Tag Archives: spring training

Camping World: Feb. 17, 2020 – Dragons’ top pick Ishikawa sidelined

Highly sought-after infielder Takaya Ishikawa, whom the Chunichi Dragons signed after winning his rights in a three-way first-round draft lottery, has been diagnosed with inflammation in the rotator cuff of his left shoulder and held out of practice Chunichi Sports reported.

Ishikawa has been impressive in spring training. Although his feet lack elite quickness, he has soft hands and is looking slightly more fluid in the field than he did as a high school third baseman. He’s also demonstrated a good approach at the plate. The Dragons have been testing him at shortstop, which doesn’t seem like a starting position for him, but he hasn’t embarrassed himself there.

Here’s my scouting report on Ishikawa based on video of him in high school and with Japan’s Under-18 national team at last summer’s World Cup.

He also looks like he spent the winter working on his upper body strength. Last summer, it looked as if most of his strength training had been to build up his legs, but his upper body is filling out quickly. It wouldn’t surprise me if the injury is related to the combination of weight training and too many swings in camp, but who knows.

and Adam Jones

Jones took live BP today against Orix right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto, and practiced his strikeout call.

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.

Story stupidity meter going off the charts means baseball is back

For the next four weeks there will be lots of this on cable TV…

Day 1 of Japanese spring training. It is the best of times. It is the worst of times.

It’s the best because teams are in camp preparing to play baseball. It’s the worst because it is easily the day for the most tedious baseball story lines of the year.

Today we were treated to the following headlines:

  • Manager Yoda says we’re striving to win the championship
  • Matsuzaka returns and greets fans — hopefully that went better than last year when an overenthusiastic high five from a fan injured the pitcher’s right shoulder and caused him to miss most of the season
  • Kenichi Tanaka throws 58 pitches in his 1st Hanshin bullpen, manager says he was flying
  • Fighters top draft pick Kawano says being in camp near the ocean in Okinawa is like a dream come true
  • Takano tries to impress with 128-pitch bullpen
  • New team adviser Jojima angers chairman Oh on 1st day
  • Jones impresses at Orix camp as a nice guy, not like a major leaguer at all
  • and …. major league power hitter Jones shows off his bunting skill
  • Giants Parra thrilled fans do “Baby Shark”
  • SoftBank’s Ka reports no discomfort wearing new uniform No.
  • PL MVP Mori: “I’m aiming for 3rd straight championship”
  • Carp manager Sasaoka on top draft pick Mori’s bullpen: “I felt he was a little nervous”

But its not all just bullpens and moronic observations about aiming for championships, although there is a lot of that, as well as players saying they want to make the Olympic team. There’s also batting practice reports.

Don’t forget the “home runs”

A big part of camp reporting is how many batting practice home runs are hit. So the first day saw the following.

  • Chunichi’s top draft pick Ishikawa hits 15 batting practice home runs
  • Nippon Ham’s Kiyomiya hit 17 homers, eight out of the park
  • Balentien hits 2 out in front of his role model, chairman Oh
  • New Tiger Bour hits 14 homers
  • New Buffalo Jones hits 7 homers

One happy camper

Billy Eppler

It’s been a while since my last post. I just came back from spring training in the Cactus League, the highlight of which was probably my interview with Los Angeles Angels General Manager Billy Eppler.

I listened in as Shohei Ohtani spoke to the media on Saturday, March 2, but it was fairly routine: “How many balls did you hit off the tee today? How many in toss batting?” So when speaking with Eppler I stayed away from the question everybody wants answered, “When is Shohei coming back?” and focused on other things.

Chat with the Angels GM

Below is part of my Q&A with Eppler that didn’t make it into the Kyodo News story HERE.

–Is he unique because he’s unique or because baseball has said it can’t be done?

 “I would think there’s a blending of both of those. However, you have to be blessed with the talent on both sides, the ability to work efficiently because you’re not going to have the same time that everybody else is going to have. So raw athleticism, size, speed, strength, efficiency in your work, discipline, those things are unique to him. So probably the majority goes to his uniqueness, I could arbitrarily throw out something like 70 percent is due to him and 30 percent to the other, but that’s cocktail napkin math. A lot of it is his uniqueness.”

–how much did his work habits play into your approach to acquire him?

     “We were mindful of that. We understood that. We tried to present that Southern California is a good place to be baseball obsessed. The weather cooperates.”

–How many guys are trying to be two-way players now?

“We have four in our organization. We drafted one in the fourth round, we drafted him as a two-way player. He went out and just hit and was doing his bullpen work on the side. He hadn’t done a ton of functional weight training so we wanted to make sure his strength was up.”

“Of those four, five including Shohei, two of those five are starters and three are trying to be relievers.”

Thanks for the help

In addition to Eppler, I want to thank all those people who took time out from their busy schedules to chat: Pitchers Jay Jackson, Matt Carasiti, Tony Barnette, Kenta Maeda, Yoshihisa Hirano, former NPB players Matt Murton, Terrmel Sledge, Jim Marshall, Torey Lovullo, Akinori Otsuka, Takashi Saito and Hideki Okajima. Two Angels players, Kaleb Cowart and Albert Pujols, also shared their time.

I also want to thank the media relations staff of the San Diego Padres, Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, Arizona Diamondbacks, Seattle Mariners, and Los Angeles Angels and MLB. Because of their help, I was able to make good use of my time. A shoutout also to my Kyodo News colleagues in New York and Arizona for their input and assistance.

NPB’s rites of spring

Training basics

For those of you unfamiliar with spring training in Japan, here are a few things to look out for as you dive into the news coming out of the 12 teams’ camps. It’s not Mr. Baseball, although a surprising number of NPB veterans have said that movie helped them prepare mentally for things being different.

The time between Feb. 1 and Opening Day is divided into two segments. The first is called camp, the second a time for preseason exhibitions “opensen”(オーペン戦) . Camp runs for most of February, and when it ends teams move out of their spring training facilities and go from town to town playing exhibition games.

A few exhibition games typically take place before the end of spring training, although these are most commonly practice games, where the rules are flexible to suit the needs of the teams.

Despite Japan’s reputation for working to extreme, Japanese teams will train for four or five days and then take a day off. They’ll repeat that cycle until the end of camp. But don’t worry, the work gets done.

When reporters show up at the spring training facility in the morning, they’ll receive a sheet of paper explaining which player is in which training group and the different tasks they’ll be performing until early in the afternoon. What that doesn’t tell you is that players will be hitting off machines until evening or swinging or working out until after dark.

On Jan. 31, players and staff go to a local shrine to pray for success in the upcoming season. Workouts begin on Feb. 1, or at least that’s the way it used to be. Now, large numbers of players have begun showing up for group voluntary training in the days leading up to camp. Recent photos from the Yomiuri Giants camp in Miyazaki Prefecture, showed ace Tomoyuki Sugano throwing a bullpen on “Day 2 of group voluntary training.”

Help for foreign newbies

Almost every foreign player arriving for their first spring training in Japan has been told to bring running shoes. This is sound advice. Here is some more that I’ve heard from players with NPB experience:

  • Be ready to see pitchers throwing at full velocity from Day 1 and don’t try it yourself. You’ll be ready when you are ready. That won’t stop everyone else from treating the first day of camp like Opening Day. And that includes umpires. Former Hanshin Tigers reliever Jeff Williams recalled that his catcher and an umpire once got into a heated argument over balls and strikes in the bullpen on the first day of camp.
  • Remember, you know what your body needs to get ready for the season, so don’t overdo it. You may want to keep up with your teammates, but respect your own limits. Overdo it and you will impress your teammates and coaches, but that will quickly be forgotten if you don’t get results during the season. Everyday, coaches will ask you if you want to throw. What they mean is, “Is this a day you want to throw?” They are trying to understand your needs, not get you to be like your teammates.
  • If you are a first-year player with the Hanshin Tigers, however, please try to show the coaches you actually know how to hit in batting practice on Day 1. It may mean nothing to you, but coaches are grilled about new players’ BPs by the media. This is normally not an issue, but the Tigers media is overbearing and can cause even the coolest coach or manager to begin second-guessing himself about his confidence in you. At the end of his record-setting 2010 season, Matt Murton said he wished someone had told him to square up a few balls on the first day so the coaches could relax.
  • Listen to the coaches. They might not have played in the majors although some have, but they care about the game and can often help you adjust to Japanese ball. Pitchers learn to throw certain pitches better (Scott Mathieson‘s slider) , develop a new pitch (Dennis Sarfate‘s split) or go back to pitches they’d been dissuaded from using in America (Jeremy Powell‘s curveball).
  • Be ready to have a good slide step. Base stealing may not be a thing anymore in the States, but you will be judged on how quickly you get to the plate with runners on–and get used to a coach who walked 1,000 hitters in his career to tell you that Japanese pitchers don’t walk batters.
  • For batters, it’s the same story. The coaches seem less inclined to fine tune hitters mechanics than they do pitchers, but they can often tell you what to expect and how catchers will try to attack you. In the end, however, it’s about sticking with those things that work for you and finding ways to apply your strengths in an environment where fastballs are harder to predict and a lot of pitchers have really good location with all their pitches.
  • Take advantage of the massages. While the quality of the strength, fitness and conditioning programs vary from team to team, Japanese clubs are really good at massage therapy.

If anyone has anything to add or phrase better, or you just want to tell me what a load of crummy advice I’m pedaling, please leave a comment or hit me up on twitter.

NPB reality: Japan’s got bunt

Although rookies have taken part in their “collective voluntary” training for a week or so this month — where they are prohibited from wearing uniforms, working with coaches or receiving pay for the work they are expected to do.

During these voluntary workouts, the volunteer laborers wear vests with their names and uniform numbers so that they are easily identifiable. The coaches and managers, who don’t take part, stand on the sidelines in street clothes and observe.

One of this year’s new faces, Akira Neo, an 18-year-old infielder who was the Chunichi Dragons’ first pick in November, suffered a calf strain during his voluntary workout. When paid labor actually begins on Feb. 1, Neo will be with the Dragon’s farm team camp in Okinawa’s isolated Yomitan Stadium.

Sunday’s news, and people get paid to report this, was that Neo practiced 230 bunts off a pitching machine. Why it might seem extreme, consider this: In the most recent ballot for the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame, the position player who received the second highest vote total was Masahiro Kawai, a decent player who is best known for holding NPB’s career sacrifice hit record.

So laugh if you like, but Neo apparently knows how to get to the top in Japan.