Tag Archives: Ryosuke Kikuchi

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.

The kotatsu league: 4 more years, Kikuchi to remain with Carp

Second baseman Ryosuke Kikuchi will remain a Hiroshima Carp, he told a press conference at Mazda Stadium on Friday, Kyodo News reported in Japanese, when he signed a four-year contract extension after failing to get a timely guaranteed major league contract.

Below are some Kikuchi highlights so you all can see what you’re missing.

Soon after the Central League club agreed to post him, Kikuchi said he would only move to the majors on a guaranteed major league contract. After meeting with teams at December’s winter meetings in San Diego, he has now told Hiroshima that he intends to remain with the Carp for 2020.

My profile of Kikuchi is HERE.

Former Tigers skipper Yoshida blames “undignified” Solarte for troubles

This year, the Hanshin Tigers rushed Yangervis Solarte into the firing line with a minimum of exposure to Japan’s game. His immediate success was quickly followed by failure and a trip to the minors, from which the former major leaguer never recovered.

Solarte was given 80 first-team plate appearances, then judged unworthy and demoted to the farm team. When he said a few days later that he was unable to “get motivated,” he declined promotion to the first team and returned home.

Yoshio Yoshida, a deserving Hall of Famer as a shortstop who also managed Hanshin to its only Japan Series championship in 1985, told the Nikkan Sports on Friday that Solarte’s problem was a “lack of dignity.”

“That Solarte, he COULD play at shortstop but he demonstrated a lack of dignity.”

Former Hanshin Tigers manager Yoshio Yoshida

Solarte went 13-for-69, but four of those hits were home runs. He drew nine walks, scored sic runs and drove in nine. Hardly a disaster.

The Tigers are a proud organization steeped in tradition. Unfortunately, one of those traditions is discarding foreign imports who fail to meet the team’s expectations for instant success and blaming the individuals for the club’s traditional lack of patience and understanding.

Free agent center fielder Akiyama could have deal this year: Report

Japan’s Nikkan Sports reported Friday the Cincinnati Reds have put a multiyear offer on the table for free agent outfielder Shogo Akiyama, and are the top candidate to sign the 31-year-old, citing multiple major league sources.

The Reds, Arizona Diamondbacks, Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago Cubs have all been tied to the center fielder and leadoff hitter for the two-time defending champions of Japan’s Pacific League. Those teams met with Akiyama at December’s baseball winter meetings in San Diego.

My profile of Akiyama is HERE.

The report says the Rays and Cubs showed the most interest early on. Akiyama broke Japan’s single-season hit records set in 2010 by Matt Murton, who is currently working in the Cubs’ front office.

The Nikkan Sports story, however, said Cincinnati has since upped the ante and a deal with the club could be concluded before the end of the year. If Akiyama moves to the Reds, he will be the storied club’s first Japanese import.

Unlike compatriots Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, Shun Yamaguchi and Ryosuke Kikuchi, Akiyama is a free agent and is not bound by a signing deadline. He is represented by agent Casey Close. On Friday, Kikuchi announced he would return to the Hiroshima Carp for 2020.

Other reports, including this one from the Hochi Shimbun, indicate the San Diego Padres have recently entered the bidding for Akiyama.

Tsutsugo, who was also a fixture on Japan’s national team, has concluded a two-year deal with the Rays, while pitcher Yamaguchi has reportedly agreed to a two-year contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. Kikuchi, a record-setting glove wizard, has roughly a week to sign before his rights revert to the Hiroshima Carp of Japan’s Central League. Yamaguchi, too, has a Jan. 2 deadline to complete his deal.

Akiyama highlights published this year by Pacific League TV.

Although a good comparison to former big league outfielder Norichika Aoki, Akiyama will strike out a little more — everyone does — but drive the ball better to the opposite field.

The kotatsu league: Buffaloes Jonesing for proven big-league power

The Orix Buffaloes announced Tuesday they had signed veteran major league outfielder Adam Jones to a two-year deal, according to Kyodo News. Junichi Fukura, the Pacific League club’s general manager, said he expects the 34-year-old to be able to adjust to Japan’s game.

Here’s Jones’ agent, Nez Balelo, talking at the baseball winter meetings about his client’s move:

Nez Balelo: “We didn’t kick around Andruw Jones.”

“A lot of foreign batters struggle with inside pitches, but from the video we’ve seen, it appears he can handle those,” Fukura told reporters at the baseball winter meetings in San Diego.

The contract is reported as being worth $8 million.

HERE’s a link to my review of veteran major-league home run hitters coming to Japan and playing more than one season.

Akiyama, Kikuchi in town for winter meetings

Free agent outfielder Shogo Akiyama arrived at the site of the winter meetings on Tuesday, while Mike Seal, the agent for Hiroshima Carp second baseman Ryosuke Kikuchi revealed to Kyodo News that his client, too, is in San Diego with roughly three weeks to go before the deadline for Kikuchi to sign a contract.

DeNA BayStars outfielder Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, whose posting period will end this week, is also currently in southern California.

Johnson takes his leave of Tigers

Right-handed reliever Pierce Johnson will not return to the Central League’s Hanshin Tigers for a second season, the Daily Sports reported on Tuesday.

Here’s Johnson’s NPB player page.

Johnson’s 40 holds was third in NPB behind Pacific League leader Naoki Miyanishi of the Nippon Ham Fighters’ 43, and Chunichi Dragons lefty Joely Rodriguez‘s 41. Rodriguez has since agreed to a two-year deal with the Texas Rangers.

Johnson’s curveball was rated by Delta Graphs as the most effective of any right-handed pitcher with over 40 innings last season, while his four-seam fastball was well above average.

According to the Daily Sports report, his agent, John Boggs, said he was in talks with nine to 10 big-league clubs.

Meanwhile, the Tigers have reached an agreement to sign pitcher Robert Suarez, who was released by the SoftBank Hawks.

The kotatsu league: Axe and Jackson

March 15 in Japan may be tax day, but Dec. 2 was this year’s NPB axe day.

Few surprises on cut day

NPB teams published their offseason reserve lists on Monday when the only real surprise was that Yurisbel Gracial and Alfredo Despaigne were both released by the SoftBank Hawks, ostensibly because the team had yet to conclude its negotiations with the Cuban government’s sports authorities.

The bigger they are the softer they fall

The big local news was that Xavier Batista, who is under suspension for banned substances, was reserved by the Hiroshima Carp. This wasn’t really news since the Carp could have voided his contract for cause during the summer, and most certainly would have if he didn’t have value.

The severity of punishment in Japanese sports tends to decrease as the player’s value increases. Kento Momota, the world No. 2 men’s singles badminton player missed a year and the Rio Olympics after participating in illegal gambling. Kyosuke Takagi one of four Yomiuri Giants pitchers who admitted to betting on baseball, and the only one of the four who had any value, was fired and then re-hired a year after receiving a fairly lenient suspension. So Batista’s remaining with the Carp shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

Big Jay to join Marines

Jay Jackson said Tuesday he has completed his agreement to play for the Lotte Marines, while Lotte said their talks were moving in a good direction. I’m going to attribute that disparity to Japanese teams’ history of trying to control the timing of news about their team, and having other business to attend to — the introduction of free agent pitcher Manabu Mima.

The Kyodo News story is HERE.

Jackson, who has a child with his Japanese partner, had hoped to stay in NPB last season and was disappointed in the lack of offers. When nothing materialized he signed a minor league deal with the Brewers and pitched in 28 games with them and spoke about that situation in March and about his adjustments to Japanese ball.

His NPB page (Japanese language only) is HERE.

In the U.S. he struck out about 1.5 batters per inning this year — a vast improvement over his norm before he came to Japan in 2016, suggesting he learned how to get more strikeouts in Japan. It will be interesting to see how his re-acquaintance with American-style ball will affect his play here the second time around.

Yamaguchi, Kikuchi posting applications complete

The Hiroshima Carp have completed the posting application for second base glove wizard Ryosuke Kikuchi, while the Yomiuri Giants said they also completed the necessary paperwork on pitcher Shun Yamaguchi, meaning their 30-day posting period will commence on Tuesday, Dec. 3 at 8 a.m. Eastern time.

Here are Kyodo News’ English stories on Kikuchi and Yamaguchi.

Here’s my page for analysis and backstory on all the guys heading to the majors this winter and in winters to come.

Giants sign Brazilian flame thrower Vieiera

The Yomiuri Giants announced Tuesday they have signed 26-year-old Brazilian and White Sox farm hand Thyago Vieira, who has saved 14 Triple-A games over the past two seasons and pitched in 23 major league games.

Here’s Vieira’s MLB debut: