Minor material

A year ago, Tigers batting coach Tom O’Malley was touting rookie Taiga Ogoshi’s potential as a hitter. Although Hanshin’s third-round pick in the 2014 draft struggled at the top level last season, he had at the age of 22, one of Japan’s three best minor league efforts by a young player in the minors in 2015.

Egoshi posted an .809 offensive winning percentage in 209 plate appearances –- an unfortunately small sample size, but the two players who have had that amount of success in a similar number of plate appearances at the same age are now a pair of Hawks regulars: Yuki Yanagita and Akira Nakamura. Obviously, Egoshi will need to take several steps forward, but he is in good company. A fourth player with similar numbers at the same age is Seibu Lions prospect Hotaka Yamakawa.

Also among the better young hitters in the minors last season was Hawks outfielder Seiji Uebayashi, who at the age of 19 posted a .799 offensive winning percentage in 332 Western League plate appearances – for a more impressive season than Egoshi’s. He could be someone to watch. The only current player who had a similarly valuable minor league year at his age was Toshiaki Imae in 2004, who was as good but in 130 fewer plate appearances.

Here is Uebayashi’s first career homer against the Lotte Marines’ Rhee Dae Eun

Chunichi Dragons third baseman Shuhei Takahashi, a career .237 hitter in the Central League, is 22 now and has been steadily showing on the farm that he can HIT, posting a .602 offensive winning percentage as a 20-year-old and improving on that with a .781 season in 2015. The players who had similar minor league seasons at the age of 20 are a mixed bag – after all, it was a good season but not a great one:

  • Ryosuke Morioka (Dragons castoff)
  • Takehiro Donoue (another Dragons castoff)
  • Teppei Tsuchiya (Yet another Dragons castoff)
  • Katsuya Kakunaka
  • Akira Nakamura
  • Kodai Sakurai
  • Daijiro Tanaka (Giants)
  • Tomoaki Egawa (Hawks)
  • Yuki Tatsumi (Buffaloes)
  • Tetsuro Nishida (Eagles)
  • Aoi Enomoto (Eagles)

At the age of 21, Takahashi’s value comps were:

  • Munenori Kawasaki (He speaks English)
  • Taisei Makihara (Hawks)

The interesting comp there is Morioka (now with the Yakult Swallows), who is quick but not a base stealer, but a good on-base percentage guy. Another player of that ilk is Shunichi Nemoto of the Marines.

And since we’re on the topic of grand slams, here’s a come-from-behind blast by Takahashi from March.

NPB March 29 as it happened

After 179 innings to start the season, the Pacific League had its first home runs on Tuesday, when Daichi Suzuki of the Lotte Marines muscled up to put two over the fence in Chiba in a 12-2 butt-kicking of Rakuten, that was uglier than the score looked. Once the Eagles were behind they played and pitched badly.

In Fukuoka, Seibu Lions ace Takayuki Kishi got his season started with seven scoreless innings against the SoftBank Hawks. Kishi, who was pushed back from the home opening series against Orix so he could pitch against the two-time defending Japan Series champs, improved his ERA at Fukuoka Dome to 2.16.

Last autumn, former teammate Dennis Sarfate said Seibu keeps its home mound soft and sandy for submarine right-hander Kazuhisa Makita, and Kishi’s ERA there is higher than at any main park in the PL. I’d show you a table of Kishi’s career, but my table-making plug in isn’t cooperating tonight. Anyway, he’s 35-22 with a 2.61 ERA at the other main PL parks, and only slightly better at home (44-27, 3.72 ERA).

The game saw former Chicago Cub lefty Tsuyoshi Wada pitching in Fukuoka Dome for the first time since 2011. Watching Lions batters swat his pitches this way and that, you could almost here him saying under his breath, “what’s wrong with these guys? How do you expect me to get anybody out when they don’t try to hit everything out of the park?”

In Sapporo, ace pitcher Shohei Otani was in the batting order as designated hitter for the first time in the young season. His sac fly made it 2-0 in the Fighters’ home opener. Leading 5-0, he cleared the fence in left center for a three-run homer and finished his night with an RBI single. Five RBIs were his career high. The game ended in a 13-3 blood letting of the Orix Buffaloes, who fell to 1-3.

In the Central League, the Yomiuri Giants rolled to their fourth straight win under new manager Yoshinobu Takahashi and putting a damper on former teammate Alex Ramirez’s home opener as new manager of the Yokohama DeNA BayStars.

There were highlights for the BayStars, however, as their top draft pick, lefty Shota Imanaga struck out nine batters in seven innings, but missed with some fat pitches and surrendered three home runs in the 6-2 loss. The BayStars showed some fight in the ninth, when closer Hirokazu Sawamura was forced to come in and get the final out.

At Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, the league champion Yakult Swallows also showed some fight in the ninth inning, when rookie Tigers manager Tomoaki Kanemoto left his young right-hander Shintaro Fujinami in the game to throw 149 pitches in 8-2/3 innings and also had to call on his closer, Marcos Mateo — who survived some iffy control to shut the door on a 6-2 win. The Swallows have now lost four straight games to start the season for the first time in nine years.

At Nagoya Dome, the Hiroshima Carp blew a two-run lead, when the Chunichi Dragons scored four times in the sixth against loser Yusuke Nomura (0-1), and Brazil international Oscar Nakaoshi. Cuban Dayan Viciedo helped spark the winning rally with a one-out double and scored the tying run.

21-year-old Dragons right-hander Shunta Wakamatsu (1-0) got some mileage out of his trademark changeup to strike out 10 batters in six innings.

writing & research on Japanese baseball