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.

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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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2018 Seibu Lions salary list


Contract negotiations for all NPB teams in this month of November. Rather than sign the dotted line on a multi-year deal, salaries can go up or down depending on how a player's performance was the previous season. Some will take paycuts for a poor year, while a great year will bring a raise. 

Here is a collection of all the Saitama Seibu Lions reported salaries for 2018. All figures are estimates and not exact based on reports. This is an ongoing list which will be updated as more reports come in.  

A handful of Ichi-gun or ni-gun stats are included, depending on who is there. If a player has participated with the ichi-gun in 2017 at any point, only those stats will show. A few guys will get a raise just for playing with the ichi-gun, if it happened more than the previous year. For hitters, we've put the slashline of AVG/OBP/SLG

^ - Raise

|v| - Paycut

= - Same wages

N = New player

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Pitchers: 

Tsubasa Kokuba: ¥5 million |v| by 500K (19 ni-gun games, 1-2, 42.2 IP, 3.80 ERA)

Ichiro Tamura: ¥7.5 million ^ by 500K (12 ichi-gun games, 0-0, 14.1 IP, 6.91 ERA)

Keisuke Honda: ¥7 million = (5 ichi-gun games, 0-0, 7.2 IP, 4.70 ERA, one spot start)



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Catchers:

Komei Fujisawa: ¥5 million = (63 ni-gun games, 119 PA, 101 AB, .139/.237/.208)

Shota Nakata: ¥5.8 million = (76 ni-gun games, 193 PA, 165 AB, .230/.308/.303)

Hitoto Komazuki: ¥5.1 million = (76 ni-gun games, 176 PA, 160 AB, .231/.290/.431)

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Infielders:

Kazuki Kaneko: ¥5.5 million = (103 ni-gun games, 284 PA, 254 AB, .205/.257/.252)

Haruka Yamada: ¥5.5 million = (106 ni-gun games, 404 PA, 364 AB, .245/.293/.346)

Note: Yamada was called up during the season and on the ichi-gun roster for a week, but didn't play as a emergency infielder

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Outfielders:

Shohei Suzuki: ¥6 million = (101 ni-gun games, 343 PA, 289 AB, .280/.364/.332)

Daisuke Togawa: ¥5 million = (52 ni-gun games, 181 PA, 155 AB, .271/.370/.426)

Kazuo Matsui: ¥40 million (Free agent)

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Rookies:

P Hiromasa Saito: ¥15 million, ¥50 million signing bonus (1st round pick out of college, more incentives can hit)

P Sho Ito: ¥6.5 million, ¥40 million signing bonus (3rd round pick out of Shikoku Island Independent league)

P Kaima Taira: ¥6 million, ¥40 million signing bonus (4th round draft pick out of HS)

C Masato Saito: ¥4 million, ¥3.5 million signing bonus (2nd round ikusei pick out of college)

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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

2018 Seibu Lions season begins in Sapporo against the Fighters


The Saitama Seibu Lions 2018 season will start on Friday, March 30 against the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. This will be the second year in a row the Lions go to Sapporo for Opening Day. 

Here are links to the full schedule for the Seibu (西武) Lions:

March 2018 

April 2018

May 2018

June 2018

July 2018

August 2018

September 2018

October 2018

Here are some bonus notes and irregular locations to the 2018 Seibu Lions schedule: 

-For the first time in franchise history, the Lions will play a home game in Tokyo Dome on April 17 against the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. 

-The Lions will be playing Kitakyushu (North Kyushu, closer to the water separating Yamaguchi and Fukuoka prefectures) on the road against the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks on both April 24 and July 18. They played one game there last season.  

-The Lions will be the road team in Tokyo Dome against the Fighters for a two games series from 5/15-5/16. Prior to 2004, the Fighters shared Tokyo Dome with the Giants before they moved to Sapporo. They did this last year and the Lions swept them. 

-The Lions will play in Hotto Motto Stadium in Kobe against the Orix Buffaloes on 5/19, 5/20 and for a three game series from 9/11-9/13.   

-On 5/29, the Lions will be playing the Hiroshima Carp in the city of Miyoshi, Hiroshima. While Hiroshima city itself is on the coast, Miyoshi is in the northwest direction and inland from the water. This will be the first chiho interleague game for the Lions since they played the Yomiuri Giants in Koriyama, Fukushima in 2015. 

-On 7/5, the Lions will play the Fighters in Hakodate, the southern tip of Hokkaido. A shinkansen is capable of reaching Hakodate from the Tokyo if anyone in Kanto wanted to make that trip without a significantly long train ride. This breakthrough of reaching Hokkaido happened in 2016.  

-The All-Star games will be played in Kyocera Dome and in Kumamoto prefecture on 7/16 and 7/17 respectively. It was announced last year that Kumamoto would host an All-Star game as relief for the 2016 earthquake that hit the area. 

-For the third straight year, the Lions will be playing a home game in Maebashi, Gunma on 8/28 against the Rakuten Eagles. 

-The traditional three home games in Omiya will be on 5/8 (vs Hawks), 6/12 (vs Swallows) and 8/29 (vs Rakuten). By playing in Omiya against the Eagles, they will go back to back chiho games like last year against the Fighters with Maebashi and Omiya in the same series.

-On 9/4 and 9/5, the Lions will be playing the Fighters in Asahikawa, Hokkaido. This city is two hours northeast of Sapporo and is the second largest in Hokkaido. It's known for a zoo. 

-The regular season is scheduled to end in Sapporo on October 2.  

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Keep in mind that any of these chiho games that are outdoors could be lost if it's rained out. In the event that happens, that game goes back to the traditional team's home stadium. Last year, the Lions only had two rained out games all season and both of them were chiho in Koriyama and Okinawa, respectively. The makeup games would be in September in Sendai against Rakuten and MetLife Dome against the Marines. 

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Sunday, November 5, 2017

Japanese Baseball Names 101: Seibu Lions literal translations

Ken Togame's surname means "Ten Turtles" and the Lions marketed a special cap.

Every family name / surname / last name has a meaning. Some are more basic than others. Even the Seattle Mariners capitalized on this by marketing Hisashi Iwakuma's name with a bear cap.

That being said, while Kuma is the correct sound (like a homophone) for bear in Japanese, his surname "Iwakuma 岩隈" means shadow or corner of a rock. The kuma 隈 character is not the same as the bear kuma 熊. That being said, it's not a bad or guilty attempt by the Seattle marketing crew.

After playing with many kanji reading sites and more, we successfully converted all names into English. While some kanji have multiple meanings, we chose what made sense to put out in this piece. Inspired by our Softbank Hawks English equivalent, here is the Lions literal roster of 2017.

To make sure things are not redundant, we set 田 to paddy, 野 to field and 原 to meadow. If some guys have the same family name, we've translated their first name as a bonus. When seeing that kanji, the last name is first, first name is last.

Italicized names are players who are not returning for 2018. 

*Could be gone

Pitchers:

Kazuhisa Makita 牧田*: Shepherd paddy

Tatsushi Masuda 増田:  More paddies

Tatsuya Oishi 大石: Big stone

Yusei Kikuchi 菊池: Chrysanthemum pond/lake

Kona Takahashi 髙橋 光成: High bridge, Light growing

Shinsaburo Tawata 多和田: Many harmonious paddies (Note: 和 is the same harmony character that all businesses, teams and work places uses in needing to have Wa)

Takuya Toyoda 豊田: Rich paddy

Ryoma Nogami 野上*: Field top

Ken Togame 十亀:  Ten turtles

Shunta Nakatsuaka 中塚: Center mound

Shogo Noda 野田: Field paddy

Katsunori Hirai 平井: Flat well

Seiji Kawagoe 川越: River surpass

Ryohei Fujiwara 藤原: Wisteria meadow

Hirotaka Koishi 小石: Small stone (pebble)

Yosuke Okamoto 岡本: Hill base

Toshihiro Iwao 岩尾: Boulder slope

Yasuo Sano 佐野: Assistant field

Tadasuke Minamikawa 南川: South river

Yusuke Tamamura 玉村: Jewel village

Ichiro Tamura 田村: Paddy village

[Makoto] Aiuchi 相内 誠: Inside aspect, Truth (Aiuchi has his first name registered on his jersey)

Tomomi Takahashi 髙橋 朋己: Tall bridge, Companion self

Keisuke Honda 本田: Book field

Shota Takekuma 武隈: Warrior shadow

Kentaro Fukukura 福倉: Lucky warehouse

Tsubasa Kokuba 國場: Country place

Isamu Sato 佐藤: Assistant wisteria

Naoaki Matsumoto 松本: Pine tree base

Koki Fujita 藤田: Wisteria paddy

Tatsuya Imai 今井: Now well (Well as in the noun, not the adverb/adjective)

Chun-Lin Kuo (Kaku) 郭: Enclosure

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Catchers:

Tomoya Mori 森: Forest

Ginjiro Sumitani 炭谷*: Charcoal valley

Masatoshi Okada 岡田: Hill paddy

Tatsuyuki Uemoto 上本: Top origin

Hitoto Komazuki 駒月: Horse moon (Interesting note that 駒 [koma] also refers to the knight piece when playing chess or another board game involving a horse)

Shota Nakata 中田: Center paddy

Komei Fujisawa 藤澤: Wisteria swamp

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Infielders:

Hideto Asamura 浅村: Shallow village

Sosuke Genda 源田: Root paddy  (源 [gen] can refer to the origin or root of something)

Hotaka Yamakawa 山川: Mountain river

Takeya Nakamura 中村: Center village

Daichi Mizuguchi 水口: Water mouth

Shogo Kimura 木村 昇吾: Tree village, Rising one's own

Yuji Onizaki 鬼﨑: Demon peninsula

Naoto Watanabe 渡辺: Crossing border

Kyohei Nagae 永江: Long bay

Nien Ting Wu 呉: Giver

Haruka Yamada 山田: Mountain paddy

Kazuki Kaneko 金子 一輝: Gold child, One shine

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Outfielders:

Yuji Kaneko 金子 侑司: Gold child, Director with an urge to eat

Shogo Akiyama 秋山: Autumn mountain

Takumi Kuriyama 栗山: Chestnut mountain

Shuta Tonosaki 外崎: Outside cape (cape as in headland, not the cloak)

Yutaro Osaki 大﨑: Big peninsula

Fumikazu Kimura 木村 文紀: Tree village, Sentence chronicles

Masato Kumashiro 熊代: Beat substitute (Fun fact: Shiro is a homophone for the color white (白).  Unfortunately the kanji shows he's not a polar bear.)

Shotaro Tashiro 田代: Paddy substitute

Shogo Saito 斉藤: Adjusted wisteria

Ryo Sakata 坂田: Slope paddy

Shohei Suzuki 鈴木: Bell tree

Daisuke Togawa 戸川: Door river

[Aito] Takeda 武田 愛斗: Military paddy, Love Big Dipper (Takeda has his first name registered)

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Manager:

Hatsuhiko Tsuji 辻: Intersection

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Bonus: Foreigners

Just for gags, we also reverse translated the meaning of all foreign imports since 2015. Here is what their names would look like in kanji. (Kuo and Wu were already included above as they'll be with the team next year.)

Ernesto Mejia メヒア: Kyuseishu [救世主] . Mejia's name means "Messiah" or "Savior" in latin/greek origin.

Brian Schlitter シュリッター: Namerahito [滑人] Schlitter's German ancestry to his name refers to sliding, or sleds. In this case, Namerahito would be "sliding person"

Brian Wolfe ウルフ: Okami [狼]. Wolfe has an has an easy to understand name with the word wolf in German.

Frank Garces ガルセス: Wakaikuma [若熊]. Garces is a derivative of the Spanish name Garcia, which can refer to a young artz bear.

Stephen Fife ファイフ: Fibuokoku [フィブ王国]. Fife's name is of Scottish origin, a derivative of Fib.  Fife is a county or kingdom in Scotland today, with Fib being the original name. Fib kingdom would be the most accurate.

Now because Fib can also mean a lie or fake, this can also read as Niseokoku [偽王国] which would mean "False Kingdom".

Alexis Candelario キャンデラリオ: Sosoku [蝋燭]. Candelario's name has Spanish origin referring to candles.

C.C. Lee 李 リ: Plum (read as sumomo or Lee/Ri)

Wade LeBlanc ルブラン: Shiro [白]. LeBlanc, of french origin would mean "the white".

Andy Van Hekken バンヘッケン: Saku [柵]. In Dutch, Van Hekken means "fences"

Anthony Seratelli セラテリ: Teri [照理]. Couldn't find a true definition of Seratelli's name, but he was often called "Terry" テリ in Japan.  Using the kanji, 照理 means sunshine reason.

Esmerling Vasquez バスケス: Karasu [烏]. Vasquez is a derivative of Velasquez in Spanish and Portuguese. Velasquez comes from belasco, which means raven or crow. The 烏 is slightly different from the bird kanji 鳥 (tori).

Miguel Mejia ミゲル・メヒア:  Kyuseishu, Doyokami [救世主 同様神]. We already mentioned Mejia through Ernesto, but here's an addition with Miguel. Since Miguel is a Spanish cognate of Michael, the name means "like god".  

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Miscellaneous: 

Seibu 西武: West warrior. The 西 is the kanji for West, often pronounced "Nishi" with it's main reading alone. This can also translate as West arms or military.

Hanshin 阪神: Osaka/Kobe, Slope god. When the train company that owns the Hanshin Tigers came up with their name, it merged characters from the two major markets of Osaka and Kobe. The 阪 is a slope from Osaka 大阪 (Big slope) while the 神 is god, as Kobe 神戸 is read as god's door.  SakaKami would be the kun reading, but the On reading becomes "Hanshin" 

Hiroshima 広島: Broad island. Hiroshima is on a southwest area of Honshu, Japan's largest island. 

Chunichi 中日: Middle of the sun. Easy to remember that 日本 is Nippon or Japan. Nagoya is viewed as the middle of Japan, hence abbreviating to日. Obviously it's not the epicenter when you count all the southern islands, Okinawa and more, but it is the heart of Honshu. Chunichi's newspaper used the On readings like Hanshin when coming up with their name so it doesn't say something like "NakaHi".  

Rakuten 楽天: Optimism. When Rakuten came up with their name, it has the combination of comfort 楽 and the sky 天. Interestingly enough, 楽 has music meanings.  Also Tohoku 東北 refers to the Northeast, though going literally it is saying east-north.  

Yomiuri 読売: Read selling. Yomiuri is the largest media conglomerate in Japan, the NY Times equivalent. It's a selling read and newspaper. Kyojin 巨人 also refers to a large/gigantic person. 

Chiba 千葉: Thousand leaves. For those who've seen the movie Spirited Away, the 千 in Chiba can also read is Sen, which is why Chihiro's name was cut off with only the 千 taken.

Fukuoka 福岡: Fortune Hill. Can also read as Lucky mount. 

Hokkaido 北海道: North sea circuit. Hokkaido is the most northern part of Japan. 

Tokyo 東京: East capital. At one point in history, Kyoto 京都 (Capital metropolis) was the capital of Japan until 1868. 

Yokohama 横浜Horizontal/Sideways Seacoast. Yokohama's location is south of Tokyo and is a port touching the Pacific Ocean. The anime movie "From up on Poppy Hill" takes place in Yokohama.  

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If there's any better translations or suggestions, we're open to editing or adding to this if something needs more accuracy.  

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Saturday, November 4, 2017

Report: Kazuhisa Makita to be posted



In what has been an offseason of uncertainty, the Saitama Seibu Lions will likely post Kazuhisa Makita per reports on Saturday. 

Makita, who turns 33 this week, is slated to be a domestic free agent after seven years of service time. Last offseason, he turned down a two-year contract in order to sign a one-year deal making him closer to free agency, giving him the right to exercise his free agent option. 

"We plan to give him the green light as we are moving in that direction," said Seibu Lions general manager Haruhiko Suzuki in a statement. "He has a strong desire [to move to the majors through the posting system]. We haven't heard the outcome [of the negotiations between NPB and MLB]. We will wait for that, then submit paperwork."

Originally a second round draft pick in 2010, Makita spent his rookie year as a closer and starter. Through 2012-2015, he was in the rotation before the Lions tried closing with him in 2015. 

When 2016 began, the Lions made him the fireman reliever to go multiple innings and become a change of pace, where he recorded a career low 1.60 ERA in 78.2 IP. Last year, new manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji had Makita mostly as an 8th inning setup pitcher where he had a 2.30 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 62.2 innings of work. 

Makita openly expressed his desire to want to play in MLB as early as last year. He was a member of Samurai Japan during both the 2013 and 2017 WBC as well as the 2015 Premier 12. Makita also saw the exhibition series with the MLB Stars after the 2014 exhibition season. 

The previous agreement between NPB and MLB with a $20 million cap on a posting fee expired this past month. Both sides must come to an agreement on what could be a new pricing. It's likely that the posting fee ceiling will be even less than before. Makita will be a cheap option for organizational depth if an MLB team wants a reliever. 

From a Lions standpoint, their backs were against the wall where Makita had the leverage to exercise his domestic free agent option if he were to be disgruntled. They will likely get little compensation if a team bids and signs him, but it's better than going to another NPB team and facing him frequently if it were in the Pacific League. 

The best case scenario for the Lions is if no team bids on Makita, similar to how many players in the past did not draw a fee or one that's too low.

Makita would be the second player posted in the offseason after Shohei Otani assuming that both sides come to an agreement. He's nowhere close to Otani's caliber, but could be an easy flyer. Other international free agents this offseason with no posting fee required include Hideaki Wakui and Yoshihisa Hirano. 

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Friday, November 3, 2017

Translation: Lions react to playing for Samurai Japan


A total of seven Saitama Seibu Lions will be playing in the Asia Professional Baseball Championship later this month. The Lions uploaded a video with a few players reacting to being part of the Samurai Japan roster.

Sosuke Genda, Hotaka Yamakawa, Shuta Tonosaki, Katsunori Hirai, Shogo Noda and Shinsaburo Tawata will be playing for Samurai Japan. Noda was added as an injury replacement with Taisuke Yamaoka being out due to injury.

In order to be eligible, a player is either 24 years or younger in age, or is with the team for three years or less, something Genda, Tonosaki, Hirai, Noda and Tawata fulfill. Two wild card exceptions are allowed where there are no limits. Yamakawa and Takuya Kai (Hawks) were selected as the wild cards, where they completed their fourth seasons with their respective NPB teams.

Here is what a handful of Lions said:




Sosuke Genda 

How do you feel being selected as a Samurai Japan member? 

"I’m really happy."

What kind of play do you want to make an impression? 

"Same as regular season, I will do what I have to do."

Is there any particular play you want to show the audience? 

"I don’t know… Maybe I want to steal bases." 

What kind of impressions do you have toward the Samurai Japan? 

"I have this impression the spectators cheer in loud voices no matter which team in NPB they are usually rooting for."

Do you feel nervous? 

"There will be many players from the same generation as I, so I want to ask them various questions about baseball." 

Say a message to the Lions fans 

"I'll do my best as a representative for the Lions."

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Hotaka Yamakawa

How do you feel being selected as a Samurai Japan member?

"I feel honored."

What kind of impressions do you have toward the Samurai Japan? 

"I only watched them on TV, so I feel they belong to a different level and world from me." 

Can you tell us how enthusiastic you are right now? 

"I have been selected as one of the (wildcard) players, so I will work hard to lead younger players."  

Can we expect you hit the long ball? 

"I think it is definitely one of my strengths. I want to challenge myself to see how far I can go against all of the teams from overseas." 

Is there any batting order you would like to hit? 

"It doesn’t matter. I don’t know where I will be placed, so I’ll go all out if I’m given any chance." 

Say a message to the Lions fans. 

"I’ll do my best playing for Samurai Japan. Please support us!" 

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Katsunori Hirai

How do you feel being selected as a Samurai Japan member? 

"I feel really honored being selected since this is my first year as a professional. I’m just really happy. There will be plenty of great players from other teams, so I would like to learn many things like their engagement and attitude to baseball."

"After having played in professional baseball for a year, I’m a little confident my breaking ball can do well to some extent. I know I have to work harder and improve myself, so I would like to learn things from other players, like how they can work through the difficult situations."

Say a message to the Lions fans 

"I’ll play on behalf of the Lions. We will achieve a good result and win the championship!"

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Shuta Tonosaki

How do you feel being selected as a Samurai Japan member? 

"I’m really happy." 

Did you ever play for the national team before? 

"No, this is the very first time. I just wonder how it is like to play baseball representing Japan. I feel a little anxious and a little strange." 

What kind of impressions do you have toward the Samurai Japan? 

"I have dreamed of it. I admire all of the players because I know how badly they feel nervous and pressed. I learned it the hard way since I became a professional player."

Is there any particular play you want to show the audience? 

"I want to show my strength like my batting and my base running. I will devote my best efforts." 

Say a message to Lions fans. 

"I'll do my best as a representative for the Lions. Please root for us!" 

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Nien Ting Wu will also participate in this tournament which features younger teams from both Taiwan and South Korea. Wu should be playing 3B, but can go anywhere on the infield or outfield if needed. 

The APBC begins on November 16 with all games taking place in Tokyo Dome. Japan, South Korea and Taiwan will play each other in a round robin format. The top two countries after all the games will play a championship deciding game, meaning a team will play three games at most.

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Special thanks to @Pino_Martinez for translation help. 

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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Report: Lions re-sign Brian Wolfe


Just one day after announcing Brian Schlitter would not return, the Saitama Seibu Lions have reportedly reached an agreement to bring back Brian Wolfe for 2018 on Wednesday afternoon.

Wolfe, who will be 37 at the end of the month, will be entering his 9th year in NPB. He was originally with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters from 2010-2013 as a starting pitcher. Wolfe dealt with injuries during his two year stint with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks from 2014-2015, but he won two championships.

The Lions brought Wolfe as a midseason pickup during the 2016 season. He went 4-0 with a 3.04 ERA in four starts. Last year, he stayed in the rotation for majority of the season and made 23 starts, going 9-4 with a 3.73 ERA, where most of his quality outings were in the first half.

By pitching 125.1 innings, it was his highest career total since 2013. Wolfe could potentially reach the 9th year of service time (free agency status) by 2019 if he were to continue playing, which would make him a Japanese player on the roster by 2020.

Wolfe will once again be part of the Seibu Lions rotation which includes Yusei Kikuchi and Ken Togame. Others in the mix should be Shinsaburo Tawata and Kona Takahashi. Ryoma Nogami is a pending domestic free agent.

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Other note:

-The Lions hired Ming-Chieh Hsu to be part of the ni-gun pitching staff. He will join Kento Sugiyama as ni-gun pitching coaches. Hsu will focus on the right handed pitchers while Sugiyama will coach the lefties. Hsu played for the Lions from 2003-2013 as a reliever.

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Sunday, October 29, 2017

Report: Lions will not retain Brian Schlitter


The Saitama Seibu Lions entered the offseason in early October and made another decision. On Monday, the Japanese media reported they won't bring Brian Schlitter back to the team.

Schlitter, 31, was the setup man for the Lions bullpen in 2017. The Chicago native was with the team as early as fall camp in 2016, where he was informed he could compete for the closer role.

After having a strong start to the season, Schlitter struggled in the final six weeks where he blew a four run lead against the Rakuten Eagles on August 30. He finished 2017 with a 1-5 record, 32 holds and a 2.83 ERA.

In 63.2 innings of regular season work, he only had 23 strikeouts and 29 walks. Management likely remembers Game 3 in the first stage of the Climax Series, where Schlitter took the top of the 8th inning. With the Lions trailing by one run, Schlitter gave up a solo HR to Zelous Wheeler and a two-run bomb to Shintaro Masuda to put the game out of reach. He only allowed one HR in the regular season.

By letting Schlitter go, this is a vote of confidence in Tomomi Takahashi, who returned in September while coming off Tommy John surgery. Takahashi was previously the team's closer until Tatsushi Masuda took the role. 

Schlitter becomes the fourth import to not be retained by the Lions in 2017. Alexis Candelario was released in the middle of the regular season, while Frank Garces and Stephen Fife spent a brief stint in the Miyazaki Phoenix League during October, but were also released.

Most recently, Shotaro Tashiro became a senryokugai release after the 2017 NPB Draft, making it a total of 12 roster subtractions thus far. The Lions drafted six players and two ikusei in the draft.

Assuming the Lions sign their six main draft picks, the 70-man roster will have six openings. However, the Lions will likely keep two spots open if they want to promote either or both of their ikusei picks to the main roster.

With this likely to happen, the Lions have room for four players at minimum, as they can all be imports. There has been no announcement on Chun-Lin Kuo or Brian Wolfe returning for 2018 or not. 

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Thursday, October 26, 2017

Mori, Takahashi and Nakatsuka to work down under with the Melbourne Aces

Graphic via the Melbourne Aces
The Saitama Seibu Lions and Melbourne Aces announced their partnership will continue for the 2017-2018 Australian Baseball League season on Friday afternoon. Kona Takahashi, Shunta Nakatsuka and Tomoya Mori will be the three Lions players to play with the Aces.

All three players will be with the team from November 17 until the All-Star break ends on December 26, which will be for half of the season.

Mori, 22, has the most ichi-gun time among the trio having been mostly a designated hitter. At age 19, he already played in 138 regular season games. In 2016, he had trouble finding a position in the field, but his bat proved to be valuable.

Last year, he missed most of the season due to being hit by a pitch and suffering a fracture in an exhibition in March against Cuba's World Baseball Classic team. His career ichi-gun slashline is .294/.371/.469 and has a single-season career high of 17 HRs from 2015.

The Lions hope to give Mori more work at catcher as they eased him in the last two seasons. When the team was already out of contention, he saw regular starts at catcher in 2016. Mori was a part time catcher in 2017 and the Lions are hoping for more development with the Aces. If the Aces want a bat, he is capable of mashing as the designated hitter.

When drafted in the first round of 2013, the Lions shocked everyone by taking a catcher who was viewed as undersized despite his bat. Mori was an accomplished high school catcher where his team won the 2012 Summer Koshien tournament with Hanshin Tigers pitcher Shintaro Fujinami as his battery mate.

Takahashi, 20, was the Lions first round pick in the 2014 NPB Draft. He was an accomplished high school pitcher where he carried his school through the 2013 Summer Koshien tournament and won the whole thing.

For his rookie year, Takahashi got his feet wet in 2015 and threw a shutout as an 18-year-old kid against the Chiba Lotte Marines. He threw another shutout in 2016 as he had a large workload, but struggled with control as the season wore on. Last year, he started with similar ups and downs, but missed most of 2017 due to a shoulder injury. He won his final start returning from his injury on September 24 where he went 6 IP, 5 K, 1 BB, and one earned run allowed.

While Takahashi is only 20, he is viewed as the team's future ace and the long term will depend on him being the next great Lions pitcher.

Nakatsuka, who will be 23 at the end of December, was the team's second round draft pick in 2016. He started the year with sickness and spent majority of 2017 in ni-gun struggling with control.

His ichi-gun debut was in the same game Takahashi started on September 24 where he recorded two quick outs. However, he threw 12 consecutive balls leading to three walks and loading the bases before being taken out. He was credited with two earned runs in the outing.

In 20 ni-gun games, Nakatsuka split time as a starter and reliever recording 58.2 IP, 33 BB, 44 K and a 3.84 ERA. Nakatsuka's fastball can hit 157 KPH (97 mph) on the gun and the Lions saw some upside when drafting him as a long term prospect.

This is arguably the most talented group of Lions to come to the Aces yet. With Takahashi supposed to be a future ace, Mori a premier hitter and Nakatsuka being a premier prospect, the ceiling is high.

Other staff members expected to make the trip to Melbourne include interpreter Shuntaro Kobayashi, trainer Kazuyoshi Ono and the recently retired Tatsuyuki Uemoto. Since being released as a player by the Lions, Uemoto became one of the team's bullpen catchers.

This will be the seventh consecutive year of partnership for the Lions and Aces during the ABL season. Previous players currently on the Lions roster to go down under include Yusei Kikuchi, Fumikazu Kimura (as a pitcher), Hirotaka Koishi, Yasuo Sano, Makoto Aiuchi, Komei Fujisawa, Shota Nakata, Kentaro Fukukura, Ryohei Fujiwara, Shogo Noda, Keisuke Honda and Hitoto Komazuki.

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2017 Japan Series: Baystars an underdog against NPB's empire


The Yokohama DeNA Baystars will take on the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in the 2017 Japan Series. Here is our breakdown of what's to come ahead:

Yokohama DeNA Baystars

The Baystars climbed the mountain in taking the first stage of the Climax Series against the Hanshin Tigers in three games, while also winning four out of five games played against the Hiroshima Carp.

Surprisingly it was their starting pitching and bullpen that came through when they needed it most, which started of with Joe Wieland winning the crucial Game 3 vs the Tigers. Game 4 was a difference maker when Shota Imanaga came out in relief for two innings and the Baystars shut the door on a favored Carp team.

The Carp weren't at full strength with no Seiya Suzuki, Brad Eldred and Tomohiro Abe, but they also didn't have a proven ace. There were plenty of young pitchers who were overwhelmed against the Baystars bats. In the final game, the home runs kept coming and the Baystars obliterated Hiroshima 9-3.

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Fukuoka Softbank Hawks

The Softbank Hawks won the Pacific League again after some early struggles against the Eagles. It was Seiichi Uchikawa who hit a home run in each of the first four games. Uchikawa is the biggest subplot of this whole series as he was a former Baystars player who left to find success in Fukuoka, after being tired of losing. The Hawks also got a boost in the final game when Yuki Yanagita returned for the first time in a month, as he was the 2015 Pacific League MVP and could win it again in 2017.

It wasn't all about Nobuhiro Matsuda or Alfredo Despaigne, but Akira Nakamura with the timely hits to put the Hawks in the third Japan Series in four years and fifth in seven years.

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Outlook:

This is the Baystars third Japan Series in franchise history and first since 1998. They won as Taiyo Whale in 1961. The Baystars have also not lost a Japan Series coming into 2017.

The Hawks are aiming to set a dynasty with their third Japan series in four years, which would have an undisputed title. Last time they were in this stage was 2015, where they beat the Yakult Swallows in five games.

Yokohama is your ultimate Cinderella story, having not made the postseason in the Climax Series era prior to 2016. They've built a good foundation since 2013 up to this point and the fruition has finally come. For the Hawks, it's Japan's new Empire having the highest payroll in NPB and an organization that is well-run from top to bottom aiming for another title, which could be the 4th in the Softbank Era.

Reminder that the Japan Series begins on October 28.

Christian: If the Baystars want to pull this upset, they need to hit home runs. Both parks involved make this possible, but can they do it against the Hawks pitching for a seven game series? I like the Hawks pitching to overpower the Baystars where Yokohama only has a one game stand. The Pacific League is still stronger from top to bottom and don't see it changing. My heart says the Baystars, but as a betting man, the Hawks are too great to pass up.  Hawks in 5

Wes pick could come later.  For those on Twitter please @ him @WhirlWideWes 

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2017 NPB Draft: A summary of each Lions pick

Graphic provided by the Seibu Lions
The Saitama Seibu Lions drafted a total of six players and two ikusei picks on Thursday night at the 2017 NPB Draft. Initially, the tried to take shakaijin Daiki Tajima out of the industrial leagues, but ended up losing a 50-50 drawing to Junichi Fukura and Hisanobu Watanabe was left with a blank piece of paper.

With the Lions going to plan B, here is what the Lions ended up with which includes a short profile:

P Hiromasa Saito (齊藤大将)




College: Meiji University (Tokyo)

High School: Toin Gakuen (Kanagawa prefecture)

Date of Birth: June 3, 1995

Height: 179 cm (5' 10")

Weight: 74 kg (163 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Left/Left

Saito was a reliever converted to starter out of the Tokyo Big6 college league who tops out at 149 km/h (92 mph). He's a 3/4 arm slot who has an effective slider. He can also throw a curve, changeup, screwball and a cutter.

On paper, the Lions were looking at a left handed pitcher and drafted for need when trying to go for Tajima. After losing out, the Lions would've likely gone with Katsuki Azuma, but the Yokohama DeNA Baystars nabbed him in the first reveal where Saito was probably the third choice. Saito's slider can easily make him a lefty specialist immediately and he could work his way into the back end of the rotation.

When interviewed as he was drafted, Saito was humbled to be an alternate first round pick even though several in the media saw it coming. He compared himself to Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters setup man Naoki Miyanishi.

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OF Manaya Nishikawa (西川 愛也) 



High School: Hanasaki Tokuharu (Saitama)

Date of Birth: June 10, 1999

Height: 177 cm (5' 10")

Weight: 75 kg (163 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Left

Nishikawa won the 2017 Summer Koshien title with Hanasaki Tokuharu last August and was the team's starting left fielder. He hit a total of 31 HRs in his HS career and specialized at hitting the gap. He was a No. 3 hitter in the lineup during the latest tournament, but also saw time as a cleanup hitter. in 6 Koshien games from the last tournament, he hit .333 (9 for 27) with two doubles and two triples.

This is the third straight year the Lions have taken a high school outfielder following Aito Takeda (formerly Otaki) and Shohei Suzuki. Nishikawa was teammates with Takeda at Hanasaki Tokuharu in 2015. Besides Nishikawa, other Lions players who've won a Koshien title include Hideto Asamura (2008), Tomoya Mori (2012), Kona Takahashi (2013) and Tatsuya Imai (2016).

Nishikawa is another long term pick for the outfield and a possible heir to Takumi Kuriyama. With the Lions set in the short term, Takeda, Suzuki and Nishikawa will compete for a job in the long run. Nishikawa also has decent speed, where he can run to first base in 4.3 seconds. He's expected to come of surgery in November recovering from an injured pectoral muscle.

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P Sho Ito (伊藤翔)


Independent League Team: Tokushima Indigo Socks (Tokushima)

High School: Yokoshiba Keiai (Chiba)

Date of Birth: February 10, 1999

Height: 175 cm (5' 9")

Weight: 72 kg (159 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Right

Ito had one dominant season in the Shikoku Island League before the Lions drafted him as he'll be 19 next year. He's another 3/4 arm slot pitcher who tops at 152 kph (94 mph) with a two-seam fastball, curve, slider and fork ball. In 16 games with the Indigo Socks, he recorded an 8-4 record with 103 IP, 92 hits, 97 K, 22 walks and a 2.18 ERA. He had the second most amount of  wins and strikeouts in the league while having the third best ERA.

As a bonus, Ito has experience playing a handful of NPB third teams (san-gun) from the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks and Yomiuri Giants. From a Lions standpoint, Ito is a long term project who has the raw tools and velocity. If everything goes right, he could be a starting pitcher in four to five years.

Ito has the same name as a soccer player who once appeared in Ligue 2 and Ligue 1 with Grenoble.

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P Kaima Taira (平良 海馬)



High School: Yaeyama Shoko (Okinawa)

Date of Birth: November 15, 1999

Height: 173 cm (5' 8")

Weight: 81 kg (179 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Left

Taira can hit as high as 154 kph (96 mph) and adds a slider, curve, cutter, changeup and sinker. In the Koshien qualifiers, Taira came up short and his team lost a game 0-1 where he started. He can bench press 110 kilograms (243 lbs) and run 50 meters in six seconds. Taira was also a cleanup hitter for his high school with the ability to hit the ball as deep as 123 meters (403 ft).

The Lions see plenty of upside with Taira with his strong velocity with the hope he can develop his other pitches, including his changeup. They can mold him in any way they want, though he was the team's ace in high school. His hitting ability can also be a fallback option if he wants to become a position player.

For any Yu-Gi-Oh! fans out there, his first name Kaima 海馬 has the exact same kanji as characters named Seto Kaiba. Of course in this case, Kaiba is the surname in the anime.

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P Kaito Yoza (與座 海人) 


College: Gifu Keizai (Gifu)

High School: Okinawa Shogaku (Okinawa)

Date of Birth: September 15, 1995

Height: 173 cm (5' 8")

Weight: 74 kg (163 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Right

Yoza is a submariner who started as a reliever before turning starter at university. His max velocity is 132 kph (82 mph) where he has a slider, curve and sinker. In his combined college career of 51 games, he recorded a 22-15 record in 326 IP, allowing 268 hits, 219 K, 52 walks and a 1.96 ERA. In his senior season, he recorded a 1.17 ERA in the spring and 0.81 ERA in the fall with more than 100 innings pitched. He earned MVP honors in both the fall 2015 and spring 2017 seasons.

It's likely that Yoza will be the heir to Kazuhisa Makita in having one submarine pitcher to develop. Makita is a pending free agent and could leave sooner than later stating his desire to play stateside. With Yoza having experience as a starter, the Lions can go either way on him when he goes through development in ni-gun.

With the addition of Taira and Yoza, the Lions have five Okinawan born players on their roster.

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IF Ryusei Tsunashima (綱島 龍生)


High School: Itoigawa Hakurei (Niigata)

Date of Birth: January 21, 2000

Height: 178 cm (5' 10")

Weight: 72 kg (159 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Left

Tsunashima grew up playing all positions, but was most recently a shortstop in high school for Itoigawa Hakurei. Has has no Koshien experience, but carried his team offensively while hitting in the heart of the order. Tsunashima is mostly a light hitting shortstop, but impressed scouts during the Koshien qualifiers.

Tsunashima is the only person from Niigata on the Lions roster. Like any high school pick, he is a long term project who can play anywhere in the field. It's possible he can take over at third base when Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura retires or sees time as a defensive replacement. His fallback options include catcher and outfielder, similar to how Hitoto Komazuki is now a catcher with the team.

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Ikusei: OF Wataru Takagi (高木渉) 


High School: Shiritsu Shinsokan (Fukuoka)

Date of Birth: December 6, 1999

Height: 180 cm (5' 11")

Weight: 75 kg (165 lbs)

Throws/Bats: Right/Left

Takagi is a two-way player who can reach 146 kph (91 mph) as a pitcher. However, the Lions took him as an outfielder. He was a cleanup hitter in high school and suffered a shoulder injury which dampened his value as a pitcher. He can run 50 meters in 5 seconds, which was the 9th fastest among players. He bat and pitching were both a problem in the Koshien qualifiers, where he struggled in the 4th game of the Fukuoka prefecture tournament on the mound.

For the Lions, he's an athlete trying to figure out what to do next in his career. The Lions can make him an OF with the hope to develop him in the long run. Takagi shares the exact same name as a famous voice actor in Japan.

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Ikusei: C Masato Saito  (齊藤 誠人)

College: Hokkaido Kyoiku Iwamizawa (Hokkaido)

High School: Sapporo Kosei (Hokkaido)

Date of Birth: August 7, 1995

Height: 179 cm (5' 10")

Weight: 168 pounds

Throws/Bats: Right/Left

Saito was a five-time Division II Best IX catcher at Hokkaido Kyoiku Iwamizawa. His pop speed on the throw to second base clocks in a 1.75 seconds and he once hit .425 in a season. In his senior year, he fractured his right hand and could not finish 2017 healthy. When Saito was in high school, he was a cleanup hitter.

This is a simple flyer pick where the Lions acquired cheap depth. Dominating Division II is nice, but the Lions and everyone else will have to wait and see what it translates to at the NPB level. The additions of Takagi and Saito were the most ikusei picks in a single draft by the Lions in franchise history. This was the first time selecting any player in the ikusei draft since 2014.

When reacting to being drafted, as a Hokkaido native, he hopes to be an interesting fan favorite like Tsuyoshi Shinjo was for the Fighters.

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Summary:

The Lions tried to go for the best pitcher available for the now, but came up short. It's clear they wanted to fill their need of a left handed pitcher, but everyone else is a project where majority of this class is full of teenagers. It is interesting that the Lions took two ikusei picks and maybe it was a hint that Yuji Onizaki and other ikusei coaches were added to coaching hierarchy earlier this month.

In 2018, we could see H. Saito as a lefty specialist to complement Shota Takekuma and Shogo Noda. Yoza could also make appearances out of the bullpen if they feel he can take over Makita's spot. None of us will know what the Lions got out of this class and it will take at least seven or eight years to evaluate what the team picked up.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Report: Lions announce Tajima as 2017 first round draft pick nomination


The Saitama Seibu Lions announced their draft pick nomination on Wednesday for the 2017 NPB Draft. Senior Director Hisanobu "Nabe-Q" Watanabe said the team will go for LHP Daiki Tajima out of the industrial team known as JR East.

Tajima, 21, is viewed as the best pitcher in the 2017 NPB Draft. It was already reported that the Orix Buffaloes will go for him, meaning both teams will enter their first drawing since 2012, which was tied for the longest running drought in the NPB Draft.

Nabe-Q said in a statement that Tajima is the best pitcher available while also needing to reinforce a left handed starter. Last year, the Lions took four right handed pitchers in the 2016 NPB Draft.

Majority of NPB teams are expected to go for IF Kotaro Kiyomiya in the draft, but several teams are on the outside looking for other possibilities. The Softbank Hawks, Chiba Lotte Marines, Tokyo Yakult Swallows, Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, Hanshin Tigers and Yokohama DeNA Baystars are all linked to Kiyomiya.

Others have a preference in athleticism, where the Hiroshima Carp openly said they will not draft Kiyomiya. Most of the Japanese media speculates they will go for C Shosei Nakamura out of Koryo HS. The Chunichi Dragons are also linked to Nakamura.

The Rakuten Eagles and Yomiuri Giants have both been secretive about their draft nomination. Rakuten has been learning towards IF Hisanori Yasuda while the Giants are contemplating between Nakamura, Kiyomiya and Tajima.

Assuming the Carp, Tigers and Hawks do not take Tajima, the Lions will be the last to draw from the box when they go for Tajima with Orix and possibly any other team involved. By finishing in second place in the Pacific League, they have the 9th priority in waivers. Nabe-Q will be the representative to take the draw which he has no control over.

The 2017 NPB Draft begins at 4:00 a.m. ET (1:00 a.m. PT on Thursday, October 26 with an ikusei round starting shortly after. It will be interesting to see who is the future for all 12 NPB Teams.

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Other note:

-Kento Sugiyama was announced as a ni-gun pitching coach for the Lions. He previously worked with the Lamigo Monkeys in Taiwan's CPBL.

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Saturday, October 21, 2017

2017 NPB Draft: How should the Lions approach it?


The 2017 NPB Draft is on October 26 and all attention will shift towards it when the day comes. Even the teams who will be in the Japan Series will need to turn their attention to the draft for one night.

As a reminder, the first round is a free for all where everyone selects who they want and if anyone wants the same player, they draw for his rights with a winning ticket out of a box. Teams that miss on their player will go again until all 12 teams have their first round selection. The record for most teams wanting one player is eight.


Hideo Nomo was one of the two instances where this happened while the other was Hideo Koike in 1990. A video of the first round in 1989 is here below.


 Most recently, the 2016 first round can be seen here.


For the record, the representative for each team is chosen at the team's discretion. Sometimes it's the manager, other times it could be an executive, GM equivalent or even a scout. 

From the second round and on, the draft order is like a traditional one where the worst team of one league goes first, then it reverses to the worst of the opposite league then flops back to the second worst of the original in a snake format. The Pacific League won the regular season head-to-head series again, so they will select first.

Here is how the draft order will look in the second round, while the odd rounds will be this list in reverse:

1. Chiba Lotte Marines (Pacific League, 6th place)
2. Tokyo Yakult Swallows (Central League, 6th place)
3. Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters (PL, 5th)
4. Chunichi Dragons (CL, 5th)
5. Orix Buffaloes (PL, 4th)
6. Yomiuri Giants (CL, 4th)
7. Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (PL, 3rd)
8. Yokohama DeNA Baystars (CL, 3rd)
9. Saitama Seibu Lions (PL, 2nd)
10. Hanshin Tigers (CL, 2nd)
11. Fukuoka Softbank Hawks (PL, 1st)
12. Hiroshima Carp (PL, 1st)

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For the Lions, they could go in many directions this year. Here is a breakdown of each position: 

Pitcher:

The Lions have openly said they're interested in reinforcing their pitching depth. Last year, they didn't take a left handed pitcher and only took four right handers. Two pitchers have first round potential, but none other than Daiki Tajima out of the industrial league's JR East is the consensus pitcher everyone likes. Kohei Miyadai out of the Tokyo University, from the Tokyo Big6 league is also an intriguing option among lefties. 

Right handed pitchers Ryota Kusuba, Sho Yamaguchi, Hiroki Kondo, Keiichi Okada and Masaki Tanigawa are all names that have been linked. Yamaguchi is the only high school pitcher among the bunch while Tanigawa and Okada are industrial league pitchers. Okada is a side arm pitcher as well. Kondo and Kusuba are both from University.

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Catcher:

On paper, the Lions don't need a catcher immediately, but Ginjiro Sumitani could exercise his international free agent option if he wants. Masatoshi Okada is a spell catcher while Tomoya Mori has been behind the plate part time. With Tatsuyuki Uemoto retiring, there is room for one.

The Lions have been linked to two catchers where one of them is expected to be a first round pick. Shosei Nakamura broke Kazuhiro Kiyohara's single Koshien home run record and carried his high school through the tournament. He is considered to be very athletic and at least one team will go for him. Munetaka Murakami is another high school fall back option, but can't be an immediate contributor.

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Infielder:

With the Lions drafting Sosuke Genda, they won't be hungry for a shortstop anytime soon. However, third base could be a hole with Takeya "Okawari-kun" not getting any younger and he's also a pending free agent. Finding a corner infielder wouldn't hurt.

Hisanori Yasuda out of Riseisha high school is one of the most touted at his position. He could be a fallback option if the Lions miss out on a drawing. The most intriguing infielder of this draft class is Kotaro Kiyomiya, who has been hyped up for several years. Many thought he would choose to follow his family's path of going to university, but he shocked the baseball world by making himself eligible for the NPB draft.

Kiyomiya is consensus "best player" in this year's class and it wouldn't be surprising if nine teams go for him, which would surpass the record. His bat is supposed to be the best in the game, but he isn't as athletic as other position players and would be at 1B.

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Outfielder:

The Lions don't have a power hitting outfielder, though Shogo Akiyama had a magical 25 home run season as the team's CF. Two corporate league outfielders in Toshio Kitagawa and Seigo Yada are who the Lions are linked to with the former having the ability to play catcher. Having a solidified fourth outfielder wouldn't hurt, but the Lions are set at defensive replacement.

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Outlook:

The Lions are set when it comes to position players for 2018. However, it never hurts to add someone who can help immediately. They won't be playing every game like Sosuke Genda, but having an extra infielder or outfielder? It won't cause a problem.

Currently, the Lions are contemplating between Kiyomiya or a pitcher with their first round pick. We're guessing they want a pitcher for the now, rather than a high schooler if it's in the first round. There has not been an announcement at the time of this writing, so the longer this goes, the more we think they don't go for Kiyomiya. 

Hisanobu "Nabe-Q" Watanabe said the team will make a decision on October 25, the day before the draft. Nabe-Q was the man who drew the winning tickets for Yusei Kikuchi in 2009 and Tatsuya Oishi in 2010. His nickname is "hand of god" for his success in a six-team drawing for back-to-back years.

Are the Lions feeling lucky or are they not? Tajima will likely get a drawing as well, but not as many teams involved. It was already announced that the Orix Buffaloes will go for Tajima.

The last time the Lions went to a drawing was 2012, where they lost a three-way draw for Nao Higashihama. Does that drought end? They've taken Tomoya Mori, Kona Takahashi, Shinsaburo Tawata and Tastsuya Imai unopposed. This is tied with Orix for the longest drought without a drawing in the draft. They definitely need at least one left handed pitcher at minimum.

Kiyomiya will likely have at least six teams selecting him while Tajima should have three at minimum. If the Lions went for Kiyomiya, the winning ticket might have already been drawn as they'll be one of the last to select. However, he's still talented enough to make an attempt.

Miyadai and Yasuda would not be bad options if the Lions wanted to go rogue and buck any prognosticators. There are currently 10 open spots on the roster with 7 senryokugai players, while it was also announced that Stephen Fife, Frank Garces and Alexis Candelario wouldn't be coming back. Candelario was released before the regular season ended.

With the roster space, they could easily draft seven players. I'd expect a six man class at the smallest due to the recent cuts. I would not be surprised if they take at least four or five pitchers with one or two position players at most. My gut says Tajima will be the selection, but they could surprise and feel lucky enough to go for Kiyomiya.

Anything can happen unless we see the Lions make a public announcement like they did with Tawata in the past. A post-draft article will come when the time comes. Stay tuned, this should be interesting how the long term future could be.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

2017 Climax Series: Pennant winners have high expectations


The 2017 Climax Series for the Pacific and Central Leagues begin soon. Here's how we see both sides. A reminder that the pennant winners of both leagues are automatically awarded one game for finishing in first, but we will write this as if there were 7 games to not confuse you. (Example: Eagles in 6 means they won four games and lost one on the field, Carp in 4 means they played three games on the field and won all of them).

Pacific League

Fukuoka Softbank Hawks

The Hawks win the pennant after nearly missing a year ago thanks to a hot run by the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. This year, they had a slow April, but went on a tear after interleague play. Yuki Yanagita will likely be hurt and not playing, but they have plenty of options and depth as a whole.

While Kodai Senga is arguably their best starter, he spent multiple stints off the ichi-gun and other young Hawks players would get playing time as a rebuild on the fly. Nao Higashihama carried the load of innings, Shunta Ishikawa and Yuki Matsumoto snuck in some starts with the former playing well. Seiji Uebayashi was a starting outfield and Takuya Kai will be the next catcher with the fast pop time.

The addition of Alfredo Despaigne gave them the pop they needed after missing Dae-Ho Lee from 2015. A good chunk of the year was also without Seiichi Uchikawa, but the Hawks managed to dominate the Pacific League anyways.

Closer Dennis Sarfate also set the new single-season saves record and continued his strikeout dominance when taking the 9th inning. Softbank has a hoard of depth at all positions if needed.

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Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles

The Eagles outpitched the Saitama Seibu Lions in the opening stage of the Climax Series thanks to Takayuki Kishi in Game 2 and a combination of bullpen and Minabu Mima in Game 3. While they were shutout against the Lions in Game 1, the bats did just enough damage against Ken Togame and Ryoma Nogami before they were able to feast on the bullpen.

Eigoro Mogi and Zelous Wheeler were the two who rounded out the dangerous offense in the first stage. The bullpen did their jobs in Games 2 and 3, but going to Fukuoka will be a different animal.

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Outlook

Christian: The first stage of the Pacific League Climax Series has been viewed by spectators as the rights to lose to the Hawks. Not just because of the one-game advantage, but for how the Eagles have to put in a fourth starter to begin the next series. The depth is not there on paper and the Hawks are expected to cruise, but I think the Eagles pitching will prevent a shutout in the wins column.  Hawks in 5

(Wes pick to come later)


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Central League

Hiroshima Carp

The Carp won their second straight pennant and pulled away almost as early as last year when clinching it. While the talent is still there, the path was different than expected. Seiya Suzuki had an MVP caliber season prior to his injury while Yoshihiro Maru and Ryosuke Kikuchi were able to put two consecutive strong years together.

Their largest surprise was the production they got out of their young starters. Kazuki Yabuta was a reliever converted to starter. Yusuke Nomura led the team in innings while former first round picks Daichi Osera and Akitake Okada were not flashy, but solid. Kris Johnson had an injury prone season and down year after being the reigning Sawamura Award winner, but the offense was able to carry the team up to this point.

Hiroshima's biggest weakness is their bullpen, where Takeru Imamura, Shota Nakazaki and Jay Jackson have had their ups and downs. Jackson in particular lost playing time in the middle of the year, but regained his setup role at the end.

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Yokohama DeNA Baystars

The Baystars made it through the first round after controversially playing a second game in the puddles of Koshien Stadium against the Hanshin Tigers. Despite all the weather issues, Game 3 did not have a problem where Joe Wieland and the bats all showed up at once.

Consider the rainy game a bad outlier, where the ball took some strange bounces in a missy field, but the Baystars pitching was solid otherwise. Hitting is still a slight concern, but it was important that Jose Lopez got the big home run in the Game 3. This is a rematch of last year's Climax Series with Wieland, Haruhiro Hamaguchi and Spencer Patton being the new additions while the Carp rotation is different.

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Outlook

Christian: The Baystars took another step forward from last year's team that didn't have to see Tomoyuki Sugano. However, they still got the benefit of playing in a muddy field which changed the complexion of the series. With the Carp being a little raw in comparison to last year combined with an improved Baystars team, I think this can be competitive. I'm still sticking with the odds and the favorite, but the Baystars have a fair shot at this considering they went 12-12 against the Carp (Not counting a final regular season game that was pointless for Hiroshima).  Carp in 6

(Wes pick to come later)

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Kikuchi and Yamakawa win final monthly 2017 MVP award


The final monthly awards for NPB were announced by the league on Tuesday night. From the results, the Saitama Seibu Lions swept the Pacific League as Hotaka Yamakawa and Yusei Kikuchi were named hitter and pitcher of September/October, respectively. 

To end the regular season, Yamakawa hit .326 with 10 HRs, 19 runs, 30 hits, 68 total bases and a .739 slugging average. In 10 of those games, he recorded multiple hits.

Yamakawa won this award for the second consecutive time as he was named the August 2017 recipient last month. He became fourth player in league history to win the monthly award in back to back months. The other three are Doug Jennings (July and August 1995), Ichiro Suzuki (June and July 1998), and Yuki Yanagita (August and September 2015), according to YakyuDB (Gen).

"I made my presence known and I felt a lot of pressure a little being the Lions cleanup hitter," Yamakawa said in a statement. "When I got up to the ichi-gun, at the beginning, I wasn't hitting well and at that time I've been putting pressure on how to do better if I do not hit well today. As the cleanup hitter, I firmly have confidence of going out with absolute results." 

Kikuchi earned his first career monthly MVP award with a 3-0 record, 0.29 ERA, 31 IP, 37 strikeouts and one shutout in four games through September and October. On September 7, he pitched a four-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts.

On September 14, he went into Sendai and earned a win over his senpai and predecessor ace Takayuki Kishi. 

"That game was purely enjoyable," Kikuchi said.

Including this month, the Lions officially earned five monthly MVP honors in 2017. Ken Togame (June 2017) and Shogo Akiyama (July 2017) were previously winners in the summer while Yamakawa won his first award in August.

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Central League monthly MVP winners:

OF Ryuhei Matsuyama (Carp)

P Tomoyuki Sugano (Giants)

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