The Yomiuri Giants may be trading Tokyo’s cool temperatures and concrete facade for sunny and scenic Miyazaki, but the team’s spring camp won’t feel like much of a vacation for some of the newest Kyojin.
Entering the season as something other than the defending Central League champions for the first time since 2007, the Giants’ camp will feature a number of internal battles as players vie for a limited number of spots on the roster.
The victors will play in front of packed houses at Tokyo Dome, enjoying all the trappings of the top level of Japanese baseball. The rest will bide their time with the ni-gun team, waiting for an opportunity.
In the middle of it all will be a group of foreign players, each with a different background and differing levels of success in the MLB. They’ll work together in the relative warmth of Miyazaki’s Sun Marine Stadium, and later Naha’s Okinawa Cellular Stadium Naha, likely bonding over their similarities.
They’ll also be a part of what could end up being one of the more intriguing roster battles in the NPB this season.
Yomiuri is expected to break camp with at least six foreign players. NPB rules allow up to four on the ichi-gun roster in the regular season, so some will be left behind.
Outfielder Alex Ramirez is entering his 11th season in Japan and, due to his longevity, no longer counts against the foreign-player quota. Leaving five — or six if pitcher Levi Romero makes the trip — to jockey for position.
Most of them will be vying for a spot on the pitching staff.
Leading the way are holdovers Seth Greisinger and Dicky Gonzalez, both in need of a bounceback season after a year they’d each rather forget.
Among the new players trying to carve out a niche is reliever Jonathan Albaladejo, a 28-year-old Puerto Rican right hander with a solid four-seamer and 63 major league appearances for the Washington Nationals and New York Yankees.
Albaladejo will likely compete with Daisuke Ochi and Tetsuya Yamaguchi for the closer’s role.
Albaladejo brings with him a sparkling resume in Triple-A — 54 saves, 1.45 ERA, 0.88 WHIP in 103 games over four seasons — and broke the International League single-season saves record with 43 for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Yankees) in 2010.
Brian Bannister and Carlos Torres will be hoping to land spots in the rotation, which will be hard to come by with Shun Tono, Tetsuya Utsumi and likely Gonzalez already taking up residence there and a mix of returning veterans and rookie Hirokazu Sawamura nipping at their heels.
They’ll need to shine in practice as it’s not likely both will make the ichi-gun roster — it’s possible neither will — initially.
Rusty Ryal, meanwhile, will be trying to win himself a spot in the infield. The Giants have discussed moving third baseman Michihiro Ogasawara across the diamond to first, which would open up third.
Should Ryal, who has a .263 average and .721 OPS in 266 major league at-bats, make the ichi-gun roster, he’ll follow in the footsteps of his father, Mark, who spent two seasons with the Chunichi Dragons.
Ramirez is safe, but the battle will be intense as the Giants’ remaining imports audition in front of manager Tatsunori Hara.