From bench player, to Japan Series hero.
Tenures: 2005-2007 with the Oakland A's, 2008-2009 with the Seibu Lions
Statistics with the A's: 23 games, 55 PAs, .122/.200/.384 1 HR, 3 RBIs, -0.2 bWAR
Statistics with the Lions:
2008: 78 games, 279 PAs, .251/.344/.556 20 HRs, 47 RBIs
2009: 75 games, 236 PAs, .215/.342/.467 13 HRs, 32 RBIs
The final profile in this series involves the last player to be a part of recent success with the Seibu Lions. Like many players in this series, Bocachica is yet another example of someone who had a lot of potential and hype going into his professional career, and unfortunately he never really lived up to it in MLB. Fortunately, the Seibu Lions were the team where he found success that allowed him to show flashes of the talent that MLB scouts gushed over during the process of the MLB Amateur Draft of 1994.
Hiram Bocachica was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, he would attend a high school in Bayamon, the same city that fellow baseball players, Yadier Molina and Felipe Lopez grew up in. As an accomplished amateur player, the Montreal Expos took him the in the first round of the 1994 Amateur Draft with the 21st overall pick. Bocachica signed with Scott Boras as his agent, at a time when Boras wasn't as well known as he is now. Shockingly, Bocachica only took four days to sign with the Expos, which is something we're not accustomed to seeing from any Boras client.
In Baseball America's top 100 prospect list, Bocachica was named the 65th best prospect in all of baseball. This list would include Bocachica for the next two years with him at ranked at #73 and #50, respectively. With his status as a top prospect, Bocachica would put up impressive base stealing numbers, but his power numbers would not show up until a few years later.
The Expos would attempt to cash in on Bocachica as they'd trade him to the Los Angeles Dodgers along with 1996 All-Star, Mark Grudzielanek. The Dodgers would send Jonny Tucker, Peter Bergeron, Wilton Guerrero, and a familiar name for A's fans, Ted Lilly. This deal took place at the 1998 Trade Deadline with the Dodgers looking to help build their chances of making the playoffs.
Bocachica would continue his minor league career and he'd finally show home run power for AA-San Antonio and AAA-Albuquerque. Because of this, he'd earn a September call-up to Los Angeles at the end of the 2000 season. He'd play in 8 games that season in a reserve role.
In 2001, Bocachica would make the Dodgers out of spring training, and he'd play as a bench player though the entire season, appearing in 75 games. He'd fail to expand beyond his role as a bench player, and in July of 2002, he was traded to the Detroit Tigers for a player to be named later. That player ended up being Jason Frasor, who is now a veteran MLB reliever.
Bocachica would appear in 34 games for the 106-loss Tigers and it was becoming clear that the term "failed prospect," would surround him. As a 27-year old, Bocachica would spend the 2003 season in AAA-Toledo and would struggle to make his way back to Detroit. Following the 2003 season, Bocachica was granted free agency and he signed with the Seattle Mariners.
He'd split time in Tacoma-AAA and Seattle, playing mostly as a fourth outfielder whenever Ichiro Suzuki needed an off night. He'd spend one year in Seattle before signing with Oakland in the offseason after being released by the Mariners.
In 2005, injuries would limit him to only a few games in Oakland and Sacramento. In 2006, Bocachica had a huge Spring Training, but a bone growth in his hand didn't allow him to begin the season with the A's on the bench. He'd again play sparingly in Oakland, but he'd play well in Sacramento.
In 2007, Bocachica would hit his one and only home run in an Oakland A's uniform in a game on the South Side of Chicago which went off of Jon Garland. The A's would DFA Bocachica at the end of May and the San Diego Padres would claim him.
He'd play 27 games with the Padres and on July 17th, 2007, Bocachica would play his final game in the big leagues. He had one home run in his major league career as a member of the Padres. For a guy who only had 15 career MLB home runs, he had an impressive resumé among guys he homered off of. Bocachica homered off of Randy Johnson, Kirk Rueter, CC Sabathia, Johan Santana and Zack Greinke to name a few.
In the offseason, Bocachica would sign a one-year deal with the Seibu Lions, bringing his career to Japan. It was a time of great scandal for the Lions when Bocachica signed with them as a major scouting scandal saw them punished in the 2007 high school draft. The Lions had their first three picks taken from them, as the draft is in the fall after the regular season. They were also coming off a fifth-place finish from 2007.
Things in Japan would start off slow for Bocachica, and to start April, the Lions would send him to the farm team. He'd rejoin the ichi-gun during late-April and he'd provide a breakout game in this matchup against the Orix Buffaloes with two home runs.
Bocachica was already on a tremendous team with an impressive four man core of Hiroyuki Nakajima, Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura, Takayuki Kishi, and Hideaki Wakui. There was even a speedster name Yasuyuki Kataoka who was a key member, along with Takumi Kuriyama. He found himself playing in the lower half of the order, but played extremely well for the rest of the season. The Lions would win the Pacific League Pennant by narrowly edging out the Orix Buffaloes by 2.5 games.
After a Yu Darvish-led Nippon Ham Fighters upset the Buffaloes in the first round, the Lions would square off against the defending Pacific League champions in the Climax Series. Bocachica didn't play very well in the series as he only had one hit and was benched for the final three games, but the Lions would defeat the Fighters in five games.
As the Lions would continue their formula of bludgeoning their opponents with the home run. The Lions would hit 7 homers in the series, a trend that very much followed what they did in the regular season when they hit 198 which was 47 more homers than the second place Buffaloes. The final out of the 2008 Pacific League Climax Series can be seen here.
The Lions would meet the Yomiuri Giants, who are known as the kings of Japanese Baseball in the Japan Series. It was a matchup that would have Lions fans hoping they could get some revenge for the four game sweep that the Giants gave them in the 2002 edition. While at the same time, bringing the franchise back to the Giant-slaying of the 80s and 90s, when the Lions defeated the Giants for the Japan Series on three occasions.
The series would go seven games, with the teams getting heated at some points. Most notably, when Giants gaijin starting pitcher, Seth Greisinger, hit Hiroyuki Nakajima's elbow which caused a bench clearing and a bit of scrum with Nakajima taking exception in Game 4. The very next at bat was the decisive blow when Okawari-kun hit a monster home run which would be his first of two on the day. The story that day would go to Takayuki Kishi who'd throw a 147-pitch complete game, shutout and would tie the series at two games apiece. Here's a video that chronicles that particular game. (The hitting incident and home run is at 4:17)
This game would provide a precursor to what would be the big story of the entire series and that would be the rubber arm of Takayuki Kishi. He'd come up big providing 5.2 IP of relief in game 6, to save the Lions and send them to game 7. Bocachica would play in games 1, 3, 6, and 7, and he'd help provide the happy ending to Kishi heroics in game number 7.
With the Giants ahead of the Lions 2-0, Bocachica would pull one back with a pinch hit, solo home run. It was a moment that he'd later describe as the best moment of his career. This video contains Bocachica's home run (at 6:24) as well as commentary from television analyst, Katsuya Nomura on both Game 6 and Game 7.
The Lions would scratch out two runs in the 8th inning and then Alex Graman would shut the door with the 6 out save. The players would toss their manager, Hisanobu Watanabe, into the air in traditional fashion and then they'd do the banzai in front of their massive section of traveling fans. Here is the final out of the series.
For those who want to see the critical 8th inning where the Lions scored two and took the lead in broadcast form, here are the links in Part 1 and Part 2. The following sequence happens as follows:
-Kataoka is hit by a pitch and steals second
-Takumi Kuriyama sacrifices Kataoka to 3B.
-Kataoka scores on a ground out by Nakajima to tie the game
-Okawari-kun walks on four pitches
-Kosuke Noda walks in six pitches and on a full count
-On full count with Okawari-kun running, Hiroshi Hirao singles up the middle (with a bat flip!) and the Lions take the lead. Hirao would also have a bases clearing double and solo HR in Game 6 where Kishi went 5.2 innings in relief.
Bocachica would play one more year with the Lions, but his numbers would see a sharp decline and that would spell the end of his time in Saitama. Bocachica would often be rumored to many different NPB teams, but instead, as a 34 year old, Bocachica would end up playing in Independent ball for the Bridgeport Bluefish. For the remainder of his career, he'd have stints with several Mexican League teams, before retiring after 2011 at the age of 35.
This concludes our series, I hope you all enjoyed it, hopefully it won't be too long before we have a new member of this list.
For more information on Hiram Bocachica. Here's a link to our friend's website, where Deanna Rubin interviewed him in 2008. This was his Oendan song in 2009.
Other players in the series:
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