Giants now banking on Kataoka to shore up second base

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

The Yomiuri Giants have, at long last, finally found their second baseman.

Again.

This time it’s Yasuyuki Kataoka, the former Seibu Lions infielder who on Sunday announced his intention to join the two-time defending Central League champions.

Kataoka will become the next in a long line of players who’ve had auditions at second base over the last few years.

The Giants might as well have planted a revolving door in the field next to shortstop Hayato Sakamoto given the number of players, including Sakamoto himself for a game, who have spent time at second over the last six years.

The late Takuya Kimura logged 92 games there in 2007 and 103 in 2008, but no player notched even 80 games at second in 2009 and 2010.

Then it looked like Yomiuri had its man in Daisuke Fujimura, who spent parts of 113 games at second base in 2011 and 100 in 2012, but he was deemed unacceptable, with Takayuki Terauchi assuming the lion’s share of the work last year, manning the spot 96 times.

Despite a wealth of candidates, including but not limited to Terauchi, Fujimura, and Daisuke Nakai, who was solid there in 2013, the Giants are banking on Kataoka providing the mix of both serviceable defense and offensive production (which the they seem to regard as the more important of the two) they want.

Kataoka debuted for the Lions in 2005, but really hit his stride from 2008-2010, turning himself into an OK fielder — his only year with at least 130 games and a fielding percentage above .990 was in 2009, when he led the Pacific League — but really earning his keep offensively by hitting .281 with 160 stolen bases and 30 home runs over that three year stretch.

The former All-Star MVP (Game 2 of the 2010 All-Star Series) and 2009 World Baseball Classic member has been slowed by injures in recent years, but provided a definite spark upon his return to the field this season, fueling the Lions’ rally into the second-place spot in the Pacific League.

If he’s healthy, Kataoka is an upgrade offensively with a bit more power and base-stealing ability than the players he’ll vie with for playing time, a group which includes the newly signed Hirokazu Ibata, another former All-Star.

What Kataoka provides, however, could come at the cost of the further development of Nakai, a young player who was rounding into shape and may now be tossed aside like Fujimura.

Jumping ship: It might be a good idea for the Seibu Lions PR staff to hold off on finalizing the new team calendar, because there’s no telling who’ll still be around.

A few key players figure to be parting ways with Seibu this offseason, with the first domino falling when infielder Yasuyuki Kataoka announced his intention to head to the Yomiuri Giants.

Former Sawamura Award winner Hideaki Wakui looks primed to follow Kataoka out the door, and Japanese media reports have third baseman and stolen base dynamo Esteban German and relief pitcher Dan Sarfate also looking to pack their bags for greener pastures.

Losing both German and Kataoka from the infield would be a blow for Seibu, and with Wakui having rebuilt himself (albeit briefly) into a force out of the bullpen late in the season, he would count as another weapon lost.

The Lions and their fans can take heart that at least hard-slugging infielder Takeya Nakamura, all-around talent Hideto Asamura, and rising young pitcher Yusei Kikuchi (depending on his health) will lead them into the 2014 season.