NPB news: Jan. 11, 2023

We’re still three weeks from the start of spring camp, but things are going on. One player who tried MLB is returning with a new NPB team, while three more players have been selected, if not officially named, to Japan’s WBC team, and one former star has a new gig.

Shall we get to it?

Arihara now a Hawk

Kohei Arihara, the top pitcher in the Nippon Ham Fighters’ rotation after Shohei Ohtani’s departure and more recently a Texas Ranger, has returned to Japan with the SoftBank Hawks.

The 30-year-old Arihara helps patch the gaping hole left by Kodai Senga’s departure to MLB as a free agent. Arihara, who was selected by four teams in the first round of the 2014 draft, moved to Texas via the posting system in 2021, but his stay with the Rangers was plagued by shoulder trouble.

The Hawks, meanwhile, have surrendered pitcher Seigi Tanaka to the Fighters as part of the compensation package for signing free agent outfielder Kensuke Kondo.

Like Arihra, Tanaka was a hot item in Japan’s draft, named by five teams as their top pick. Ironically, he tied for the most teams bidding for his services that year when five teams who missed out on their top pick, all named current Marine reliever Chihaya Sasaki as their first alternate.

Tanaka has spent most of his pro career rehabbing from injuries and has appeared in just 34 big league games with SoftBank.

Nootbar, Yamada, Nakamura headed to WBC

Yakult Swallows catcher Yuhei “Mucho” Nakamura said Tuesday he has agreed to join the national team for March’s World Baseball Classic, while manager Hideki Kuriyama on Wednesday dropped two more names of players who are good to go: St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Lars Nootbar and Yakult Swallows second baseman Tetsuto Yamada.

Nootbar, who grew up in America the son of a Japanese mother and a Dutch father, will be the first player Japan has selected for the WBC whose only qualification is his ancestry.

Kuriyama spoke of his selection not just in terms of what it means to the team’s depth but of what it will mean for Japanese baseball to become more global, Kyodo News reported.

“I think that is one of the strengths of sports, the ability to go beyond nationality. I told him this is a big first step for Japanese baseball. If one thinks about what is needed to win, of course, he’s going to be a candidate.”

— Hideki Kuriyama, reported by Kyodo News

Yamada, a 30-year-old speedy slugger as well as a slick fielder, will be competing with slugging DeNA BayStars youngster Shugo Maki for playing time. Maki was named in Kuriyama’s first 12-player announcement on Friday.

Fukudome to coach for former corporate club

Recently retired outfielder Kosuke Fukudome has agreed to work with his former corporate league club, Nippon Life, as a “special coach.”

He played for the club out of high school when he made good on his promise not to sign with any pro teams in the 1995 draft other than the Yomiuri Giants or Chunichi Dragons. Seven teams, including those two, selected him as their top pick in the draft with the Kintetsu Buffaloes winning his negotiating rights in the ensuing lottery.

Although the Dragons lost that lottery, and an ensuing lottery with Yomiuri for high school catcher Shunsuke Hara, they ended up with one of the two prizes of that draft, high school outfielder Masahiro Araki. He went on to be a defensive keystone at second base for the Dragons’ 2004-2011 dynasty, while Fukudome, a high school shortstop, struggled in the infield after joining Chunichi in 1999, but became a star after being converted to the outfield.

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