Spring training camps open for the 12 Japan pro baseball teams on Thursday, Feb. 1, and the Pacific and Central Leagues will welcome a total of 64 foreigners in uniform.
Among them will be four managers, five coaches and 55 players, so let us take a team-by-team look at which non-Japanese guys we will be seeing here this season.
Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters — Manager Trey Hillman is back for a fifth year, and he will defend his team’s 2006 Japan championship with four players from across the Pacific. Panamanian first baseman-designated hitter Fernando Seguignol is back for his fifth year in Japan, to be joined in the lineup by newcomer Andy Green, an infielder.
Two American pitchers are on the roster: right-handers Ryan Glynn, who was with the Rakuten Eagles last year, and Brian Sweeney, coming in from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Coach Dave Owen, a former Chicago Cubs player, will assist Hillman on the bench.
Seibu Lions — The Leos will play in the re-named Goodwill Dome with six imported players. First baseman Alex Cabrera of Venezuela will return for a seventh Japanese season, and also coming back are infielder Jeff Liefer, pitchers Hsu Ming-chieh of Taiwan, and Chris Gissell and Alex Graman from the U.S. New to the club is righty pitcher Jason Johnson, late of the Cincinnati Reds.
Fukuoka Softbank Hawks — Four Americans and one man from Taiwan make up the Hawks 2007 gaikokujin roster. New here are infielder Brian Buchanan, ex-Boston, Pittsburgh and Texas outfielder Adam Hyzdu and journeyman major league lefty pitcher C.J. Nitkowski.
Rick Guttormson, a nine-game winner with the Yakult Swallows in 2006, switches to Fukuoka and the Pacific League for his third Japanese campaign. Southpaw hurler Yang Yao-hsun from Taipei is back for a second year.
Chiba Lotte Marines — Manager Bobby Valentine will lead the M’s again with help from bench coach Frank Ramppen. Returning also are outfielders Benny Agbayani (fourth year in Chiba) and Matt Watson (second season).
First baseman-DH Julio Zuleta from Panama transfers to the Marines after four years with the Hawks, and Lotte has signed highly touted Taiwanese pitcher Wu Su-yo, a lefty, who will be playing his first season in Japan.
Orix Buffaloes — The Kansai franchise will also be guided by an American manager, first-year-in-Japan pilot Terry Collins, ex-manager of the Houston Astros and Anaheim Angels. Joining him will be coach Jon Debus, and they will have five native English-speaking players.
Right-handed pitcher Tom Davey is back for a fifth year, and lefty Dan Serafini will enter a third go-around in Japan. Another righty, ex-Los Angeles Dodger Lance Carter, is also on Collins’ mound staff.
Position players for the Buffs will be three-year Japan veteran infielder Greg LaRocca, jumping over from the Swallows, and new outfielder Chad Allen, who played in the Kansas City Royals organization in 2006.
Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles — Infielders Jose Fernandez (fifth year in Japan) and Rick Short (third season here) will return, joined by slugger Kevin Witt who played briefly in 2005 with the Yokohama BayStars.
Rakuten also has two pitchers named Lin from Taiwan. Right-hander Lin En-yu will debut in Tohoku; lefty Lin Ying-chieh enters his second year in Sendai.
Chunichi Dragons — The 2006 Central League champs have home run and RBI leader Tyrone Woods back for his fifth season in the country, and he will be joined by newbie outfielder Lee Byung Kyu, known as the “Korean Ichiro.”
Two freshman pitchers will appear in Nagoya: lefty Franklyn Gracesqui from the Philadelphia organization and right-hander Santiago Ramirez who had a cup of coffee with the Washington Nationals in 2006; both are Dominican.
Hanshin Tigers — Four pitchers and first baseman Andy Sheets will play home games at Koshien Stadium this season. Sheets will be in his fifth year in Japan, as will Australian lefty reliever Jeff Williams. Righty set-upper Darwin Cubillan from Venezuela is back for year three with Hanshin.
Joining the Tigers in 2007 are right-handers Ryan Vogelsong coming from the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Estaban Yan, a Dominican who has played with seven MLB clubs.
Tokyo Yakult Swallows — half-dozen foreigners are under contract to the Swallows, with holdovers Alex Ramirez (outfielder, seventh year here), Adam Riggs (first baseman, third season) and righty starting pitcher Dicky Gonzalez (fourth year with Yakult). Alex Ramirez Jr., a lefty pitcher, is assigned to the Swallows Eastern League farm club again, trying to make the varsity.
Reporting to Japan for the first time will be Canadian outfielder Aaron Guiel who split the 2006 season between Kansas City and the New York Yankees, and right-handed moundsman Seth Greisinger, a member of Korea’s Kia Tigers a year ago.
Yomiuri Giants — Manager Tatsunori Hara will try to pull the Kyojin out of the Central League’s “B-Class” with three foreign holdovers and two new faces. Back is Korean slugging first baseman Lee Seung Yeop, righty pitchers Jeremy Powell of the U.S., and Chang Chien-ming of Taiwan.
Coming in for the first time are outfielder Damon Hollins from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and infielder Luis Gonzalez from the Colorado Rockies.
Hiroshima Carp — Marty Brown returns for his second year as manager with hitting coach Jeff Livesey in tow. So far, they have only three foreigners on the active list, right-handed pitchers all.
Sean Douglass returns for his second season, as does Victor Marte, am alumnus of the Carp’s Dominican Academy. New here this time is knuckleballer Jared Fernandez, formerly with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Yokohama BayStars — Popular American speed-balling closer Marc Kroon is back for a third season in the Port City, and he will be joined by Japan rookies Scott Chiasson and Joselo Diaz. Strength and conditioning coach John Turney will be back as well.
Contact Wayne Graczyk at: wayne@JapanBall.com