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Omine could have large role to play for Marines in 2016


There were lotteries held for the rights to three high school pitchers during the 2006 NPB draft.

The most sought after was a right-hander from Komadai Tomakomai (Hokkaido) High named Masahiro Tanaka, who had four teams vying for his services. The other two, Tatsuyoshi Masubuchi and Yuta Omine, drew two suitors apiece.

Tanaka, of course, went on to great heights, playing for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles for seven seasons — winning two Sawamura Awards (2011 and 2013), Pacific League MVP honors (2013) and a Japan Series title — before moving on to the major leagues and the New York Yankees, for whom he’s expected to start on opening day this year.

Masubuchi, on the other hand, had seven mostly uneventful years with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows before joining the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in 2014. He has yet to appear in an ichi-gun game for Nippon Ham.

Omine’s rights were won by the Chiba Lotte Marines during that draft, which also saw Kenta Maeda taken by the Hiroshima Carp.

Tanaka surpassed expectations while Masubuchi didn’t reach them. Omine’s story, however, is still being written. Now 27 years old, Omine has a career record of 25-28 — 10 more wins than Masubuchi has managed during his career, but just one more than Tanaka had in 2013 alone. Omine has a 4.57 ERA since his debut in 2007 and a career fielding independent pitching of 4.41, according to Data Stadium.

Omine still has time to trend upward, and this season would be as good a time as any to start doing just that.

The Marines need depth in their starting rotation, which brought up the rear in the Pacific League with a 4.02 ERA (among starters) last season. The team knows, more or less, what to expect from veteran Hideaki Wakui, and 28-year old Ayumu Ishikawa has been consistent in his first two pro seasons. New addition Jason Standridge also comes with a proven track record.

Assuming those three give the Marines even average value, relative to their abilities, Omine finally coming into his own could be a major asset for a team that doesn’t feature the strongest offense but has a nice group of relievers and may be hovering on the edge of playoff contention.

Omine has had a decent spring so far. He struck out six and allowed an unearned run in five innings against the Hanshin Tigers in his most recent outing, with a fastball that had nice movement and a very good-looking forkball. It was the kind of performance the Okinawa native needs to take into the season and replicate on a consistent basis.

Omine is coming off the best season of his career, finishing 8-7 with a 3.17 ERA, 3.76 FIP and 70 strikeouts in 133⅓ innings. Now the Marines need him to build off that. Omine is solid with his fastball-forkball combination, but if he can refine his curveball, which opposing batters hit well last season, he could take another step forward. He might also yield results from attacking the zone more.

The opportunistic Marines snatched the PL’s final Climax Series berth when the Seibu Lions lost their way late last year. This season, the Marines might have to make their own luck, and depth in the starting rotation would be a big help. Assuming Wakui, Ishikawa and Standridge at least live up to past results, Omine might be somewhat of an X-factor.

The time has come for Omine to put all his cards on the table and prove to everyone that the Marines really did hit the jackpot during that lottery a decade ago.