered a 4.39 ERA for 2019. A mop up pitcher in the second round isn't what the team envisioned, but he's not completely useless. Grade: C-
Hindsight: The Hanshin Tigers drafted Tsuyoshi Ishizaki in this round and the Giants found Chiaki Tone as both have been relievers for their teams. Kenta Ishida was drafted by the Baystars. Kazuki Yabuta was taken by the Carp.
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 his rookie year 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. He was a starting right fielder in 2018 until his injury prevented him from playing a full season. For 2019, he switched back to the infield at 2B and played every game, reaching the 20+ HR milestone for the first time.
With an .846 OPS while batting sixth in the lineup, he has been a reliable starter with 22 stolen bases and has shown to be a better athlete than his predecessor Hideto Asamura. He doesn't hit for average as easily, but this has proven to be a great pick as he even spent time with Samurai Japan on international duty. Grade: A
Hindsight: Fighters took Daiki Asama, Baystars took Toshihiko Kuramoto. Marines selected Daiki Iwashita.
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. He had a double-digit ERA down in ni-gun for 2018, which told the Lions they had enough of him. Tamamura was cut at the end of the year as part of the seryokugai. He currently works as a shakaijin pitcher. Grade: F
Hindsight: Naoya Ishikawa was taken by the Fighters.
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. He earned a call up in 2018 and even hit a solo HR as his only hit. He only appeared in four ichi-gun games in 2019 with others leaping him on the depth chart.
His defense is adequate, but he can't hit his weight in the lineup. He had a slashline of .233/.339/.333 in 81 ni-gun games last year. At 23, he survived the cut and is still with the team, but time could be running out if he doesn't make progress. Grade: D
Hindsight: Kai Ueda was drafted by the Tigers
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. His first callup to the ichi-gun game in 2019 and he hit an important home run during that span. He even earned a hero interview after that win. The Lions had a brief revolving door in right field and he appeared in only 10 games, hitting .174/.240/.348. Any ikusei working their way up is always a positive and if anything, he's a depth option. Grade: C-
Hindsight: None for now
The Lions found an everyday starter in Tonosaki while also having a starting pitcher in Kona Takahashi. With Sano also being an ichi-gun regular, this class is a positive one, but it isn't a home run given the roles of both pitchers. If Kona Takahashi can be an ace, or even a front end starter, it looks to be promising. Time will tell. Grade: B
Hindsight: This class appears to be top heavy as the first round included several jewels. There is still time for high school picks to develop, but it's clear some of the front end guys like Arihara have lived up to the hype.
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