On Thursday evening officials from the 12 NPB teams will gather to pick the next generation of pro baseball players. The Swallows will be looking to replicate the success of last year’s draft in which they picked many immediate contributors. The rules of the draft have not changed since our comprehensive summary on the topic in 2010. The Swallows’ last place finish means the team will pick second in the second round after the PL’s basement finishers, the Fighters.
This year, the Swallows have their eyes on either LHP Yuki Matsui of Toko Gakuen High School or RHP Daichi Osera of Kyushu Kyoritsu University with their first pick. Barring some game changing news, both players will be named by other teams and the Swallows will be forced into a draw. The Swallows haven’t won a draw for their first choice since beating four other teams for the rights to Yoshinori in the 2007 high school draft. We’ll preview the two potential picks below.
Yuki Matsui burst into the spotlight during the 2012 Summer Koshien when he threw a record 22 strikeouts in the first round against Imabari Nishi of Ehime. Matsui followed that performance up with a 19 K game against Joso Gakuin in the next round to set a two game Koshien strikeout record. Matsui lead Toko Gakuen to the quarterfinals and ended up with 68 strikeouts in 36 innings pitched. The 68 strikeouts were a record for a left-handed pitcher and ranks third overall in Koshien history. Matsui and Toko Gakuen failed to advance out of the tough Kanagawa prefecture tournament to make it to Koshien this summer, but Matsui was key starter in Japan’s U-18 World Cup team in August.
Matsui’s repetoire includes a fastball that tops out at 149 km/h, a vertical slider right-handers have trouble reading, changeup, and curveball. Matsui seems to be the consensus top pick in this draft with up to ten teams expressing an interest in picking him with their top choice. However, Matsui seems to be a top pick in a comparatively weak draft and many have high school junior (and thus draft-ineligible) Tomohiro Anraku as the bigger high school prospect.
Even as a high school senior in 2009 Daichi Osera was seen as a pro prospect. While pitching for Nagasaki Nichidai favorable performance against future Carp first rounder Takeru Imamura in the prefectural tournament, and future Lion first rounder Yusei Kikuchi in the first round of Koshien turned heads. Osera eschewed the draft to build up his body and further refine his craft at Kyushu Kyoritsu University. In university Osera added 14 kilos of mass and 3km/h to his fastball. Through this spring, Osera compiled a 34-4 record with a 0.91 ERA. Although three of those losses came during this spring and lead to the first time in 6 years that Kyushu Kyoritsu failed to win the Fukuoka Big 6’s spring league. Osera also was the ace of this summer’s Japan-US College Baseball Series. In this year’s Fukuoka Big 6 fall league that ended two weeks ago, Osera went an underwhelming 4-4 with a 1.99 ERA.
Osera uses the contrast between his 150 km/h fastball and his 110km/h slow curve to keep batters guessing. Osera’s dip in performance this season is troubling, and how his stuff will perform against tougher competition is a concern. However, Osera seems to have the tough body (186 cm / 90 kg) and mentality that scouts covet. Although Osera has a lower skill ceiling than Matsui, his ability to have a bigger immediate impact will surely be a factor in deciding whether to pick him.
Unlike previous years it seems the Swallows intend to keep their final choice close to their vest. If the Swallows do choose either Matsui or Osera it will almost certainly go to a drawing with a couple of other teams. Should the Swallows lose out on their first pick, it’s difficult to guess which player might be chosen by the team. It is likely the Swallows will aim to stock up on university and industrial league pitchers that can contribute in the 2014 season. We’ve limited the speculation as past attempts to highlight potential later draft choices have not been successful. Once the draft actually happens we’ll be back with a draft recap to introduce you to all the new faces.