Spring camps begin for the 12 Japan pro baseball teams in just 10 days, and there has been a flurry of activity in the past week with the Central and Pacific League clubs signing new-and second-hand-foreign players and finalizing rosters for the coming season. Following is a team-by-team update on the non-Japanese names appearing on the lists, as of Jan. 20:
Chiba Lotte Marines — Manager Bobby Valentine is back to defend his Japan Series championship with fellow American coaches Tom Robson and Frank Ramppen.
Holdover players are outfielders Matt Franco, Benny Agbayani and Val Pascucci, and joining is pitcher Kevin Beirne from the Orix Buffaloes.
Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks — The Hawks are bringing back first baseman Julio Zuleta, the 2005 runnerup in Pacific League batting average, home runs and RBIs, and infielder-outfielder Jolbert Cabrera.
Newcomers are pitchers D.J. Carrasco, coming from the Kansas City Royals and expected to fill the role as the team’s closer, and Taiwanese national team star Yang Yao-hsun.
Seibu Lions — Slugging first baseman Alex Cabrera will be back with the Lions along with three new American players: third baseman Jeff Liefer and pitchers Alex Graman and Chris Gissell. Graman is 193 cm tall, and Gissell stands 196 cm, so they are being billed as Seibu’s “Twin Towers.”
Also still on the Lions roster are Taiwanese pitchers Hsu Ming-Chie and Chang Chi-Chie.
Orix Buffaloes — The Buffs have kept sluggers Karim Garcia and Cliff Brumbaugh and added infielder Jason Grabowski from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Orix has also reached into the recycle bin to sign pitchers Dan Serafini from Lotte and Tom Davey from the Hiroshima Carp.
Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters — Skipper Trey Hillman’s team retains pitching coach Mike Brown, lefty hurlers Brad Thomas (from Australia) and Corey Lee and Panamanian first baseman Fernando Seguignol.
A recent report says the F’s will also probably sign infielder-outfielder Jose Macias, late of the Chicago Cubs and also from Panama, but that is still in the works.
Tokohu Rakuten Golden Eagles — The Eagles have four foreigners under contract, including three recycled players.
Rakuten picked up third baseman Jose Fernandez from Seibu and signed infielder Rick Short from the Washington Nationals. Short played in 2003 as Fernandez’s teammate with the Chiba Lotte Marines.
Rakuten is also getting lefty pitcher Cedrick Bowers, let go by the Yokohama BayStars, and Taiwan league star hurler Lin Ying-Chieh.
Hanshin Tigers — The defending Central League champs are keeping pitchers Jeff Williams and Darwin Cubillan and adding a third moundsman, Chris Oxspring, Williams’ Australian Olympic mate in 2004 who was with the San Diego Padres in 2005.
Also back in Tiger pinstripes are first baseman Andy Sheets and outfielder Shane Spencer.
Chunichi Dragons — First baseman Tyrone Woods and centerfielder Alex Ochoa will be back in Nagoya, joined by holdover Dominican pitchers Domingo Guzman and Luis Martinez and Taiwanese hurler Chen Wei Yin.
Yokohama BayStars — The only non-Japanese on the ‘Stars active roster at this writing is closer Marc Kroon, but there is speculation Yokohama wants to sign former Yakult Swallows (2003-2004) pitcher Jason Beverlin.
Why the club is so slow in signing gaikokujin position players remains a mystery.
John Turney returns as strength and conditioning coach.
Tokyo Yakult Swallows — Yakult’s power-packed lineup includes repeaters Alex Ramirez and Adam Riggs, and the team has added infielder Greg LaRocca who played two years with the Carp.
On the hill, two pitchers will return: right-handers Rick Guttormson and Dicky Gonzalez. Lefty Alex Ramirez Jr. remains as a pitching prospect.
Yomiuri Giants — The Kyojin have acquired pitcher Jeremy Powell (known as “J.P.” last season while a 14-game winner with Orix) and a first-year-in-Japan chucker, righty Gary Glover, most recently with the Milwaukee Brewers.
There is also a holdover pitcher from Taiwan, Chiang Chien-ming.
Yomiuri has hired first baseman Joe Dillon from the Florida Marlins and just lured Korean first baseman-outfielder Lee Seung Yeop from Lotte.
Hiroshima Carp — Marty Brown is the new manager and Jeff Livesey his hitting coach with the Red Helmets.
Active players include holdovers Mike Romano, John Bale and Juan Feliciano, and a newbie in Japan is Sean Douglass, a 2005 member of the Detroit Tigers.
All are pitchers, and no foreign position players are listed on the Carp 2006 roster at this time. That makes 52 foreign players, three managers and five coaches under contract to the Japanese teams, with more signings expected real soon.
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Finally this week, of all things, there seems to be a controversy in Seattle over the spelling of the name of the Mariners new catcher. I thought this might happen after a photo in the paper appeared, showing the guy holding up his Mariners jersey with his name on the back as “Johjima.” So, I’m getting e-mails from the U.S. with people asking me why I spell it as Jojima.
How do I handle it? Do I have to go into a full explanation of kanji, romanji, the Hepburn system, the long and short “o” and the inconsistencies of all of the above?
I ride the JR train from Kichijoji to Shinjuku but, if I take an Odakyu bus, the sign says it goes from “Kitijyoji” to “Sinjyuku.” If we’re going to spell Jojima as “Johjima,” shouldn’t another Seattle player, Ichiro, be known as “Ichiroh?”
Looks like a long season coming up there at Safecoh Field.
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