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Otani heads early WBC roster for Samurai Japan

by

Staff Writer

Samurai Japan released a partial roster for next spring’s World Baseball Classic on Tuesday, naming 18 players who will be part of the squad tasked with bringing the title back to Japan in March.

Pacific League MVP Shohei Otani, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters’ two-way sensation, headlined the list, which featured a number of holdovers from the Japan team that faced Mexico and the Netherlands during the four-game 2016 Samurai Japan Challenge in November.

“For Samurai Japan, the goal is to put together the strongest team possible and recapture the title,” NPB commissioner Katsuhiko Kumazaki said in a statement. Japan won the first two editions of the WBC before losing in the semifinals of the 2013 tournament, which was won by the Dominican Republic.

There were no major leaguers among the first 18 names, though those players remain eligible for the final roster.

“Regarding MLB players, we are not going to announce where we are (in negotiations, etc.) and it’s all going to be announced when we actually announce (the final roster),” Japan Baseball secretary general Atsushi Ihara said.

Otani was listed among the seven pitchers on the roster. The 22-year-old was 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA and 174 strikeouts on the mound for the Japan Series champion Fighters. Otani, however, also hit .322 with 22 home runs in 323 at-bats.

Samurai Japan manager Hiroki Kokubo, who was not present Tuesday, has in the past said he was open to Otani contributing in both roles, pending discussions with the Fighters.

“He came up with results both as a pitcher and hitter, so we are going to have to consult with our manager and coaches on how we can capitalize on his maximum potential,” said Samurai Japan team head Hiromasa Kamo.

Other pitchers named were fellow Fighters Hirotoshi Masui and Naoki Miyanishi, as well as Kazuhisa Makita (Seibu Lions) Takahiro Norimoto (Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles), Tomoyuki Sugano (Yomiuri Giants) and Ryo Akiyoshi (Tokyo Yakult Swallows).

Fighters backstop Shota Ono and the Eagles’ Motohiro Shima were the two catchers listed.

Giants shortstop Hayato Sakamoto, who led the Central League with a .344 average in 2016, was listed in the infield along with Sho Nakata (Fighters), Nobuhiro Matsuda (Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks), Ryosuke Kikuchi (Hiroshima Carp) and Tetsuto Yamada (Swallows).

Carp outfielder Seiya Suzuki earned his first call-up to the national team during the exhibition series last month and has maintained his place.

Other outfielders named were Seiichi Uchikawa (Hawks), Shogo Akiyama (Lions) and Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (BayStars).

Uchikawa was the only player named who was also on the 2009 team that won the title, while he, Makita, Matsuda, Nakata and Sakamoto were on the 2013 squad.

Japan will choose its remaining 10 players at a later date.

“Including the Japanese major leaguers, the remaining 10 players we choose will be enough to help us strive to be No. 1 in the world,” Kumazaki said in his statement.

Japan hasn’t yet set a date for deciding the final roster, though the tournament deadline is Feb. 6.

“We don’t really have the timetable, but manager Kokubo is saying that he wants to set it early,” Ihara said.