Tag Archives: Carter Stewart Jr

NPB WRAP 4-3-21

Taguchi gets revenge but not payback

At Tokyo Dome, Kazuto Taguchi (1-1) hurled his best stuff at his former teammates on Saturday in his first start against the Central League’s Yomiuri Giants since his March trade to the Yakult Swallows.

The Giants, however, survived seven scoreless innings from Taguchi and Munetaka Murakami’s first-inning two-run homer off Shosei Togo with two runs off Yakult’s bullpen in their 2-2 nine-inning tie.

The Giants, who lost 2-0 the night before on Murakami’s third homer of the year, pitched around him after that. He twice led off innings that went nowhere after two failed bunts.

Taguchi, one of Japan’s slowest starting pitchers, with an average fastball velocity during his years in the Giants’ rotation of less than 138 kph, had a better fastball than he had even as a reliever over the past three seasons in a Giants uniform.

That and near-perfect command of his secondary pitches allowed him to throw seven scoreless innings. He allowed five hits, including one to reserve infielder Taishi Hirooka–whom he was traded for– while walking one, hitting one, striking out six and getting two double plays.

The Giants got on the board n the eighth on two-out doubles by Zelous Wheeler and Hayato Sakamoto off right-hander Noboru Shimizu, who ended the inning by striking out slugger Kazuma Okamoto on 10 pitches. Wheeler went 2-for-4, while Sakamoto had three hits.

Togo walked three and struck out seven while hitting one over eight innings. Rubby De La Rosa worked the ninth before the hosts tied it off closer Taichi Ishiyama, who surrendered a one-out single from Hiroyuki Nakajima and Akihiro Wakabayashi’s two-out pinch-hit RBI double.

Giants-Swallows highlights

At Yokohama Stadium, Allen Kuri (2-0) allowed three runs on six hits and no walks over six innings, and up and coming catcher Shogo Sakakura blasted a grand slam, lifting the Hiroshima Carp to a 7-3 win, extending the DeNA BayStars’ franchise-worst season-opening winless streak to eight games.

At Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, reserve utility infielder Yasutaka Yamamoto singled in the game’s only run as the Hanshin Tigers walked off 1-0 winners over the Chunichi Dragons. Robert Suarez worked a 1-2-3 ninth for the Tigers to earn his first win.

Kosuke Fukudome, who returned to the Nagoya-based Dragons, where he began his pro career 22 years ago, doubled in the second for his first hit after being cast off by the Tigers over the winter. He went 1-for-3. He was walked intentionally, struck out and grounded into a double play.

At Fukuoka’s PayPay Dome, reserve infielder Wu Nien-ting went 3-for-4 with a walks and a double and five RBIs as the Seibu Lions handed the defending Pacific League champion SoftBank Hawks their fourth-straight loss.

Seibu’s Shota Hamaya (1-1), their second pick in the 2019 draft, allowed a run over five innings, while Rei Takahashi (0-1), the PL’s 2019 rookie of the year, walked six, hit two and gave up five runs over six innings.

The Lions took a six-run lead into the ninth but had to call upon closer Tatsushi Masuda, who faced one batter, veteran Yuya Hasegawa and retired him to snuff out a late rally and earn his second save.

Lions lose Tonosaki

Lions second baseman Shuta Tonosaki suffered a fractured left fibula when a pitch hit him near his ankle to force in a first-inning run. The Lions are already without cleanup hitter and 2018 MVP Hotaka Yamakawa after the slugger miss-stepped rounding first base on a home run.

The Lions’ four-player foreign contingent, right-hander Zach Neal, new lefty Matt Dermody, first baseman Ernesto Mejia and utility man Cory Spangenberg only arrived in Japan on Friday and now must undergo 14 days of quarantine before joining the team.

At Rakuten Seimei Park, it was another Saturday with a battalion of Rakuten Eagles relievers in place of Masahiro Tanaka as seven pitchers held the Orix Buffaloes in check in a 3-2 win.

The Eagles scored three off Taishi Yamaoka (0-2) over four innings. Eagles closer Yuki Matsui struck out two in the ninth to record his third save.

Steven Moya went 1-for-3 and scored the Buffaloes’ first run after doubling to open the fourth.

Tanaka could debut on 17th

Masahiro Tanaka will make his season debut as early as Saturday, April 10, Rakuten Eagles manager Kazuhisa Ishii Sponichi Annex has reported.

Tanaka was deactivated just before Opening Day last week with a soleus muscle injury in his right calf and was expected to be out of action for three weeks.

“At the earliest, it will be the 10th,” Ishii said Saturday. “The next opportunity will be the 17th. Barring that it will be the 20th-something on a Saturday.”

The plan is for the right-hander to skip a rehab outing on the farm and go straight to the Pacific League active roster. Next Saturday’s game will be at home against the SoftBank Hawks. The Eagles are scheduled to visit the Fighters at Tokyo Dome the following week.

Ishii denied the team was rushing their returning former ace, who was originally scheduled for the start at Tokyo Dome.

“He could pitch before that. It might not require him to be out until the 17th,” Ishii said. “It’s not like we’re rushing him. If Tanaka’s fit, he could go on the 10th. If we think, ‘Let’s wait,’ we’ll wait another week and look at the 17th. It all depends on how he feels.”

At Sapporo Dome, Shogo Nakamura drove in three runs for the second straight game for the Lotte Marines, who came from behind to beat the Nippon Ham Fighters 6-5 for their third straight win.

Marines closer Naoya Masuda worked around a one-out Sho Nakata double to notch his first save, while Takashi Toritani, who joined Lotte a year ago after being discarded by Hanshin, became the 44th player to score 1,000 career runs.

Japan’s career leader in runs scored is Sadaharu Oh with 1,967. Oh leads the runner-up former Hankyu Braves leadoff man and career stolen base king Yutaka Fukumoto by 311 runs. Toritani was playing in his 2,218th game.

Here are the top five:

NameRPlayedG
1Sadaharu Oh1,967(1959-1980)2,831
2Yutaka Fukumoto1,656(1969-1988)2,401
3Isao Harimoto1,523(1959-1981)2,752
4Katsuya Nomura1,509(1954-1980)3,017
5Tomoaki Kanemoto1,430(1992-2012)2,578

Stewart throws 5 scoreless innings

Carter Stewart Jr. threw five scoreless innings for the SoftBank Hawks’ Western League farm team on Saturday in a 7-0 win over the WL Chunichi Dragons , Pacific League Insight reported.

The story said Stewart allowed a hit in each inning but didn’t buckle under pressure. He allowed six hits and a walk while striking out five.

In his only previous outing this season, Stewart allowed a run on five hits over two innings while walking one and striking out three.

Stewart joined the Hawks on a six-year deal in 2019.

Starting pitchers

Pacific League

Fighters vs Marines: Sapporo Dome 2 pm, 1 am EDT

Takayuki Kato (1-0, 3.60) vs Shota Suzuki (0-0, 3.60)

Eagles vs Buffaloes: Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi 1 pm, 12 midnight EDT

Takahisa Hayakawa (1-0, 0.00) vs Hiroya Miyagi (1-0, 1.29)

Hawks vs Lions: PayPay Dome 1 pm, 12 midnight EDT

Tsuyoshi Wada (0-0, 2.70) vs Katsunori Hirai (1-0, 0.00)

Central League

Giants vs Swallows: Tokyo Dome 2 pm, 1 am EDT

Nobutaka Imamura (0-0, 1.29) vs Yuto Kanakubo (-)

BayStars vs Carp: Yokohama Stadium 2 pm, 1 am EDT

Kosuke Sakaguchi (-) vs Yusuke Nomura (0-0, 0.00)

Tigers vs Dragons: Kyocera Dome (Osaka) 2 pm, 1 am EDT

Joe Gunkel (1-0, 0.00) vs Shinnosuke Ogasawara (0-0, 0.00)

Active roster moves 4/3/2021

Deactivated players can be re-activated from 4/13

Central League

Activated

SwallowsOF0Hidetaka Namiki

Dectivated

GiantsP23Ryoma Nogami
SwallowsP28Daiki Yoshida

Pacific League

Activated

EaglesP23Hayato Yuge
EaglesP62Naoto Nishiguchi
FightersC22Shinya Tsuruoka

Dectivated

LionsIF49Brandon Taiga Tysinger
EaglesP40Takuma Uchima
FightersP18Kosei Yoshida

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Winds of change

Former Dodgers GM, agent and Blue Jays international scout Dan Evans said Thursday he expects Japanese teams might poach some amateur talent from among the amateurs who are either drafted by MLB clubs this week or who were passed over in the majors’ effort to cut expenditures on baseball.

There are several reasons why this might happen and a few reasons why it might not.

Why top U.S. talent may leave for Japan

  1. Signing bonus pools and slot money
  2. Deferred bonuses and reduced draft
  3. The Carter Stewart Jr precedent
  4. NPB developmental contracts
  5. More interest in developing overseas talent
  6. Quality of competition
  7. There are few things better than getting well paid to live in a foreign country.
  8. The possibility of entering MLB as a 25- or 26-year-old free agent.

Reasons why talented amateurs may stay

  1. Living in a foreign country is not an easy adjustment
  2. Japanese baseball can be a bit like boot camp
  3. Most teams lack the infrastructure and know-how to handle and train non-Japanese youngsters
  4. Agents
  5. Lack of international amateur scouting
  6. NPB’s self-imposed limitations

My Japan Baseball Weekly Podcast partner John Gibson responded to Dan’s tweet by saying that if amateurs subject to the MLB draft DO come to Japan, it will largely be accidental since it has happened once, and then only because of a series of coincidences. Still, because it has now happened, agents and NPB teams may have a more open-minded approach to the possibility than they did 18 months ago.

Ok. So here are the reasons why it might happen:

Why it could hapen

Signing bonus pools and slot money

This is not new, but the idea that MLB teams would band together with the help of the players union to cap how much amateurs could get paid means Japanese teams can outbid them. This wasn’t the case back in the day, but it is now.

Deferred bonuses and reduced draft

I’m not going to talk about the stupid stuff MLB is doing to cut corners since that would likely come out of the wrong orifice, but this year is different, and the rewards and opportunities MLB teams are even less tempting than usual.

The Carter Stewart Jr precedent

Carter Stewart Jr set himself up to set a precedent when he opted out of reentering the 2019 June draft and instead moved to Japan. This was, as mentioned above, the result of a fortuitous series of coincidences. The Atlanta Braves tried to cheat him, he wouldn’t play their game, and his a former coach was a scout for Japan’s SoftBank Hawks.

A lightning strike was needed the first time. It won’t be an accident the next time around.

Here ourJBW Podcast interview with Carter Stewart Jr HERE.

Something John and I realized from talking with Stewart was the value of working out with former major league veterans and being able to watch them and learn from them. Japan’s foreign community can be small. The community of foreign ballplayers is even smaller, but some of those guys had long careers in MLB and overseas and can be a huge resource that few minor leaguers in the States will have access to.

NPB developmental contracts

These are non-roster, three-year contracts that allow the player to take part in minor league games here and earn a spot on the 70-man roster. The minimum salary for a developmental player–often referred to as a “three digit” player because their uniforms all have three digits–is 2.4 million yen a year, about $22,000.

That’s not much but it’s better than what anyone is going to get in minor league baseball, plus the living conditions are vastly better. This is a new thing that didn’t exist 20 years ago and this extra little step means less commitment is necessary for Japanese teams to give overseas talent an extended look.

HERE‘s a primer on NPB’s salary structures.

More interest in developing overseas talent

This ties in with the developmental contracts, because they have opened teams’ eyes to the possibility of signing low-rent international talent, and then promoting the best players. The idea that imported talent is only for impact now has changed a bit because of that, and that change of mind means more receptive audiences when the agents of U.S. amateurs come calling.

The SoftBank Hawks may have started it, but their Pacific League-rival Seibu Lions are eager to catch up and completed an expanded minor league facility behind their home park, MetLife Dome, outside of Tokyo. The Central League’s Yomiuri Giants also have the infrastructure and the cash to make to make it work now.

Quality of competition

People slam the quality of competition in Japan as not being as good as it is in MLB. It isn’t as good, but most of the people who say that don’t quite understand the way in which it isn’t as good. There are elements of Japanese ball that are better than in the majors, but talent depth is not one of them.

With fewer minor leaguers and fewer organizations, there are only about 1,000 pro players in Japan, meaning that while Japan’s national team could probably kick ass in MLB once the players got acclimated, the quality of talent drops off much more quickly than it does in MLB, so that even the best clubs will have a regular or two who might be fringe Triple-A guys in the States.

What that means for a young guy learning to play pro baseball is that if you are good enough to make it to the first team, the level of competition you could face as a teenager would be vastly higher than anything you’ll see below the major leagues.

Get paid to live in a foreign country

OK. So I’m biased on this one. But Japan is a great place to live. It has its quirks and head-shaking customs, but find a place that doesn’t. It’s safe, clean, and the people are generally welcoming and hospitable.

Enter MLB as a 25-year-old free agent

Ok or maybe as a 26-year-old. Do you know how many players reach free agency in the major leagues before they’re 26? Almost none. If you can cut it in Japan, and you don’t absolutely want to play your whole career here, you could enter MLB as an international free agent when all but the most elite in your age group are still pre-arb.

But no rose bush worthy of the name is without thorns. So here are some reasons why a number of talented amateurs might avoid Japan despite all its benefits just so MLB teams can treat them to the luxuries of minor league baseball.

What’s holding guys back

You have to live in a foreign country

Japan’s a great place to live, but it isn’t the same as home. The food is different, the language is different, many things that signify baseball for you will not have the same meaning for your teammates. It isn’t for everybody.

Japanese baseball can be like boot camp

Bring your running shoes. Practices are early and practices are long, and while the coaches here will teach you everything, some can lack interest in the possibility that a player can succeed in a way he doesn’t imagine. So players often get put into pigeon holes–although this is more for domestic guys, who’ve already had their approaches put into buckets as Lotte Marines pitcher Frank Herrmann referred to Japan’s different styles.

Teams lack infrastructure and knowhow

OK, so one team has done it, and probably more teams are interested in doing it, but to be honest only three teams out of 12 could probably pull it off.

Former Tigers great Masayuki Kakefu said when he asked the front office why the team doesn’t do more to develop more talent, the answer was money. It takes more than just signing players to developmental contracts, they need a place to play, coaches, equipment, trainers, housing, and money to transport them around to their games.

Most teams just look at that and say, “Nah. We’re good.”

Agents

Eighteen months ago at the Las Vegas winter meetings, I asked Scott Boras about the possibility of top amateurs flocking to Japan. His answer was, “Won’t happen.”

And though he represented Carter Stewart when he signed with SoftBank, two different sources have told me that was only because Stewart’s family threatened to take their business to another agency (CAA) if Boras wouldn’t cut a deal with the Hawks.

Lack of international amateur scouting

Although Stewart was spotted by a Hawks scout, that was just luck. Not even every NPB team has overseas scouts, and virtually all of them are looking for professionals, not amateurs, although that may change.

Self-imposed restrictions

On a recent episode of FanGraphs’ “Effectively Wild” podcast, draft and amateur scouting analyst Eric Longenhagen discussed the possibility that Japanese teams should welcome the talent that otherwise would be going into MLB organizations.

He suggested now was the time for NPB–and Korea Baseball Organization, too–to boost their international profile by signing elite American talent. He mentioned it would be a good time to change NPB’s limit of four imported players on the active roster and to perhaps look into overseas broadcasting deals while MLB continues to suck wind.

The problem is that the players union would need to approve more imported players on the roster, and like most owners, they don’t give a fig for the league’s international appeal. Also, NPB doesn’t control its own TV rights, the individual teams do. The Pacific League might do so via Pacific League marketing, but the old school Central League? Don’t hold your breath.

Conclusion

I won’t be surprised if one or two guys come to Japan, especially if they were not drafted, and are looking at minor league salaries with virtually no signing bonuses. Those whose families cannot support them may find that the only way to keep their pro baseball dreams alive is in Japan.

And if you’re a player and your agent doesn’t know any NPB international directors, hit me up and I’ll connect you.

ramping up: 21 days to go

One aspect of the long layoff forced by the novel coronavirus is that players who were due to miss the original March 20 start of the season, are now regaining fitness and may be able to make the roster when the season finally starts on June 19.

350 days

That’s how long it will be between starts for Naoyuki Uwasawa when he takes the mound for the Nippon Ham Fighters in Tuesday’s practice game.

Last season, Uwasawa was a key component of the Rube Goldberg contraption that was the Fighters’ pitching rotation last season. Manager Hideki Kuriyama used him and Kohei Arihara as the pillars in conventional starting roles, with a handful of others tasked with going either once or twice through the opposing lineup depending on the skipper’s confidence in them.

In a June 18 interleague game, Uwasawa was kneecapped by a batted ball hit by Neftali Soto, the DeNA BayStars’ two-time Central League home run champ. Prior to that game, the Fighters starting pitchers were 26-18 with a 3.65 ERA. Afterward, even with some superb 1-inning opening acts by Mizuki Hori, they went 18-31 with a 4.32 ERA.

On Thursday, he faced five batters in a simulated game at the Fighters’ minor league facility in Kamagaya, Chiba Prefecture, and is expected to pitch two innings on Tuesday at the Lotte Marines’ Zozo Marine Stadium in Chiba.

Yanagita back with a bang

Yuki Yanagita, who until the recent ascension of Hiroshima Carp right fielder Seiya Suzuki, was considered the Japanese outfielder most coveted by MLB clubs, returned to the SoftBank Hawks’ first team for an intrasquad game on Saturday. Yanagita has been rehabbing since his 2019 dumpster fire of a season was capped with right elbow surgery in the offseason.

Yanagita missed most of the season with a knee injury and failed by the slimmest of margins to get the 140 days of service time needed to be a free agent this winter. Had the Hawks brought him up a few days earlier, he would have been on track to fulfil his stated goal of playing in the majors. They didn’t and he signed a long-ass contract that keeps him in Fukuoka for essentially the rest of his career.

On Saturday, according to the Sankei Sports, he hit an opposite-field homer from submarine right-hander Rei Takahashi, the Pacific League’s 2019 rookie of the year and another player who was due to miss the start of the season in March but now has a shot at helping out the rotation from the start.

Stewart takes drive off shin

The Hawks’ Carter Stewart Jr left the mound after pitching just one inning when he took a shot off his right shin that was turned into the final out of the inning.

Iguchi changes tune on Sasaki

Eighteen-year-old right-hander Roki Sasaki who repeatedly was clocked at over 100 miles per hour in his final high school season, apparently will appear in a practice game for the Lotte Marines in the coming weeks, manager Tadahito Iguchi indicated to the media on Saturday.

Earlier in the week, Iguchi had said Sasaki, who twice hit 160 kilometers per hour in a simulated game on Tuesday, would not be ready to appear in a game next month.

Stewart’s maiden effort a wild ride

Ten months after signing Carter Stewart Jr to a six-year contract, the SoftBank Hawks used the delayed start to the season to give the 20-year-old right-hander some first-team pitching experience on Friday.

Stewart allowed one run on a solo homer, gave up two singles, walked five and struck out five. He touched 95.7 mph on his final pitch of the first inning, when he escaped a one-out bases-loaded jam with a strike out.

Of the 46 fastballs I have a record of, he made his catcher reach on 24 of them and hit the target with five. Of 32 curves, he missed badly with 19 and hit the glove with seven. But even when he missed, he was hard to hit.

Here are the game highlights, courtesy of Pacific League TV.

On top of never having faced Stewart before, the right-hander had another advantage: elite spin. Stewart was spinning a lot of his curves over 3,000 RPM according to the broadcast display. The MLB average last year was 2,531, while Charlie Morton’s average was 2,886. Of course, NPB’s somewhat tackier balls are thought to give pitchers an advantage with their spin pitches, but that extra oomph meant more fat pitches that were miss-hit.

Stewart has a big body, so its possible that his balance and command will take a little while to develop, but he is definitely going to be a fun pitcher to watch.

After spending four months last year with the Hawks’ third team competing against amateurs and independent minor leaguers, Stewart is set to move up to the Western League, where SoftBank’s main farm team plays. SoftBank manager Kimiyasu Kudo, who said the chances of Stewart contributing on the first team this season were not zero.