|

Giants’ Chono leading spring training youth movement

by Jason Coskrey

While it’s wise to take spring numbers with a grain of salt, a trio of Central League rookies are still turning heads.

Yomiuri Giants rookie Hisayoshi Chono, first-year Chunichi Dragon Yusuke Matsui and Yokohama BayStars newbie Yoshitomo Tsutsugo have each taken the initiative during the spring and, in at least one case, should be giving the veterans on their squads something to think about.

Chono has been on fire since the opening pitch of the spring and at this point is essentially daring the Giants to keep him off the opening day roster.

He made an early name for himself by going 11-for-26 in six practice games, leading the team to vow to get him in as many exhibition games as possible.

Chono’s class has shone through there as well, with the former industrial league gem starting off 8-for-20 with a homer and nine RBIs in six exhibition contests. He also collected a pair of doubles and a triple during that span.

The outfielder’s early success comes in the face of the many detractors he gained as result of his dogged pursuit to join the Giants.

Drafted by the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in the fourth round of the 2006 amateur draft, Chono refused to sign, saying he would only play for the Giants. The Chiba Lotte Marines took a second-round flyer on him in 2008, only to be similarly rebuffed.

Now having finally gotten his wish of being drafted by the Kyojin, who took him in the first round last year, there are sure to be many interested observers ready to see if he was worth all the trouble.

So far he’s shown nothing but upside, although things often change for rookies who get a shot at the ichi-gun level when the games start to count.

Spots in the Yomiuri starting nine are hard to come by, but as manager Tatsunori Hara has shown with infielder Hayato Sakamoto, there are places to be had for the gifted. Fellow outfielder Matsui hasn’t shown Chono’s efficiency, but he’s made a fair share of noise with his bat.

The Chunichi rookie hit a homer in his first exhibition game against the Tokyo Yakult Swallows on Feb. 20 and then went deep twice more later in the spring to become the first rookie since Sadaharu Oh in 1959 to hit at least three homers during the exhibition season.

On the downside, the Dragons have a bevy of outfield options and it’ll take more than a few deep balls to win over manager Hiromitsu Ochiai.

Though the fourth-rounder could win himself a bit of ichi-gun mop-up duty or even a spot as a pinch hitter if he shows the same promise on the farm.

Tsutsugo has had a much quieter spring but has been impressive during spring practices.

The BayStars have told the switch-hitter to focus on hitting from the left side and his work has the Yokohama brass trying to come up with a way to use him.

The rookie should be in heavy rotation during the rest of the exhibition schedule, as he attempts to win a spot on the opening day roster.

As a third baseman by trade, Tsutsugo will have a hard time displacing incumbent Shuichi Murata.

But with the floundering BayStars badly in need of new blood, if he can show enough promise, there’s a possibility he could win himself a spot in the outfield.

The regular season takes the shine off rookies with an unforgiving rapidness. But building confidence early on in the spring can go a long way toward getting a career off on the right foot.