Tag Archives: DeNA BayStars

Camping World: Feb. 22, 2020 – Let the games begin

This is the one week of the year where Japanese baseball looks like that in the majors. Teams are in camp and playing preseason games. Very often the games played until the final week of February are “practice” games, where rules can be bent to suit the needs of the managers. But once the “open season” begins, those games’ stats are recorded.

On Saturday, eight teams were in action, with most of the attention focused on the BayStars – Eagles game because Rakuten southpaw Yuki Matsui started in line with new manager Hajime Miki’s plan to move him out of the closer’s role. The other player of interest was the Eagles’ top draft pick, 24-year-old shortstop Hiroto Kobukata.

The Swallows – Carp game saw Hiroshima’s first pick, Meji University right-hander Masato Morishita and Yakult’s second pick, Japan Sport Science University right-hander Daiki Yoshida.

Morishita’s debut

Morishita looks much as he did last year as an amateur, a right-hander who balances about three seconds on his back leg before going to the plate. The one difference appears to be his arm slot. He had been high 3/4 in college, but was nearly 12-6 in the first inning. Ostensibly, he’d been tasked with making some adjustments in his previous bullpen session, and one wonders whether his arm slot was part of that. From the second inning it looked closer to what it had been in college and his command was spot on.

He allowed two runs in the first, basically because of his command. Few of the balls had anything coming off the bat, and his slider was particularly sharp.

Not “real” baseball

If one needs proof that these games are meaningless, one can look at Morishita’s not being ejected in the first inning for a “dangerous pitch.” A curve slipped out of his hand and traced an eephus arc before striking Alcides Escobar on the top of his helmet. Had this been a regular season game, the umpires would have been compelled to eject him for hitting a batter in the head.

Escobar “suits” Japanese ball

Escobar, the Swallows’ new shortstop, was praised as a good fit for Japanese baseball by the crew broadcasting the game, ostensibly because of what he can’t do. Other than his size, the 33-year-old Venezuelan fits Japan’s cookie-cutter image of a middle infielder: Plays good defense, runs and bunts well, while not being able to hit for power or reach base.

Goodness gracious.

One crowded infield

New Carp manager Shinji Sasaoka is trying out lots of combinations in his infield. He brought in second-year shortstop Kaito Kozono to play second, and the 2018 No. 1 pick did a reasonable impression of Ryosuke Kikuchi with the glove with a good charge toward the mound and a sharp throw to first across his body.

Former Yankees and Padres utility man Jose Pirela, who has impressed with the bat in camp, was tried out at third. Having spent most of his time with the Yankees and Padres at second base and in left field. He has good hands, it looked from this game like third base might be a challenge for his arm strength.

Nice start for Yoshida

While the Swallows’ top draft pick, high school star Yoshinobu Okugawa was throwing his first bullpen of the spring hundreds of miles away in Yakult’s minor league camp after hurting his arm in January, second-round pick Yoshida had two innings in the spotlight.

The 1.75-meter Yoshida has a super smooth delivery that looks like it was modeled on Tomoyuki Sugano’s although he doesn’t look like he’s trying to throw the ball through a wall like Sugano sometimes does. Yoshida, who has been used as the setup guy for the national collegiate team, has an above-average fastball with some hop to it, and showed a decent changeup and a slider, neither of which he commanded nearly as well as his four-seam fastball.

He located the fastball and missed some barrels with the change and retired all six batters he faced.

Matsui goes back to starting line

Yuki Matsui, who came to national prominence in high school for being able to survive extraordinarily high pitch counts, failed as a starter in his 2014 rookie season. That year he walked 67 batters in 116 innings, but was reincarnated as a closer the following season.

His English NPB page is HERE.

Matsui looked fairly uncomfortable, threw a lot of straight fastballs, missed his locations. He faced 18 batters and surrendered a pile of hard-hit balls while walking two batters and hitting one.

He did throw a number of quality sliders, and those kept the day from being a complete disaster.

Mirror, mirror

Yesterday, I filled out a scouting report on Eagles second pick Fumiya Kurokawa. A muscular second baseman, Kurokawa resembles current Eagles second baseman Hideto Asamura. Kobukata, the top draft pick, is a small left-handed hitting shortstop like Rakuten’s incumbent at the position, Eigoro Mogi.

Kobukata started and had three hits, all ground balls pulled through the right side of the infield. He looked OK with the glove. I don’t know if it’s a Japanese thing but like Kurokawa, Kobukata takes an extra step to set his feet before he throws. When he does cut loose, however, he has a gun with some good carry.

The other news from that game was the absence of new BayStars import Tyler Austin, who has been smoking hot all spring, due to stiffness in his right elbow.

Camping World: Feb. 19, 2020 – Lions’ Neal to start Opening Day

Second-year Seibu Lions right-hander Zach Neal will get the ball on Opening Day, manager Hajime Tsuji told the team on Wednesday as they broke camp the Nikkan Sports reported.

The two-time defending Pacific League champion Lions will open at home, MetLife Dome on March 20 against the Nippon Ham Fighters.

Last season, Neal won 11 straight games and finished the season 12-1. He has since signed a two-year extension.

“Kona (Takahashi) was doing well and I was unsure (about who would pitch Opening Day,” Tsuji said. “I made up my mind with the first pitch I saw Neal throw in the bullpen.”

Hawks flamethrower Kaino to get PRP treatment

Hard-throwing SoftBank Hawks reliever Hiroshi Kaino revealed Wednesday he will undergo platelet rich plasma therapy for damage to the medial collateral ligament in his right elbow according to the Nishinihon Sports.

The 23-year-old Kaino finished second in the Pacific League’s rookie of the year voting last autumn to teammate Rei Takahashi, who is out with a hamstring issue and also doubtful for Opening Day.

Here’s Kaino’s English language NPB page.

Tigers unleash top draft pick Nishi

A day after we learned what Junya Nishi’s music will be at Koshien Stadium, the Hanshin Tigers’ top draft pick was permitted to throw breaking pitches in camp for the first time, the Nikkan Sports reported Wednesday.

Nishi, who was also a prodigious slugger in high school and for the national Under-18 team last summer, threw a spring-high 50 pitches in the bullpen at the Tigers’ minor league camp. He said he had a good feel for both his forkball and his changeup.

Swallows Koch, Ynoa take the mound

New Yakult Swallows right-handers Matt Koch and Gabriel Ynoa saw their first game action of the spring in a practice game against the Rakuten Eagles in Urasoe, Okinawa Prefecture, Sports Nippon Annex reported Wednesday.

Koch, a former Arizona Diamondback struggled with his control as he allowed five runs in two innings. Ynoa, who pitched for the Baltimore Orioles, allowed a run over two innings. He touched 151 kph (93.8 mph) and graded his effort as 95 out of 100.

Austin breaking the spring

The late Wayne Graczyk used to warn players who did TOO well in the spring to be prepared to adjust before games started counting because, most of their preseason opponents are from the rival league, and teams work hard to have plans against guys who do extremely well in the spring.

If Wayne were here, he’d be telling us that now about new DeNA BayStars outfielder Tyler Austin. In a practice game against the Lotte Marines on Wednesday, Austin doubled and walked twice, making him 6-for-8 with two homers and two doubles (at least) according to the Chunichi Sports.

Famous for not throwing

Roki Sasaki is famous for two things, throwing the fastest pitches ever recorded by a Japanese high schooler, and not throwing. He, or rather his Ofunato High School manager, made front-page news last summer when the star right-hander was held out of Iwate Prefecture’s championship game. The game decided whether his school or Shohei Ohtani’s alma mater would make it to the national championships at Koshien Stadium.

So it should be no surprise that the mere fact that the Lotte Marines’ top draft pick did strength training on Wednesday cause the Nikkan Sports to headline a story “Sasaki refrains from bullpen session — according to plan says coach.”

Sometimes it’s hard not to think of Japanese spring training as a time when pitchers arms are supposed to broken — as if that is part of the process.

Camping World: Feb. 18, 2020

The Hanshin Tigers have named Yuki NIshi as their Opening Day starter the Daily Sports reported Tuesday.

“The deciding factor is his leadership of the pitchers. He’s demonstrating that he wants it,” manager Akihiro Yano said.

Nishi joined the Tigers a year ago from the Pacific League’s Orix Buffaloes, and went 10-8 with a 2.92 ERA. His English NPB players page is HERE.

Cousin picks walk-up music

Nishi’s distant cousin, Tigers’ first-round draft pick, Junya Nishi, has selected the music to be played for him at Koshien Stadium according to the Daily Sports.

The music for the slugging pitcher who has been working out at the minor league camp in Aki, Kochi Prefecture is going to be Shota Shimizu’s “Kazenifukarete.” While the Tigers have not said anything about the possibility of using Nishi in the lineup, at least we know what music he’ll have if he ever gets to the first team. #TigerPriorities

So far so good for Austin

Tyler Austin continued to rake on Tuesday. After homering twice and singling in his preseason debut on Sunday, the new DeNA BayStars import doubled and walked in a 1-0 practice game loss to the Central League rival Yakult Swallows.

2 solid innings for Fighters’ VerHagen

Drew VerHagen retired six of the seven batters he faced on Tuesday in the first live game action he’s seen with the Nippon Ham Fighters in a 5-0 win over KBO’s Samsung Lions, the Nikkan Sports reported. The 28-year-old threw seven first-pitch strikes, touched 147 kph and mixed in his slider and change, striking out three.

Marte homers in 1st game of spring

Jefry Marté, who is being asked to compete for the third base job following the offseason acquisition of first baseman Justin Bour, homered in the Tigers’ intrasquad game on Tuesday, his first game action of the spring according to the Daily Sports.

Camping World: Feb. 15, 2020 Sasaki comes to town

On Saturday, two days after he threw his first bullpen session of spring training, 18-year-old Roki Sasaki was again the center of attention. This time, Sasaki, who touched 100 mph in his senior year of high school, drew a crowd of Chunichi Dragons before their game with his Lotte Marines according to the Nikkan Sports.

Sasaki’s first bullpen was a huge hit with a pair of former major leaguers, Marines manager Tadahito Iguchi and pitching coach Masato Yoshii. The former Met, who coached Shohei Ohtani in his last two seasons with the Nippon Ham Fighters, said he’d never seen anyone throw like that.

Indeed, Sasaki’s delivery is so effortless looking, that he is a fairly unique athlete. Sasaki said he was much happier with Saturday’s 48-pitch effort, saying, “I threw some pitches I was very happy with, although I was still wild.”

And the crowd?

“I noticed them, but they weren’t in my field of vision when I was throwing so no problem,” he said.

Disappointment from Bour

In what will probably be the first of many such stories this season, the Daily Sports reported on the results of new Hanshin Tigers Jerry Sands and Justin Bour, in their headline: “Sands gets 2 free passes, Bour grounds into bases-loaded double play.”

The game was the team’s first outside practice game, a 7-1 loss to the Hiroshima Carp.

New Buffalo Jones confesses to wanting to hit. 300

Sports Hochi reported Saturday that new Orix Buffaloes import Adam Jones, who has declined the Japanese custom of announcing numeric goals for the season, revealed to Orix executives that he wanted to hit .300. Stop the presses.

BayStars import Austin to start preseason opener

Journeyman first baseman and corner outfielder Tyler Austin will start in right field for the DeNA BayStars in Sunday’s preseason opener against the Yomiuri Giants in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, DeNA skipper Alex Ramirez said, according to Hochi Shimbun.

Tyler will bat second and play right, while two-time CL home run champion Neftali Soto, who split his time last season between second and right, will be at first base. Regular first baseman Jose Lopez, will be the DH. Ramirez said he would continue to use big hitters in the No. 2 hole this season.

Last year, he caught flak for “insulting Japan” by having the national team cleanup hitter, new Tampa Bay Ray Yoshitomo Tsutsugo bat second.

Villanueva vows to adjust with new club

Christian Villanueva was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in his intrasquad debut with the Nippon Ham Fighters, whom he joined after an unsuccessful NPB 2019 debut campaign with the Central League’s Yomiuri Giants.

He said he was grateful to the Fighters for accepting him and that he would adjust so that he could be able to be as effective as possible, the Hochi Shimbun reported.

Mota making strong appeal for Giants call-up

Israel Mota, a 24-year-outfielder who spent five years in the Washington Nationals farm system, continued to swing a hot bat in camp, the Hochi Shimbun reported Saturday. Mota, who joined Yomiuri on a developmental contract last year, singled and doubled in three practice game at-bats against KBO’s Samsung Lions.

In the same game, new Giant Gerardo Parra was greeted by Giants fans showing off their “Baby Shark” chops when he appeared as a pinch-hitter at Okinawa Cellular Stadium. He struck out.

Camping world: Feb. 9, 2020

Here are some tidbits from NPB spring training from the Japanese language media on Sunday, Feb. 9.

Jones stands in for fellow new Orix import Higgins

Former San Diego Padres minor leaguer Tyler Higgins threw his third bullpen of the spring at the Orix Buffaloes camp on Sunday, this time with Adam Jones standing in the right-handed batter’s box. According to Sankei Sports, Higgins wanted to Jones’ view of his pitches, saying that as a quality hitter his opinion might be different from others.

Giants manager Hara impressed with Diplan

Yomiuri Giants manager Tatsunori Hara is keeping his eye on 26-year-old Dominican right-hander Nattino Diplan, who joined the club over the winter on a developmental contract, Sports Nippon Annex reports.

The 1.9-meter, 81-kilogram Diplan, who pitched in Double A last season for the Milwaukee Brewers. After watching him in the bullpen and in a simulated game, Hara said he expected Diplan to touch 160 kph (100 miles per hour). On Sunday, Diplan, who is working out with the Giants two farm clubs, hit 93.8 miles per hour and broke a bat in an intrasquad game. After which Hara said the right-hander is a candidate to join the big club in camp when it moves to Okinawa on Saturday.

According to the story, Diplan was motivated to play in Japan after being impressed by Shohei Ohtani.

Jones bonds with Orix outfielders over steak, picks up tab

New import Adam Jones joined eight other Orix Buffaloes outfielders for dinner at a swanky steak place in Miyazaki on Friday night for talk about baseball and other things, according to a Daily News report, and picked up the tab — in excess of $2,700.

On Sunday, Jones was a hot item as he and teammates conducted a baseball clinic after nearly 300 elementary school kids from Miyazaki Prefecture attended the Buffaloes practice session.

Scout Diary: Jan. 24, 2020

Friday is homework assignment day, so I’ll finish my look at the best pro infield tools with the top shortstops from Nippon Professional Baseball’s Central League.

Having now having glanced — I don’t want to glorify my youtube binge watching as study — at 12 elite shortstops, I realize I really don’t know what a 70 arm is yet. Have you seen an 80 arm at shortstop? The following video has some that show real carry, as the ball just fails to appreciably drop on its path to the target.

I’ve seen very few throws with that kind of carry in the Japanese videos I’ve been watching, so it’s possible that none of the 12 candidates have 80 arm strength, although Andrelton Simmons might.

The three CL players with the most votes in the Golden Glove voting were:

  • Hayato Sakamoto, Yomiuri Giants
  • Yota Kyoda, Chunichi Dragons
  • Yamato Maeda, DeNA BayStars

Sakamoto is a 31-year-old veteran offensive star whose metrics have in the past been occasionally the best in the league. Kyoda is a 25-year-old who is just establishing himself. Maeda is a 32-year-old longtime utility player, who won a Golden Glove after being converted to playing center fielder, who had phenomenal metrics in 2019.

Jump to 1 year as a scout page

All three have soft hands, good fielding action and above-average transfers. My pick for the player with the best tools goes to Kyoda. Not only does he have excellent physical tools, but he appears to play shortstop like a point guard, with an excellent sense of timing and an understanding of where to throw the ball.

Sakamoto is blessed with a plus arm and does everything right. He is not the quickest on the transfer and tries not to backhand balls if he can help it. He uses his size to set and get good velocity on his throws. He does not appear to be as comfortable improvising with throws from all angles.

Kyoda may have the best instincts for getting to ground balls in Japan. With a quick accurate release and 70-75 arm strength. His transfer is above average, but not elite, and he could set his feet more often.

Maeda is above average at everything. The worst grade I would give him is a 60 for throwing accuracy. He is better at backhanding the ball than Sakamoto but not as good as Kyoda.

The best of the best

My tools competition has produced four league champs:

  • Fransico Lindor, Cleveland Indians
  • Nick Ahmed, Arizona Diamondbacks
  • Sosuke Genda, Seiibu Lions
  • Yota Kyoda, Chunichi Dragons

My pick from them is Ahmed. Of the Japanese shortstops I reviewed, Genda, Kyoda and Kenta Imamiya of the SoftBank Hawks could definitely start at shortstop in the majors.