2010 NPB Draft Preview: Players to Watch

Part 2 of our 2010 Draft series will examine some of the prospects that may be of interest to Swallows’ fans.

Before I begin describing some of the players of interest in this year’s draft, I should note that I have not seen any of these players myself. I do not follow high school, university, or industrial league ball and the assessments of the players below are summaries based on reading a number of sources including the Sports Hochi draft special magazine, Number magazine, articles linked from YakyuBaka and other English language websites, and other random bits on pieces from the Japanese media. The players I describe below are a select few that I found interesting or relevant, if there are any other players you think deserve our attention please let us know in the comments section.

While reading through various draft previews, it becomes evident that many teams keep their draft plans, at least their post-first pick plans, very close to the vest. That leaves writers to speculate about which players teams are actually leaning towards. There’s a lot of seemingly contradictory information out there about teams’ intentions, but there are a few consensus points that can be taken away from all the draft coverage. First of all, there are very few hitters worth getting excited about. The NPB draft has always been a pitcher-centric draft in the early rounds, but this year may see all 12 teams pick up pitchers with their first pick. Number magazine compiled a generous list of 27 players with first round potential, only 7 position players made the list. Secondly, almost every team is looking for 即戦力 (soku-sen-ryoku) from their early picks. If you read Japanese draft coverage you’ll see this word get repeated ad nauseam. Basically, every team is looking for players that can contribute right away. Combining those two factors, let’s examine some pitchers that may be able to contribute to their teams right away.

Yuki Saito

If there’s one more piece of certainty we can draw from the draft coverage, it is this, the Tokyo Yakult Swallows will name Yuki Saito with their first pick. Saito has been a Japanese baseball hero since winning the 2006 summer Koshien for Waseda Jitsugyo. The media had dubbed Saito, Handkerchief Prince, because he wiped his sweat on the mound with a handkerchief. Instead of jumping straight into pro ball after his storied high school career, Saito chose to go to Waseda University. Saito became the first freshman in 80 years to start a season opening game in the Tokyo Big 6 baseball league. Since then, Saito hasn’t missed a start and hasn’t dealt with any serious injuries. Saito is a right-handed pitcher that throws a fastball that tops out at 150 km/h, an effective slider, and fork ball as his main pitches. He is also capable of throwing a 2-seam fastball, a cut ball, and a changeup. Reading in between the lines of all the hype, there are concerns that Saito has already reached his full potential and that he will merely be a good but not great player in the pros. Given Saito’s Waseda pedigree, his 4 years of pitching at Jingu, and the boost in popularity he will bring to the team, the Swallows cannot and will not go back on their vow to draft Saito. The only other team to publicly declare their intention to draft Saito is the Marines. Although, many publications have the Carp and the Hawks as having Saito on their short lists.

Tatsuya Oishi

Saito’s teammate from Waseda is the top pick for many teams in the market for a closer. Oishi has a lively fastball that can make batters swing and miss. At this summer’s World University Baseball Championship, Oishi made 4 one inning appearances, and struck out 10 of the 14 batters he faced. In his Tokyo Big 6 career up to and including this year’s spring league, Oishi had amassed 188 strikeouts in 129 innings to only 36 walks. No scout on record has disputed the fact that Oishi can make an immediate impact out of the bullpen. Any team attempting to get Oishi to start may run into some trouble, as he has been ineffective in his limited number of starts at Waseda. Oishi appears at the top of many teams’ projected pick lists, with as many as 6 teams possibly placing a bid on the young closer.

Hirokazu Sawamura

Along with Saito and Oishi, Hirokazu Sawamura of Chuo University rounds out the “Big 3” prospects that seem to be on every team’s radar. Sawamura first and foremost is known for being able to consistently throw his fastball at over 150 km/h. His fastball tops out at 157 km/h, a student record for Jingu. Sawamura complements his fastball with a hard slider, a forkball, and a curveball. Despite his speed, Sawamura does not have eye-popping strikeout numbers, and he is prone to giving up home runs. Sawamura has missed the World University Baseball Championship due to minor injury, but has shown no ill effects in fall play. His impressive fastball and his impressive numbers in the arguably more competitive Tohto league have lead to Sawamura’s name to appear in a greater number of team’s projected short lists. Number magazine projected that 5 teams would pick Sawamura with their first pick.

Yudai Ono

Yudai Ono is probably the top left-handed pitcher in the draft, and in a sport that values left-handed pitching, that fact alone can mean multiple suitors for the young man out of Bukkyo University. Up until his senior year, Ono was know for his fastball heavy repertoire and his jerky powerful delivery. This April, Ono unveiled a wicked forkball to complement his fastball, greatly increasing his effectiveness. Ono seems to have some issues locating pitches at times, but has managed to keep is walk count low (1.09 BB/9 in league games). Ono has not pitched this fall, citing shoulder discomfort, a fact which may scare some teams off.

Takahiro Shiomi

Another university left-hander that is creating some buzz is Takahiro Shiomi of Hachinohe University. Shiomi, already considered a solid prospect, threw a no-hitter (1 walk) on Sunday at the final of the Tohoku qualifier for the Meiji Jingu tournament. Shiomi has a solid repertoire of stuff, a crisp fastball, slider, cut fastball, and fork, that he can control well into the later innings. While not flashy or overwhelming like Ono or Sawamura, Shiomi looks to be a solid pick.

Yuya Fukui

Yuya Fukui is “the other pitcher” from Waseda University. Despite being a bit of an afterthought to Yuki Saito and Tatsuya Oishi, Fukui also possesses the qualities that make him an attractive first round choice. Originally drafted in the 4th round of the 2005 draft by the Giants, Fukui took a year off and ended up at Waseda. With a solid fastball/slider combination Fukui manages to get a fair amount of strikeouts. Although control issues have lead to him giving up a fair amount of walks as well. But if you like your scouting reports have a sunny-side-up flavor, you’ll love this quote from an unidentified scout. “His occasional wild pitching makes it harder for batters to zero in on pitches. A very practical quality!” Given the Swallows’ preference for Waseda players, Fukui may be a player the Swallows target if they lose out on the Saito sweepstakes.

Shinta Hifumi

Shinta Hifumi, the first high schooler to be featured in this column, has perhaps the coolest family name I’ve ever seen. Written 一二三, it is literally the characters one-two-three in kanji. Hifumi lead Tokaidai Sagami High School to the Summer Koeshien final this summer. The right-hander can throw a 150 km/h fastball from a sidearm delivery, a delivery he devised after suffering an injury this spring. Hifumi has indicated that he would like to return to an overhead delivery in the pros. Some pro teams have Hifumi listed as a hitting prospect, which should be taken more as a sign of this draft’s shallowness of position players. Hifumi will probably be taken once all the 即戦力 players are off the board in the first round.

Daiki Enokida

Enokida is probably this draft’s best industrial league prospect. The Tokyo Gas southpaw, like many industrial league prospects, does not have an overwhelming fastball, but possesses an impressive array of breaking balls. Enokida has used his time in the industrial league to develop his form and add to his repertoire. His stuff, high baseball IQ, and poise seem to make him a safe, if unspectacular pick.

Shuhei Fujiya

This last draft note is cribbed straight from Marinerds (click the link above for the more detailed profile). Not much actual information is known about Shuhei Fujiya, except that he is draft eligible (i.e. he’s a Japanese citizen) and that he’s been an effective closer at the American college level. Fujiya’s baseball experience has been mostly American, and I haven’t been able to find any sources that would even confirm if Fujiya was even interested in played in Japan. But apparently the Swallows have had their eyes on Fujiya, so he may be selected in the later rounds.

That does it for our extremely non-comprehensive look at some players to watch in the upcoming draft. Other names to keep an eye out for are Hosei University’s Kisho Kagami, Toyo University’s Masahiro Inui, Osaka Gas’ Yuki Iwami, Tohoku Fukushi University’s Hirobumi Abe, and Osaka Gakuin University’s Hiroshi Kobayashi. The Swallows will also probably end up drafting Takanori Saito, Yoshinori’s younger brother who is an outfielder out of Sendai Ikue High School.

Comments/Questions/Criticisms are all welcome in the comments section below!

Yuki Saito, the next Tokyo Swallow?

About Kozo Ota

Kozo Ota is a third-generation Swallows fan that grew up on Montreal Expos baseball. (You can read more about that here.) When he's not at Jingu, he works as a freelance translator/interpreter to make enough money to go to Jingu. You can find random posts by Kozo on Google+ and Twitter.

  • Excellent roundup, Kozo.

    What’s the over/under on the Swallows being unable to resist picking a high schooler before the fourth round?

    • Kozo

      Who can say for sure. What I can say is that aside from Hifumi, the Swallows haven’t commented too publicly about any of the highly touted high school players. The only other high schoolers the Swallows seem to be showing a strong interest for are Tetsuto Yamada and Yoshinori’s brother, both lower tier prospects. I would say 4th round sounds about right…

      • As long as our first three picks aren’t used on high school kids, I won’t get too riled up.

        OK, next question: how many more shortstop/second basemen will Tokyo accrue during Thursday’s draft.

        100 yen and a can of chuhai says that the birds draft two (no less and no more).

        • Kozo

          I’ll take the under in that bet. There aren’t a lot of hot infield prospects out there, and the Swallows haven’t really expressed any interest in many of them besides Yamada.

          How many players in total do you think the Swallows will pick in the draft? (Ikusei draft doesn’t count.)

  • Heh, just wait until next year when the Swallows can draft Masubuchi’s little brother!

    If you think Hifumi has a funny name, you shoulda seen Isoroku Yumoto last year… 湯本五十六. His name was literally 56! There were a couple guys with numbers in their name; I was also fairly convinced that Kazuhito Futagami’s name is how it is on purpose (two gods, one person, 二神一人).

    A sleeper on the “guys associated with yakult scout quotes” is Shutoku HS’s Taiki Mitsumata. He pitches and bats cleanup and hit 15 homeruns in HS and also hit 149km/h on the Jingu guns during the summer tourney; I saw him play but the opponents walked him like 4 times and wouldn’t pitch to him!

    Yuya Fukui is a lot like Chunichi’s Kenichi Nakata. If someone can clean up the wildness, he will be pretty great someday.

    I’ve babbled so much about Ohishi over 4 years that I have nothing left to say. He’s taller than Saitoh, throws a faster fastball, and is also a decent lefty batter who can play an adequate shortstop and centerfield, his fielding is quite good. He’s not the most intelligent guy ever to attend Waseda, but I believe he’s probably on the same level as Hiroyasu 🙂

    And honestly — Saitoh is a solid pitcher. I could easily agree with the “good but not great” label, and he has also benefitted from actually having a closer, in that his jerkbag manager Ohtake doesn’t feel a need to make him pitch complete games every day, unlike some other Big 6 pitchers who get injured from overthrowing — don’t get me started on what an amazing sophomore pitcher named Kisho Kagami had to go through 2 years ago. Saitoh throws 6, 7 innings per game, Ohishi throws the other 3, and if Waseda loses on Sunday, they go again on Monday. If nothing else, though, it would be very appropriate to see Saitoh, often thought of as the second coming of Daisuke Araki, united WITH Araki… they may end up walking the same path, as Saitoh is a fairly intelligent and well-spoken kid, I remember him saying he’d like to be an elementary school teacher if the baseball thing didn’t work out.

    I actually was about to write some about Shiomi and post some photos from the national tournament. Wonder if I should do that before the draft or after 🙂 His teammate Shogo Akiyama is also an intriguing guy in the draft pool…

    Also, rumors do have it that Kagami was in Yakult’s list due to his size, fastball, and experience at Jingu; at least, last week, people were saying that they expected Yokohama and Yakult to be most interested in him. (He himself was just like “…yeah, I’m nervous about the draft. No, I don’t know what will happen, we will have to wait and see. I just want to continue playing baseball.”) I guess we’ll see what happens. Just as long as he doesn’t go to the Giants… I would hate to have to disown him after being in love with him the last 2-3 years.

    • Kozo

      Unfortunately the Fifty-six name will forever be tainted in my mind with Yamamoto Isoroku. The apparently refers to his father’s age at the time of his birth. Hifumi’s just cooler because of the aesthetic novelty of one-two-three. Definitely a kid I’d want on my team if I watched games high as a kite.

  • Kozo

    While I was going over some draft websites, I found another player who might be high on the Swallows’ draft board, Kota Suda of JFE East Japan.

    Suda is another industrial league player with an unspectacular fastball, and who can paint the corners with an array of breaking balls. Suda is a Waseda graduate that saw his playing time decline in his third year with the emergence of Saito, Oishi, and Fukui.

    • Yeah, Sudacchi was in my “Will get drafted” list two years ago; I wrote in a blog entry back in May 2008, “You better learn the names Kota Suda, Takeshi Hosoyamada, Hiroki Uemoto, and Keijiro Matsumoto — I would be astounded if none of those guys get drafted, and more likely than not, all of them will.” I was never quite clear on why the other three got picked and he didn’t… he’s been kicking butt at JFE Higashinihon, unlike last year’s “what? he didn’t get picked?!” guy of Big 6, Keio’s Nobuaki Nakabayashi. For whatever reason I always liked Suda, it’d be nice to see him get drafted somewhere and given a chance.

  • Hey, so you guys took Yoshinori’s brother in the 3rd Ikusei round. I guess he’ll have to sign anyway, right?

    Not sure I know what to think of the Yakult draft choices. You were right, lots of HS kids 🙂

    • Kozo

      Well it all hit the fan after we lost Shiomi. This draft definitely became all about 2-5 years from now.

  • OHH! And speaking of Yoshinori’s little brother… Rakuten’s #1 Ikusei pick, Takahiro Katoh, is Mikinori’s little brother. How cool is THAT?

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