Saturday, December 30, 2017

Seibu Lions want to Catch the Flag in 2018

Hatsuhiko Tsuji revealed the Saitama Seibu Lions new slogan as "Catch The Flag" to end the 2017 calendar year. This motto is very similar to "Catch The All" from 2017.

In addition to Catch The Flag the bottom line in gold says "栄光をつかみ獲れ / Eiko o Tsukami tore" which would refer to "Grab the glory" in English. Tsuji also wrote the word "攻める / Semeru" on the poster as he's seen pointing to it in the above photo, which means "to attack".
This is not a new slogan for the Lions, as Catch The Flag was their theme last August in the midst of a 13-game winning streak. It was an update to Catch The All.

As last year's "Catch The All" can easily be interpreted as improving the team's defense, there were many other ways to "Catch" things and grabbing opportunities for young players. This motto has no dispute, as the Lions want to catch the pennant for the first time since 2008.

In their history, the Lions have won the pennant the last three times the calendar ended with an 8. In 1988, they won the pennant on the final day of the regular season where they beat out the Kintetsu Buffaloes in a close race. It was decided by the Buffaloes needing to win two games in a double header against the last place Lotte Orions. They won the first, but a tie in the second game gave the Lions their fourth straight pennant as they won  by 0.5 games.  The Lions would go on and win the Japan Series where Tsutomu Ito ended it all on a sayonara hit.

In 1998, the Lions won the pennant, but lost to the Yokohama Baystars in the Japan Series. Their last pennant came in 2008, where the Lions, under a new manager Nabe-Q, ended up taking the team to a Japan Series title behind a great performance from Takayuki Kishi in a Game 6. A comeback in the 8th inning against the Yomiuri Giants gave the Lions their 13th Japan Series title.

Prior to Seibu history, the Nishitetsu Lions also won the pennant in 1958. One of the most dramatic Japan Series titles came as Kazuhisa Inao pitched all four games where the Lions came back from a 3-0 deficit. Inao himself hit a walkoff home run in one of the games and was the winning pitcher for all four of the Lions wins. (The Nishitetsu Lions finished 5th in 1968 and the Crown Lighter Lions finished 5th in 1978).

With this motto, the Lions are putting pressure on themselves to win a pennant or bust. Last year, they struggled in Fukuoka against the Softbank Hawks where they had a 1-12 record when seeing them at the Yafuoku! Dome. The 2017 season marked the first time the Lions were in A-class in four years.They finished in second place which was propelled by a strong second half, including the aforementioned 13-game win streak.

Tsuji and the Lions hope to recapture glory, as they are the most successful Pacific League franchise in NPB history.

We here at Graveyard Baseball hope to continue giving you the exclusive coverage of all things Seibu Lions in English in 2018. There are plenty of goals going forward and we hope there can be continuous progress with the team and with our content as we remain active on social media.


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Thursday, December 28, 2017

Four years later: Progress report on the 2013 Lions draft class

The 2013 NPB Draft was the beginning of a new regime for the Saitama Seibu Lions. Hisanobu "Nabe-Q" Watanabe stepped away as a manager and Haruki Ihara came in. Nabe-Q moved to the front office as a senior director/adviser.

Here's what the Lions took from this class, which is still in progress. Like the 2012 class and any recent group, the grades are not written in stone and can still be evaluated as time goes on.

First round: C Tomoya Mori (Osaka Toin HS, Osaka)

Mori was viewed as an undersized catcher with a powerful bat. The battery mate of Shintaro Fujinami, Mori was a Koshien champion in 2012 during his junior year, but teams still passed on him due to character concerns and size. The Lions didn't care and took him during the first reveal.

Early on, Mori hit several home runs in 2014, his first eligible season and was the DH for most of 2015. His bat has been good and is still growing. Norio Tanabe used him in right field on occasion and has been a part time catcher with the hope he can be a starter in the future. He's capable of hitting extra base hits and can mash despite his short stature. Mori's 2017 season was shortened due to a preseason injury.  Grade: B

Hindsight: The Carp won a three-way drawing for P Daichi Osera. Yuki Matsui was taken by the Eagles after a five-way drawing. The Marines took Ayumu Ishikawa when winning a coin flip drawing for his rights. P Kazumasa Yoshida was taken by Orix and he has been a decent middle reliever. C Seiji Kobayashi was drafted by the Giants as a fallback option. P Yuta Iwasada was taken by the Hanshin Tigers.  


Second round: IF Hotaka Yamakawa (Fuji University, Iwate)

Yamakawa saw a handful of ichi-gun games in his first two years, but played more in 2016 where he initially made the opening day roster. After being sent down to ni-gun two weeks removed from Opening Day, Yamakawa hit more than 20 HRs on the farm and was called up to spark a second half where he had 14 HRs at the ichi-gun level.

A similar season happened in 2017, where he was farmed in April, but called up for the second half and won two monthly MVP awards for August and September. His most recent slashline was .298/.420/.661 in 78 ichi-gun games while hitting 23 home runs. Yamakawa has been good in the second half, but can he do it for a full season? That's the question. Grade: B+ 

Hindsight: Yuito Mori was taken by the Softbank Hawks. Katsuki Matayoshi was drafted by the Dragons. 


Third round: P Takuya Toyoda (TDK, Akita) 

The Lions took a shakaijin with the third round pick and Toyoda initially took some medium leverage innings in 2014, where he appeared in 34 games with a 4.54 ERA on a bad team. He only played in three games for 2015 and saw mop up duty in 2016. With Toyoda failing to play at the ichi-gun level in 2017, his time is running out. It doesn't look like he'll amount to much as he turns 31 next year. However, he is under contract for 2018. Grade: D-

Hindsight: IF Kosuke Tanaka was taken by the Carp. OF Hiromi Oka was drafted by the Fighters. P Kazuto Taguchi was drafted by the Giants. P Ryo Akiyoshi was drafted by the Swallows. 


Fourth round: IF Kazuki Kaneko (Nichidai Fujisawa HS, Kanagawa)

Kaneko has yet to play an ichi-gun game and had a slashline of .205/.257/.252 in ni-gun for 2017. He will be 23 next season, but with the recent rise of Sosuke Genda and the team favoring Nien Ting Wu, is there any chance for Kaneko to do anything? Grade: F

Hindsight: P Hirotoshi Takanashi was taken by the Fighters. OF Seiji Uebayashi was drafted by the Hawks. C Ryutaro Umeno was taken by the Tigers.  


Fifth round: P Takayuki Yamaguchi (Toyota East, Iwate)

Shakaijin Yamaguchi played for two industrial league teams prior to being drafted. He failed to play a single ichi-gun game for his career and was cut after the 2016 season, finishing his third year with the team. His final ni-gun season had him play nine games, pitching a combined seven innings with a 15.43 ERA.  Grade: F

Hindsight: P Yuta Nakamura was taken by the Carp. 


Sixth round: C Masatoshi Okada (Osaka Gas, Osaka) 

Okada is remembered for being the battery teammate of Sho Nakata while at Osaka Toin, as Nakata himself was a pitcher besides a slugger. Drafted as a shakaijin, the Lions were able to play Okada immediately as a backup catcher.

His bat isn't flashy, but he serves his purpose as a decent backup when Ginjiro Sumitani needs a rest. Defense is adequate, but can't be an everyday starter. He can also come in as a pinch hitter to lay down a bunt. Grade: B

Hindsight: Akihiro Hakumura was drafted by the Fighters. Kota Futaki was drafted by the Marines and is a rotation starter. P Suguru Iwazaki was taken by the Tigers and has been a mainstay at the ichi-gun level where he recently became a middle reliever. 


Seventh round: P Kentaro Fukukura (Daichi Kogyo University, Kagoshima) 

Fukukura had a productive 2015 season in ni-gun, but only saw one ichi-gun game that year as his reward. In 2017, he saw a handful of ichi-gun games as the Lions mop up pitcher. Not bad value for a 7th round pick. Grade: C+ 

Hindsight: P Shuta Ishikawa was taken by the Hawks as an ikusei pick. 



Assuming that Mori, Yamakawa and Okada stay at the ichi-gun, this class is a success. Both Mori and Yamakawa are still growing, but it's still too early to determine what they are. Yamakawa needs to show he can be a starting 1B for an entire season to say he's great. Grade: B

Hindsight: Talent all over the board in this class, but it appears the Carp and Giants look to be the biggest winners in terms of having the best players. The Softbank Hawks quietly found good value in the later rounds. 


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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Five years later: Grading the Lions 2012 draft class

The 2012 NPB Draft had several talented pitchers available, including one that had the intention of going straight to MLB. Here's how the Lions approached it:

First round: P Tatsushi Masuda (NTT West, Osaka) 

The Lions were one of three teams who attempted to go for P Nao Higashihama and lost to the Softbank Hawks. Masuda became the plan B which required another drawing head to head against the Hiroshima Carp, which Nabe-Q would win.

Despite being 24, Masuda was projected as an early pick among the shakaijin available and has been a back end reliever for the Lions. He was a setup man from 2013-2015 and he proved to be reliable. Masuda became the closer in 2016 and it has worked out well. He rarely walks batters and limits home runs, though he allowed a career high of seven in 2017.  Grade: A

Hindsight: Higashihama has been a front end starter for the Hawks after battling injuries. He's become a later bloomer. Shintaro Fujinami was taken by the Hanshin Tigers in a four-team draw. He has shown plenty of promise initially, but taken steps backwards with a lack of control from 2016-2017. 

Shohei Otani was taken unopposed by the Fighters, but all other teams were scared he would not sign with a team that drafted him as he had MLB intentions at the time. P Takahiro Matsunaga was taken by the Marines as a fallback option. After not signing with the Fighters a year before, Tomoyuki Sugano was drafted by the Giants where he spent a year as a grad student without playing. 


Second round: P Makoto Aiuchi (Chiba Kokusai HS, Chiba)

Aiuchi has an interesting backstory of being an orphan and it's unclear what his true ethnicity is. His tenure started ugly when he was caught speeding and driving without a proper license in the December after he was taken, but the Lions still chose to give him a chance. His early troubles are why he wasn't even pictured in the above photo.

He has experience of going to the Melbourne Aces in the winter and has mostly seen time in ni-gun. However, he has failed at the ichi-gun level when being a spot starter and has usually been lit up.

Unfortunately, Aiuchi has also served a suspension in 2014 for being caught smoking and drinking underage at 19 while wearing the team uniform. His training was separate from other ni-gun players as a result. With other pitchers on the roster, he has a major uphill battle. Aiuchi is only 23, but time could be running out and it's possibly better if the Lions make him a reliever. Grade: D-

Hindsight: OF Seiya Suzuki was drafted by the Carp. P Takahiro Norimoto was taken by the Eagles. IF Fumiya Hojo was drafted by the Tigers and despite having an injured 2017, he could be a promising starter for them in the future. P Yasuhiro "Ryan" Ogawa was drafted by the Swallows


Third round: IF Yuji Kaneko (Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto)

Kaneko was taken as an infielder and was mostly platooned from 2013-2015. A switch hitter, Kaneko's speed and slick fielding looked promising for him to be the team's shortstop. However, his defense regressed in 2016 with several throwing errors and Norio Tanabe planted him in right field instead, where his defense doesn't need to be worried about. He was tied for the Pacific League stolen base king in 2016 with 53 and can be a decent slap hitter.

Kaneko began the 2017 injured with shin splits, but Hatsuhiko Tsuji put him in right field once he was healthy and his slap hitting was useful again. In a shortened season, he still had 25 stolen bases and ended the year starting in left field. Grade: B+

Hindsight: C Tatsuhiro Tamura was drafted by the Marines in this round. P Shoichi Ino was taken by the Baystars. 


Fourth round: P Tomomi Takahashi (Seino Unyu, Gifu)

Takahashi looked to be a steal of the draft when he had a dominant 2014 season as the closer while Masuda was the setup man. After having a strong first half to 2015, he regressed and the Lions were stuck with trying to figure out their closer situation since he struggled.

Takahashi underwent Tommy John surgery in 2016 and missed most of the year as well as majority of the 2017 season. The Lions are hoping he can regain his form in 2018 and be a possible setup man. With the dominant 1.5 seasons, there was good value for a fourth round pick, but recent issues have dropped this grade a tad. Grade: B- 

Hindsight: OF Shohei Kato was taken by the Marines. 


Fifth round: P Isamu Sato (Konan HS, Fukushima) 

Sato had a promising 2016 in ni-gun which earned a promotion to the ichi-gun in that year. With multiple starts and other soft appearances out of the bullpen, he went 1-3 with a 5.76 ERA in 25 innings of work.

Unfortunately, Sato was involved in a auto accident in the middle of 2016 and served a team suspension. Things got worse as Sato had a poor 2017 in ni-gun and fell out of favor in comparison to others in the farm system. He was cut by the Lions after 2017 and retired from baseball altogether. Grade: D-

Hindsight: P Kazuyuki Kaneda was taken by the Hanshin Tigers in this round. The Orix Buffaloes selected him as the compensation choice for losing Yoshio Itoi in free agency and Kaneda has been a soft medium leverage reliever.  IF Toshiro Miyazaki was taken by the Baystars in the 6th round and won a Central League batting title in 2017. P Shunta Wakamatsu was a 7th round pick by the Dragons and has been a one-year wonder for a solid 2015 season. 


Ikusei: IF Daichi Mizuguchi (Kagawa Olive Guyners, Kagawa)

The Lions took their second ever ikusei pick in franchise history in Mizuguchi out of the Shikoku Island Independent League. An undersized infielder, Mizuguchi worked his way to a promotion up to the 70-man roster in the middle of the 2015 season for his hitting production in ni-gun.

In 2016, Mizuguchi became the first ikusei to play an ichi-gun game in franchise history and appeared in 20 games. He saw most of the 2017 season at the ichi-gun as a pinch runner and defensive replacement, where he hit .280/.294/.340. Not bad value for an ikusei pick. Grade: B

Hindisght: P Yuya Iida was taken by the Softbank Hawks and he serves as a middle reliever. 



This class was going to look like a home run even with five players and one ikusei had Takahashi continued to be a back end reliever. Instead, it's just a good class with Masuda and Kaneko both being ichi-gun players and Mizuguchi finding his way up. If Takahashi can regain his form from 2014, then it's a slam dunk. The jury is still out on Aiuchi, but things are not looking as good as they once were. Grade: B

Hindsight: The rest of the league found talent with Norimoto, Ogawa, Otani, Higashihama, Fujinami and more. There were better quality players drafted by others, but not many had the quantity the Lions in 2012.  


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Friday, December 22, 2017

Six years later: Grading the Lions 2011 draft class

The 2011 NPB Draft had a hyped up college pitcher named Takahiro Fujioka and everyone wondered where he would go. What did the Lions do with this class? Here's what we can say with grading them:

First round: P Ken Togame (JR East, Tokyo) 

The Lions went outside the box and took what was viewed as a fall-back first round pick in Togame. Some thought he could be a sleeper among the field and he could help the Lions rotation immediately as a shakaijin.

Since being with the ichi-gun, Togame has been inconsistent where he has a good season in an odd numbered year, while regressing in an even numbered year. In 2017. he showed he belonged in the rotation going 8-7 with a 3.40 ERA and recording 116.1 innings pitched. Togame started 2017 in ni-gun and was initially called up as a sixth starter.

Togame hasn't had two consistent years, but when he's on, he's shown to be a front end starter as he can be a decent No. 3 and borderline No. 2.  Grade: B-

Hindsight: The Marines ended up with Fujioka and he hasn't been an ace. Shota Takeda was taken by the Softbank Hawks unopposed as was Yusuke Nomura by the Hiroshima Carp. SS Ryoichi Adachi is a solid fielder for Orix and was a fall back first round pick. Tomoyuki Sugano was about to be taken by the Giants, but the Fighters ended up winning his rights in a tossup. Like Chono before him, Sugano refused to sign with the Fighters. 


Second round: P Hirotaka Koishi (NTT East, Tokyo) 

The Lions went with another shakaijin who had a unique release among left handed pitchers. Koishi has failed to make an impact at the ichi-gun level and is mostly a situational reliever to get a ground ball. He would also eat up low leverage innings in 2016 when the team was trailing. In his best season of 2016, he had a 3.74 ERA in 74.2 innings of work.  Grade: D

Hindsight: Go Matsumoto was taken by the Fighters. Ryosuke Kikuchi was drafted by the Carp in this round (but likely before the Lions were there). 


Third round: OF Hitoto Komazuki (Tonan HS, Kyoto)

Komazuki has yet to play an ichi-gun game for the Lions and has since been converted to being a farm catcher after the 2016 season. He became part of the Melbourne Aces in that winter to get work at catcher in practice. At this point, he is just depth at a position where the Lions are already settled at. Grade: D- 

Hindsight: IF Daichi Suzuki was taken by the Marines in this round.P Takaya Toda was drafted by the Carp. P Shinji Tajima was drafted by the Dragons and has been a back end reliever for them. 


Fourth round: IF Kyohei Nagae (Kaisei HS, Nagasaki)

Nagae has been a solid defensive replacement for the late innings. An argument can be made that he's the best defensive infielder the Lions have and they can plant him at 3B or SS without trouble. Nagae lacks a bat as he usually hits below .200, but he has his role on the team for his defense. Interestingly enough, his playing time has been reduced to 25 ichi-gun games in 2017 under Hatsuhiko Tsuji. Grade: B

Hindsight: OF Takero Okajima was drafted by the Eagles in this round. P Naoya Masuda was drafted by the Marines. OF Masayuki Kuwahara was taken by the Baystars. C/OF Kensuke Kondo was drafted by the Fighters. 


Fifth round: OF Shotaro Tashiro (Hachinohe University, Aomori) 

Tashiro only saw snippets of time as filler at the ichi-gun when a pitcher would be deactivated due to an extended break ahead. He served as an extra pinch runner and defensive replacement with solid range. Tsuji liked his defense and made Tashiro an opening day starter in 2017, but his lack of bat benched him quickly after a few weeks and he was prone to base running blunders. The Lions cut him after the 2017 NPB Draft, well after the initial senryokugai list came. He was recently signed by the Yakult Swallows. Grade: F+ 

Hindsight: OF Tomo Otosaka was drafted by the Baystars. P Shinya Kayama was drafted by the Hawks and serves as a lefty specialist out of their bullpen. 


Ikusei: C Komei Fujisawa (Matsumoto University, Nagano)

Fujisawa was the first ikusei draft pick in franchise history in a program that only started in 2005. The Lions promoted Fujisawa to the 70-man roster in the middle of the 2013 season and has been a farm catcher ever since. He has not played a single ichi-gun game, but he splits time for ni-gun and could serve as a guy to develop the young pitchers in the farm. Fujisawa also spent two offseasons in Melbourne with the Aces. Any ikusei earning promotion cannot be a failed grade by default. Grade: C+

Hindsight: None



This class is mediocre as a whole. While Togame hasn't been bad, he also isn't consistently good. The Lions overall found a starting pitcher, defensive replacement, pinch runner, farm catcher and a reliever who can do mop up duties. There are contributions, but not enough impact for the long run. If Komazuki does anything at the ichi-gun level, this grade would be a plus, but it's doubtful given the Lions situation at catcher. Grade: C

Hindsight: This draft was a win for the Carp, Baystars, Fighters and Hawks in particular where the Lions are right in the middle. The Carp found a starting pitcher and second baseman while the Hawks have a front end starter and relief help. 


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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Seven years later: Grading the Seibu Lions 2010 draft class

The 2010 NPB Draft class had a 1A and 1B pitching duo from Waseda University. Tatsuya Oishi was hyped up as the best player, but Yuki Saito had history on his side which came from his high school days. How did the Lions end up in this class filled with two main pitchers?


First round: P Tatsuya Oishi (Waseda University, Tokyo) 

The Lions entered a six-way drawing for the second year in a row and Hisanobu "Nabe-Q" Watanabe pulled the winning ticket again. This time he was the last to draw from the box and earned the nickname "hand of god" for wining Kikuchi and Oishi in back to back years.

Oishi's career has mostly been a failure, where he battled injuries and didn't even make his ichi-gun debut until 2012. As a reliever, he struggled from 2012-2013 and didn't even see time in 2014. After dealing with injury in 2015, Oishi started to earn meaningful innings in 2016 and had his best year to date as a middle reliever. In 31.2 innings, he had 36 strikeouts with a 1.71 ERA. However, plenty of his outings came in with inherited runners.

His 2017 season was on pace to continue a redemption path, but a neck injury slowed him down and he only saw 20 games and 19.1 innings of work with a 0.93 ERA. His slider has been strong since 2016 and when the late Shinji Mori was promoted to the ichi-gun as a coach, Oishi made significant improvements.

Injury has held him back, but he will never be the ace he was thought to be out of college. Grade: D+

Hindsight: The Dragons took Yudai Ono and Giants selected Hirokazu Sawamura unopposed after four teams went for Yuki Saito. Yuya Fukui, the third Waseda pitcher selected in the first round, was taken by the Carp and has been a back end starter. Tetsuto Yamada was the third choice selection by the Yakult Swallows after losing their second choice drawing for Takahiro Shiomi. Shunta Goto was the third choice by the Orix Buffaloes after losing the second choice drawing for Shota Ishimine.  


Second round: P Kazuhisa Makita (Nihon Express, Saitama)

The Lions took a shakaijin submarine pitcher who was about to be 26 after the draft and this worked to perfection. Makita was Pacific League rookie of the year in 2011 as a closer and he became a starter from 2012-2015. The MetLife Dome mound was built for Makita with a soft dirt at one point.

Makita became a fireman middle reliever capable of eating multiple innings in 2016 and remained effective as a setup man in 2017. He was posted by the Lions after the 2017 season after being productive for seven years. Grade: A- 

Hindsight: Yuki Yanagita was taken by the Hawks in this round, two spots after Makita. Ryosuke Miyaguni was drafted by the Giants, Minabu Mima was drafted by the Eagles. 


Third round: OF Shogo Akiyama (Hachinohe University, Aomori) 

Akiyama was a cleanup hitter in college and, like Makita, played immediately in his rookie year. After hitting .297/.343/.404 in 2012, it appeared Akiyama would be a dominant outfielder for many years to come. He had a down time from 2013-2014, but his 2015 year was a breakout season where he broke Matt Murton's single-season hits record with 216. In 2017, an argument can be made his best season yet came, where he hit .322/.398/.536 with a career high 25 home runs.

The Lions found a leadoff hitter who has decent range and an above average arm while also setting a record in the process. Grade: A+ 

Hindsight: Masahiro Nakatani was taken by the Tigers. Still. don't think the Lions regret taking Akiyama here.  


Fourth round: P Kyohei Maegawa (Hannadai HS, Osaka)

A tall lanky Maegawa was rehabbing from an elbow injury and registered four ichi-gun games in 2011, where he had a 5.40 ERA in 3.1 innings pitched. He failed to play in any game for 2012 and was cut after the season. The Lions kept Maegawa as an ikusei from 2013-2015, but he could only record a handful of ni-gun games from 2014-2015 out of the bullpen. He was cut for good after the 2015 season.
Grade: F

Hindsight: None. 


Fifth round: IF Ryo Hayashizaki (Toyo University, Tokyo) 

Hayashizaki played a combined 55 games at the ichi-gun level and had a slashline of .203/263/.230. He only saw 17 games in 2014, where he hit .263 in a small sample size. The Lions cut Hayashizaki after the 2015 season. Grade: F

Hindsight: OF Yuya Taniguchi was drafted by the Fighters in this round. 


Sixth round: OF Masato Kumashiro (Oji Seimei, Aichi) 

Kumashiro has the distinction of playing for two industrial league teams as a shakaijin. Kumashiro received notable playing time initially as a quick fix, where his best season was in 2012 hitting .270/.298/.287. However, his playing time continued to diminish and has been a 5th outfielder at best since. He failed to play in a single ichi-gun game in 2017.  Grade: C-

Hindsight: Shota Nakazaki was taken by the Carp in this round and has been a closer/reliever. P Kodai Senga and C Takuya Kai were ikusei draft picks by the Hawks.  



The Lions found relief pitching as well as a leadoff hitter in this class. With only two players amounting to nothing, this group ended up being a win for the team. Akiyama is one of the best leadoff hitters currently in NPB while Makita is a unique middle reliever as the league lacks submariners. The Softbank Hawks won this class as a whole, but the Lions found good value despite Oishi being a bust. Grade: A- 


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Sunday, December 17, 2017

Report: Lions select Takagi as compensation for Nogami

Takagi (left) is the newest Seibu Lions player
The Saitama Seibu Lions loss of Ryoma Nogami in free agency meant the team had to make a decision on compensation. It was either take ¥30 million or go with ¥20 million and an unprotected player on the Yomiuri Giants roster.

To complete the transaction, the Kyojin announced that the Lions took P Hayato Takagi as their compensation selection on Monday afternoon.

Takagi, 28, was a third round shakaijin draft pick by the Giants in 2014. In his rookie year of 2015, he went 9-10 with a 3.19 ERA and threw 163.2 innings as a starter. He regressed in his sophomore season, going 5-9 with a 4.31 ERA.

Last year, his season was cut short to 16 games as Takagi injured himself early in the year, where the ball hit his hand while attempting a sacrifice bunt. He registered 27.1 innings with a 2.63 as he threw out of the bullpen when returning from his injury. When contract negotiations took place, Takagi's agreement is slated to net him ¥37 million for the 2018 season.

"Takagi was the best player available and if he can win around 10 games, he can fill the hole left by Nogami," Seibu Lions General Manager Haruhiko Suzuki said. "Hatsuhiko Tsuji asked for Takagi from the very beginning and I agreed with him."
Right handed opposing hitters have hit only .158 against Takagi while lefties hit .282 against him. Takagi specializes in a fork ball and his fastball can hit a max velocity of 153 kph (95 mph). He can also throw a slider, curve and a changeup.

This is the first time the Lions have taken a player in compensation after losing someone in free agency since the end of 2013, where Hideaki Wakui and Yasuyuki Kataoka went to the Chiba Lotte Marines and Giants, respectively. The Lions took Taiki Nakago from Chiba while they selected Ryota Wakiya when losing Kataoka.

Given his age and experience in the league, Takagi is two years younger than Nogami (30) and has more than four years of  control with less than three years of ichi-gun service time. The 2017 season might've been Nogami's peak year and given the way his track record is, he is a No. 3 pitcher at best who can eat innings.

Personally, I thought the Giants were going to protect Takagi even when seeing one writer's list. This is a best-case scenario that I didn't think would happen as Takagi was exposed for the taking. The Lions can easily slow Takagi anywhere from the rotation or bullpen if needed.


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Eight years later: Grading the Seibu Lions 2009 draft class

The Seibu Lions rebranded their uniforms when 2009 began, ending the an era where the team hoped to move on from the controversial Yoshiaki Tsutsumi. Their Kimba logo still existed, but not to the level it used to. One phenom was highly touted and how did the Lions do for this class?

First round: P Yusei Kikuchi (Hanamaki Higashi HS, Iwate)

Kikuchi nearly signed with an MLB team out of high school and had just as much hype as Shohei Otani did. However, he elected to be drafted and not sign despite Derek Holland trying to recruit him. Hisanobu "Nabe-Q" Watanabe had the first draw of the ticket in a six-team bid for Kikuchi's rights and had the winning card.

Despite taking the well-known lefty, Kikuchi struggled with injuries and couldn't put it together for some time. In 2013, he showed that promise until he played through an injury and didn't tell anyone about it. The 2015 season started in ni-gun and it all looked lost, but Kikuchi showed promise in 2016 despite going down with an injury again. For 2017, he put in a season as the team's ace, finally living up to the billing that he was expected to have out of high school and was a candidate for the Sawamura Award. The weight of the world was finally off his shoulders. Grade: A

Hindsight: Several notable players were taken out of high school in the opening reveal. The Baystars took Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, the Hawks took Kenta Imamiya while the Carp selected Takeru Imamura. Imamiya and Tsutsugo have had longer impact for hteir respective teams than Kikuchi. Hisayoshi Chono was also taken by the Giants, though he was bent on only playing for the Kyojin and no one else. 


Second round: IF Satoru Misawa (Daiichi Kogyo University, Kagoshima) 

Misawa saw only six ichi-gun games for his career which came in 2013 and 2014 combined. He had one career base hit in 12 at bats. At age 26, he was cut by the team after the 2014 season.  Grade: F

Hindsight: Tomohisa Otani of the Chiba Lotte Marines was taken in this round. He has been a decent middle reliever. 


Third round: P Toshihiro Iwao (Beppu University, Oita) 

Iwao couldn't crack the ichi-gun until 2013 despite appearing twice in 2010. Even then, Iwao couldn't stay up long enough as he lacked control and location out of the bullpen. Iwao was decent in mop up duty for 2014 to buy another year and he received more medium leverage in 2015, but was a hit or miss with strikeouts, walks or gappers. Iwao was cut after the 2017 season and currently serves as a batting practice pitcher. Grade: D

Hindsight: Not much value in this round, though Shota Omine of the Marines received a lot of playing time in 2017. 


Fourth round: OF Mitsugu Ishikawa (Toho HS, Aichi)

Ishikawa played only 26 games at the ichi-gun level from 2012-2014. He had a notable RBI in 2013 against the Orix Buffaloes, but hit a combined .119/.178/.119 in three years. Ishikawa was cut after the 2015 season.  Grade: F

Hindsight: OF Ikuhiro Kiyota was drafted in this round by the Marines. The Hanshin Tigers ended up taking P Takumi Akiyama, who is the best player of this round as he has served as a solid starter.. 


Fifth round: P Kenta Matsushita (Waseda University, Tokyo)

Kenta Matsushita only made it to the ichi-gun in 2013 for nine games. He went 0-1 with a 3.48 ERA in 10.1 innings of work and recorded a save. He was cut by the team after the 2015 season, but remains with the Lions today. Better known as "MatsuKen", he serves as an equipment manager. Grade: F

Hindsight: OF Yohei Oshima and P Hirotoshi Masui were taken by the Dragons and Fighters, respectively in this round. "Shunsuke" Fujikawa was also taken by the Hanshin Tigers and has been a late bloomer. 


Sixth round: P Yosuke Okamoto (Yamaha, Shizuoka)

Okamoto was the only Shakaijin of the class and has the second most amount of ichi-gun experience in this class. In 2013, Okamoto became a soft starter and reliever where he even threw a shutout in the postseason of that year. As a spot starter and a guy who can eat innings, the Lions found value in the 6th round in comparison to everyone else.

For 2017, he became the team's 6th starter and would average 5-6 innings allowing at most four runs, which was enough for the Lions offense. He was nearly done after a poor showing in 2016, but Okamoto has had a longer career in NPB than four of the five others in this draft class. Something has to be said for this. Grade: C+

Hindsight: Fumihito Haraguchi was drafted by the Tigers in this round, but he was also demoted to ikusei until his promotion in 2016. Okamoto has been the best player of this round as a whole. 



This class lacks depth and only two pitchers ended up being relevant. A spot starter and what is now an ace. You're not supposed to hit on all draft picks, but with four players combining for a handful of games, it leaves a lot to be desired. With Kikuchi becoming an ace as a "late bloomer", it's a decent enough salvage from this class being a complete failure.

Prior to 2017. Kikuchi would've been a disappointment to only be a No. 2 or No. 3 pitchers when expected to be an ace. However, as long as he gets there no matter the age, that's what matters. It's a positive class despite a few teams finding gems in the later rounds. Grade: B- 

Hindsight: Comparing to the rest of the league, only Chiba found multiple contributors while other teams found one decent or great player at most. Having Kikuchi evens it all out. 


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Friday, December 15, 2017

Nine years later: Grading the Seibu Lions 2008 NPB draft

The Saitama Seibu Lions were coming off a Japan Series in 2008 and the team entered the draft looking to build towards the future. As part of our offseason draft series, we'll take a look at each draft class starting with 2008, which was the first time the Lions were granted a full draft without penalty.

Any draft class takes years to evaluate down the road, but for this group, it's fair to give a letter grade and write it in stone. We'll also add some hindsight notes that might've been interesting.

First Round: P Yuta Nakazaki (Nichinan Gakuen HS, Miyazaki)

Nakazaki was drafted unopposed and had a very unusual side arm release for a left handed pitcher. Despite being a first round pick, he didn't make his ichi-gun debut until 2013, where he gave up a home run to his first career batter faced, which was Yuya Hasegawa of the Softbank Hawks. Two months later, he gave up seven runs in three innings of relief for a single game.

In seven ichi-gun games played in 2013, he had a 9.31 ERA in 9.2 innings of work. He played more games in a single season for the Melbourne Aces in 2012 (9) than any season with the Lions ichi-gun. In 2016, Nakazaki appeared in eight ichi-gun games while in low leverage, recording six innings and a 6.00 ERA. At one point, his ERA was infinity when he didn't record an out to begin the year. The Lions cut him after the 2016 season.

There are likely several first round busts in Seibu Lions history, but Nakazaki has to be near the top. By playing in only 16 ichi-gun games in a span of eight years, it's hard to beat this distinction when there were no signs of injury. Grade: F

Hindsight: The first round picks of this draft have not done much. Giants OF Taishi Ota was traded to the Fighters last offseason and found a role there. Fighters catcher Shota Ono was a regular starter and had good defense, but has lost his favor with the current team through 2017.


Second round: P Ryoma Nogami (Nissan Motors, Kanagawa)

The Lions went with a shakaijin in the second round and found a rotation starter who stayed there from 2012-2017. He initially began his ichi-gun career as a reliever, but the Lions were able to use him in order to eat up innings. His best season came in 2013 where he went 11-7 with a 3.95 ERA.

Last year, he went 11-10 with two complete games and earned his first career shutout with a 3.63 ERA. Nogami reached domestic free agency status at the end of 2017 and eventually signed with the Yomiuri Giants.

Despite spending time in the bullpen on occasion, the Lions found a guy who stayed in the rotation and was a decent No. 3, let alone reaching free agency. Grade: B

Hindsight: Ren Nakata has been a decent middle reliever for the Hiroshima Carp, but Nogami has logged better innings. Another fun note is OF Hisayoshi Chono was drafted in this round by the Chiba Lotte Marines and refused to sign with them because he wasn't taken by the Giants. It was the second time he didn't sign with the team who drafted him.


Third round: IF Hideto Asamura (Osaka Toin HS, Osaka)

Asamura was a star out of Osaka Toin coming off a 2008 Summer Koshien championship and helped win the title game in a 17-0 rout. He made his ichi-gun debut in 2010 and began earning frequent playing in 2011. In his early postseason career, he had a clutch hit in the 2011 Climax Series against the Fighters which tied the game, where the Lions eventually won.

His breakout year was in 2013, where he had a career high 27 HR and 110 RBI while hitting a slashline of .317/.388/.514. After having two seasons of only a good half and playing several positions in 2014, he put it together in 2016 at 2B and was named the team's captain starting in 2017. He already has 1,000 hits.

As the team's captain and a Core-4 player on the Lions, this was a best case scenario pick.
Grade: A+

Hindsight: Yuki Nishi was taken in this round by the Orix Buffaloes. Hiroki Uemoto has been a starting infielder for the Hanshin Tigers, but Asamura is younger and more talented. Nishi is arguably the best player from the first three rounds tied with Asamura. Yuhei Nakamura, a starting catcher, was also taken in this round by the Yakult Swallows.


Fourth round: OF Ryo Sakata (Hakodate University, Hokkaido)

Sakata has struggled to find time at the ichi-gun level, where either his performance or an injury has hampered him. Things were looking promising in 2013, but then he dislocated his shoulder and it kept him off the field for the rest of the year and it was re-aggravated in 2014.

He can be a decent slap hitter on occasion and he won the starting RF job in 2016 at the beginning, but his performance faded and the outfield was a revolving door. In 2017, he spent most of the year in ni-gun while tearing it up, but the presence of Shuta Tonosaki and Yuji Kaneko passed Sakata on the depth chart.

Sakata can be a decent pinch hitter and spell outfielder for a short span, but can't be an everyday starter. If anything, he can still contribute to the ichi-gun.  Grade: C

Hindsight: There haven't been many contributors in this round. Though there were a few in the 5th round that the Lions might've passed on. 


Fifth round: C Tatsuya Takeno (Fukuoka University, Fukuoka)

Takeno was blocked by Ginjiro Sumitani and Tatsuyuki Uemoto from getting everyday ichi-gun playing time. He spent majority of his career in ni-gun and only played in two games each in 2010 and 2012. Takeno was cut by the team after the 2013 season.

Not much can be said when he might've been an insurance draft pick, but he couldn't find room at the ichi-gun level. Grade: F

Hindsight: Speedster Takuya Nakashima was drafted by the Fighters in this round. Tadashi Settsu, remembered as a 2012 Sawamura Award winner for the Hawks, was also taken in the 5th. Arguably the biggest one year wonder, but Settsu did some damage in the earlier parts of his career and stayed in the rotation.


Sixth round: P Kazuki Miyata (Koga Kenko Iryo SG, Shiga)

Miyata was drafted out of a medical school and the Lions thought they could take a flyer on a potential lefty specialist. He saw minimal playing time and was with the Melbourne Aces in 2014. At the ichi-gun in 2014, Miyata saw mop up duty and did well enough to have a 1.84 ERA in 14.2 innings of work.

In 2015, Miyata saw more low leverage and even medium leverage innings with the ichi-gun. Due to a crazy comeback and a bounce that went his way, Miyata earns his first and only career win against the Hanshin Tigers in relief. In 18 games, he recorded a 5.21 ERA in 19 innings of work. In 2016, he suffered an elbow injury which required surgery and it all but ended his career. The Lions cut him after the season.

This was a low risk decision that didn't pan out, but a mop up pitcher taking innings is what can be expected in this round. Grade: D

Hindsight: P Keisuke Tanimoto was drafted in the seventh round by the Fighters. He was a decent middle reliever until he fell out of favor in 2017, where he was traded to the Chunichi Dragons. P Wataru Karashima was taken in the 6th round and has been a starting pitcher for the Rakuten Eagles.

In the Ikusei round, P Yuji Nishino and OF Yoshifumi Okada were taken by the Marines. Nishino has spent time as a closer and is capable of starting. Okada is a decent depth outfielder who isn't built for every day starting. However, Okada made big contributions in the 2010 Japan Series.



This class might not seem like much with only three players remaining and the first round pick being awful, but looking at the rest of the field, it's a win for the Lions. One player ended up being in the starting rotation and the other now the team's captain. Asamura is the best hitter of the class with no doubt and by taking one of the highest talents, it warrants a high grade. Grade: A-

Hindsight: An argument can be made the Hawks won the short term success with Settsu, but the Marines and Lions still have players today contributing. Chiba got a decent salvage out of the ikusei while the Swallows and Fighters found a catcher, but Asamura and Nishi are the only Core-4 players currently in.


We're hoping to grade or at least take a look at each Lions draft class in the offseason from 2009-2016 in a series. Most of this series will likely carry into 2018. Stay tuned!


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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Report: Seibu Lions add foreign imports Castillo and Wagner

The Saitama Seibu Lions announced on Tuesday afternoon that they added two import pitchers to their roster. They are Fabio Castillo and Neil Wagner.

Castillo, who will be 29 in February, has mostly been a career minor leaguer with stints in the organizations of the San Francisco Giants, Texas Rangers, Cincinnati Reds and San Diego Padres.

Most recently he was with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2017 and was added to the 40-man roster in June to protect him from going to any team overseas when he drew interest. The Lions could have been one of those teams interested in him and may have signed a target they've been wanting for awhile. One week after Castillo's promotion, the Lions signed Stephen Fife as a 6th starter.

When the rosters expanded, Castillo made his MLB debut on September 2 where he retired four consecutive batters. On the following night, he allowed two runs on three hits and couldn't retire a batter, leaving his MLB career with two games played.

In 22 games (16 starts) with the AAA affiliate in Oklahoma City, he went 4-8 with a 4.27 ERA, 85 strikeouts against 31 walks. Castillo spent 2016 with the Hanwha Eagles of KBO. He went 7-4 in 20 games (15 starts) with a 6.64 ERA through 84 IP where he had 60 strikeouts.
"I am very pleased to have a contract with Saitama Seibu Lions," Castillo said in a statement. "I believe this team has the strength to win the Japanese Series championship in the 2018 season. I will see you all at the Met Life Dome."

Castillo is likely to be a back end starter, where the Lions hope to solidify a rotation that has Yusei Kikuchi, Ken Togame, Brian Wolfe and Shinsaburo Tawata. He was assigned No. 47.  

Wagner, who will be 34 at the start of 2018, has not pitched in MLB since 2014. He major league debut was in 2011 with the Oakland Athletics where he appeared in six games. Wagner saw significant playing time in 2013 with the Toronto Blue Jays, but fell out of favor in 2014 and had Tommy John surgery. 

Most recently, Wagner has been in the minor with the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Mets, where he split the 2017 season between both organizations. In a combined season at AAA, Wagner went 2-1 with a 2.48 ERA in 54.1 innings out of the bullpen to go with 52 strikeouts. 

"I'm very excited to be a member of Saitama Seibu Lions," Wagner said in a statement. "Through the 2018 season, I promise to do my best to contribute as much as possible to exciting victories." 

Wagner will likely come out of the bullpen where the Lions hope he can be a setup man. The Lions have several middle relief options including Tomomi Takahashi, Shota Takekuma, Katsunori Hirai and Tatsuya Oishi to provide a bridge to closer Tatsushi Masuda. He was assigned No. 12. 


The Lions made multiple jersey number changes and also assigned numbers for their 2017 draft picks. Here are the numbers and changes: 


Chun-Lin Kuo goes from 12 to 69

Takuya Toyoda goes from 19 to 49

Tadasuke Minamikawa goes from 36 to 59

Daichi Mizuguchi goes from 00 to 0

Shuta Tonosaki goes from 44 to 5

Yuji Kaneko goes from 2 to 8

Fumikazu Kimura goes from 51 to 9

Draft pick numbers:

1st round pick P Hiromasa Saito will wear 19

2nd round pick OF Manaya Nishikawa will wear 51

3rd round pick P Sho Ito will wear 36

4th round pick P Kaima Taira will wear 61

5th round pick P Kaito Yoza will wear 31

6th round pick Ryusei Tsunashima will wear 63

1st ikusei pick Wataru Takagi will wear 121

2nd ikusei pick Masato Saito will wear 122


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Sunday, December 10, 2017

By picking the Angels, Ohtani can write his own story, legacy

In a sweepstakes that went beyond money, one MLB team came out alive in a free for all battle royale. On Friday, Shohei Ohtani picked the Los Angeles Angels as his team.

At first, it wasn't about who Ohtani chose, but who didn't make the first cut. All 30 teams gave a pitch and offer to him, where he considered each of them carefully. The Angels were finalists with the San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers, Seattle Mariners, Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants. 

Ohtani spurned offers from the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox on first glance, which drew quite a commotion. Why would he ignore two of the bigger market teams? It's simple: Expectations.

One thing we here at Graveyard Baseball knew is that money would mean nothing and it was all about the opportunity. We knew the team that would be more open to letting him hit would give him a shot. Ohtani is a smart individual who speaks with intelligence with interviews and thought out his plan.

If he were hitting .200 with the Yankees or Red Sox after three months, the media and fans would be clamoring for his head and saying to end the experiment. With a smaller market team, he can be anonymous and the expectations won't be sky high immediately. Playing the American League made the most sense to us knowing he can DH on the side, which is why we were perplexed that the Cubs, Giants, Dodgers and Padres were even finalists as National League teams.

Ohtani did not want to be in the shadow of another player from Japan. While no player is alike, fans and media will always make irrational comparisons as it is human nature to do so. If he were to go to Seattle, Ichiro Suzuki will be talked about. Going to the Texas Rangers would draw comparisons to his Fighters' predecessor Yu Darvish.

Only three Japanese born players have put on an Angels uniform. They are P Shigetoshi Hasegawa (1997-2001), Hideki Matsui (2010), who was near the end of his player career, and Hisanori Takahashi (2011-2012). Just eliminating the finalist teams based on the designated hitter and NPB alone made the Angels the most logical candidate.

None of us knew exactly what he wanted besides not money, but the Angels have given him something he can't refuse. While Anaheim and Southern California is in a "big market" compared to others, it's in the shadow of the Dodgers and always plays second fiddle.

The LA media will not shine the spotlight on the Angels unless they're winning, which will give an under the radar silent treatment compared to other teams in the area including the Dodgers, Los Angeles Lakers and college USC Trojans which draw more attention.

General Manager Billy Eppler said Ohtani will not be starting in the outfield immediately and will likely DH on the few days he doesn't pitch as he joins the rotation in Anaheim. Playing alongside Mike Trout obviously won't hurt as that duo alone is intriguing.

Manager (kantoku) Mike Scioscia has been a traditionalist, but even he will have to buck his trend when using Ohtani in order to fulfill the promises.

By picking up Ohtani, the economy for the Angels already takes a boost with several fans from Japan watching and staying up at a crooked hour for his games.

The Angels have battled mediocrity and shortcomings in the Trout era which have even called for some to trade their asset and build for the future. They won the division in 2014, but didn't win a playoff game as they were swept by the Kansas City Royals. In 2016, the Angels would've been a dead last place team if Trout was not on the team, let alone he carried them with a high wins-above replacement.

Their farm system has been shot down in the past for short term fixes, but this team is now expected to contend for the AL West with the signing of Justin Upton to join the fold.

Baseball in Orange County will be interesting for the first time in four years with Ohtani existing. They may not turn it around overnight, but the future looks good assuming Ohtani develops and can find a rhythm in MLB.

His biggest adjustment will be pitching on four or five days of rest, where in NPB, starting pitchers typically go once a week with pitch count not being a factor. The Angels could also go with a six-man rotation and giving Ohtani an extra day to DH. In an NPB calendar, Mondays are normally of days and he would be the DH from Tuesday to Thursday and sometimes Friday. He would have the day before and after his start as off days.

While going to any team will draw comparisons to his fellow countrymen, Ohtani won't be in one individual's shadow with the Angels. This isn't about Matsui, Ichiro, Darvish, Kenta Maeda, Hideo Nomo or anyone else. This is his story and his time to shine in the big leagues.


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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Translation: A look at the potential compensation for the loss of Nogami

With the recent loss of Ryoma Nogami in free agency to the Yomiuri Giants, the Lions will get some form of compensation as he is a type B free agent. The Lions can either go with the cash option only, or take cash and an unprotected player from a pool after the Giants choose to protect 28 players.

One writer or columnist went in-depth with the Lions options and formulated a possible scenario coming up with protected players and those who are available. Here is what was written regarding a imaginary protected list and some opinions which were translated:

The introduction speaks of Nogami's stats of going 11-10 with a 3.63 ERA and how he is a type B free agent. Seibu can either take the money or go with money + a player as he is a type B free agent. Foreign players don't need to be protected and cannot be claimed. 



Tomoyuki Sugano

Masahiko Morifuku

Tetsuya Utsumi

Tappei Tanioka

Kentaro Nishimura

Chiaki Tone

Ryusei Oe

Shimpei Shinohara

Seishu Hatake

Tetsuya Yamaguchi

Kazuto Taguchi

Ryosuke Miyaguni

Seiji Tahara

Nobutaka Imamura

Shun Ikeda

Hayato Takagi

Kota Nakagawa



Shun Yamaguchi

Kan Otake

Toshiya Sugiuchi

Hirotaka Yonahara

Hirokazu Sawamura

Toshiki Sakurai

Hosei Takata

Jen-Lei Liao

Mitsuo Yoshikawa


With the Lions, left handed pitchers were short of supply in both the rotation and bullpen. Further predictions were made to protect left handed pitchers even more. Nakagawa, Morifuku and Tone are protected as a result. In addition, Utsumi and T. Yamaguchi have been in the bullpen for many years with the Giants. Taguchi and Hatake are obvious candidates to protect.

Meanwhile, Sawamura and Sugiuchi failed to play with the ichi-gun and wouldn't want to return. Yoshikawa and Otake are both available because of their failures last season at the ichi-gun level.




Seiji Kobayashi

Shingo Usami


Genki Kawano

Takaya Tanaka


This season, Ryoji Aikawa and Kazunari Sanematsu both retired. They also drafted four catchers in the 2017 NPB Draft in hoping to revamp this unit.

Kobayashi is the regular starter and Usami provides depth as the backup. Tanaka and Kawano are available with almost no ichi-gun experience. With the Lions having Ginjiro Sumitani, Tomoya Mori and Masatoshi Okada, it's unlikely they'll select a catcher.




Shinnosuke Abe

Naoaki Yoshikawa

Hayato Sakamoto

Daisuke Nakai

Kazuma Okamoto


Takayuki Terauchi

Yasuhiro Yamamoto

Harutomo Tsuji

Daiki Masuda

Ryota Wakiya

Takahiro Kakizawa

Ren Wada

Daiki Yoshikawa


Seibu has Hotaka Yamakawa, Hideto Asamura, Sosuke Genda, Takeya Nakamura and Ernesto Mejia as the main group of infielders at the ichi-gun. Shuta Tonosaki can also play 3B. The Lions depth is all but set with Kyohei Nagae, Nien Ting Wu and Daichi Mizuguchi as reserves. Therefore, it would be difficult to think they would want to acquire an infielder as compensation.

Sakamoto is an obvious starter while Nakai has been playing more. N. Yoshikawa and and Okamoto are both young prospects worth protecting. Abe of course will retire as a legendary Giant.

Meanwhile, there are other young players, but with little experience available. Veterans Terauchi and Wakiya are the only two with significant playing time in the past available.




Daikan Yoh

Hisayoshi Chono

Yoshiyuki Kamei

Shinnosuke Shigenobu


Itaru Hashimoto

Soichiro Tateoka

Makoto Aoyama

Shingo Ishikawa


Seibu has Takumi Kuriyama, Shogo Akiyama, Yuji Kaneko, Shuta Tonosaki and so on. They also have Shogo Saito, Fumikazu Kimura, Ryo Sakata and others on the bench. They also have Aito Takeda and Shohei Suzuki, both highly touted prospects that they are high on at the farm level. As a result, the odds of acquiring an outfielder will be low.

For the Giants, it's easy to protect Yoh, Chono and Kamei. They could also protect any young future outfielders that they are higher on.


Personal reaction: 

I really doubt Sawamura would be exposed to the Lions despite the decent tandem of Scott Mathieson and Arquimedes Caminero taking the 8th and 9th inning for the Kyojin. Sawamura of course is very disgruntled after the team mishandled his injury situation and he did not play a single ichi-gun game in 2017.

Based on this listing, the writer thinks the Lions will aim for another left handed pitcher and creating a protected list to counter. I disagree with this notion and think the Lions filled this need by drafting Hiromasa Saito in the draft and will likely sign some foreign imports in free agency.

It's clear based on playing with the Giants roster myself, I wouldn't go for any position player as I wouldn't trust any pickup there. It would be hilarious if the Lions picked up Ryota Wakiya again, something they did after losing Yasuyuki Kataoka, but I wouldn't be happy.

Here's my personal list of players I would go for:

1. Hirokazu Sawamura

Sawamura is a proven closer/reliever when healthy and if the Giants found him expendable, I'd pounce on him in a heartbeat. He will be returning from a shoulder injury, but the Lions cold use him once he's back.

2. Toshiki Sakurai

Sakurai being unprotected would also surprise me. He was a former first round pick in 2015 and had a promising preseason in 2016, but an injury right before Opening Day ruined his chances in his rookie year. He's only 24 and would be worth a flyer where he could find a change of scenery as a better solution.

3. Shun Yamaguchi

This is the most controversial player of the list and it's possible the Lions don't want any part in the label, but I feel he could help the Lions for the now by benefiting from a change of scenery. Yamaguchi was one of three prized free agents last offseason by this pitcher has been a flop after one year.

In July, Yamaguchi was drunk and committed some violence and hurting his hand with glass, but he also served his suspension and fine while with the Giants. The Kyojin probably wanted to shop him the moment this news happened, as they're known to want to protect their image. Logically, I think they'd leave him exposed and unprotected where the Giants would be thrilled if he were claimed by the Lions. Violence aside, Yamaguchi's other counter argument is his salary being more expensive, but on the field, he could contribute to the Lions rotation or bullpen right away as long as he doesn't bring baggage.

4. Jen-Lei Liao

Liao was a 7th round pick of the Giants in 2016. at 201 cm (6' 7") and 125 kg (275 lbs), he was the largest player taken in the 2016 NPB Draft in front of Shunta Nakatsuka. As you might recognize by the name, Liao is from Taiwan and doesn't count as a foreigner for roster reasons because he went to high school and university in Japan (like his fellow countrymen Wu/Yoh etc).

He can top 155 kph (96 mph) on the gun as a hard thrower, but is still raw with his command. Liao will be 25 in August, but is worth the flyer if the Lions staff feels they can develop and fix his control/command. Liao also had a brief stint with the Pittsburgh Pirates minor league system. The Lions lack hard throwers minus Nakatsuka and drafted two more in Sho Ito and Kaima Taira.

Adding another player from Taiwan also wouldn't hurt for marketing reasons with a country the franchise has plenty of ties to. Liao is also a cheap option compared to the veteran salaries that Sawamura, Yamaguchi and Otake would have. The odds are also better that the Giants wouldn't protect him as a late pick and having other priorities.

5. Kan Otake

Otake will be 35 in 2018, but he could be a quick fix for the Lions rotation. He isn't flashy, but as a back end starter, the Lions could use depth. In 2017, he had a down season and if the Giants like others in their farm and elsewhere, he could be left open.


Final thoughts

Taking the cash option would be boring as Nogami would only net ¥ 30 million if they took this path. Last year, Kishi netted ¥180 million from Rakuten as the Eagles had a lesser talented roster. If the Lions went with the player choice, it would net ¥20 million and the player selected. Is it really worth penny pinching for an extra ¥10 million without paying a player? That's the question the Lions will need to decide.


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Saturday, December 2, 2017

Translation: Lions speak on each 2017 draft pick

The Saitama Seibu Lions office made a public statement about each draft pick when profiling them on their website.

Here is the scout's take on each player:

P Hiromasa Saito: 

"He is a 3/4 arm slot pitcher and is expected to contribute right away. His crossfire pitching style is his best weapon."


OF Manaya Nishikawa: 

"He is a good bat control hitter who hits at a wide angle. Nishikawa is a speedster who can be a regular starter in the future."


P Sho Ito: 

"His fastball is highly appealing as he has a strong arm. He's capable of being a starter and middle reliever while his best pitch is the fork."


P Kaima Taira: 

"He is an energetic pitcher with (velocity) that can attract a crowd."


P Kaito Yoza:

"He is a pitcher with good control and is a sharp submariner. His awareness is strong and he excels at fielding with quickness. Yoza's form is similar to Kazuhisa Makita."


IF Ryusei Tsunashima: 

"Tsunashima has a strong throw and is a speedster."


(Ikusei) OF Wataru Takagi: 

"Takagi has good bad control and can hit for extra bases."


(Ikusei) C Masato Saito: 

"His is a smart and clever catcher with his excellent defensive skills."


Special thanks to our translator for this piece, who wishes to remain anonymous. 

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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Report: Ryoma Nogami to sign with the Giants

The Saitama Seibu Lions trend of losing pitchers in free agency continues. Ryoma Nogami and the Yomiuri Giants reached an agreement on Tuesday to a three year contract worth an estimated ¥450 million.

If Nogami were to make ¥150 million in 2018, it would triple his salary from the ¥50 million he made in 2017 with the Lions. The Lions gave Nogami a hard offer after two meetings of negotiation when he filed for free agency. It's easy to say the Giants outbid the Lions with room to spare.

Nogami, 30, was a mainstay in the Lions rotation for majority of his NPB career after being a second round draft pick in 2008 out of the industrial leagues. Last season, he went 11-10 with a 3.63 ERA as a mid-rotation starter.

With the Giants, Nogami will join a mix that includes Tetsuya Utsumi, Kan Otake, Toshiya Sugiuchi and more. The Kyojin will likely lose Miles Mikolas to MLB in free agency and they're looking for a rotation starter to solidify the group behind Kazuto Taguchi and reigning Sawamura award winner Tomoyuki Sugano.

This is the first time the Lions lost a free agent to the Giants since 2015 when Ryota Wakiya signed with them. After 2013, Yasuyuki Kataoka signed with the Giants and the Lions took Wakiya as the free agent compensation choice. Nogami is a type B free agent, meaning the Lions will choose between a larger cash compensation or taking an unprotected player with cash totaling 50% of Nogami's 2017 salary.

The Lions will replace this position from within. In the last three drafts, the Lions have taken a combined 16 pitchers.


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Monday, November 27, 2017

Kuo gambled on himself and lost in 2017

Taigen Kaku (Tai-Yuan Kuo) was a legend in the Saitama Seibu Lions golden era and arguably one of the most successful foreign pitchers in NPB history. Unfortunately, Chun-Lin Kuo is nowhere near this level of greatness.

C.L. Kuo, 25, recently had his number changed from 12 (a number T.Y. Kuo once wore) to 69 last week. With all the jokes revolving around 69 in culture, this actually indicates a demotion for an NPB roster as most players who have a high number have a lesser priority. While there are some who keep a higher number or have one on purpose, going from a low to high number is not good for the individual.

When 2017 started, C.L. Kuo did not participate in the Lions spring training camp and instead trained with Taiwan's 2017 World Baseball Classic team in both Taiwan and Australia. While playing for your country isn't wrong, Kuo is still mostly an amateur or unproven player in NPB.

This all backfired when he only recorded two outs and six hits while facing Israel's team made up of fringe MLB talent in his only start. By not training with the Lions and betting on himself for the 2017 WBC, he buried himself in Japan.

Kuo was seen at the team's training facilities in Tokorozawa and practiced, but didn't participate in a single ichi-gun or ni-gun game for that matter recovering from an injury. His salary was cut by 33% from an estimated ¥30 million to ¥20 million for 2018 when both sides reached an agreement.

The Lions were doing just fine without Kuo, going on a 13 game win streak at one point and coming in second place in the Pacific League under new manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji. Other pitchers passed Kuo on the depth chart including rookie Katsunori Hirai, Shogo Noda, Kentaro Fukukura and even Yosuke Okamoto. 

By entering 2018, he will have even more competition with rookies Hiromasa Saito, Kaito Yoza and Sho Ito joining the fold. Kuo was viewed as a top amateur when he signed in the fall of 2014 and had a promising career internationally, but it hasn't worked out since joining NPB.

In 2015, Kuo had understandable struggles for a player who never pitched in professional baseball, but there was progress in a handful of starts. It only got worse in 2016 where he was used as a reliever and spot starter. His control continued to fade and his empty 2017 sums up a brutal year.

From a Lions standpoint, Kuo is just a developmental pitcher who has a longshot to make the ichi-gun like an ikusei. He is a low risk option, but Kuo himself must work hard to earn his playing time again.

Kuo hopes to re-write his own legacy with "Kaku" 郭 (The Japanese reading of his name)  no longer being part of his registered name as Kuo will be on his jersey. No more comparisons to Taigen Kaku, but also no more expectations for him to succeed in NPB. His uphill battle only gets tougher from here on out.


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Friday, November 17, 2017

Kazuo Matsui returns to the Seibu Lions

The Seibu Lions announced on Friday that they signed Kazuo Matsui to a ¥40 million, one year deal. He will also function as a player/technical coach, which is an added position to the coaching staff.

Matsui, 42, returns to the Lions for the first time since 2003. He had MLB stints with the New York Mets, Colorado Rockies and Houston Astros until 2011, where he was with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles through 2017.

With the Lions, he was a consistent .300 hitter and had at least 20 home runs in four seasons. Matsui won a Japan Series with the Eagles in 2013, but his peak season in Sendai was 2014, where he hit .291.

The Lions gave him No. 7, his old number from 1995-2003 as it has been vacant since the start of 2016. While it's unknown what his role will be as a player, he will likely be a spell outfielder and retire a Lion after the 2018 season. He can easily pinch hit if necessary. 

Other notes: 

-The Seibu Lions announced their coaching staff with minor changes to the pitching coaches. Fumiya Nishiguchi was promoted to the ichi-gun to serve alongside Yoshihiro Doi after the late Shinji Mori was lost.

-The Lions officially added two ni-gun pitching coaches with Ming-Chieh Hsu and Kento Sugiyama. Hsu was with the team as a player for nearly a decade and both men have served as pitching coaches in Taiwan's CPBL. 


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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Report: Seibu Lions to renovate MetLife Dome in three year project

The Saitama Seibu Lions announced on Wednesday that they will renovate the exterior of MetLife Dome once again. Reports are saying this project will take three years to complete in 2021 and it will cost ¥18 billion (about $180 million).

Seibu chairman Takashi Goto announced there will be an extra lounge behind home plate, while the outside behind the outfield will have plenty of festivities, including a larger shopping center. Other additions include new food stalls and a major upgrade on the ni-gun stadium next door known as Seibu II.

Earlier this week, it was announced that the player dormitories near Seibu II would be upgraded as requested by the players themselves. They were not changed since being built in the first years as Seibu Lions. Construction is scheduled to begin in December. More photos can be and here and here.

This will be the first major renovation to MetLife Dome since Daisuke Matsuzaka's posting money removed the Astroturf, changed the scoreboard and added bullpen box seats. At the start of 2016, the Lions upgraded the turf once again.

The 2018 season will mark the 40th year since being Seibu Lions and moving to Tokorozawa from Fukuoka. The Lions went through more than a decade of futility failing to recover from a Black Mist scandal, which led to a dark time in the 1970s. When the team moved to then-outdoor Seibu Stadium, it took only four years to win a Japan Series championship after their first year in 1979.

When the Lions host their April game in Tokyo Dome, they'll be wearing the bright blue uniforms worn from 2004-2008.


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Sunday, November 12, 2017

Report: Nogami files for free agency, Sumitani to stay

The Saitama Seibu Lions enter the offseason with drama in free agency. On Monday morning, reports came out that Ryoma Nogami has filed for free agency.

Nogami, 30, was a starter with the Lions for several years and stayed at the ichi-gun since he was drafted out of the industrial leagues in 2008. A reliever in 2009 and 2010 with an injured season in 2011, Nogami was a starter from 2012-2017. 

Last season, he had a career year going 11-10 with a 3.63 ERA and logging 144 innings, his most since 2013. His 11 wins matched his career high from 2013 as well. Nogami made about ¥50 million last season and he is penciled in as a type B free agent, meaning any team who signs him would result in compensation for the Lions. 

Here are the options and links we're hearing about in regards to what happens to Nogami next:

Sign with the Hanshin Tigers

The Tigers have been linked to Nogami since the end of the regular season. It's common for the Tigers to always have a connection to any player in the media, but this one seems like serious interest. It's likely they would win a bidding war if it were with the Lions.

With the Tigers' bullpen being good, their rotation had their share of ups and downs after Randy Messenger was injured. Takumi Akiyama had a strong year, Atsushi Nomi won't get any younger despite rebounding well and then there's the wild Shintaro Fujinami, who spent majority of the year in ni-gun.


Sign with the Yokohama DeNA Baystars

The Baystars rotation was their strength in 2017, but it can be solidified with Nogami on the back end as they've drawn interest. Shota Imanaga, Haruhiro Hamaguchi and Kenta Ishida are all young and up-and-coming pitchers who are expected mainstays. Joe Wieland proved to be a solid signing and Shoichi Ino is the veteran. They just drafted Katsuki Azuma for even more youth.


Sign with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks

The Hawks were rumored for Nogami as he is a Fukuoka native, but their rotation depth is already deep. Adding Nogami wouldn't hurt them, but this one is all speculation on the media's part. If he were to sign in Fukuoka, the Lions could chose a player compensation option rather than just the money. 


Remain with the Lions

A statement from Nogami's camp said that all options are possible. However, this would be a loyalty thing more than the money. It's likely the team will give a hard offer and not go any higher. If another team beats it and Nogami is in it for the money, he's gone. 


Meanwhile, Ginjiro Sumitani announced he will remain with the Lions for 2018. The report said the options were limited and there was debate on the Lions offering a two year deal or not. It's likely that Sumitani takes a one-year deal and could test the market after next year with Masatoshi Okada and Tomoya Mori in the Lions plans.

Sumitani, 30,  has been with the team since 2005 and has played in 12 seasons, entering his 13th year.


The Lions have been known the let pitchers walk in free agency in the past. There have been many high profile free agency departures going as far back as Kimiyasu Kudo in 1994. Other pitchers to leave in free agency include Kiyoshi Toyoda (2005), Chieh-Ming Hsu (2011), Kazuyuki Hoashi (2011), Hideaki Wakui (2013) and most recently, Takayuki Kishi last year. 


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