Monday, November 30, 2020

Report: Tatsushi Masuda likely to remain with Lions


The Saitama Seibu Lions will likely retain free agent Tatsushi Masuda, according to reports. For a team that is known to let players walk, this would be a huge keep if he were to stay. 

Reports indicated the Lions offered a four year contract worth more than ¥1.2 billion ($12 million) for the veteran closer. Masuda, who turns 33 this April, came off his best career season in a short year. In 48 games, he racked up a career-high 33 saves, 49 innings and a 2.02 ERA in 2020. He also became the all-time franchise leader in saves. 

Previously, the Lions have lost a total of 19 players domestically once they have exercised their free agent option. This includes Kimiyasu Kudo, Kazuhiro Kiyohara, Takayuki Kishi, Hideto Asamura and many more. 


Lions add Yoshikawa 

The Lions signed veteran Mitsuo Yoshikawa to a contract with ¥30 million this past week. Yoshikawa, who turns 33 in April, was a Pacific League MVP in 2012. After being a rotation starter for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters for several years, he was traded to the Yomiuri Giants and became depth for them. His last season of reaching 100 innings pitched was 2018, where he had a 6-7 record and 4.26 ERA. 

Yoshikawa was traded back to the Fighters in a cash trade and saw minimal ichi-gun innings. The Lions hope his left arm will be depth for the pitching staff and it's unsure whether he'll be a reliever or starter. He will join a mix including Daiki Enokida, Shota Takekuma, Shota Hamaya, Ryuya Ogawa, Hiromasa Saito, Tetsuya Utsumi and Yasuo Sano. 


Nolin will not return

It was announced on the sidebar that Sean Nolin will not be returning with thee Lions in 2021. An injury sidelined him for much of 2020 and he didn't appear for the ichi-gun until the second half. In five games, he had 21.1 innings with a 6.75 ERA where he only won his debut in Sendai.  


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Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Ohtani could be on a path to MLB obscurity



The Los Angeles Angels signed Shohei Ohtani after the 2017 season and understandably, it received much fanfare from both Asia and North America. Fast forward three years later and things aren't looking the way all parties have hoped for. 

Ohtani was a conversational buzz topic for years, arguably since he was in high school at Hanamaki Higashi. From the two-way player talk and Babe Ruth comparisons to being the first player to go to North America straight out of high school, the possibilities were endless. 

Eventually, the Fighters stepped in and drafted Ohtani with no fear and successfully recruited to sign with the team. It's fun to think how much of a risk it was when they already failed to convince Tomoyuki Sugano to sign the year before, but that's another story. 

After winning a Japan Series championship with the Fighters, speculation on Ohtani's choice of MLB team after his posting remained interesting. Money didn't matter as an amateur signing, teams would need to be creative with their offers and recruiting pitches to have him join. 

The Angels were the big winners when then-GM Billy Eppler admitted some shock. We'll never truly the reason behind this, though the easiest speculation is being paired with an MVP in Mike Trout combined with not being in the shadow of another Japanese-born player. 

However, when Ohtani initially signed with the Angels, then-manager Mike Scioscia originally spoke about how the team needed pitching, a big flaw after the 2017 season. There were doubts if he would be stubborn with decisions on playing Ohtani at both positions, but he gave his word as a nod to the organization adding him. 

Unfortunately, despite winning the 2018 American League rookie of the year and having a productive 2019, Scioscia's emphasis on pitching needed was validated with how poor they've been in the Trout era. None of these offensive numbers Ohtani, Trout, David Fletcher and others put up won't mean anything if the Angels can't hold a lead. 

Since signing Ohtani, the Angels have been dependent on trades or finding pitchers from within when it comes to the rotation or bullpen. Otherwise, their free agents have been forgettable short term signings which have all ended in failure or roster filler. 

Excluding insignificant minor league deals. here are the notable pitchers who signed in free agency after December 2017: 

Junichi Tazawa (Middle of 2018, Minor League)

Matt Harvey (One year, 2019 season, $11 million)

Trevor Cahill (One year, 2019 season, $9 million)

Cody Allen (One year, 2019 season, $8.5 million) 

Julio Teheran (One year, 2020 season, $9 million)

None of these signings worked out and all were either demoted, or saw a forgettable stint with the Angels. On the other hand, they've been depending waiver pickups and finding a lottery ticket with minor signings from Felix Pena and Mike Mayers. 

Their most significant signings in regards to position players were Jason Castro and Anthony Rendon after the 2019 season. While Rendon was a highly prized free agent, it was in reality a consolation after losing to the Yankees in the bidding war for Gerrit Cole. 

Billy Eppler was fired at the end of the 2020 season for coming up short of an expanded postseason year and the Angels had a total of three different manager in three seasons from 2018-2020 with Scioscia, Brad Ausmus and Joe Maddon all being skippers. 

Perry Minasian was hired earlier this month from the Atlanta Braves organization thinking they're not far off. They had a stronger second half if anyone wants to think the glass is half full. Will the pitching improve or go at status quo? 

Dylan Bundy, a former first round bust of the Baltimore Orioles had a surprise 2020. Andrew Heaney and Griffin Canning are both players who did well in the last month with the latter bring homegrown. Then there's Cam Bedrosian who was good when healthy, but it's possible this is all a mirage without a true ace or top line pitcher. 

Their 2020 season was also hurt by the three-batter minimum rule that relievers were forced to adjust to. Maddon was known to micromanage his decisions in the bullpen, but that could no longer be the case. 

There's no question the Angels would want to sign Trevor Bauer, who is the highest touted free agent on the market. Their payroll for 2021 is already locked up a combined $118 million to Justin Upton, Albert Pujols, Trout and Rendon. Pujols is in the final year of his backloaded albatross contract signed back in 2012. They're remained top heavy on offense and it's still one-dimensional for a team trying to win sooner than later. 

The common narrative of the Angels is thought to be Arte Moreno controlling the baseball operations over his general manager, whether it was Eppler or Jetty Dipoto in the past. Infamously, Moreno forced a trade for Vernon Wells many years ago. There is no chance Moreno will sell the team after purchasing land from Orange County. Time will tell if Minasian will be given the reins to run the Angels. 

Going back to Ohtani, who turns 27 in 2021, he had a forgettable 2020. While some of the blame can go to the pandemic, he failed to record an out in his first start and hit below the Mendoza Line in 44 games as a batter. 

Call it an outlier year as he's aware of the struggles, but his ceiling could soon cave in as time goes on. He's another injury away from a decision needing to be made on choosing a position in baseball. Durability for a full year was a question mark coming into MLB as he even had injuries with the Fighters under his two-way schedule. 

The Angels are committed in the short term to have Ohtani remain a two-way player, but will be shut down again on the mound like 2020 if things go wrong? 

Even if things are put together, it's possible the Angels failing to have team success puts Ohtani in a boat with Trout and even Felix Hernandez on playing without a meaningful game. The Angels have only made the postseason once in the Trout era back in 2014 when they won the division, but were swept by the Kansas City Royals. Like Hernandez, Ohtani has yet to see baseball that matters as the Angels have dug themselves a hole in the regular season to not make the playoffs. 

In NCAA football, the Heisman award is given to the greatest player of the season, symbolizing someone carrying their team to greatness. No one can win this award unless there is team success as a whole, which puts them on the national radar. 

There's no issues of Ohtani finding news and attention in Japan, but in the west, he could be remembered as just a speck of Angels history by being forgotten everywhere outside of the AL West. If Trout wasn't playing for the Angels, they would have zero headlines nationally and he has been the reason they're mediocre instead of a bottom feeder within the division. 

As aforementioned, Ohtani was given an opportunity to write his own story when choosing the Angels. His story playing with the baseball team of Orange County needs to improve as a whole, or else his career won't amount to anything outside of some individual accomplishments. Especially when the Los Dodgers own the Southern California market coming off a World Series win. 

Sunday, November 15, 2020

2020 NPB Draft: A summary of each Seibu Lions pick


The Saitama Seibu Lions took a total of seven players and five ikusei during the 2020 NPB Draft. In an irregular year, fewer high school players made themselves eligible. Team representatives were in separate rooms until the drawing and more. It was just another day at the office for Hisanobu "Nabe-Q" Watanabe and the others who put this draft board together.

Here is a look at every draft pick the Lions took in 2020:


First Round: IF Kento Watanabe (渡部健人)

College: Toin University (Kanagawa)

High School: Nihon Wellness (Tokyo), Yokohama Shodai (Kanagawa)

Date of Birth: December 26, 1998

Height: 176 cm (5' 9")

Weight: 112 kg (247 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Right

In the first round, the Lions tried to draft P Takahisa Hayakawa with three other teams. This drawing went to the Rakuten Eagles when Kazuhisa Ishii pulled out the winning ticket before Hatsuhiko Tsuji could put his hand in the box. They settled on Kento Watanabe as their plan B with no opposition.

Watanabe is a slugging infielder who can play first and third base. If his build didn't already describe him, he's likely to have an "Okawari" nickname and there are already comparisons to Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura with Okawari-Nisei (2nd generation) titles floating around.

He was a cleanup hitter since high school and kept this position in college at Toin University. With his power hitting, the Lions hope he is the next slugger to join the team. His scouting report also has adequate fielding for a corner infielder.

On a fun trivial note, he was born to a Japanese father and Filipino mother.

Team Quote:
"A strong hitter who has a triple digit weight. His physique and power is reminiscent of Takeya Nakamura."


Second round: P Takeru Sasaki (佐々木健)

Industrial League Team: NTT East (Tokyo)

College: Fuji University (Iwate)

High School: Kizukuri (Aomori)

Date of Birth: May 13, 1996

Height: 179 cm (5' 10")

Weight: 87 kg (192 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Left/Left

Sasaki's maximum velocity is 152 km/H (94 mph) while he can throw a fastball, curve, changeup and slider. As a shakaijin pitcher, he was mostly a rotation starter, but struggled with control and didn't have great stats. However, this final year (and spring) is what drew scout attention with a high strikeout rate.

At Fuji University, he was the team's ace and was also teammates with Ryusei Sato.

With the Lions needing left handed pitching depth, it's possible Sasaki can play sooner than later at the ichi-gun level. His decent velocity for a left-handed pitcher could be good enough for a rotation spot or in relief. Nabe-Q was impressed with his fastball for a lefty.

Team Quote: "Immediate left arm help with attractive fastball power. [He could be in the] starting lineup. Relief innings are also possible."


Third Round: IF Takayoshi Yamamura (山村崇嘉)

High School: Tokaidai Sagami (Kanagawa)

Date of Birth: September 28, 2002

Height: 180 cm (5' 11")

Weight: 85 kg (187 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Left

Yamamura is supposed to follow a trend in a third round position player taken in an even numbered draft year finding success. Previously Hideto Asamura (2008), Shogo Akiyama (2010), Yuji Kaneko (2012), Shuta Tonosaki (2014) and Sosuke Genda (2016) all had significant ichi-gun impact, though Kakeru Yamanobe (2018) must develop to continue the trend.

The Lions see Yamamura as a leadoff hitter who can hit for average, power as well as smart hitting for gappers. He entered his final year as a 1B, but was shifted to 3B and SS. They like his defense too, hoping his bat develops for the long run. Yamamura was also a pitcher and his fastball indicates this could be a fallback option.

Team Quote: "A well-balanced left-handed hitter who can be a triple threat. He could be a centerpiece of the future"


Fourth Round: OF Gakuto Wakabayashi (若林楽人)

College: Komazawa University (Tokyo)

High School: Komadai Tomakomai (Hokkaido)

Date of Birth: April 13, 1998

Height: 177 cm (5' 10")

Weight: 75 kg (165 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Right

Wakabayashi was a college player who didn't excel until his senior year at Komazawa University. Mostly batting in the bottom third of the lineup, he worked his way up in his final season and was the starting center fielder while serving as the team's captain. He's athletic enough to excel as a five-tool player, but must develop his skills and production.

If Wakabayashi can hit, there's a chance he could be an outfield regular sooner than later. At worst, he can be a pinch runner. Tetsuya Shiozaki also compared him to Shuta Tonosaki, though he is lanky and thin.

On a past trivial note, he was a Lions fan growing up and his father is a priest of Jōdo Shinshū. His name Gakuto refers to Gagaku music, a classical style in Japan. The 楽人 indicates he's a "Gaku person".

Team Quote: "A right outfielder with high power at all levels of offense and defense. His base running is also decent."


Fifth Round: P Ren Ohmagari (大曲錬)

Ohmagari's family name could be romanized as Oomagari or Omagari given the information obtained. It will be up to him when his uniform comes out to determine this question mark.

College: Fukuoka University (Fukuoka)

High School: Nippon Nishi (Fukuoka)

Date of Birth: May 21, 1998

Height: 179 cm (5' 10")

Weight: 78 kg (172 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Right

Ohmagari can hit 154 km/h (96 mph) and can throw a fastball, cutter, changeup, slider and splitter. What makes this pick unique is how he was semi-rigid (Rubber/Soft?) ball player. The Lions went of his stock during his junior year where he achieved a Best IX and MVP award during the spring season.

His senior year was mostly cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but he was a regular starting pitcher at Fukuoka University. He'll need to improve location of off-speed pitches, though his fastball was attractive. They liked the potential in his cutter and splitter.

Team Quote: "A pitcher who throws a well-balanced and well-spun breaking ball. The splitter is also good with the ability to strikeout batters."


Sixth Round: IF Brandon Taiga Tysinger (タイシンガー ブランドン 大河)

College: Hokkaido Nogyo Okhotsk (Hokkaido)

High School: Ishikawa (Okinawa)

Date of Birth: June 15, 1998

Height: 179 cm (5' 10")

Weight: 84 kg (185 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Right

Don't let that name fool you, Tysinger is an Okinawan born to an American father and Taiga is his middle name. While it was an initial Twitter controversy on figuring out his name, he would rather be called "Brandon" over Taiga. Primarily a third baseman, he also has experience at shortstop and outfield.

His physical tools are what made scouts interested, saying he's fast and can hit for power. The Lions also liked his defense. In college, he was able to hit for average and his home run ability has potential while also being fast on the base paths. When it comes to his defense, his shoulder strength is impressive with a pitcher's velocity.

Team Quote: "A long-range hitter that sells both shoulder strength and power."


Seventh Round: OF Yuta Nakamigawa (仲三河優太)

High School: Osaka Toin (Osaka)

Date of Birth: October 22, 2002

Height: 180 cm (5' 11")

Weight: 94 kg (207 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Left

Born and raised in Tochigi, Nakamigawa has been a starting outfielder since his junior year where he showed he can hit for average and power. He would have been hitting in the heart of the order had Osaka Toin played in a Koshien tournament this year as he spent time as a cleanup, 5th and 6th hitter in the lineup.

He was also a pitcher in his first year before becoming a full-time position player. With his fallback option, his max velocity clocked in at 139 km/h (86 mph).

This has potential to become a sleeper pick given he's from Osaka Toin, a school already with a Lions pipeline (see Takeya Nakamura, Tomoya Mori, Masatoshi Okada and Hideto Asamura before him). He could have been a higher draft pick had their been Koshien tournaments or any place to showcase his talents, but he fell deep as a result of 2020.

With his large build, the Lions hope he can be a future cleanup hitter, but it wouldn't hurt if he can hit for average and gappers too.

Team Quote: "An outfielder with a strong body and shoulders who has power to hit and can be a future core player."



First Round: P Yuto Akagami (赤上優人)

College: Tohoku Koeki University (Yamagata)

High School: Kakunodate (Akita)

Date of Birth: February 10, 1999

Height: 177 cm (5' 10")

Weight: 80 kg (176 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Right

Akagami can hit 153 km/h (95 mph) on the gun, but his control is why he fell to ikusei status. He can throw a fastball, slider, cutter, forkball and changeup.

He was a shortstop in high school and converted to full-time pitcher in his first year at university. Akagami contributed both as a reliever and starter, playing in several top games. In 39 games through his four years, he racked up 162 innings pitched with a 2.00 ERA.

When meeting the Lions representative, Akagami was encouraged with the past Tohoku history of Yusei Kikuchi. They saw enough in his fastball, but he's too raw and will take time to develop. In the long run, they hope he can be a relief pitcher.

Team Quote: "A powerful fastball and a variety of breaking balls are his pitching weapons. Since the pitcher is inexperienced, he has time to grow."


Second Round: OF Shinya Hasegawa (長谷川信哉)

High School: Tsuruga Kehi (Fukui)

Date of Birth: May 17, 2002

Height: 183 cm (6')

Weight: 80 kg (176 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Right

A Kyoto native, Hasegawa is an athlete who can play 3B as well as any outfield position. The Lions liked his speed and arm strength as a fielder and was impressed with his tournament games through Koshien qualification in the past. With his versatility and athletic measurements, the Lions hope Koji Akiyama is his inspiration. 

Team Quote: "Shoulder strength and foot speed are his weapons. He's a player who can be in various places such as the third base and outfield."


Third Round: OF Joseph Ken Miyamoto (宮本ジョセフ拳)

College: Nagoya Gakuin University (Aichi)

High School: Toyokawa (Aichi)

Date of Birth: March 24, 1999

Height: 175 cm (5' 9")

Weight: 86 kg (190 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Right

Born in Mie Prefecture to a Ghanaian father and Japanese mother, Miyamoto played in the second tier division of baseball at Nagoya Gakuin University. He has traits of a power hitter, but the lack of competition faced is what drew his stock to be low. Miyamoto also holds a college track record for the 100 meter dash and was batting leadoff. 

Both the Lions and Hanshin Tigers were seen scouting him. Miyamoto's mother passed away three years ago and it is said he picked up a bright personality from his father with a motto of "enjoy life." If his production can translate to NPB, he could find a way up with his physical tools. 

Team Quote: "A good player with the abilities of running on offense and defense. His power hitting is also attractive."


Fourth Round: P Taishi Mameda (豆田泰志)

High School: Urawa Jitsugyo Gakuen (Saitama)

Date of Birth: January 15, 2003

Height: 173 cm (5' 8")

Weight: 80 kg (176 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Right

Mameda can top out at 147 km/h (91 mph) while able to throw a fastball, fork, cutter, slider, curve and changeup. Specifically, his cutter drew attention of scouts. 

A Saitama prefecture native, in 40 career high school innings, he reached 55 strikeouts and threw multiple quality starts in the Koshien qualifiers, where most success came as a junior. This is a simple flyer pickup with the hopes of being a control pitcher, where the Lions liked the movement on his fastball. 

Team Quote: "He's small, but with horsepower. His fastball has outstanding sharpness and he can be a local Saitama star."


Fifth Round: P Yoshinobu Mizukami (水上由伸)

College: Shikoku Gakuin University (Kagawa)

High School: Teikyo Daisan (Yamanashi)

Date of Birth: July 13, 1998

Height: 176 cm (5' 9")

Weight: 81 kg (179 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Right

Mizukami tops out at 150 km/h (93 mph) with the ability to throw a fastball, cutter, fork, slider and curve. He converted to pitcher full time in his junior year of college and won Best IX once at that position. Originally an outfielder, he also had two Best IX titles as a position player. 

A Lions scout said he needs to bulk up and work on his control as a pitcher to make the next leap. If his fastball location can be fixed, he will get a promotion. 

On a trivial note, his father was a Yomiuri Giants fan and he was named after former player/manager Yoshinobu Takahashi. His father has since told the media he will be a Lions fan.  

Team Quote: "A player who has fastball potential and can reach the 70-man roster as soon as possible if his accuracy and control improves."



So the Lions didn't address much pitching in this class and took mostly position players in the main draft?  It's a vote of confidence in previous classes. It would be huge if both Sasaki and Watanabe can make an ichi-gun impact sooner than later, with Sasaki hoping to fill a void in left-handed pitching help. 

There's potential for more immediate help with college players in this class, but they still have lots to prove. What is interesting is seeing two powerhouse high schools in Tokaidai Sagami and Osaka Toin taken by the Lions with the latter drawing lots of thrills for the fans given the pipeline connections. Could there be a steal there? Time will tell. 

It's also noteworthy to see five ikusei taken in this class, showing more commitment to finding a diamond in the rough. An ikusei staff started recently and now they'll have their hands full with several players coming in. 

We took to Twitter your reactions to this class: 

This will be interesting to look at given the circumstances and information available on all draft prospects. It's a larger crapshoot than previous years. 


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Friday, November 13, 2020

Lions announce multiple players not returning in 2021


One of the hardest news times in sports is ongoing in NPB. It's the annual time of the year where several players are senryokugai, meaning they won't be offered a contract for next season and will become free agents. Majority of these names will not be in baseball much longer after a formal tryout. 

The Saitama Seibu Lions made the final cuts of players not returning for 2021 on Friday. Here is the full list of players who won't be on the 70-man roster for next season: 

Shinsaburo Tawata, 27, is the most significant name of this list given he was a first round draft pick in 2015 and was the Pacific League wins leader of 2018. An injury and poor performance led to an awful 2019 and he wasn't physically fit for majority of 2020 to be under contract. Unlike everyone else listed, Tawata will return to the Lions organization under a ikusei contract, hoping to recover and reach full condition. 

Kyohei Nagae, 27, was known as one of the best defensive infielders on the team. He appeared in 99 ichi-gun games for 2013, but his bat held him back from being a starter. Once Sosuke Genda emerged as a regular infielder in 2017, Nagae became expendable and he didn't appear in an ichi-gun game in 2020. He was originally a 2011 fourth round draft pick out of high school. 

Daichi Mizuguchi, 31, was the first ikusei in Lions history to play in an ichi-gun game. Initially taken in the ikusei draft of 2012 out of the Shikoku Island League, he earned promotion to the 70-man roster in the middle of the 2015 season and made his debut in 2016. He was a decent part-time player in 2017, but fell out of favor when the infield was stable and other bench players took his spot. Mizuguchi was mostly a pinch runner. 

Shogo Noda, 27, was a shakaijin third round draft pick in 2015. He initially had success in middle relief as a lefty specialist, but his innings went down in 2019 in favor of Ryuya Ogawa. In 2020, he had an inherited runner situation where he walked multiple batters and failed to record an out. His ERA wasn't hit, but he couldn't stay at the ichi-gun for long as other passed him on the depth chart. Noda was also a productive middle reliever in the during the 2016 Melbourne Aces season.  

Makoto Aiuchi, 26, was suspended for being involved with breaking COVID-19 team rules when going golfing. He had several law breaking incidents, including drinking underage and driving without a license. In 21 ichi-gun games from 2014; 2016-2019, he recorded only 43 innings where he had low leverage and spot start outings. He had a career 10.45 ERA and plans to become a fighter. Aiuchi was initially a second round pick in 2012 and spent two stints with the Melbourne Aces. 

Koki Fujita, 22, was a ninth round draft pick out of high school in 2015. He had an injury early on in his career and couldn't impress coaches in ni-gun. Fujita had zero ichi-gun appearances through five seasons with the Lions organization. 

Yuto Morikoshi, 32, was signed by the Lions last offseason after the Hanshin Tigers let him go. He was initially on the Chunichi Dragons for four years and this is his third time becoming senryokugai. Morikoshi stayed in ni-gun the entire time with the Lions as others ended up being defensive replacements in front of him on the depth chart. 

Tsubasa Kokuba, 26, was drafted by the Lions in the eighth round of 2015. He saw several meaningful innings in 2019 with a bullpen shortage and ended the year on a high note, including his only career win. Kokuba couldn't keep that momentum in 2020 as he saw low leverage outings and couldn't keep his status at the ichi-gun. 


With these recent players not returning, it's reflective of how poorly the 2015 draft class has aged. Going pick by pick, here's how it looks: 

Round 1: P Shinsaburo Tawata: Now an Ikusei

Round 2: P Seiji Kawagoe: Converted to outfielder and has been below average with his bat. 

Round 3: P Shogo Noda: Senryokugai after 2020

Round 4: OF Aito Takeda: Part-time outfielder who saw very little time due to poor hitting in 2020. 

Round 5: P Tadasuke Minamikawa: Senryokugai after 2019

Round 6: P Keisuke Honda: Rotation starter 

Round 7: IF Nien Ting Wu: Part-time infielder, started games to end 2020. 

Round 8: P Tsubasa Kokuba: Senryokugai after 2020

Round 9: P Koki Fujita: Senryokugai after 2020

Round 10: P Naoaki Matsumoto: Senryokugai after 2019


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Monday, November 9, 2020

2020 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Coach dismissed, coming up short


The Saitama Seibu Lions came up short of a Climax Series spot in the final week of the season, going 3-3-1 in the last seven games played. They finished with a .500 record and a third place standing in the Pacific League as a result. 


Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters

Daiki Enokida helped take Game 1 with six no-hit innings. It wasn't until the seventh with one out where he gave up a double to Haruki Nishikawa. Takumi Kuriyama's timely hit was all the offense the Lions needed to take this game. 

Kona Takahashi was pulled in the 5th after giving up three runs and Tetsu Miyagawa walked in another. however, the Lions came back from a 2-0 and 4-3 deficit when Kuriyama hit a two-run HR while Cory Spangenberg had two RBIs, including a solo HR. 

The deciding run in Game 2 was a timely hit by Shuta Tonosaki in the 7th inning. The bullpen did its job keeping zeroes on the board for the opposition as Tatsushi Masuda broke the franchise record with his 136th career save, passing Kiyoshi Toyoda. 

The final home game of the 2020 season had the Lions taking advantage of a raw pitcher in Kosei Yoshida. Cory Spangenberg had four RBIs including a three-run HR and Shuta Tonosaki had two key hits as well. Zach Neal ended his season with a five inning win, allowing only three runs in the process. 

With this being the last home game, the Lions had the usual closing ceremony, but it also included a retirement recognition of Tomomi Takahashi. 


Rakuten Eagles

The Lions had issues against former players in the opening makeup game. The retiring Naoto Watanabe played his final game and dazzled with two hits, a run and a key double play to hurt his previous team. Takayuki Kishi allowed only one run for a complete game as the Lions bats went back to poor situational hitting. Shota Hamaya allowed four runs, all with two outs. This game tied thee standings up with the Marines with three remaining. 

For the last makeup game in Sendai, the Lions overcame a 6-1 deficit where Tatsuya Imai allowed all those runs in the first inning. They chipped away at the leads with sacrifice flies and an RBI fielder's choice. It wasn't until Shuta Tonosaki hit a solo HR and Cory Spangenberg added a timely to tie it at 6-6. 

The Eagles threatened in the 7th and 8th, but Kaima Taira got the key strikeouts when necessary to prevent any further damage. Lions bats remained dead and it was a 6-6 stalemate. 


Chiba Lotte Marines

A 2-0 lead was vanquished quickly after Cory Spangenberg couldn't field a liner and the ball was stuck at his feet. Yudai Fujioka hit a solo HR off Wataru Matsumoto which was enough for the Marines to hang on. The Lions loaded the bases with one out, but Aito Takeda and Nien Ting Wu struck out with both of them batting in the bottom of the order. 

The wheels came off in the bottom of the 6th, when two errors on one play resulted in two more runs and Chiba pulled away for good, mathematically eliminating the Lions. 


Fukuoka Softbank Hawks

In what was a meaningless makeup game, Kona Takahashi threw two scoreless innings before he was yanked as he qualified for the league ERA leaders with that work. Hiromasa Saito gave up two HRs and that was all the Hawks needed in this easy finale. It put the Lions at .500 for the year, it's their first time finishing at this win percentage since 2015. 


Coach dismissed, others not returning

The Lions announced they terminated the contract of ni-gun hitting coach Hiroshi Hirao after he was caught stealing possessions of two players. It became effective on October 31 after the initial reports on October 16. 

Ni-gun pitching coach Ming-Chieh Hsu will also not return for 2021 while defense/base running coach Hiroyuki Takagi will remain with the organization under a different title. 


Suspended Aiuchi to be a Fighter

Makoto Aiuchi plans to retire and become a fighter, as reported by the Japanese media. He has been in trouble with the law multiple times, most recently breaking a team violation of golfing with Ryusei Sato while under COVID-19 rules.  


Matsuzaka will return in 2021

The Lions reached an agreement to keep veteran pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka under team control this week. The 40-year old veteran has yet to pitch an ichi-gun game in his second stint with the Lions after being remembered as a high school / Lions legend. Like Utsumi, he will be a spot start option for next year. 


Early roster cuts announced

The Lions informed three players who will not be under contract in 2021. Besides Aiuchi, Koki Fujita and Shinsaburo Tawata were announced as senryokugai. Fujita was a 9th round draft pick in 2015 while Tawata was taken in the first round. 

Tawata, 27, will likely return under an ikusei contract. Due to health reasons, he wasn't under contract in 2020 until the middle of the season and he failed to play an ichi-gun game. He was the opening day starter in 2019, but continued to fall out of favor. 


Tsuji will return in 2021

The Lions announced Hatsuhiko Tsuji will be back for his fifth season as manager in 2021. This will be his first season without any postseason games, but the team finished in A-class for the fourth consecutive year and never had a losing record. 


Unfortunately the Lions dug themselves a huge hole in the middle and had too much to overcome. A longer piece analyzing this season will come later, but it's clear the offense didn't have it in 2020 besides a ugly season from Zach Neal. 


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Sunday, November 1, 2020

2020 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Drafting and stalemate games


The Saitama Seibu Lions went 3-3 against the Rakuten Eagles and Softbank Hawks in a split homestand. They sit in third place, 1.5 games out of a postseason spot behind the Chiba Lotte Marines with seven games to go. 

They also had draft take place and made a decision for 2021 and beyond. 


Lions take large class, future infielder

The Saitama Seibu Lions drafted a total of seven roster players and five ikusei for 12 total at the 2020 NPB Draft on Monday. They attempted to go for top pitcher Takahisa Hayakawa out of Waseda University, but ended up losing a four-team drawing. The Rakuten Eagles landed his rights as Kazuhisa Ishii drew the winning ticket before Hatsuhiko Tsuji had a chance to put his hand in the box. 

Instead of going to another drawing, the Lions plan B pick was IF Kento Watanabe out of Toin University in Kanagawa. It's likely he'll be a new Okawari-kun as he can play 3B and 1B. 

Below is the full list of players taken by the Lions:

Regular Draft: 

1. IF Kento Watanabe 渡部健人 (Toin University, Kanagawa)

2. LHP Takeru Sasaki  佐々木健 (NTT East, Tokyo)

3. IF Takayoshi Yamamura  山村崇嘉 (Tokaidai Sagami HS, Kanagawa)

4. OF Gakuto Wakabayashi 若林楽人 (Komazawa University, Tokyo)

5. RHP Ren Omagari 大曲錬 (Fukuoka University, Fukuoka)

6. IF Brandon Taiga Tysinger タイシンガー ブランドン 大河 (Nogai Okhotsk University, Hokkaido)

7. OF Yuta Nakamigawa 仲三河優太 (Osaka Toin HS, Osaka)


Ikusei Draft: 

1. RHP Yuto Akagami  赤上優人 (Tohoku Koeki University, Yamagata) 

2. OF Shinya Hasegawa 長谷川信哉 (Tsuruga Kehi HS, Fukui)

3. OF Joseph Ken Miyamoto  宮本ジョセフ拳 (Nagoya Gakuin University, Aichi)

4. RHP Taishi Mameda 豆田泰志 (Urawa Jitsugo Gakuen HS, Saitama)

5. RHP Yoshinobu Mizukami 水上由伸 (Shikoku Gakuin University, Kagawa)


A full writeup with more details will likely come when the Lions season ends. Further research required to have a better grasp of this class. 


Rakuten Eagles

The Lions won a pair of one-run games by a score of 4-3. A three-run HR by Tomoya Mori was a game winner off Takahiro Norimoto while Fumikazu Kimura hit a two-run HR the next day. Both games involved strong starts by Kona Takahashi and Shota Hamaya. Hatsuhiko Tsuji also earned his 300th career win as Lions manager on Tuesday. 

They weren't able to pull off a sweep when Zach Neal gave up five runs in two innings. 


Softbank Hawks

Nao Higashihama shut down the Lions again and the bats stayed cold. A two-run HR from Takeya Nakamura made it a one run game in the 9th inning, but it wasn't enough as Katsunori Hirai gave up three runs early on. Ken Togame also laid an egg in the second game where Cory Spangenberg misread a fly ball leading to a bases-clearing hit. The Lions had no chance off Shunta Ishikawa in a blowout to lose the series, but salvaged one game with good pitching by Wataru Matsumoto. 


Utsumi staying through 2021

The Lions renewed the contract of veteran Tetsuya Utsumi citing they like his veteran presence in the clubhouse. He had one ichi-gun win in 2020, his first in 743 days after skipping the entire 2019 season due to injury. While things on the field didn't go as planned, the Lions feel he will be a role model for all the young pitchers and decided to retain him through the 2021 season. 


With seven games to go, the expectations are high given how close the Lions are to a postseason spot. However, try not to think about it with only half the pitching being good, the others not delivering when needed. Offense is still a mess as we know.  If anything, Matsumoto, Hamaya and Kona Takahashi are all positive steps towards 2021. 


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