While high school players usually get most attention as professional baseball’s potential stars of tomorrow, the college kids took their turn in the limelight in front of fans and pro scouts this week.
Japan’s top college players showed what they can do against their American counterparts in the 37th Annual Japan-USA Championships.
During the five-game series, spectators got a glimpse of the the next crop of young players who are looking to get drafted and hopefully land on a professional roster.
Waseda University pitcher Yuki Saito — as usual — drew most of the attention and responded to the media scrutiny with a victory on Monday night at Tokyo Dome.
Saito struggled with his control early, but settled down to have a nice outing against the Americans and avenged a loss in the final game of the 2007 series.
Saito, wearing No. 1, the uniform number reserved for the team’s top pitcher, allowed two runs and struck out five over five innings to earn the victory.
Another top player featured in the event is Hosei senior Kazuhito Futagami. Eligible to enter the upcoming college/industrial league draft, Futagami dazzled during this year’s Tokyo Big Six competition going 4-0 in five starts with a 1.41 ERA in 38 1/3 innings with 37 strikeouts.
The right-hander was recently named the MVP of the 58th All-Japan Collegiate Championships and has impressed with a arsenal that includes a curve, slider and forkball.
He also took home the award for the tournament’s top pitcher after finishing 3-0 with two complete-game wins, striking out 16 and walking two in 24 innings.
Futagami had a rough day against the U.S. team on the opening day of the USA-Japan series, ending up on the wrong end of a 3-0 loss. He worked three innings of Game 4, allowing one run and striking out four, but did not factor into the decision.
Recent NPB stars to compete in the challenge include current Seibu Lions pitcher Takayuki Kishi and Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles pitcher Kohei Hasebe and Chiba Lotte Marines slugger Shoitsu Omatsu among others.
Kishi, who won Japan’s only game of the 2006 series, was drafted by the Seibu Lions after leaving college. He’s done pretty well for himself, winning the 2008 Japan Series MVP Award. Kishi is 9-1 in 15 starts for the Lions this season.