This column, identifying the foreign players signed by the 12 Japan pro baseball teams, normally gets written in mid-to-late February. That’s about the time the clubs have usually announced most of their non-Japanese acquisitions for the coming season.
However, this year, the Central and Pacific League teams appear to be already just about finished with their import-hiring. Only the Chunichi Dragons have fewer than four non-Japanese names on their roster, and a total of 62 players, four managers and six coaches are set to participate in the 2008 Japan pro ball campaign.
We have men from the United States, Canada, Australia, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, South Korea and Taiwan, one born in Spain and another in Anchorage, Alaska, that hotbed of baseball excitement.
Following is the roll call of those 72 guys who will report to spring camps, which open on Feb. 1:
Yomiuri Giants (8) — P Adrian Burnside, P Chang Chien Ming, IF Luis Gonzalez, P Seth Greisinger, P Marc Kroon, P Wirfin Obispo, OF Alex Ramirez and IF Lee Seung Yeop.
Chunichi Dragons (3) — P Rafael Cruz, OF Lee Byung Kyu and IF Tyrone Woods.
Hanshin Tigers (4) — P Scott Atchison, OF Lew Ford, P Ryan Vogelsong, P Jeff Williams.
Yokohama BayStars (6+1) — IF Larry Bigbie, IF J.J. Furmaniak, P Travis Hughes, P Matt White, P Dave Williams, P Mike Wood and coach John Turney.
Hiroshima Carp (6+2) — P Ben Kozlowski, P Colby Lewis, P Victor Marte, OF Alex Ochoa, IF Scott Seabol, P Mike Schultz, manager Marty Brown and coach Jeff Livsey.
Tokyo Yakult Swallows (5) — P Dicky Gonzalez, OF Aaron Guiel, IF Adam Riggs, P Daniel Rios and P Lim Chang Yong.
Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters (4) — P Ryan Glynn, OF Mitch Jones, OF Terrmel Sledge and P Brian Sweeney.
Chiba Lotte Marines (6+4) — P Winston Abreu, OF Benny Agbayani, IF Jose Ortiz, P Brian Sikorski, P Wu Szu Yo, IF Julio Zuleta, manager Bobby Valentine, farm team manager Lenn Sakata, coach Frank Ramppen and coach Lyle Yates.
Fukuoka Softbank Hawks (5) — P Rick Guttormson, P C.J. Nitkowski, OF Michael Restovich, P Jason Standridge and P Yang Yao-hsun.
Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (5) — P Lin En-yu, IF Jose Fernandez, P Domingo Guzman, IF-OF Rick Short and P Lin Ying-chieh.
Saitama Seibu Lions (5) — OF Hiram Bocachica, IF Craig Brazell, P Alex Graman, P Matt Kinney and P Hsu Ming-chieh.
Orix Buffaloes (5+3) — IF Alex Cabrera, P Tom Davey, IF Greg LaRocca, P Jeremy Powell, OF Tuffy Rhodes, manager Terry Collins, coach Mike Brown and coach Jon Debus.
Last week I wrote about Hughes being a promising replacement for Kroon as the BayStars closer, and here are a few more comments about newcomers looking to make an impact in their debut year.
The Softbank Web site quotes Hawks manager Sadaharu Oh as saying he thinks Restovich “could be the second coming of Randy Bass.” Not sure if the Rochester, Minn., native and former Twins player can hit 54 home runs in a season or win Triple Crowns as Bass did with Hanshin, but he’s got some power.
Restovich, 29, hit 20 homers in only 97 games last year at Columbus, the Class AAA affiliate of the Washington Nationals. He’s also had years in Triple-A where he hit 29 and 27 homers and appears to be one of those “4-A” players, as was Bass when he joined the Tigers in 1983, who excel in the highest level in the minors but just can’t seem to achieve stardom in the majors.
Seabol, 32, is the successor to Takahiro Arai, who left the Carp as a free agent and signed with Hanshin. Hiroshima has given Seabol Arai’s uniform No. 25, his position at third base and probably his cleanup slot in the batting order.
Seabol, from McKeesport, Pa., is coming off an excellent 2007 season with Albuquerque, the Florida Marlins’ top farm team. He hit .300 with 32 homers and 105 RBIs in 139 games.
Rios was the 2007 MVP in the Korea Baseball Organization. He won 22 games for the Doosan Bears and comes to Yakult to pick up for Seth Greisinger, another right-hander who pitched in the KBO in 2006 and led the Japan Central League with 16 wins in 2007, then moved on to Yomiuri.
A six-year veteran of Korean baseball, Rios is 35 and a one-time New York Yankees hurler (1997-98). He’s the one born in Madrid.
Yokohama pitcher Dave Williams is the guy who began life in the cooler climes of Alaska almost 29 years ago. Like his namesake Jeff Williams of the Tigers, Dave is a situational lefty who has won 22 major league games over five seasons with Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and the New York Mets.
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Finally this week, Jim Bouton, the former New York Yankees speedballer, Seattle Pilots knuckleballer and author of “Ball Four” and other books about his wacky baseball career, is looking for a Japanese team to participate in the Vintage Base Ball Federation World Series, which will be held Aug. 14-17 in Westfield, Mass.
Bouton says, “It’s a four-team tournament featuring a California League champion, a Northeast Regional tournament winner, the host Westfield Wheelmen and hopefully a team from Japan.
“We would pay for lodging, plus the vintage uniforms, balls, bats and gloves sent over early, so they could practice with them; they will learn quickly.”
Pictures of last year’s event may be viewed at www.VintageFederation.com, and Japanese teams interested in participating this summer may contact Bouton through this Web site.
Contact Wayne Graczyk at: wayne@JapanBall.com