We usually post this recap shortly after the draft but this year the calendar year has already changed and all our draftees are already in spring camp giving me a bit more insight into how the team views its latest picks. But the 2015 draft was memorable not just for the players the team took but also for a draft night gaffe. So let’s review what happened at the 2015 draft for the Swallows. In a departure from recent Swallows drafts, the team did not announce who they intended to name with their first pick of the 2015 draft. When draft night came along on the eve of Game 1 of the Japan Series the Swallows named OF Shun Takayama of Meiji University with their first pick. Unfortunately, the Tigers also named Takayama and Manaka got into a draw against Kanemoto for Takayama’s negotiation rights. After both mangers drew envelopes Manaka reacted thusly,
It looked like Manaka had finally broken the Yoshinori curse (the Swallows haven’t won a first draw for a player since winning the draw for Yoshinori in the 2007 draft) but alas it seemed that Manaka mistook the NPB draft logo stamped on the paper for the winning mark and celebrated prematurely. His outward display of enthusiasm threw Kanemoto for a loop and the Tigers manager never checked his paper assuming he had lost the draw. Things proceeded for a bit with everyone acting like the Swallows had won the draw before league officials finally realized the error and left Manaka with egg on his face. The Swallows went back to the draft board and picked the following players.
After the Swallows whiffed on Takayama the team picked RHP Juri Hara of Toyo University. Hara has been touted by my draft magazine as perhaps the most pro ready pitcher in the draft, which is code for highly polished but with little expectation to improve over the long term. Hara throws a lively 145 km/h fastball along with a slider and a shuuto. As the captain of the Toyo baseball team last year Hara was instrumental in carrying the team from the second division of the Tohto baseball league to the first division. Dan and I went to the first game of the promotion/relegation matches and saw a pitcher that located his pitches and managed to induce bad contact. Hara was facing off against Yokohama first round draft pick LHP Shota Imanaga in a pitcher’s duel and he acquitted himself well throwing 8 strong innings. Unfortunately he got tagged with an unearned run and lost the game to Imanaga. Hara and Toyo came back to win the next two games including a complete game in the third and final game. Hara has proven to be quite durable and has kept improving unlike many university draftees who see a drop off during the fall season of their final year. Best case scenario, I envision Hara to be another Ogawa solid but not flashy in his rookie year. The video below shows Hara facing the Giants’ third team while he was at Toyo.
If Juri Hara is the next Ryan Ogawa, the Swallows are hoping Taishi Hirooka of Chiben Gakuen High School will be the next Tetsuto Yamada. The young shortstop swings a mean bat that can launch home runs from his slight (183 cm / 80 kg) frame. The Swallows scout in charge of Hirooka has said that he expects Hirooka to compete with the first team in 2-3 years, which is roughly the same timeline that Yamada followed in his development. Hirooka has also garnered positive comments regarding his defense at shortstop but most people like to focus on his bat. Comments from those who attended the Swallows ni-gun camp in Miyazaki marveled at the bombs coming off of his bat. The video below shows Hirooka taking BP from now ni-gun coach Yuichi.
Ever wonder what it would look like if a lefty had Ogawa’s leg-kick? If so, LHP Keiji Takahashi might be what that would look like. Takahashi is a raw high school fastball/slider pitcher with a high leg kick. The Swallows hope that Takahashi fills out and can be a starter in a few years time. Check back in a few years to see if the Swallows have a lefty-righty high kick duo.
Like it or lump it the first thing people note about LHP Julias Higuma from Kochi Chuo High School is that he’s half-American. Higuma’s father worked at a US military base in Okinawa and returned to the states when Higuma was 4. Higuma and his mother lost track of his father in the aftermath of 9/11 as the US military tightened up on divulging personal information. One of Higuma’s driving forces was to become a famous baseball player so he could reconnect with his father. Just prior to the draft Higuma was able to re-establish communication with his father and now his goal is to become a world class baseball player. Higuma brings a tall lanky frame to the mound and delivers a 145 km/h fastball from a three-quarter arm slot. A Swallows scout has names Kazuhisa Ishii as a potential model for Higuma. We’ll see in a few years if he can live up to those expectations.
Like Mitsuru Manaka, Kotaro Yamasaki is a lefty outfielder hailing from Nihon University. The Swallows even issued Yamasaki Manaka’s old 31 jersey number to hammer the point home. Yamasaki’s main stregths are his speed and defensive consistency. Yamasaki will need to greatly improve his offensive production if he wants to come out of Manaka’s shadow and it remains to be seen if he’ll get to break out of the logjam of outfielders in the Swallows system. Yamasaki was invited to the top team spring camp and a strong showing may get him a job as a defensive replacement/pinch runner.
Daiki Watanabe from Senshu University High School is another high school infielder with power potential. He’s more raw than Hirooka but his general scouting line reads the same. Big power potential, good speed and defense. It’ll be interesting to see how he develops and where he’ll find playing time behind players like Hirooka and Okamura on the farm team.
The Swallows didn’t draft an Industrial League/Independent League player this draft, and the only players in this class that might see top team time with the Swallows in 2016 are Hara and Yamasaki. The grade on this draft is only going to be settled in 4-6 years. In the meantime this draft will probably be remembered for Manaka’s gaffe.
2015 Swallows' Draftees
|Rd||Name||Pos.||Last Team||T/B||Date of Birth (Age)|
|1||Juri Hara||P||Toyo University||R/R||July 19, 1993 (22)|
|2||Taishi Hirooka||INF||Chiben Gakuen High School||R/R||April 9, 1997 (18)|
|3||Keiji Takahashi||P||Ryukoku Univ. Heian High School||L/L||May 14, 1997 (18)|
|4||Julius Higuma||P||Kochi Chuo High School||L/L||November 21, 1997 (18)|
|5||Kotaro Yamasaki||OF||Nihon University||L/L||August 11, 1993 (22)|
|6||Daiki Watanabe||SS||Senshu Univ. High School||R/R||June 7, 1997 (18)|